The LORD is my Shepherd

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Psalm 23

In between the Psalm of the cross (Psalm 22) and the Psalm of Christ’s ascension back to heaven (Psalm 24) we have the 23rd Psalm – a Psalm of resurrection.

“1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”

If we assume that the Speaker remains unchanged throughout this section of the Psalms, we can see this song firstly as the prayer of the Messiah as He faces “the valley of the shadow of death.”

Indeed many clues within the Psalm would confirm this.  The whole song is intensely personal – there is only one blessed man here.  And He is contrasted with the many enemies in whose midst He will be vindicated.   He seems to be uniquely hosted at this celebratory table beyond death.  There He is “anointed” (another way of saying christed).  And the final verse could most literally be translated “I will return to the house of the LORD for ever.”

Believers certainly look forward to entering the house of the LORD forever.  But the only Man to return to heaven is the One who came from heaven – Christ Himself (John 3:13).

So this Psalm is, originally, the song of the Messiah who would suffer and then be glorified.  Seeing how He handles death, we can gain much comfort as we walk through that valley with Him and in Him.

And the first comfort Christ confesses is this opening phrase: “The LORD is my Shepherd.”

There’s an oft-repeated biblical phrase that first appears in the book of Numbers: “sheep without a shepherd.”  It describes a leaderless rabble who need a loving and strong ruler to guide them.  Sheep are notoriously foolish creatures.  They require much closer attention than most animals.  And the LORD pictures His care for His people as Shepherd.  Not as a Coach or Instructor, as though He simply issues commands from a distance.  He is a Shepherd who gives hands-on care.

As we read this Psalm we get a sense of that “hands-on care.”  Everything the Psalmist experiences in life, death and beyond is due to the intimate guidance of the LORD.  This Psalm is a counterfoil to the cry of godforsakenness we heard two days ago.  The Messiah declares that his experiences – up to, including, and beyond “the valley of the shadow” – are all the result of the intensely personal shepherding of the LORD.  He is guided through death and back to the table by a loving Shepherd who can be trusted to know best.

As we hear the warmth of Christ’s descriptions of His Father we gain courage for our own walk.  There are times when we can sing the 23rd Psalm with quiet confidence and trust.  Yet sometimes “the rod and staff” of the LORD do not comfort us.  Instead they anger us or make us despair.  Many times we do fear evil, especially in that dark and terrible valley.

Yet this is a path which Christ has walked.  And He has walked it for us.  He has walked it as the trusting and obedient Son of the Father.  He has submitted to the rod and staff.  He has submitted to the deep darkness and come through to glory. Our hope is not in our own “dying well”.  Our hope is in the fact that He has died well.  And if we trust Him, we are in Him, carried through to share a place at the table.

Yet, as we walk our own path, let us allow Christ’s vision of the Father to be our own.  He could trust the LORD even as He headed for Jerusalem, even in Gethsemane, even at Calvary.  He could see that, on the other end of the rod and staff, there was a loving Shepherd.  He had faith that the feast would make the valley worthwhile.

As we face our own sufferings and death let’s allow His song to sink into our hearts.  May His faith in the Father be ours.  And then we too will sing with confidence “The LORD is my Shepherd.”

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