In the past week, I have heard a number of people say that they aren’t able to go onto facebook right now. It seems you can’t turn on the TV, radio or the internet without encountering a political commercial. Every political season brings a barrage of commercials and an avalanche of opinions, which flow from hopes and fears and this year seems to be even more discouraging than most. Sure, discussion can be healthy, but getting stuck in the swirling eddy of anger laden “discussion” or comment streams can be dangerous for spiritual health. Each political season we should note that in the end, all true political hope will fall well short of fulfilling a deeper desire that exists in all of us. If you are weary and in need of rest, for this reason, or some other, then pause with me to consider Psalm 23. For it is the Good Shepherd alone that can fulfill the deeper desire for the rest that comes from being led and cared for by a perfect leader.
Verse 1- The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
As I said earlier, there is a deeper desire in all political commentary. Whether we are talking about a candidate we support, or trashing one that we think is terrible, it all points to the fact that we want. What do we want? We want a perfect leader who will care for us perfectly. Our desire is for the all-powerful self-sufficient God to be the one who shepherds us. However, the only perfect leader to ever walk this earth is Jesus himself. Although Jesus isn’t running in this election (and apparently North Carolina doesn’t count write-in’s that aren’t officially registered), we must keep mind of the fact that he does sit on the throne and he is actively leading us.
Verse 2- He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
This verse highlights God’s compassionate care and His loving provision. When we read this Psalm we not only get a deeper insight into God, we also get a deeper insight into ourselves. A close look at this psalm shows how helpless we are. In the book A Shepherd looks at Psalm 23, Phillip Keller, states that circumstances must be perfect for sheep to lay down. In fact, there are four requirements that must be satisfied for a sheep to lay down
1. Freedom from Fear (Sheep are notoriously timid creatures)
2. Freedom from Friction (There must not be any tension in the flock)
3. Freedom from Flies (They must be healthy and free from parasites)
4. Freedom from Famine (Hungry sheep don’t lay down)
Thanks be to God that he knows us intimately and cares for us perfectly.
Verse 3- He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Scripture refers to God’s people as sheep often and the more you know about sheep the more you realize how unflattering that comparison is. In reference to this verse, it should be noted that sheep often wander, and because they are not very bright creatures they often wander right into danger. The best example I have ever heard of this is that in 2005 in Turkey a large flock of 1500 sheep all walked off a 50-foot cliff, one after another, simply following the lead sheep. One of the most amazing parts of this story is that only 450 sheep died, because after the first group fell the others landed on them and they broke their fall. True story.
We clearly should not be left to our own devices, we are helpless and we know it. We need a leader, and one of our deep desires is for a leader who will direct us in the right way. Although elections can make us feel desperate and hopeless because no candidate will lead perfectly, we can find rest by trusting that our good shepherd is caring for us and leading us currently. He knows our needs, he restores our soul, and he leads us in paths of righteousness.
Verse 4- Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Apparently, paths of righteousness lead through green pastures and through the valley of the shadow of death, and our good shepherd is with us in both. This is tremendously important to understand. If we misunderstand this good news then we will think God is only with us in times of blessing and then when we hit times of trial we will question where He has gone. In times of trial that we are prone to panic or to harden, but instead we can rest in the good news that our good shepherd is with us leading us protecting us.
If you read this verse closely you will see that the personal pronoun used for God shifts in this verse from the 3rd person (He) to the second person (You). Something that should comfort us is that the times in the valley of the shadow of death can help us to know God even more personally. As C.S. Lewis put it so well, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” So, take heart, although we don’t know what all is to come, we know he will be with us. He will lead us, protect us, and comfort us.
Verse 5- You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
In this verse, there is a transition from the lord being pictured as a shepherd caring for sheep to our God caring for His people. This message is directed towards those who are weary from travel through this world. The message is clear, in our weariness the lord invites us to his table in order to refresh us. In the context that this psalm was written, it was customary to give travelers oil and wine for cleansing and refreshment. This act was known to sustain and refresh and to prepare travelers for continuing on in their journey. Often it feels like our journey is through a foreign land because it is. It can feel like we are surrounded by enemies because we are, but we are headed home and He will sustain us until he brings us to there.
Verse 6- Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
This Psalm ends looking forward to the end of the journey, Heaven itself. With the author of this Psalm we not only to hope to reach this destination, we are to be confident that heaven is coming because our good shepherd will not leave us alone, he will bring us home. As we wait for that day we can be sure that as our good shepherd leads us, goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our life.
In John 10 Jesus said “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
In Matthew 11:28 Jesus said: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Although Satan threatens that this world may destroy us, our confidence is that our good shepherd has overcome this world, he is with us, he knows us, he leads us, he protects us, and he will bring us home. May we find rest in him.
Author: Rev. Dave Kulp