Psalm 023

Introduction

We come this evening to what is probably the most well-known psalm. It’s a psalm of confidence in which the psalmist expresses his confidence in the Lord who is depicted as a shepherd and a host. He’s described as a shepherd in verses 1 to 4 who looks after and cares for his sheep; and he’s described as a host in verses 5 and 6, who prepares a banquet for his people to eat and to enjoy. But I want to divide the psalm into three parts. The first part is summarised by the phrase:

I shall not be in want.

The second part is summarised by the phrase:

I will fear no evil.

And the third part is summarised by the phrase:

I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Verses 1 to 3

And so, in the first part, the psalmist says:

I shall not be in want.

You know what it means to be in want. A person is in want when there’s something they need, but they don’t have it. So, right away, right at the beginning of this Psalm, David is telling us how he has everything he needs; and the reason he has everything he needs, is because the Lord is his shepherd who looks after him. And in the following two verses, he elaborates on what that means and he describes how the Lord is like a shepherd who provides his sheep with everything they need.

The shepherd makes the sheep lie down in green pastures. They lie down in green pastures, because they’ve eaten their full and they’re ready for a snooze. The shepherd also leads the sheep beside quiet waters.

Sheep, of course, need water. But the sheep can’t drink from a fast-flowing stream, because it’s too dangerous for them. They might get washed away in the current; and if a sheep falls into the water, it’s liable to drown, because the water makes the wool too heavy and the sheep will sink like a stone. So, the wise shepherd will lead his sheep past the fast flowing stream to a quiet pool where it’s safe for the sheep to drink.

When the sheep are tired and weary, the shepherd is able to restore and refresh their tired and weary bodies. And the shepherd will also lead the sheep along the right paths. Over there, there’s danger. Over there, it’s only dry and barren. But over there, there’s safe and open pasture and there’s plenty of food to eat and there’s plenty of water to drink. And so, the shepherd leads the sheep that way. And, according to verse 3, he leads the sheep along the right path ‘for his name’s sake’. In other words, because he’s a good and wise and caring shepherd, he has a good reputation among his neighbours. Everyone praises this shepherd because of the way he looks after his sheep.

Application

The psalmist is not really talking about shepherds and sheep. He’s talking about the Lord and his people. But by comparing the Lord to a shepherd, he’s teaching us that we can look to the Lord for all that we need. We can trust in him to care for us and to provide us with what we need each day. And so, when we are in need, when there’s something we need that we don’t yet have, then the psalm teaches us to turn to the Lord and to seek it from him, because the Lord is like a good and wise shepherd.

Verse 4

In the second part of the psalm, the psalmist says:

I will fear no evil.

We’re to imagine a sheep, wandering through a dark valley, a valley so dark it’s called the valley of the shadow of death. It’s a place of danger and trouble; and you’d expect the sheep to be afraid. However, the sheep is not afraid. And he’s not afraid, not because the danger is not real, and it’s all in his head. The danger is very real: it is a dark and dangerous place and there is trouble around every corner. However, the sheep is not afraid, because the shepherd is with the sheep; and in one hand, he’s carrying a rod and in the other hand, he’s carrying a staff. The rod was a club to beat off wild animals when they try to attack the sheep. And the staff was the shepherd’s crook which he used in order to pull the sheep out of trouble. So, in this dark valley, there might be wild animals which threaten the sheep. And in this dark valley, there may be ditches and steep slopes for the sheep to fall into. However, the sheep is not afraid, because the shepherd is with the sheep and he’s able to beat away wild animals and to pull the sheep out of ditches and holes.

Application

But again, the psalmist is not really talking about shepherds and sheep. He’s talking about the Lord and his people. He’s saying to us that we don’t need to be afraid no matter what trouble and dangers we encounter in this life, because the Lord our God is with us to help us. He will either bring us out of the trouble; or else he will help us to cope with the trouble. So, whatever troubles we face — and we’ll face many troubles in this troubled life — all we need to do is remember that the Lord is with us.

Verses 5 and 6

In the third part of the psalm, the psalmist says:

I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

The shepherd imagery has come to an end and the David is now thinking of a banquet which the Lord has prepared for his people in order to celebrate a victory. Over there, in the corner, are our enemies, who have been taken captive and who are now unable to hurt or harm us. And as part of this victory feast, the Lord anoints his people with oil to cleanse and soothe and heal them. And the cup he puts in the hand of his people is overflowing. In other words, his blessings, the good things he bestows on his people, are abundant.

And what are we being pursued by? Not our enemies, because they’ve been defeated by the Lord. No, we’re been pursued by the Lord’s goodness and love. Every moment of every day, God’s goodness and love are with us. Whenever we face troubles and trials, grief and sorrow, disappointment and fear, and we wonder how we’ll cope, we only need to remember and believe that God’s goodness and love are with us, because they’re always following us, wherever we go and in whatever situation we find ourselves. And that’s the way it will be always, throughout our life on earth.

And then, in the end, when our life in this world is over, we will dwell in God’s house for ever. For God’s people, the grave is not the end, but the doorway into God’s house. David is thinking about heaven, where all of God’s people will one day come. So, throughout all of this life, we can count on the Lord to help us. And then, when we die, we will be with the Lord for ever.

So, why would we ever be afraid? Why would we ever worry? Why would we ever worry, because the Lord has promised to be with us and to care for us, the way a shepherd cares for his sheep. And in the end, we’ll live with the Lord forever and forever in glory. So, why would we ever be afraid?

Conclusion

We don’t deserve any of this, do we? After all, we all like sheep have gone astray; and instead of doing God’s will, we break his laws and commandments every day; so that instead of deserving good things from him, we deserve to be condemned by him. Instead of being protected by him, we deserved to be punished by him. Instead of deserving eternal life in his house, we deserve to be sent out of his presence forever. None of us deserves any of these good things which we’ve been reading about in this psalm. We don’t deserve to be treated this way.

However, the Lord is merciful and gracious and he does not deal with us according to our sins and he does not repay us according to our iniquities. Instead, he’s willing to pardon us for our sins and to give us the hope of eternal life. And he’s able to pardon us and give us the hope of eternal life, because of Christ our Saviour, who suffered the punishment we deserve in order to reconcile us to God. And so, instead of lying down in green pastures, for us the Lord Jesus was hung up on a cross. Instead of being taken to water to drink, for us he was given the cup of God’s wrath to drink. Instead of being restored, for us he gave up his life. Instead of being led along paths of righteousness, for us he was led away to die. When he passed through the valley of the shadow of death, there was no one to help him so that he was beaten for us and pierced for us and broken for us. Instead of having his head anointed with oil, for us his head was anointed with a crown of thorns. And for us the wrath of God overflowed to him. For us, grief and sorrow followed him all the days of his life until he died and was buried. The Lord Jesus suffered all of these things for us; and the punishment we deserve for our waywardness was placed on him, so that all of the good things he deserved for his life of perfect obedience could be given to us.

And because he suffered and died for us, in order to reconcile us to God, we know that throughout all of our life, we can trust in the Lord to provide us with all that we need so that we will never be in want. And we can trust in the Lord to be with us, even in the darkest valley, so that we need never be afraid. And we can trust that he will bring us to heaven where we will dwell with him forever and forever.