By Still Waters (Psalm 23)
The 23rd Psalm has ever been a source of comfort and encouragement to the people of God. It breathes of confidence in God and introduces the soul into an atmosphere of restfulness and satisfaction, refreshing the weary, strengthening the weak, and awakening the spirit of thankfulness and worship.
The setting in which it is found is important. Following Psalm 22, and preceding Psalm 24, the three utterances form a section in themselves.
The Lord as Saviour in His sufferings and their results is the theme of the 22nd. The Lord as Shepherd in His constancy and care for His own is before us in the 23rd. And the Lord as Sovereign in His glory and majesty is in view in the 24th.
We must first know Him as the Saviour who has endured the cross for us and by His atoning sufferings has blotted out our guilt. Then we shall be able to rejoice in His present ministry as Shepherd and be able also to look forward to the day when He shall be manifested as Sovereign.
His cry of anguish, at the beginning of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” has for One of its results our cry of delight, at the beginning of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” He was forsaken that we might be received. All our blessing for time and for eternity rests upon the secure foundation of His glorious atoning sacrifice.
Looking now a little into the detail of this priceless portion of the Word of God:
First of all, we shall find the Lord Himself is prominent in verse 1.
is before us. “THE LORD is my Shepherd.” It is He who has taken this position. He has assumed the responsibility for my well-being. No mere man or angel was competent for this. None but the Lord could undertake for me. But He has undertaken for me from the foundation to the topstone of my salvation. And with my eye upon Him my trust is established. He who undertook the work of creation, He who maintains the seasons in their order, the earth in its orbit and the stars in their courses, is He who has taken my case into His hands and He will see me through. Thus the note of victory is sounded at the outset in the comprehensive utterance “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.” If the Lord is my Shepherd He will see to it that I lack no good thing. He is my source of supply, and all power and wisdom and goodness are His, and He will not suffer me to want that which is for my real blessing. This has been well expressed in the simple lines—
“HE knows, HE loves, HE cares,
Nothing this truth can dim;
HE does the very best for those
Who leave the choice with Him.”
Thus these opening words give the keynote to the music of the whole Psalm. They are all-inclusive and so colour all that follows, and we do well to read each verse in their light.
Before passing on let me ask my reader whether he can in truth say “The Lord is my shepherd”. Have you made Him your own in simple faith. Have you turned to Him and submitted to His claims and placed yourself in His charge. If not do so now. You may know all about Him and yet miss the blessedness of which the psalmist speaks. It is not enough to know there is abundance of food—that will not nourish you—you must eat of it to get benefited by it. It is not enough to know the medicine by your side will cure the disease from which you suffer, you must take it to secure the healing you desire. It is not enough to know that Christ the Lord is the Shepherd who died for and lives for His own, you must make Him your own by faith. Turn to Him at once. He will receive you and you will be able to say of Him in truth “The Lord is My Shepherd.”
Verse 2 speaks of
for His sheep, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside still waters.” Pastures of tender grass and waters of quietness are arranged for me by His gracious hand. The provision is abundant—there is no scarcity of supply. Sheep in the midst of plentiful pasture are speedily seen to lie down in order to chew the cud. Those on a barren field will wander up and down restlessly seeking for satisfaction until they weary themselves in their vain endeavours. The sheep of His pasture He makes to lie down. The need of their consciences has been met by His precious blood once shed upon the cross, and now their hearts are at ease in the sense of His care and they are satisfied with favour and full of the blessing of the Lord.
In verse 3 we find
for Has own, “He restoreth my soul, He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.” The peaceful ways of the second verse are those in which He conducts me for my sake, but for His Name’s sake He leads in the right paths of truth and holiness. And we feel that it must be thus and we would not have it otherwise. The glory of His Name is such that in no other path could He lead us to walk. “For His Name’s sake” our sins are forgiven (1 John 2:!2). “For His Name’s sake” God has received us into nearness and relationship to Himself. “For His Name’s sake” He leads us in the ways of righteousness. For this He restores our souls. Recovering us when we have turned aside or fallen among the entangling thorns, and refreshing us when fainting by the way. So He leads us on gently that we may be for His own delight following His steps “who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.”
is the theme of the earlier part of verse 4. “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of. death I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” He companies with His own. The verses we have considered have been spoken of Him by the sheep. This verse and the next are addressed to Him. He is close by His sheep now. He is near at hand in the hour of trial and danger. The valley of the shadow of death is not death itself only—though He will be with us if called to pass through it; but it is the whole course of our journey here. The world is shadowed by death and all that comes in the train of that king of terrors. For us, believers, today, it is the place where our Saviour was rejected and slain, “where also our Lord was crucified.”
Know ye not that my Lord Jesus died here? enquires a saint of old. The shadow of His death is upon all and affects everything for the one who loves Him and is loyal to Him.
And was there ever a time when the dark shadows of death were longer or deeper than now? Bereavement is invading hearth and home in every land while war takes its toll in millions of lives. Amid it all the believer may firmly say, “I will fear no evil”—“Thou art with me.”
Let me illustrate this. Two little boys were in the compartment of a railway carriage when the train with the engine’s whistle shrieking dashed into a long dark tunnel. The children had been gazing out contentedly at the various objects of interest which had passed before their eyes. Now all was black and gloomy, for the compartment was not lighted, and the rattle and roar was terrifying to them. Creeping along the seat to their father who was sitting by the other window they placed their. hands in his and felt secure because they knew that he was there with them. So we may say today, “Thou art with me.” Gloom may fill the valley of this world but He will be with us all through and as we hear Him saying “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee” we take courage and say, “I will not fear.” Then in this same verse we find
and it is all sufficient and will never fail. Weak and foolish indeed are the sheep, but the Shepherd is mighty and His care is constant. His heart is filled with love to His own and He leads them according to the integrity of His heart and according to the skilfulness of His hand. He protects them from their foes and from their follies—from without and from within.
A few days since, I was among a flock of sheep, one of which attracted my especial attention. It was feeding with the others but distinguished from them by having a short pole—perhaps five feet long—tied under its lower jaw. The pole was attached to a collar evidently put on to the animal for the purpose. It could feed quite easily and would have no difficulty in lying down. With what purpose then had the pole been fixed? It was not difficult to see. The hedge surrounding the field was not in the best of conditions. Here and there were gaps and the sheep could get through in some places without much difficulty. Probably that sheep was what shepherds call “an awkward one”—given to wandering. Wandering itself it would lead others astray. Thus the pole was fixed to prevent it going out of the field. It might be uncomfortable for the sheep but it was necessary for its own well-being and for the well-being of the flock.
Looking upon that sheep I learned a lesson. I said to myself, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” I am a “sheep of His pasture.” He knows me perfectly. He knows the dangers which beset me if I go astray from His presence, and that if I wander I may possibly lead others away from Him also. Therefore He applies, some preventative, in order to keep me from ways of folly and sin. The Apostle Paul could say, “I will glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may tabernacle over him. The thorn in the flesh was given him lest he should be exalted above measure—To provide against the sheep straying the watchful shepherd had granted him something that proved trying but was a blessing in disguise. Three times he besought that this “pole” might be removed, but though apparently hindered by it he was really being helped and in the end could boast in that which once he would fain have discarded.
And by and by—if not now—we shall understand the why and the wherefore of our Shepherd’s dealings with each one of His own.
Then, knowing as we know, we shall in His light see light and be able to praise more fully Him who shepherded us all the days of our sojourn here.
Thus looking upon His rod and staff we can say “they comfort me.” With His rod—the shepherd’s crook—He will direct His sheep and raise it from among the thorns or rocks among which it has fallen. And with His staff of Almighty power He will ward off the attack of every enemy which would threaten to harm any one of them.
Then in verse 5 we find
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies, thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over. He anticipates my every need and with His own hands spreads the table before me. The enemies of my soul may be and are around me, constantly looking for my overthrow; but He is above all their enmity and prepares for me that which will enable me to overcome every assault. He gives me the present power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within me and thus anointing my head with oil He gives me the sense of His delight in welcoming me to Himself and causes my cup of blessing to overflow.” Thus we sing—
“He makes my cup of joy o’erflow
From day to day.”
It has been asked, quaintly enough, “Who is the saucer when your cup overflows?” Who gets the overflowings? Who is the better off because of our being Christians? Would some around us be left disconsolate in the event of our removal? We can test ourselves somewhat by that question. His preparation for us should lead to our being of use to others. Such fullness of supply is ministered that we cannot contain the blessing and the superabundance flows over for the refreshment of the weary and needy on every hand.
Then finally we have
for His own. That which lies before them. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life.” However long our way, however dark or dangerous or difficult it may become—goodness and mercy will ever pursue us. All the days. Not only on the bright sunny ones but on the dark and gloomy ones also. Not only amid the pleasant. summer days but amid the trying winter ones goodness and mercy will be found constantly attending us. They are the shepherd’s watch-dogs—as someone has put it—bringing up the rear.
And beyond the narrow span of life here—when all its sorrows and sufferings are over “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” The Father’s house with its many abodes is before us for our eternal habitation. “For ever with the Lord” in His own home of infinite delight—this it is towards which we ever draw nearer as we journey on. If our pathway continue here—goodness and mercy will be our companions. Should our pathway here end, then the house of the Lord, “at home with the Lord” will be the portion of our hearts eternally.
Well may we rejoice in all that is presented in this sweet song. In the light of all that He is and does we gladly cry—
“THE LORD is my Shepherd,
I shall not want.”