When we look at the animal realm we find a wide range of animals who God has designed.
He has created certain animals with the ability to find food. He has created male animals with the ability to protect themselves and their mate.
If you think about it, some creatures have horns or antlers to drive off predators.
Elephants will often sleep arranged in such a way to protect their young.
Ducks have a fascinating protective design, some of the males are extremely beautiful and the females are camouflage. So that the male duck can distract predators away from his family.
But then you come across domestic sheep. And you find that they don’t have any meaningful defense. It seems their only designed defense is to run away.
Of course some sheep do have horns, but in general it would seem that they are certainly pretty helpless.
Not to mention that they often can be their own worst enemy as they are prone to wander off into danger.
It seems that sheep function best under the protection of someone else.
God has designed sheep to primarily get their protection and their provision from a shepherd. The shepherd provides constant care for the sheep.
It wasn’t long after the fall in Genesis 4:2 that we see that sheep need to have a shepherd and it appears Abel is the first shepherd to appear.
That’s the purpose of our sermon this morning as we look at an incredibly familiar Psalm.
In this Psalm we see that God takes on the role of shepherd to provide care and protection to his people.
And we will see that God has his own plan and purpose for how he shepherds us. And that’s the point of our sermon.
We want to see from this Psalm the way that the Lord plans to take care of us.
Purpose: The Way that the Lord Takes Care of You
And in order to see how the Lord plans on taking care of us, there are three points that we need to look at from Psalm 23.
And the first point his morning is that:
1). The Lord Shepherds You His Way
William Plumer comments on this Psalm saying, “As the shepherd guides his flock in ways that he thinks best, so God guides his chosen in ways that he approves.”
David describes all of these activities of God, and says there’s only one thing that he is doing in the midst of all of God’s actions is not wanting anything.
He has everything he needs, because the Lord shepherd’s him.
The Lord exercises a sovereign care over his people as a shepherd exercises the necessary care over sheep.
The fact that the Shepherd fulfills his duties results in satisfied sheep. When the Lord is your shepherd true contentment can be experienced.
Not only that. But all of the activity of the Lord as our shepherd puts us on the right path.
The fruit of the shepherding activity of God, especially as we will see in the context, is not the absence of hardship but the presence of contentment and righteousness.
God shepherds me, I have no need, why?
Because I’m laying down in a green pasture, I live beside quite waters and I have refreshed soul.
How do you have all those qualities? Because the Lord makes me lie down, he leads me, and he restores me. That’s what David is saying
You make it sound like you spend a lot of time with the Lord. Right. He shepherds me. He spends a lot of time on me.
The Lord sovereignly works as a shepherd does with his sheep to produce contentment within us and to produce righteousness.
But of course, we have a problem right away because you might have already experienced discontentment. And you might have already walked the wrong path.
So there’s a huge danger in from our passage because the evidence of the Lord shepherding is contentment and walking in the paths of righteousness.
And it’s possible that we were discontent this last week and its possible that we sinned.
And it’s impossible for the good shepherd to fail to shepherd his sheep, either this Psalm isn’t true or I’m lying that the Lord is shepherding me.
Or there’s a third option.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Christ the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)
And here’s the great mystery for us. The Shepherd became like the sheep to die as a sheep in order that all of his sheep would be brought back into the green pastures.
And Jesus did this by becoming the perfect lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
John the Baptist announced, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29).
The Gospel is about how Christ as our lamb lived perfectly shepherded by his Father who was then as some sheep are sacrificed for our sins.
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7 ESV)
Christ lived as a perfect sheep to accomplish what no ordinary lamb could do on our behalf.
And as the perfect sheep he redeemed us even as our perfect shepherd.
And through our union with Christ we enter into not only the shepherded life, his perfect lamb life, and we also have Christ himself shepherding us.
“John 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. John 10:13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” (John 10:11–13 ESV)
The good shepherd lays down his life in agony in order to make us lie down in green pastures in rest.
He was led to the wilderness so that we could be lead into green pastures and running rivers. He was lead to the cross so we could be led through paths of righteousness.
He laid down his life so that we could take up our souls and be satisfied with His life.
And now you can see why David says, because I have the Lord as my shepherd, I lack nothing.
Because you and I have eternal life we live in the green pastures now and have ultimate green pastures for us in the life to come.
And God shepherds us so that we lack nothing and he does so for a very specific and important purpose.
Here’s the problem. If we think we are saved for our sake, the next few verses are not going to make a whole lot of sense.
And in fact the difficulties that we have faced, are facing or will face might not make a whole lot of sense unless we grasp the reason why God shepherds us.
God shepherds us his way and he does so for his sake. He does it for his glory.
But he plans to shepherd us his way for his glory and he is pleased to cause us to be satisfied with him as the means of achieving his own glory.
And this is the way that we all should want it to be. It shouldn’t depend upon us or be for our sake because we as sheep go astray.
We get off track, we are prone to ruin things. So we could always be in a position to cause God to stop wanting to shepherd us.
“Isaiah 40:10 Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
Isaiah 40:11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:10–11 ESV)
“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25 ESV)
That’s exactly how it should be. And that’s exactly how we should want it to be.
Now, with that in mind we can take a look at the next two verses to see how those verses make sense when we understand that God shepherds us for his sake.
2). The Lord Shields You His Way
Psalms 23:4 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.
Psalms 23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:4–5 ESV)
These are parallel concepts in the Hebrew text.
These two verses show two awful situations where David has two awesome experiences through the awful situations.
The experiences of the situations are dramatically different than what the situations are supposed to cause.
Here’s an awful situation and David’s response doesn’t match the situation.
The first awful situation is walking through the valley of the shadow of death. The second is eating with enemies.
As you walk through the valley of the shadow of death—as the name suggests—you should expect to have a horrible time.
You should expect to be afraid of all the terrible things in the valley. And you should anxious beyond belief as you go through it.
Because, again as the name suggests, it’s the valley of the shadow of death. You’re probably not going to make it. That’s the appropriate response to the valley.
What even is the valley?
Dr. Richard Davidson has commented that many archaeologists believe this to be the valley of death in Palestine also known as the Wadi Qilt.
It's a gorge that’s about 15 miles long going from Jerusalem to Jericho. And there are caves and places where wolves and thieves can hide and prey on the unsuspecting.
And at the end of this gorge there is a green valley where sheep graze even to this day.
There have been people murdered in this gorge.
This is certainly a place that David could have had in mind. But I think there’s probably in addition to this a more intense understanding of the valley of the shadow of death.
This word in the Hebrew is used at least 9 times in Job.
When Job curses the day that he was born in Job 3:5, he commits the day he was born to the valley of the shadow of death, he wants the day he was born to perish in the valley.
In Job 10:21, Job views the valley of the shadow of death as the place you go in order to die. It’s a lawless place that he knows there’s no returning from.
In Job 24, Job talks about how adulterers and murderers have made friends with the terrors in the valley of the shadow of death.
God then responds to Job in Job 38 and asks Job,
“Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of the valley of the shadow of death?” (Job 38:17)
The Greek translation has “the gates of hades.”
According to God, it’s an actual place that is probably the worst place imaginable during Job’s time. It’s a place where the dead go that is full of terrors.
And this is the place that David is saying, even if I walked through the gates of hades, the valley of terrors, I wouldn’t fear a single evil there!
He says he wouldn’t be afraid of anything in the worst imaginable place.
No matter how bad the valley is, he has an experience of the valley that doesn’t match what the valley is.
You don’t go throught the worst place imaginable and go through it fearless.
How does David do that? How do you go through an unimaginably difficult situation and to do so without anxiety or fear?
Even though I walk through the gates of hades, I will fear no evil, because the Lord is with me.
Not only that but our Lord experienced the valley of the shadow of death and prevailed.
Our Shepherd walked through this valley in the days of his flesh. He entered the grave itself. He knows how necessary to our support is the divine presence, in our trials and in our dying agonies. If his people can look up and say to him, Thou art with me, they cannot yield to fear.
This is also the life that Jesus experienced and purchased for us. Matthew 26:38, Jesus says, “My soul is very sorrowful even unto death.”
Jesus prayed at the gates of the valley of the shadow of his death. And then he went to the cross, fearing no evil about to be done to him,
And then he went through our hell so we could have enter into his church where he promised us in Matthew 16:18, that he will build his church and the gates of hades will not prevail against it.
All of the evil that we go through are manifestations of the reality of the gates of the valley of the shadow of death.
And here the Bible teaches us, that we won’t fear the valley when we focus the reality of the presence of the God who is with us through the valley.
The darker the shadow, the closer the Lord!
— J. A. Motyer
And it’s not just fearlessness. David says that he has comfort in the midst of the valley. Because the rod and the staff of God protects him.
Again, this is not the experience that the valley of the shadow of death should be producing.
David says even if he walks through this valley, he have no fear and will have comfort.
That’s totally contrary to our way of thinking. We have comfort when the valley ends.
If I’m out of the valley then I’ll have comfort. But David says I can experience the valley and comfort at the same time.
Death is constantly in the news. Is the valley of the shadow of death the whole world at this point?
How is it that God can be said to protect us to shield us in the midst of the valley if the valley seems to be winning.
If we knew God only in his positive blessings, then we would be hindered in our knowledge and our experience of God.
But if we knew God having felt pain, sadness, sickness, loss, and then we feel the comfort of God maximized by our misery,
Then we know God deeper and we feel his comfort stronger.
Many people ask what kind of a god would allow us to feel pain? I actually affirm to you this day that the god who would plan that his people never feel pain, doesn’t exist.
A better question is what kind of a god would prevent us from knowing his deep, powerful comfort that can only be known if there’s something to comfort us from?
Paul says, “I count everything as loss.”
“Philippians 3:8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ Philippians 3:9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— Philippians 3:10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, Philippians 3:11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8–11 ESV)
Paul is saying I want the resurrection from the dead more than anything because I can experience the power of Christ and I have the surpassing value of Christ.
I want to go through the valley of the shadow of death because I want to know the power of Christ and be raised out of that valley.
Knowing Christ and having God with us is more valuable than a life of comfort and ease.
A life of comfort and ease is a life of loss to me, that’s what Paul is saying.
Not only do we go through the valley of the shadow of death, but God cooks us a meal and sets the table and assigns us a seat right across from the very people we don’t want to see.
Not only will we have enemies in this life but God makes it where we experience them.
You prepare the table, though. That’s what the Psalmist says. It’s God’s doing that we eat across from our enemies.
It’s all for God’s sake all so that God can put us into situations where he can maximize the way we experience him.
So when David says, I have no need, that God takes you through the valley and puts at a table with his enemies that you see even more how you have no need for anything,
And how you fear no evil, you receive God’s divine comfort, the Lord anoints your head with oil, and makes your cup overflow.
The Psalm is entirely about how the experience of God trumps the experience of suffering.
God puts you at the table with people who persecute and antagonize you. And when he does, he anoints you and overflows your cup.
The anointing here is the act of God accepting you as his own. The overflowing cup indicates the amount of joy that he overflows you with.
In other words, God puts in front of those who do not accept you, we hate you, who malign you, and who antagonize you in order for you to know God’s acceptance and how God protagonize you.
God is showing you, do see what it’s like to be rejected and for someone to want to rob you of joy?
I accept you and give you joy. My son purchased your acceptance with his own blood.
God’s acceptance and enjoyment is dramaticized whenever you experience it in the presence of those who reject you and seek your harm.
Plumer again comments, “The Lord can give gladness in the darkest hour.”
3). The Lord Secures You His Way
Psalm 23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Often times the sounds that Hebrew words make sound like the situation that they are referring to, and that’s exactly what he have in this Psalm, it’s an onomatopoeia
After our second point, the Psalm actually incorporates a sigh of relief.
In as much as it is true that the Lord shepherds us and gives us the type of character that is needed to go through the valley for his sake,
And comforts us in the valley and blesses us with himself and with overflowing joy in the presence of our enemies,
It’s also true that the Lord has promised here an inescapable truth. Literally, Psalm 23:6 promises that God’s love is inescapable.
God’s faithfulness and love for you is something that will hunt and pursue you for the rest of your life.
And this is promised again in Ezekiel 34:
Ezekiel 34:11–13 (ESV)
The Lord God Will Seek Them Out
11 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13
God pursues us relentlessly in order to secure our eternal salvation and bring us out of the pasture, through the valley and into his house.
The fact that God will sovereignly rescue us and bring us into his house is exactly the sigh of relief that we need and the hope that we have in all of our situations.
Do you know what really bothers me about some of the scary movies that I’ve seen? It’s not so much how scary it is.
Or how shocking the scenes are. It’s that they often depict hopelessness.
It’s the fact that they show these awful situations and then seem to indicate that the awfulness of the situation won’t change.
The hero is trying to get away and then they trip and next thing you know the terror starts all over again.
And all I can think about is that I just want the movie to be over. And even then you now have to endure the memories of the movie and try to sleep.
I would imagine that many of the situations that you experience feel as though they’re not going to end.
Every day you wake up it’s the same or worse. The valley never seems to break into a green pastures.
And I can imagine that what feels so bad is that you can’t see the clouds beginning to break. The sunshine doesn’t seem to be shining through.
The Lord does not seem to be giving a relief. Dear saints might experience an ongoing scary movie that doesn’t seem to have hope.
God is totally able and capable to provide relief in this life. It absolutely can happen.
But one of the most important things that a Christian can do is fix their eyes on Christ who has anchored them into the house of God.
If every day is a constant reminder of the gloom and sadness of our situations. Then every day we need to remind ourselves that there will be ultimate relief.
It’s easy to be in deep despair if all you do is focus on the valley.
But if you’re in the valley and you see that God’s goodness and unending love is pursuing you wherever you go, then your experience can change even if the valley doesn’t.
John Calvin summarizes this fact by saying,
Whatever be the kind of tribulation with which we are afflicted, we should always consider the end of it to be, that we may be trained to despise the present, and thereby stimulated to aspire to the future life. For since God well knows how strongly we are inclined by nature to a slavish love of this world, in order to prevent us from clinging too strongly to it, he employs the fittest reason for calling us back, and shaking off our lethargy. In short, the whole soul, ensnared by the allurements of the flesh, seeks its happiness on the earth. To meet this disease, the Lord makes his people sensible of the vanity of the present life, by a constant proof of its miseries.
The Apostle Paul put it this way,
“2Corinthians 4:16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 2Corinthians 4:17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 2Corinthians 4:18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18 ESV)
The valley is going to be destroyed, death and hades will be thrown into hell.
And Paul teaches the exact same thing that the Lord Jesus’ taught;
“John 14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. John 14:2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? John 14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1–4 ESV)
Right now, dear Christian, right now don’t let your heart be troubled. Christ is only away so that your home with him can be prepared.
And Paul said we don’t lose heart because even though the valley is winning on the outside, Christ is winning on the inside,
And when the chief shepherd appears: you will receive an unfading crown of glory.
God may grant you relief in this life. But it’s guaranteed that God will grant you ultimate relief for all of eternity and he draws out praise from you now and
Pours into you seeds of eternal enjoyment that when relief breaks and Christ brings you to himself, the background of your hardships here will increase your enjoyments of God there.
God pursues you and will put you in his house when the time is right.