One of my favorite parenting memories is of my children reciting the Twenty-third Psalm. When they were very young their bedtime ritual often included kneeling for prayer and reciting the psalm in the venerable King James Version: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” That’s a good memory for an old dad.
I have been meditating on this psalm since I received my diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease a few weeks ago. This little masterpiece of scripture is a favorite of many Bible readers, and for good reason. It is a reminder of the Lord’s tender care of his people through the circumstances of life on earth. It encourages us to hold to the promise of eternal life “in the house of the Lord.”
I am writing these meditations on Psalm 23 during the weeks leading toward the celebration of our Lord’s death and resurrection. As you prepare your heart for Passion Week, I hope this will contribute to your faith and assurance that the Lord is indeed your Shepherd.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:1-2).
Here is a picture of quietness, contentment and peace. How is this possible in a time of anxiety when trouble reaches us? It is possible because the Shepherd is near. He owns his sheep. He knows his sheep. He calls each one by name, In the catacombs in Rome, there is an epitaph used by the early Christians: “In Christo, in pace;” (In Christ, in peace). The early believers were comforted by the presence of the Good Shepherd who was with them in death.
At this time in my life, as I face the coming limitations and dependency imposed by Parkinson’s, I am comforted by the assurance of the Lord’s presence. “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you,” is the Shepherd’s promise (Hebrews 13:5). “The Lord is near”(Philippians 4:5). “You are with me,” the psalm declares, in life and in death.
Furthermore, the Shepherd provides for his sheep. King David, who wrote the psalm, had been a shepherd in his youth. The Bible records how he protected his father’s sheep from predators, wild animals who threatened the sheep. The shepherd’s “rod and staff” could be used to defend the sheep, as well as to guide them.
The Near Eastern shepherd also provided food and water for the sheep. He would lead his sheep from one green pasture to another. C.H. Spurgeon, in his classic work on the psalms The Treasury of David, applied this to the Christian’s need for spiritual nourishment. He wrote: “What are these ‘green pastures’ but the Scriptures of truth — always fresh, always rich, and never exhausted?” We are fed spiritually when we hear, read, and reflect on God’s Word.
Psalm 23 reminds us how the Shepherd guides. The phrase “he makes me lie down” is not as abrupt and forceful as it sounds in the English language. The original connotation is of gentle leading and setting in a good place. The shepherd guides to a place of rest. He is aware of how his sheep need calm security as they assimilate the food they have received.
Phillip Keller was a sheep herder and pastor. In his book on Psalm 23 he said that the Eastern shepherd would lead his sheep to quiet waters that he himself had prepared by creating stilled pools in flowing streams. According to Keller the sheep would be afraid of rushing water. So the shepherd, ahead of time, would dam the streams with rocks to make sure the sheep had quiet water that they would drink.
All of this imagery pictures the personal care of the shepherd for his sheep. Psalm 23 was written to assure us that the Good Shepherd, Jesus, cares for his own sheep in the same way (John 10:1-15). I do not know all that is ahead for me, but I am relying on the Shepherd’s presence, provision, and guidance.
Pastor Randy Faulkner