Psalm 23:1 - The LORD is My Shepherd
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothingPsalm 23:1
Likely no psalm is better known than Psalm 23. It is one of the first psalms many of us memorized when young, and is considered to be one of the gems of Scripture.
Probably it was written by David when he was an older man who had experienced many struggles and dangers. He could talk about his enemies and going through the valley of the shadow of death. He is not the sun-burnt shepherd boy among the peaceful lambs, but the man, David, the veteran. He recalls in this psalm how he had been a shepherd when young. He had cared for his sheep, and even risked his life facing a lion and bear to protect them. He had often seen his sheep lying beside the still waters, or contentedly grazing. As he reflects upon all of this he considers the parallel to his earlier life, confessing that the Lord was his Shepherd.
The Bible uses many metaphors, speaking of birds, plants, animals and other parts of the great creation. Here God's people are compared with sheep. Sheep have their own characteristics. When a sheep goes astray, it cannot easily find its way back. It is quickly lost. Also, a sheep is an animal with practically no self-defense. A dog can bite, bark and run, a cow or horse can kick. But sheep have no defense. They are helpless before hungry, vicious dogs or wolves. We are equally weak and helpless against our spiritual enemies, the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh. We need protection and security and often cannot cope with our problems. As Christians we fear the powers of the world the more as we see our children threatened by them.
The other metaphor used in this psalm is that of a shepherd. When we visited Israel some years ago our guide told us that today's shepherds cannot be compared with those of Bible times. Those shepherds literally lived with their sheep; the sheep were a part of their lives. They knew each by name, and would risk their lives to protect the sheep. Shepherds of today, he said, are more like the hirelings of which the Bible speaks (John 10:12, 13).
"The Lord is my shepherd," says David in these well-known words. The name LORD, written with capital letters in the NIV, is the covenant name of God. An older version has the name "Jehovah," which I still like. It is the name which stresses God's faithfulness; He is the "I am that I am." With His almighty power, He is always faithful in His care for us. All this became real in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
The familiar psalm's portrayal of God as the Shepherd, the Lord Jesus attributes to Himself in John 10. He is the Good Shepherd, and not a hireling. This God is David's Shepherd.
The psalm emphasizes what the Lord meant for David, what He had done and would do for him in the future. Scripture, in describing the relationship between God and His people sometimes speaks of what we do by faith. We are told to receive the Lord. Of course, this is possible only by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8). But nevertheless we have to do something. At other times and in other places there is a different emphasis on what the Lord does for us His people, and what He means to us. Here all the emphasis is on what the Lord does for us. This emphasis we also find in the first Lord's Day of the Heidelberg Catechism's speaking of our only comfort. Not in ourselves, but in belonging to Him with body and soul we have that great comfort. The psalm stresses not what we do for the Lord, or should do, but what He is for us and always will be.
In our sins, failures, insecurities, fear and worries we can look to Him as our Shepherd. Even in our sins He does not leave us. Of course, when we sin we have to repent, confess and turn to Him. But even when we are unfaithful, as we often are, He remains faithful. His mercy is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear Him. His love never fails. He is the Shepherd who always watches over us with His protecting eye. In Him we are always safe, regardless of how steep the path or how heavy the burden may be. There is not an adverse wind that blows, nor an enemy that opposes, nor a problem we face, that escapes His control or can snatch us away from His mercy (John 10:28).
The Lord is my Shepherd.
This is personal.
David doesn't just say that the Lord is the Shepherd of His people, which, of course, is true. He will always keep His elect people. If we say no more than that, this objective doctrine may seem to mean little to us individually and personally.
I must know that He is my Shepherd, that He paid for my sins and bought me, that He cares for me and always will be my faithful Shepherd. Believing this, I must say it, confess it. Say it to yourself, dear Friend, say it to and before others. Confess it also with a view to the new year that lies ahead.
1986 is upon us, or soon will be. The beginning of another year always makes us wonder and often worry. What will the new year bring? We know little about the future. At new year's time we think about ourselves, our family, children and parents, about the church, our country and many other things that are close to our hearts. About all these we know absolutely nothing in detail as to what will happen in the coming year. But we do know that we are still living in the same world. That has not changed. When we worry, let us say from the heart, "The Lord will be our Shepherd also in 1986."
David couldn't always say this (Psalm 22:1) He certainly was not always on mountain peaks of faith. Likely he didn't compose Psalm 23 on the same day when he cried out in Psalm 10,
Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
Or in Psalm 13,
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
Which Christian does not understand this difference of expression, of faith and anxiety? But every Christian also knows that it is only by faith that he can confess the truth of Psalm 23. Only by faith in God's daily forgiving grace and promises of everlasting mercy can we have the assurance that He is our Shepherd.
It is the faith of self-denial and self-surrender, of commitment to Him alone, that can confess this truth and enjoy its comfort.
I shall lack nothing," or (in the older versions) "I shall not want." That follows the first confession, "The Lord is my Shepherd.
I shall lack nothing in 1986.
What a comprehensive statement and confession! At no time in this whole year will I have any real need or want. That's what it implies. The Lord will always be my Shepherd.
Our experiences are often quite different. We can and do try to say, "The Lord is my Shepherd." But we don't so readily add, as a result, "I shall lack nothing." Yet the second confession follows the first. If the first one is a real and full confession, the second will follow. Saying from the heart that the Lord is my Shepherd, I will also be able to say, "I shall lack nothing."
But does this confession that the Lord is our Shepherd mean that in the future we will have no needs, whatsoever, physical or spiritual? Does David mean to say, that the Lord being his Shepherd, he will lack nothing in any way or manner? Of course not.
Positively, this confession implies that the Lord generally will give us what we need, physical and spiritual. He will give us our daily bread. Remember, however, that there is a big difference between what we need and usually want. There is a big difference between "daily bread" for which we pray every day and the abundance which the Lord gives us. But as He was giving to David a table (of bread) in the face of his enemies, so the Lord will give us what we need, generally. From the spiritual viewpoint, there surely will be adversities and problems in 1986. But with this faith, He as our Shepherd will so care for us with His comprehensive love that He will give us what we really need. He will always give grace according to circumstances. We shall lack nothing that is really important or what we really need.
Physically, we live in a world of many wants, of greed and selfishness. Even in our land of abundance people always want more. But the Christian, being a good steward, and assuming his responsibilities, will say, when he confesses Psalm 23, that he is satisfied because he knows that the Lord is his Shepherd.
Others may and will have more. But he says that he has enough and is contented (Philippians 4:11). Confessing that the Lord is his Shepherd, and possessing the fruits of the Spirit, he will be confident and in peace.
In this entire confession of Psalm 23, David means to say that he has such faith in the Lord his Shepherd that he knows all the ways in which the Lord will lead him will be for his good. With a firm trust in this Lord's faithfulness and a real commitment to Him, he can say, I really lack nothing. Even in danger he knows the Lord will protect him and give him the grace needed for every trial.
This is living on mountain tops of faith!
This kind of faith gives spiritual strength and wonderful peace of mind and heart.
Looking to this Lord and having the feeling and assurance that we belong to Him, our faithful Shepherd, we can face the new year.
May the Lord graciously enable us to take Psalm 23 with us into 1986.