Psalm of the Pasture – The Great Shepherd

Psalm 23

This Psalm perhaps most familiar, most memorized of all. Learned by children in Sunday School, immortalized in paintings and music, loved because of comfort it provides by content (v.4) and association. So, where to begin, what to emphasize that will keep the congregation awake?! Called The Shepherd Psalm, rightly so since it begins with focus on the Great Shepherd who leads his sheep. Is truly a psalm of the Pasture with its beautiful imagery of lush meadows and refreshing water. The character and care of the shepherd certainly important; but,… psalm is written from perspective of lamb who was also a shepherd. It describes for us the Shepherd who is also the Lamb!

Shepherd motif one that permeates Scripture – a common occupation in area known as Fertile Crescent. Yet early on see hints of larger significance, more than simple cultural connection:

Jacob, blessing Joseph, speaks of “the shepherd, the stone of Israel” (Gen. 49:24).

Isaiah prophesies of the Lord God who “will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, And carry them in His bosom, And gently lead those who are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11)

I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking,” says the Lord.” (Jer. 23:4)

“I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them – My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd.” (Eze. 34:23, almost 500 years after David)

Arrive at NT, Gospel writers and Jesus himself apply OT prophecies about Shepherd to Lord Jesus.

But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ” (Matt. 2:6)

Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ (Matt. 26:31; Zech. 13:7)

John records in chapter 10 extended discourse about shepherd and sheep; Jesus declares himself to be “the door of the sheep” (John 10:7,9) and “the good shepherd” (John 10:11).

In odd accommodation to culture, sole use of ποιμήν, shepherd, in Pauline literature is translated “pastor” (Eph. 4:11).

You might wonder how this Psalm fits between previous (22) and next (24). Would certainly seem to have much more in common with 24 than with 22. But we know from NT that it was Good Shepherd who gave his life for the sheep in Psalm 22. It is “God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep” (Heb. 13:20). So flow of thought here is: the Good Shepherd who gave his life is now Great Shepherd raised to life and leading his sheep.

But this is not psalm only of the pasture; a psalm of the palace also. Verses 1-4 picture the shepherd attending to needs of his flock through some of seasons of life. Verses 5-6, setting changes to that of banquet hall. Much of relationship between God and his people can be pictured by shepherd/sheep. However, there is a kind of distance between shepherd and sheep that is not present between God and people, one that has been bridged by the God-Man. Shepherd of 1-4 now pictured in 5-6 as King who is Emmanuel, one of us. This provides natural introduction to Chief Shepherd of Psalm 24 who rules in his glory.

See here our great Savior as provider for his sheep, preserver of his purchased possession, purifier of his saints.

A. shepherd-provider v.1-4

relationship

shepherd cares for flock, David knew that from experience; here, though, individual lamb views shepherd in personal, one-to-one relationship: the Lord my shepherd, takes care of me

not self-absorbed view, simply stating truth that individual doesn’t get lost in crowd for Chief Shepherd (same should also be true for under-shepherd)

abundance

follow the logic: since Yahweh is the shepherd, no doubt whatever about his provision

shepherd loves the sheep, cares for the sheep, does what is best for the sheep, supplies all that is necessary for sheep to be content and thrive; nothing required for each lamb to reach full potential is lacking – true materially and spiritually

rest and nourishment

shepherd selects best pasturage based on intimate knowledge of flock’s needs; following shepherd means transition day-by-day; yesterday’s pasture not necessarily sufficient for today

shepherd is conscious of limitations of each lamb: doesn’t expect lamb to be an “Energizer bunny”, not needing rest

refreshment and restoration

“it is the duty of a good shepherd to cherish his sheep” Calvin Simple rest/nourishment not enough; tender attentive care makes rest productive. Especially needful when lamb has been restored to flock after “wandering” away

guidance

Great Shepherd leads his flock in right paths – those that are safe, will lead to right destination

logically follows restoration – pointed in right direction, not simply rescued from harm and expected to figure out right way. Sheep can’t do that! Shepherd provides all necessary to get right, go right, stay right — so long as lamb follows

protection

lamb is walking, not being carried – secure in knowledge of shepherd’s protection even in dark and danger

dark valley just as much part of lamb’s experience as green pasture; shepherd just as present and attentive in both

B. host-preserver v.5-6a

shepherd/sheep imagery provides great comfort, encouragement. But,… are limits to intimacy and expression in that particular relationship. Even though lamb at times might be treated as one of family (2 Sam. 12:2-3), it never would be family member with full privileges and responsibilities. Setting here shifts from pasture to palace, host / favored guest / child relationship.

hospitality

welcomed into home, invited to banquet table spread with feast; treated with honor and dignity

companionship

free flow of conversation, fellowship that rises above simply providing shelter and nourishment; all that is necessary to refresh/nourish body and soul, stimulate the mind, strengthen the spirit

protection (not isolation)

absolute safety in plain sight of enemies; guaranteed by identity and character of the host

important to remember that child of God, honored guest, present in both Divine Host’s presence and that of enemies – earthly experience is to be equipped and strengthened in midst of, not apart from conflict, enemies of godliness

favor and joy

to greet by anointing with oil sign of honor, favor – refresh, soothe weary traveler, often accompanied by foot-washing

oil also signifies prosperity and rejoicing – indicates “flavor” of the banquet: plenty, celebration

fullness

“my cup is filled to saturation” – not room in life for any more good things, completely saturated and satisfied

this coming from shepherd-king, David – found full satisfaction in God’s presence, not earthly acclaim, achievement

blessing

feast in banquet-hall not presented as one-shot deal: one demonstration among many of Great Shepherd’s goodness and faithful love; not simply cup at feast that was saturated, was cup of life

God’s blessing is purposeful – “will pursue me” – not just something David stumbled on in his travels, didn’t have to hunt around for it; never far from child of God, always near to supply need

C. Lamb-purifier v.6b

declares he will live in Yahweh’s house / palace forever; how is that possible? Psa. 15:1-5; 24:3-4 deal with question of fitness – “he who has clean hands and a pure heart”

“a great multitude standing before the throne and before the Lamb” Rev. 7:9

saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Rev. 7:10

“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Rev. 7:14

“the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them” Rev. 7:17

Great Shepherd who leads his sheep is Lamb who purifies his sheep, makes them fit for his presence, to live in his house

fellowship and feasting in God’s house begins in this life – in the church, the house of God (1 Tim. 3:15)

small foretaste of heaven – no less real although incomplete

Great Shepherd sympathizes with flock because he is the Lamb

as good a shepherd as David was, never became a lamb, never became one of the flock

God the Lord Jesus became one of us, now can be described as high priest who can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15); translates into how he shepherds his flock

Shepherd-Lamb is truly worthy of our love, devotion, our commitment and trust. If he is our Shepherd, we trust him, we will follow, not wander off on own, but experience “goodness and mercy” without interruption all days of our lives.

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