On a couple of my international travels, I had the privilege of flying business class. My seat was graciously upgraded by the airline and I was able to stretch out and fly comfortably. The only problem was that the next time I flew, I expected the airline to upgrade me again. As one friend stated it well, “A luxury once lived becomes a necessity.” My wants had turned into needs.
Throughout his long experience, King David discovered the difference between wants and needs. Towards the end of his life, he penned Psalm 23 where he stated eloquently, because the Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need.
Psalm 23 is written from a sheep’s eye view. It portrays how the sheep view the shepherd. Sheep are completely dependent on the shepherd for everything. They lack a sense of direction. A sheep will wander off, get lost, and not know how to return to the flock. While other animals have sharp teeth, claws, or defense mechanisms, sheep are virtually defenseless. They are easily frightened. Other animals will scrape, lick, and clean themselves, but sheep are by nature unclean. They cannot find food by themselves. The sheep’s wool does not belong to the sheep, but rather to the shepherd.
The first thing we note is that the sheep have a very personal relationship with the shepherd. David says, “The Lord is MY shepherd.” Many people know God as a shepherd, but they don’t know him as MY shepherd. The closer you get to the shepherd, the higher your level of satisfaction is with life. That’s why David can say, because the Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need.
After stating the theme in verse 1, David goes on to explain what needs God meets (2-6). God provides renewal (2-3a), guidance (3b), protection (4), provision (5a), an abundant life (5b-6a), and a place to call home (6b).
Because sheep cannot go on a journey without sufficient rest and food, the shepherd makes sure they have plenty of both. He makes the sheep rest (2a). In our hectic, hurried, harassed age where headache medications become best-selling products, our shepherd must occasionally make us lie down and rest. When he does so, it is always in our best interests because it is in the greenest pastures, the most restful places.
He provides refreshment beside quiet waters, or water that he has stilled for us (2b). Sheep will not drink from running water. They will stare at a fast-moving stream but never drink. The shepherd steps in, loosens a few stones and dams up a place so that the water slows down.
Our shepherd restores our soul (3a). This could mean when we wander astray he draws us back to the flock. It could also mean that as our caregiver, God brings us the deep renewal that we all long for.
God leads us and guides us (3b). When we think of guidance, we think about school, career, marriage partners, what we consider the “big” decisions of life. David recognized that God led him in the paths of righteousness. If we are the right person and walking in a right relationship with God, we will make the right decisions about the details of life.
God provides guidance not for our sake alone. He does it for “his name’s sake.” God’s reputation is on the line. He meets our needs so that everyone will recognize he is a good shepherd.
God protects us in trouble (4). By walking with us through the deepest valleys, we can have courage (4b). We know that he is with us and has not left us alone (4c). The shepherd’s tools, the rod and staff, give us comfort by fending off the enemy (4c).
Our shepherd provides for us in the wilderness (5). Knowing that vipers abound in the field, a Palestinian shepherd will pour oil around the viper’s hole so they cannot get out. He will also anoint the head of the sheep with oil which acts as a repellent to keep the viper away from the sheep when they graze.
Our shepherd gives us an abundant life where our cup overflows (5b-6a). Knowing that sheep do not like to get wet, the shepherd would keep the water cup filled to the brim so the sheep could drink with ease. His goodness and love follow us everywhere, serving as heavenly sheep dogs to follow us.
Lastly, the shepherd provides a place to call home (6b). Like David, we long to dwell in God’s presence. Rather than a sense of “I hope so,” we can have a sense of certainty, “I know!”
Because the Lord is our shepherd, we have everything we need!
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 7, 2016. It is part of a series on The Names of God. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.