sermon: Psalms: Book One (Part Six)
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 27-Apr-19; 73 minutes
Do you remember the phrase used by President Reagan back in the 80s? "Trust but verify." It is actually a well known political catchphrase made popular by our former president during America's strategic arms talks with the Soviet Union during the 1980s. In truth, this phrase "trust but verify" as were a lot of things were when coming out of the mouth of Ronald Reagan, is a witticism. That is a statement made with a wink and a nod. It is essentially a self-contradictory statement. The act of verification plainly testifies to the verifier's lack of trust. If he truly trusted the other party, he would have no need to verify. In the arena of nuclear arms negotiations, however, when the nations in question have the ability to wipe all life off from Planet Earth multiple times and if they send a nuclear missile one way, many more are going to come back the other way so you have mutually assured destruction and what they used to call overkill, verification of stockpile reduction was a very wise precaution.
We are a cynical people, are we not? We do not trust anybody. Trust but verify is a way of life for most of us, except for a few Pollyannas, many of them liberals who think madmen, dictators, and Ayatollahs are trustworthy folk. Those of us with a bit of common sense, though, and a few miles on their odometers, know from harsh experience that we cannot trust other people. That is not a harsh judgment. That is reality in a carnal world. If you trust people in this world, you pay.
Do not all of us lock our houses at night? Do we not lock our cars? How many of us have security systems in our house? Do we not all use passwords on our computers? Do you have a subscription to an identity theft service? Probably should if you are on computers quite a bit. Do you have a lock box, a safe, or a safety deposit box in your name? Do you have liability insurance indemnifying you against lawsuits, especially those frivolous ones where somebody comes by your house and trips and falls and blames you for it when it was own stupid unlaced shoes?
How many of you do not believe a word that you hear from mass media? What has been the main word or phrase we have heard over the last two or three years? Fake news. We cannot trust anything.
How many have you been tattled on? Lied, to knifed in the back at work so somebody else could get a position that you may have wanted. How many of you have been a victim of adultery, been burgled, cheated out of money or cheated out of an inheritance, ripped off by a mechanic, stung by hidden fees?
Every one of these things illustrates just how little we can trust other people. This carries over from the individual into bigger things like families or organizations or institutions, whole governments. We do not trust those things. We cannot trust them because we have been hurt so many times in the past and we have seen so many examples of when somebody would trust something and it came back to bite them.
The track record of humanity and the realities of human nature give us little reason to rely on or have faith in or trust our fellow man. We cannot say that we were not warned. Let us go to Psalm 146. We are going to be reading most of this psalm at one point. But right now I just want verse 3. God tells us very plainly:
Psalm 146:3 Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.
From top to bottom, from prince to pauper, from the highest among us to the lowest among us, no one is truly trustworthy. God tells us, "Don't trust them. It's not worth it." It is really a sad commentary on human nature, forcing us to question others' motives and suspect everyone of looking out for themselves to our detriment. But it is true. Do not put your trust in those people, not for anything that is worthwhile. This verse, though, stands in an interesting place in the book of Psalms. Psalms 146 through 150 form a group of five psalms that summarize some of the themes of each of the five books of the Psalms.
Psalm 146 is the first of these, and it is therefore the summary psalm for the first book of Psalms, which goes through from Psalm 1 all the way through Psalm 41. Now, the main theme that this summary, Psalm 146, highlights is expounded in the remaining verses of this psalm, verses 5-10. I will not read verse 4 here, but remember verse 3 talked about do not trust princes and do not trust men. The real thing that God is trying to get across here, though, starts in verse 5.
Psalm 146:5-10 Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps truth forever, who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord raises those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow; but the way of the wicked He turns upside down. [Or, as you see in the margin, He makes crooked.] The Lord shall reign forever. . . .
Unlike as we could see in verse 4, "His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish." He is talking about men there. What a difference between God and man.
Psalm 146:10 The Lord shall reign forever—Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! [Praise the Eternal.]
So what the psalmist here is saying is that you may not be able to trust men—any men from the highest to the lowest and do not trust them—always be wary, but you can trust God. And there are plenty of reasons why you can trust God. Many of the psalms in Book One, that is chapters 1-41, contain the theme of faith or trust in God.
You will remember, many of you will know, that many of the psalms that are in Book One have to do with David's life—a lot of the time that he spent in the wilderness being chased around by Saul. And as he was going through these experiences in his life, he was writing these things down in psalms, singing them. And so many of the psalms in Book One relate these experiences, and his own wisdom comes out about how he looked at these situations that he faced and what God did in those situations and how they all worked out.
Every one of those situations that he writes about required him to exercise trust in God—faith. Thus frequently he exhorts us then in these psalms, to trust in the Lord when life leads us into circumstances beyond what we think we can handle. The obvious answer is what he says here that we can trust in God. My purpose here is to show faith through these psalms—146 and 23. We will eventually go to Psalm 23 and see that as a psalm of faith and reliance on God.
If you will turn with me back to I John, I want to tie it in with my sermon yesterday morning. We were talking about overcoming and remember what John's catchphrase, or what he boiled it down to of what our overcoming is.
Faith is very important in this process of overcoming—whether it is the world, whether it is Satan, whether it is problems in your lives, whether it is your own human nature—you have to have faith because it is worthless to try to do this without trusting God to both guide you and help you.
As we saw in Psalm 146, God does not just say flatly, "You can trust Me." I mean, that would be simple. We might like that as like a meme or something, some very pithy thing to say so you could remember it. But He does not say that. He could say it, truthfully. Hey, we can trust Him, can we not? He is God. What it does, though, in Psalm 146, is give us as many good reasons why we can trust Him. And He names a few of them here. We could find others elsewhere, but the few that are here are wonderful. They are at the top of the list of why we can trust Him. Let us look at verse 6. We will go through this verse by verse all the way down to verse 10 so we can just meditate a little bit on what those reasons are. It says here,
Psalm 146:6 Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps truth forever.
One of the first things he says about why you can trust Him is He is our Creator. He is the one that made us. He is the powerful God who made everything we see around us. We are His creatures. What inventor or creator of any kind does not love his own creation, his own invention, the works of his hands? God certainly loves us more than we can imagine, and because He is the Creator, He has all this power! Even a little flower or a bug or anything out there in the created world took awesome intelligence and power to make, and not only to make it and make it live, but to replicate itself! I am talking about organic things, obviously.
But for those things to work and work and work through generations and generations and generations, it is just impossible to understand the amount of power that that takes. Our God, Jesus Christ, sustains all things by the word of His power. That is awesome. And if that awesome Person is also your Creator who loves you, is He not trustworthy? Well, of course He is. He is Almighty God. He is no shrinking violet or 98 pound weakling. He is the Great God of all things, the great Governor of the universe. And He loves you! All that power is on your side. Why not trust Him?
We think about certain scriptures—"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son." Does that not show awesome love toward us even when we are still in the world? Notice Psalm 8, verse 4, which says,
Psalm 8:4-5 What is man that you are mindful of him [This boggled David's mind and he had to think about it. So he puts this in a question.], and the son of man that You visit him? For you have made him a little lower than the angels [as we are as humans], and You have crowned him with glory and honor.
Why?! There is such a great disconnect between God and humanity. God is so great. We are nothing. Yet God loves us. Is that not a good reason to trust Him?
The last phrase of verse 6 in Psalm 146 says, "Who keeps truth forever." There is one of the best reasons to trust Him. He keeps His word. He is not like men. "God is not a man, that He should lie." Does the Scripture not say that He does not lie? He does not go back on His word. The idea behind this is a little bit more technical than that. The idea behind this in the Hebrew is that He keeps faith with His people. He is a covenant-making God and a covenant-keeping God.
When He says something and we agree on it, He keeps His side of the bargain. He makes a promise, He gives it. He becomes party to any agreement, like all the covenants that He has made, and He does His part perfectly and we can trust in that. He can be trusted never to double deal. He can be trusted never to renege. He can be trusted never to weasel concessions out of us that we did not agree to in the first place. His word, once He gives it, is golden. What does Isaiah 55:11, say, the word goes out of His mouth and it does not return to Him empty. It does what He says. We can trust Him. Does not Malachi 3:6 say that God does not change? Therefore we are not consumed. He is steady. He is patient, He is faithful. One of my favorite phrases in all the Bible is found in I Corinthians 1.
I Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
He made a covenant with us. He called us into fellowship with His Son. And He is trustworthy. He is faithful. When He called you into the fellowship of His Son, He promised to bring you to the other end and everlasting life. He is faithful. He will keep that promise. The only one standing in His way is you or me, because we are the untrustworthy ones. We are the ones that are fickle. We are the ones that are weak. But we can be strong in Him. We could be steady in Him. We could be faithful in Him.
Psalm 146:7 Who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners.
This verse informs us that He takes care of His people, especially those who are least able to take care of themselves. He takes care of the poor. He takes care of the weak. He takes care of the solitary, the oppressed. In a word, He cares. That is another good reason to trust Him because He truly cares for us. He cares about our circumstances. He wants the best for us. So why not trust Him in return? It means He is watching.
He knows our circumstances. He knows what we are going through. He is aware of us. He is aware of all of our circumstances and He wants the best for us. And He makes sure that we have what He thinks we need, not what we necessarily think we need. We could all be like those whose need is that they have their student loans paid off, or whatever. But maybe God says "No, that's not what I think you need. I think you need something else." But He takes care of us in His own way, and we can trust in that what He thinks we need is actually what we do need. We can trust in God.
Let us go on to verse 8. This moves on a little bit into a more spiritual kind of providence from God.
Psalm 146:8 The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord raises those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.
Yes, he deals with the blind here, the opening of the blind person's eyes. But I think the psalmist is really trying to get us to recognize the dual meaning here. Beyond the physical blindness, he wants us to go to to the spiritual blindness and the opening of our eyes spiritually. God gives spiritual sight, real insight to those He calls out of the world. He gives them special gifts so they can see things in the proper way—the way He looks at them.
The same could be said of the next clause about raising those who are bowed down. He helps the sick and the burdened, yes, but He also lifts up those who are crushed under sin. Cannot the weight of sin be grievous? Things we have done weigh down on us, and we know those things were not right. But we just cannot seem to stand up straight as it were because they are so crushing on us. They depress us. They make us think terrible things about ourselves and make us weak and unable to move. But God lifts those burdens. He forgives our sins. He gives us a hand up. He sets us on a right path and He gently shoves us forward and helps us to move on from those sins.
Then He wraps all this up in verse 8 with the final phrase there that "the Lord loves the righteous." Get back to that. That is one of the main reasons we can trust Him—because He loves us. When you love somebody, you do not do them harm. Everything you do for that person is out of goodness. You want what is good for them. You will sacrifice for them. You will go above and beyond for them. You will walk the extra mile for them. Do you not think God has those same feelings toward us? It says it right here. He loves the righteous. He is willing to go as far as He needs to go to get you into the Kingdom of God.
So He has kindness and affection and intends only good for His people. He is a holy, benevolent Master and Lord. He is not a slave driver. He is not trying to get something out of us. He is trying to give us what we need to get the most out of life, not just in this physical life but in our spiritual life as well.
Psalm 146:9 The Lord watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow, but the way of the wicked He turns upside down.
Now verse 9 highlights His watchful care over His people. We can be assured that God is watching, that He is aware of us, and therefore we do not need to fear. Whatever the circumstances, whoever our enemies are, whatever pickle we find ourselves in, God is there and aware, and He is going to get us through it. And he says He does this for strangers. "The Lord watches over the strangers," and if He watches over strangers, what is He going to do for His own people? He is going to go way farther for His own than He will for the stranger.
He even helps the least advantaged among us. Here, talking about the fatherless and the widow, those on the bottom rung of society. Those who do not have many resources but He relieves them, He gives them aid. He helps them in many ways. And then the last part of this verse, He goes to bat against our enemies. He turns their world upside down! Do you believe that? Do you trust Him to take your side in any kind of conflict and turn the world of your enemies upside down? That is He says He will do.
You do not need to fear those things unless, of course, you have done something wrong and you actually are in the wrong. But if you are in a situation where somebody is coming against you and you have been innocent about these things, you could pray this verse and ask for help against your enemies. And you could even say, "You say that you'll turn the way of the wicked upside down. I need your help, God." And He will give it. How is that for a reason to trust Him? He will take our side. Go back to Psalm 34 and just look at this. I am not going to make many comments on this, but just just get the idea here, starting in verse 15.
Psalm 34:15-22 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. [That is how far He is willing to go.] The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He guards all his bones; not one of them is broken. Evil shall slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous shall be condemned. The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned.
Beautiful series of verses that should pump you up in faith because God will do all these things. He promises them over and over and over again throughout the Psalms and throughout the rest of the Bible. But we so easily forget when we are under stress and we take things into our hands and we do the wrong thing and we forget about God. But we need to remember that if we just simply trust Him, trust Him to guide us, trust Him to give us answers, that He will work things out for for us. We do not need to fear.
The psalms of Book One are often about these types of things, like I said before there in the imagery of David's struggles that he had. But we often find out that when he had enemies and he was crying to God and praying all night and doing all those Davidic things, where he is so emotional and just thinks everything is going just to pieces, in the end, he says, "I will trust in You." And we find out if we go look at the stories that they turn out wonderfully, that God delivered him out of them all. There is Psalm 2, Psalm 10, Psalm 12, Psalm 17, Psalm 35, Psalm 37. They are all about this same sort of thing. I am sure there are many more that are not in that list.
Finally, back to Psalm 146 and verse 10. This kind of puts the capstone on why we can trust in Him.
Psalm 146:10 The Lord shall reign forever—your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord!
This is one of the greatest reasons why we can trust in Him. Because He is our Sovereign Lord and King forever. He is always in control. He reigns. That is what it means. He is in control. He has got all rulership in His hands. No one is above Him telling Him what to do. He will work things out in the way that He says that He will work them out, the way He thinks is best to work them out.
And He is on our side—your God, O Zion, reigns to all generations. He is going to outlast all our enemies, everyone who has ever done us wrong. He is going to outlast all of our horrible experiences, and He is much bigger than them and He can solve them. He is forever Sovereign, especially in the lives of His people and that is a fact of our spiritual lives that we can take to the bank—that He is forever Sovereign in our lives. And if we get on board with Him, we do not have anything to fear because He is our ruling authority and there is no one else we could trust more to make sure that everything is going to go the right way.
Now, as I said, we are going to go to Psalm 23, the most famous psalm of all. And it is the same kind of psalm of trust in God. "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." The trust in this psalm is shown through a sheep, through the words of a sheep. We are going to hit on some of the highlights of Psalm 23 that observe this theme of faith and trust in God. Psalm 23 clearly shows David's complete trust in God every step of his journey. There is no time when he does not trust Him.
Now what this psalm pictures is a year in the life of a sheep under the Good Shepherd. It is just not any old sheep in any old year. It is one of God's sheep throughout a year under God's guidance, and he realizes throughout this psalm that his life is terrific because God is there. God is with him and he can trust Him.
I want to focus on the spiritual parallels rather than the physical ones. I am not going to get into a lot of those, but we will go through this this song pretty thoroughly from a spiritual point of view. But first I want to go to John 10, which is the Good Shepherd chapter of the book of John. I just want to begin this with an overview of what Jesus says He is going to do, what He is as far as being our shepherd goes. We will read the first 15 verses, and then we will drop down to Verse 27. This is Jesus' own description of what He is as a shepherd.
John 10:1-3 "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out."
That shows a relationship there, an identity. He knows their names. Remember we have seen that in the letters to the seven churches. Names are very important in the rewards there. They are given a new name, they are given the name of the Father, they are given the name of the Son, they are given the name of the New Jerusalem. It is very important that Jesus knows our names, and our names kind of encapsulate what we are. He knows us thoroughly and it says here He calls His sheep by name and leads them out. So He knows us and He guides us where we need to go.
John 10:4-9 "And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. [They trust him. They follow his lead.] Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." [This talks about what we should be. We should be listening to Him only.] Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them. Then Jesus said to them again, "Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All whoever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture."
That is a promise He gives. If He calls you to Him and you come in by the door, through Jesus Christ, then He promises that you will be saved and that you will be able to go in and out. There is a lot of freedom there. You will feel free to do these things because you know He is your shepherd. You know what He allows and does not allow, and we will find pasture. There is a lot of imagery and all of that.
John 10:10-15 "The thief does not come except to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. [He has already done that, He has proved it. His death by crucifixion proved that He is the Good Shepherd and there is no other.] But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep."
Now verse 27, which is the motto of the Church of the Great God:
John 10:27 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me."
So here we have a pretty good look at how the shepherd functions. He functions power and self- sacrifice and care and love and proper good guidance. And he is going to bring his sheep to the pasture where they can live and rest. (If you want any of the more physical details that pop out of Psalm 23, I recommend that you read A Shepherd looks at Psalm 23 by Philip Keller. It is an excellent book, and goes into a lot of these things. You can also go to my dad's three part sermon on Psalm 23. You can find that on the website.)
Let us go into Psalm 23. I think I can do this in 35 minutes. We are not going to be going deeply into these. There is a lot there that I will not be looking into. But I want you to see the parallel here, like with Psalm 146, where we see circumstances where we can trust God through the life of this sheep.
We need to set the scene. We need to understand that Psalm 23 is way ahead of its time. You know how cartoons and such have talking animals? Well, this is the sheep talking to us, the reader. It is a sheep that has God as his shepherd and he is telling us how good it is, how good he has it. It is like he is making a sales pitch to us. "Hey, you're in another flock. You ought to come be in my shepherd's flock because it's so much better here than where you are." It is interesting that this is the most popular psalm in the world. Everybody in Christendom has been given the sales pitch, and how many have actually turned to Christ truly? You cannot really turn to Christ unless He calls you, but it is interesting that they have all heard this and they quote it and they sing it in their songs and it does not ever seem to penetrate.
Another thing we need to understand is that Psalm 23, being in Book One, has Spring as its background. Book One has to do with Spring things, having to do with the Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, and that sort of thing. So it takes place in the springtime, or at least it starts in the springtime. Winter has finally given up its grasp on the world, and we are looking at this from the freshness of a new Spring. And he says in verse one,
Psalm 23:1 The Lord [That is where you need to put the emphasis.] is my shepherd; I shall not want.
David had been a shepherd over his father's sheep. Who knows how many years he had been a shepherd. He knew what it takes to be a good shepherd. He had the experience and the background. He had done all of these things himself with his own sheep so he knew what the qualifications of a good shepherd are. And when he considered the care that he had received from God all those years, in good times and bad, he was happy. He was proud. He was pretty much singing out, declaring to the world for all time: "The Lord is my shepherd. I'm not going anyplace else. I've got the best shepherd ever." He ticks off all the boxes of what it is to be a good shepherd. He is not just a good shepherd, He is a great shepherd. He is the best shepherd. He is boasting, "Hey, the grass is greener on this side of the fence, a lot greener."
He had such a deep experience of God's providence because God had always provided what he needed just at the right time, that he knew that he would never lack. "I shall not want," he says. He is talking about his entire future. I will never lack anything that I actually need, because the Good Shepherd has already proved that He is going to fill those needs. Not whatever he wants but whatever he needed, and that is a double entendre that we see here in the English. "Want" in English can also mean "desire." The Hebrew term has to do with going without, lacking, or suffering privation. "Want" in English can also mean that, but it can also mean what you desire, what you crave, what you covet. This meaning is the result of God's superabundant providence.
Think of it this way. The sheep who knows that he has the Good Shepherd as his shepherd is content with what he has, and so he no longer craves, covets, or desires anything else. He has put those down because he knows that the care and all the providence that he has been getting from his shepherd is what is best for him. So he will not desire anymore. All of our desires have been met. We just have not figured that out yet. In most cases, we still want more. You ever wondered why God has not given you the Rolls Royce and a mansion and all those other things? You may desire those things, but it is just because we are not content. We have not really figured out that what God has given us is what is good for us and where we should be. So most of us have not gotten to that point where we are content with what we have, like Paul said. But it is a something to grow toward.
Psalm 84:11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.
Notice the qualifier. Good thing. "No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly." This is exactly what David meant. Everything that is good God will give so he will not want. He will not lack those things.
Psalm 23:2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.
Sheep prefer grass, fresh grass and still water. That is their preferred diet. They would rather just have plain fresh grass and still water and so that is what God provides. "He leads me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters." This points to the Torah theme of Psalm 1. The instruction theme as food and water, nourishment, are symbols of spiritual nourishment found in God's Word. Of course, we can separate this out that the grass, the food, equals God's Word and the water equals God's Spirit. He provides both. We have to have both. We do not understand the Word without the Spirit, and the Spirit without the Word is just gibberish, if you will. It is just craziness. There are some churches that go way, way, way away from what God's Word is, because they are all "hyped in spirit," as they think they are. But you need both, and God provides what we need.
Let us go back to John the 14th chapter.
John 14:15-18 "If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him or knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you."
He is the Word. He is the nourishment that we need. Have we not been talking, several of us, about eating the bread of life? We think of this in terms of the Spirit. But He says He is going to come to us in the Spirit and it is Him, the Word. They are always together. The Word and the Spirit, if you will, because they are the same same thing in many ways.
John 16:13-15 "However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has our Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you."
This is the food and the water that were given by our Good Shepherd. He provides it. He is it, if you will. And He is going to give of Himself so that we can have all that we need to sustain us throughout this world. He provides not only what will satisfy us, satisfy our need for it, but He will also give us what will bring us contentment and spiritual health.
Notice the direction of these blessings. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. These indicate God's gracious provisioning and guidance. He is the one that takes the initiative to give us what we need, to give us these things that will sustain us. And when He is the one that is satisfying us, it produces what it says here—lying down in green pastures and lying down, if you will, beside the still waters.
What does that tell you? When He is the one that is satisfying our needs we are given rest. We are given contentment. And you know He is the only one who gives true rest. Nothing else, no one else gives rest. Notice Matthew 11:29. "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Of course, we could go to Hebrews 4, where the rest of God is spoken about there. He will allow us and guide us to enter into His rest, but only He could do that.
Psalm 23:3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
This verse leaps almost directly into the spiritual parallel. "Restores my soul" can mean that the shepherd saves a hurt sheep or nurses a sick one back to health. Or even, you could say, he brings a lost sheep back to the fold, back to the rest in the flock. However, the Hebrew phrasing underneath all of this tells you that he is actually going further than that and looking toward a more spiritual understanding of what he means here because the Hebrew phrase actually suggests "He renews my life." Or even it could be translated as "He recreates my life," which is just an astounding thing.
This is likely a reference to what is called theologically, regeneration, a new Christian's regeneration upon baptism and receipt of God's Spirit. This is what Paul says in Titus, the third chapter, verse 5. I will just read this to you quickly. He says,
Titus 3:4-5 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy, He saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.
This is talking about becoming a new man, as Paul puts it in other places in the New Testament. This is when we become a new creation. So David is saying, in the voice of the sheep, "He makes my life anew. He turns my life around and it's like a whole new life."
Then he says, "He leads me in the paths of righteousness." That is very similar. It can mean "He leads me in right paths," He takes me where we need to go the right way. But the idea is God's leadership in right living. That is more pointed. "He leads me in right living." He gives me the paths that He chooses I should walk on. He provides those things. He leads me to the right way to go. And then, "for His name's sake," makes the spiritual intent of the verse crystal clear. He will fulfill His word and His promises to make us in His image for our good, for His glory and honor, not necessarily ours. He is doing all this to bring glory to Himself. He is bringing His plan to pass, and He is putting us on the right path so we can walk with Him to the end of that path and then on into eternity.
The scene changes a little bit as we get into verse 4. The scene now changes to Summer. We have gone out of the Spring and we are going into the Summer and Fall because what we are talking about here is a scenery change between verse 3 and 4. A different place where we pasture. They are on the move. The sheep are on the move.
Psalm 23:4 Yea, 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.
David, the sheep, has no fear, even though the shepherd is leading him in dark and potentially deadly situations. Now we know that David went through a fair amount of deadly situations. He knew what he was talking about, and he also knew that God had brought him through them all. So even if he goes through these dark valleys where the shadow of death hangs over him, he trusts God that there is a reason why they are going on that particular path.
Remember the last verse we talked about? "He leads me in paths of righteousness." So obviously this path, even though it seems so dark and gloomy and death hangs over him, it is the right path, and he could be satisfied that there is nothing bad going to happen, especially because the shepherd is right there. He is the one leading him. God is there to protect him. So the sheep here, David, has no doubt, no hedging of his bets. No uncertainty. God is with him. God is with him always, even though they are going through dark places. And he trusts that, though God leads him through these dark times and He puts him through these paces in these situations, that God, the Shepherd, has every good reason for doing so.
He is not doing it because He is capricious or He is angry or whatever. He is doing it because there is a good reason to go on this path, because going on this path leads us to a place where it is much better. There is a goal. He is not leading us willy-nilly into the mountains. He is leading us to a place where He has prepared that is far better. We have to go through this dark period right now, but just wait, be patient, follow Me. We will make it to this other place and you will be glad you went through those dark times. And if something should go "wrong" and I put that in quotes because that is the way we look at it, "Something has gone wrong. Oh, no, this is so terrible." Well, even when that happens, we can be faithful. We can trust that because God is with him, with us, He will lead us out of it. He could take us out of that at any time if we just follow Him, because is that not the duty of a sheep to follow the shepherd?
I Corinthians 10:13 No temptation [no dark place] has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
Is this not interesting? He leads us in to these situations, and He guarantees, promises, that He will lead us out of those situations. He guarantees that He is not going to give you anything that you cannot handle. And so He tells us to take the way of escape.
Now it is very obvious that He is the one that provides the way of escape because He is in control of the situation. He is sovereign, is He not? But you know what? That way of escape, as I have mentioned before, is one that always requires faith. He does not make it easy because He is training us for big things. So He stretches us and gives us a way of escape. But it is the one that is going to maybe hurt a little bit, maybe stretch us a little bit. The way of escape always requires faith. Do you trust Me? That is what He wants to see. Are we going to trust Him through these valleys of the shadow of death? The escape is there, the path out of it is there. We just have to follow Him and, we will find ourselves in much better circumstances.
It also says here in verse 4 that he will not fear any evil for "You are with me, Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me." He takes comfort in the shepherd's rod and staff. Most people would not like to see the rod. Usually, it seems the rod is—we hear about the rod of God's anger. Well, the sheep who follows the Good Shepherd trusts and takes comfort in God's rod and the staff. These are the tools of a shepherd, the rod and the staff. The tools He uses to care for the sheep. They are for defense, for inspection, for guidance, for deliverance, for discipline.
The use of these tools is how the sheep knows that God is with him. When he sees the tools at work, he knows the shepherd is at work. Remember my dad's sermon, Do You See God? Well, we see God when He uses the tools. Change the metaphor: He is the Master Potter, we are the clay. He uses those tools, His hands, to shape us. And this is just another metaphor to say we can take comfort in the tools that He has at hand because we know that they are being applied for good, for whatever that good is.
Psalm 23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.
The picture shifts here to the Good Shepherd after bringing His sheep through the dark valleys into the sunny uplands—the tablelands, the high plateaus, the mesas—where the grazing is best during summer. It is no longer cold up on those high mesas. It is summertime, it is warm. It is just the right temperature. The grass is new and fresh for them at that elevation, and they are having the time of their lives, even though enemies are all about them, the wolves, the bears, and what have you up in the mountains, the mountain lions.
But they are content there because the shepherd is there and it is the best place for them, not because it is where it is, but it says He prepared it for them. He went before them to this place and made it good for them, for their situation. Think of this in terms of Jesus Christ. He has already been down the road of human life. He lived 33-and-one-half years of constant stress, of walking this way amidst a nation that had turned from God and all the enemies of that nation that were in control, all the people that were against Him, and He lived perfectly. He knows the way, He knows all the good spots along the way. He knows the end. He knows what good things are ahead.
And so He went before us and prepared a place for us. Did He not say that in John, chapter 14, that He would go and prepare a place for us? He prepares the very sunny, wonderful uplands for us and we just have to follow Him there. He feels it is His solemn duty and delight to lead us to the best possible situation for us, which is the Kingdom of God. Despite the enemies that are there—the world, Satan, our own human nature being all around us. What does He say in Matthew 6? This should give us a lot of contentment as we go along our journey here toward the Kingdom.
Matthew 6:30-33 "Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles [unbelievers] seek. For your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."
Just follow the shepherd, do is He instructs, and it will come out the best for you.
Then back in Psalm 23, verse 5 talks about "anoint[ing] my head with oil. My cup runs over." The sense here is of overflowing joy, of exhilaration in the presence and bounty of God. Anointing the head with oil is an allusion to the work of God's Spirit separating us out from the rest of the world and ordaining us for good works, as it says in Ephesians 2:10.
There are all kinds of things that we could bring in here about the oil and all that it does for us, but I will not have time to go into all of them today. Like for instance, one of them is that the oil placed on a sheep's head helped protect him from pests, bugs, kept the bugs away. God goes to that length to keep us even from pests of this world, things that might distract us or discourage us. And all the while He is preparing us for our responsibilities in the Kingdom. Giving us all these abundant things that we need.
That his cup is running over is, in this case, a proclamation that he is, as God's sheep, living the abundant life. That is what the Good Shepherd promises. He gives him life abundantly. God fulfills His promises.
Ephesians 3:14-21 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all generations, world without end. Amen.
Paul gives us every encouragement in this passage that God is going to give us everything we need—and more. He is going to make sure that we have everything that will get us into His Kingdom and allow us to be filled with all the fullness of God. These are tremendous promises. This should make us want to follow this Shepherd.
Psalm 23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Finally, the psalmist, this sheep David, makes a final declaration. He opened the psalm with "The Lord is my Shepherd!" Now he makes another one saying, "I'm going to have everything that's good for me and I'm going to live eternally with the Shepherd in His house." He is assured, he is certain that God's goodness and mercy, His lovingkindness, and His grace would pursue him throughout his life. Pursue him. Follow him. Is that not interesting? God is pursuing us as a husband pursues a wife or a husband-to-be pursues a wife-to-be, and He is going to pursue us with all these gifts of goodness and mercy. He is wooing us, in other words.
He wants us there. He loves us, and He is going to give His all so that we have all the good things throughout our lives. This sheep here in Psalm 23:6 does not want to live in any other house or follow any other shepherd because He is assured that God would just inundate him with His love and benevolence at all times. And not only all times, but forever in every circumstance, for eternity. It will never end, the pursuit of God with all His goodness and mercy, all His lovingkindness and grace. He is assured that he will be part of God's Family forever. He will always be part of God's flock.
This is the kind of certainty, of trust, of faith he had in God. God wants that to rub off on us. He wants us, as individual sheep in His flock, to be able to say the same things that David is saying in Psalm 23. "The Lord is my shepherd! He is going to pursue me all the days of my life forever with His goodness and mercy and I want to be nowhere else."
Hebrews 13:20-21 Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Trust Him. Pursue the godly way of life. Fight to overcome sin. Keep God's commandments. Live without spot before God. Stay among the sheep of God in His flock. Wait patiently for Christ to return. He will return in God's good time with complete salvation and glory. And we have God's promise, because He is the Good Shepherd and we are His sheep, that we will be ready.