This last Sunday I started a sermon series on Psalm 23. I will be taking four Sundays to cover this very familiar passage of Scripture. It’s always a challenge to present something new to people who have heard so much about these verses.
Most of us associate this passage with death and funerals. As a matter of fact, just today I went to a funeral service and picked up a worship pamphlet with a picture of the deceased on the cover. On the inside was recorded Psalm 23. These are words are comfort during a painful and sad situations.
I am not sure exactly what David was going through when he penned these words, but some scholars suggest he was running for his life. His son Absalom had conspired to take over the throne and David abandoned his position for the time being. The other thought I have is that Psalm 23 follows Psalm 22 (of course), but that the previous psalm begins with the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is a question that many of us have asked at one time or the other, and demonstrates the range of emotion David experienced during extreme difficulty.
We don’t have a lot of sheep around here, or people wanting to a shepherd for that matter. I did come across an interesting explanation from Phillip Keller. He grew up in East Africa where they do have sheep, and penned a book entitled “A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm.” Keller offers a number of observations, including the realization that sheep require much more attention than any other livestock. They can’t take care of themselves. They are nearsighted and very stubborn, and have no homing instincts. Dogs and cats can find their way home, but if a sheep gets lost, “it’s a gone sheep.”
I found that last thought particularly helpful. Sheep can’t find their way home. This reminded me of Isaiah 53 and the reminder that “all we like sheep have gone astray, each one of us to his own way.” There are a lot of lost people wandering around out in the world, and the good news is that the Good Shepherd knows each one and is searching for them. However, each person must respond to the voice of the Good Shepherd and determine to follow after Him (John 10).
In his book, “I Shall Not Want” Robert Ketchum tells a story about a little girl in a Sunday School class. The teacher asked the class if anyone knew the 23rd psalm. The little girl insisted that she did, and while the teacher was skeptical, told the girl to stand up and recite the familiar words. The little girl stood up, went before the class, and bowed. She then said, “The Lord is my shepherd. That’s all I need.” She then bowed once again and sat down.
I’ve been a pastor for 20 years and here at University Heights for seven of them. One thing I am learning by being around “the sheep” is that many of us are stressed and worried by a number of things. If the Lord is our (my) shepherd, then we (I) have the assurance that we (I) won’t be in lack. I can have the confidence of not lacking even though I might not be liking what going on. The English translation for Psalm 23.1 has nine words, the Hebrew only four. These are succinct and direct in their focus. The natural conclusion to the Lord being my shepherd is simply this: “I shall not want.” That means there is nothing I will lack or go without if it is important to the Shepherd for me to have. it also means I need to rely upon the Shepherd and trust Him to know what is best for me.
Psalm 23. It’s not just for funerals. “The Lord is my shepherd. That’s all I need.”