Today's Psalm is a familiar one:
1 The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Even 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.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
If you're reading this blog, chances are that Psalm 23 is just as familiar to you as it is to me. If a poll was of the most well-known Psalm, I would guess that good old number 23 would be right near the top of the list. Many of you probably memorized this Psalm and might even continue to recite it daily.
Surely, Psalm 23 is one of the most well known passages of Scripture. Psalm 23 is full of beautiful and familiar phrases that can put a smile on peoples’ faces—people of all ages—whether you are 94, 24, or just 4. So what is it about this Psalm, this song of David, that gives it staying power? There are 149 other Psalms to sing, to pray, to read, and to memorize. Why this one? Why number 23?
I think we can all relate to what David is talking about. David begins the Psalm by referring to the Lord as his shepherd. If the Lord is a shepherd, then David is saying that he is a lamb. And what do we know about a Lamb? Well, they don’t have a reputation of being rocket scientists. No, to put is bluntly, sheep are known to be a little slow. But David wants us, to think of dependency, and need. If you were a lamb, you would be dependent on your shepherd to provide all kinds of things, food, water, and most importantly, protection. But this lamb, David, says that he is not in want. This lamb has everything he needs because the Lord is his shepherd.
God has made him lie down in green pastures where he can relax, not having to worry about the enemies of nature. In these green pastures, the grass is growing thick, and needs are being met. God has led him to still waters. Here, the lamb’s thirst is quenched, and a peaceful sense of calmness comes to the lamb. Not a ripple is on the water, as nature lies undisturbed.
You see, God is leading David, the lamb, and providing for his most basic and important needs, food, and protection. In this leading, God restores his soul, allowing David to be who he was created to be, the righteous man of God. But there’s more…
In the middle of this familiar Psalm, were here very comforting words, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; they rod and they staff they comfort me.” It is clear that David, the lamb, has not escaped danger. It is clear that David is not living in a fantasy world where nothing goes wrong, and everything happens as he would desire. Quite the opposite, he is walking through the valley of the shadow of death! This, my friends, is where Psalm 23 is most comforting. It is this verse, where David’s song of praise hits home.
You and I know that we don’t live in a fantasy world. You and I have experienced danger many times, and will continue to experience danger many more times. You and I, like David, are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. It’s true. You and I understand what David is talking about all too well. Whether it is our own sinful nature making itself known in the form of temptation, or other worldly enemies such as gossip, envy, jealousy, revenge, or slander, we know what it is like to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. As is true for any lamb, we do have enemies. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh are constantly attacking us, trying to tear us from the Green pastures, and still waters that God has taken us to. And if that is not enough, we know that death is all too real. And so, the words of David become words that bring great comfort, and great peace. They are words that lead us to paths of righteousness, for his sake. Because like David, even though these enemies are seeking to devour us, you and I are not in want. You and I walk through the valley of the shadow of death every day, and we fear no evil. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is with us.
Why is Psalm 23 so familiar? Why do many Christians remember this Psalm, when most other Bible verses are forgotten? Because we know what it is like to be in need. We know what it is like to have enemies. We know what it is like to depend on others for survival. My friends, we known what it is like to fear. This is what David is talking about in this Psalm. It’s something we all understand. And he gives a glorious answer to our needs and our fears.
In the middle of the Psalm, David switches from being a needy and fearful lamb, to celebration in the face of his enemies. David, who’s soul has been renewed by the Lord, is now talking about living forever with his Lord. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. We do have enemies, but God’s goodness and his gracious mercy are pursuing us all the while, and in the face of our enemies, we hold on to our risen Savior, who had defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil. When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You and I will fear no evil for Jesus has risen, and has been exalted to the highest place. And that, my friends is what makes Psalm 23 so comforting. In the face of our worst fears, we hold on to the promises of God—you and I, will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. The Lord is our Shepherd, we shall not want. He has met all of our needs, and as we experience the pains of this world, like a lamb, we are comforted by our Shepherd, who is with you and is with me. Amen.