Many only hear this psalm read and expounded upon at funerals, but how many of you know that this is not just a psalm to comfort us in death? This is a psalm also meant to encourage us in life!
As one looks at this psalm honestly and objectively, he or she must conclude that it not only contains promises from the next life, but contains God’s will for us in this life. For example, when David says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” that is not talking about after one dies - for there will be no evil to fear then. No, it is talking about now in this life when the prospect of death does face us and when the temptation to fear would be present. Another example is when David writes that God prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies. Well, there will be none of our enemies in heaven, so that must be talking about now, in this life too. Amen?
No, saints, this psalm is not just a good passage of Scripture to be read at someone’s graveside; it is a good psalm with many good promises for us to embrace while we are still above ground. Amen?
BACKGROUND OF THE 23RD PSALM
Now I believe the position of this psalm is divinely strategic as well - for it follows the 22nd psalm which is called by some, “the Psalm of the Cross,” holding many prophetic truths regarding Jesus’ crucifixion. So, why is that significant? It is only because of Jesus going to the Cross that we have all of these promises of protection and provision that we are going to see in Psalm 23. In other words, it is only through our Good Shepherds’ death, burial and resurrection that we have these exceedingly great and precious promises spread on the banquet table of the Lamb. Amen and glory!
Now it is an undisputed fact that King David is the author of this psalm, which I think is interesting in that he personally lived his life doing these very things that he attributes to God here - namely, being a good shepherd in his early years and a hospitable and honorable king in his latter years.
You see, Psalm 23 is divided into two basic descriptions of God: Verses 1-4 use the analogy of the Lord being like a shepherd caring for His sheep, and verses 5-6 use the analogy of the honor bestowed by a wealthy and hospitable king or noble - both of which we see in the life of David.
Did you know that the Lord wants us to learn about His love and care for us through the natural things we experience in life? For example, marriage is meant to teach us about Christ’s love and care for His church and how we are to respect and honor Him as our Provider (see Ephesians 5:32). Parenthood is meant to teach us about the great love and provision that our Heavenly Father has in His heart to give us. Jesus even used the illustration of how the natural things of this world like the birds and flowers, which have all they need, to show us how we never need worry - for God will take care of us.
How do you treat your children, grandchildren and even your pets? As good as you are to your babies, you ain’t gooder than God (pardon the poor grammar)!
So, you could say that many of the natural things we are surrounded with in everyday life illustrate to us God’s nature. Amen. Likewise, David taught us about the nature of Jehovah through the things he lived through in this world. We would do good to learn from his wisdom.
So, renew your mind to that truth today - that God is good and He wants (more than you) for you to live the good life He has for you! In fact, he has already prepared this good life for you and I to walk in.
Look over at Ephesians chapter 2…
THE GOOD LIFE
In the Amplified Version of Ephesians 2:10 it says, “For we are God’s [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live].”
Now, what the Lord did for us in Christ - spiritually speaking - is absolutely the most important part. His providing us with the new birth to where we become His own handiwork, His masterpiece and His work of art is the cornerstone of this blessed life. But how many of you know that no one displays a valuable piece of artwork in some broken, shabby, substandard frame? No, they want that precious piece of art being displayed in something that is equally precious. Amen?
So, God has a “good life” which He has already prearranged for us to live and wants us to display all of these spiritual blessings that we have in Christ to the world we live in. In other words, He wants our natural lives to display His goodness, living the good life. This is that exciting life of faith where we are enjoying our personal relationship with God, where we are introducing people to His presence and power, and we are partaking of all the good things He has for us in this life. Amen.
THE GOODNESS OF GOD NOW!
Now I want us to look at Psalm 27:13 because it is a verse that both reiterates what the Amplified Bible says in Ephesians 2:10 and also perfectly encapsulates what I believe the Lord wants us to see through the 23rd Psalm…
In this verse, King David says, “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
Notice what some other translations say:
I want you to notice that David put his faith of experiencing God’s goodness in the land of the living - which is the opposite of the land of dead. In other words, he didn’t, like so many Christians, push off the glories and promises of God into the “sweet by and by”; no, David expected the manifestation of God’s goodness in the “rotten here and now”!
He goes on in the next verse to say, “Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!”
The word used for “wait” in these verses does not mean what we commonly use the word “wait” like today. When we say that we are “waiting,” it might mean that we are just enduring and passively letting the time pass by, but this word meant something else in their days. It meant to earnestly expect something to happen, to where we are looking for it and desiring it. In other words, it is not a passive kind of waiting; it is a neck-stretched out, looking for something kind of waiting. Amen.
So, in context, what David was encouraging all of God’s people to do was EXPECT the Lord’s goodness right now in this life! Look for it, earnestly desire it, and believe for it in the land of the living.
“But what if I get disappointed, pastor? I don’t want to get my hopes up.” That’s why David said, “Be of good courage!” because it will take courage for some of us to put our hope in experiencing God’s goodness in our lives.
And that is exactly what I believe God wants to challenge us on as we enter this new year: He wants us to start expecting good things in our life starting this year. He wants us to start living the “good life” that He has always wanted us to have here in the land of the living. Amen?
So, let’s begin looking at this 23rd Psalm and begin seeing what this good life that He intends for us all to live looks like…
JEHOVAH, MY SHEPHERD
King David begins this Psalm with, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
Now, again, David knew a little bit about shepherding, right? So, through his personal experience as a shepherd, he saw how the Lord was that way towards us.
The title “Lord” comes from the Hebrew word YHWH, and has been transliterated as Jehovah. This is also one of those names God gave to Himself that describes His covenant relationship with His people - Jehovah Ra’ah. Thus, Psalm 23:1 describes the Self-Existent One as “The Lord our Shepherd”- that is, “The God who leads, guides, feeds and watches over us.”
Now this of course is not the only name given to Jehovah:
Now the “name” of God represents His authority and His power; it describes His person and His characteristics. His name declares to us who He is and what He does - His integrity, personality and nature. So, God gave us all of these names to reveal to us His nature and the core parts of who He is - to show us who He is to us. Amen.
But not just who He is to us, but who He is to you and to me on an individual level. Amen. In other words, He is not just the Lord our Shepherd; He is the Lord my shepherd! Yes, we need to make who He is personal to us. Amen?
In fact, notice all the personal pronouns David used in this psalm:
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
That’s a lot of “me’s, my’s and I’s,” isn’t it? But it is significant that he didn’t once say, “us, we, our, etc.” It is because He is our personal God. He didn’t just send Jesus to die for us. He sent Jesus to die for you and for me on an individual level too! Amen. Praise God!
You see, David was confident in his God to where he personalized these promises! Plus, he was not “wishy washy” either. He apparently really knew and believed what His God was going to do.
You know, if this Psalm were not a part of the Holy Scriptures and say, I wrote these words, you might be tempted to think I was being little high-minded, brash and over-confident, right? But we know that these confident statements by David were inspired by God. Therefore, they are right on!
In fact, he even made other statements throughout his life that people misunderstood and was even accused by his brother Eliab in 1 Samuel 17:28 as being arrogant. But in that situation, David turned from him and kept saying the same things. Yes, he said things that many would consider presumptuous and arrogant - saying things to Goliath, “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand…” (Verse 46)
Where did David get this confidence from? We don’t have any reason to believe that God told him any of these things. Where did his obvious persuasion come from? His confidence came from knowing his God.
The same sentiment is revealed in Jeremiah 9:23-24: Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; 24 But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the Lord.
You see, David knew his God, and this is what produced all this boldness and confidence that we see. And I can guarantee you that I know exactly how he knew his God so well: It was because he was a praiser, and the Bible says that in Judah (Hebrew for “praise”), God is known (Psalm 76:1). And we know that David was well versed in praise by all the psalms he wrote. In other words, God is known in the arena of praise. Amen.
You see, David did not just know what He believed; he knew whom believed.
KNOWING MY GOD
You see, in 2 Timothy 1:12 the Apostle Paul made a similar, profound statement: He said, “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.”
Notice that Paul did not say here, “I know what I have believed.” And this is a big problem with many Christians - that they are trying to adhere to a principle or a promise and not to a person. They are trying to follow a formula and the problem with that is that we can get the results of the seven sons of Sceva to where the devil turns on us and eats our lunch and pops the bag. But if we know HIM like these people like David and Paul did, it will produce faith.
No, Paul knew God as a person and this produced, what? Him being persuaded that His God would be able to keep Him. Amen. Church, truly knowing God produces persuasion. This word “know” here means to perceive or to see. And this is the problem with so many Christians - they have not really “seen” God. Their vision is blurry. They see an abstract version of God, but have never truly seen His true nature.
But the fact is, Paul knew His God personally. And this even produced the confidence that made him say in Philippians 4:19- “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
Why would he say, “And my God?” Wasn’t He also the God of the Church of Philippi? Sure, he was, but what Paul was saying was, “And I am confident that my God - the One who has proven Himself to be faithful to me in my life - He will supply all your need too.”
You see, this was a statement that reveals that He knew his God! Amen.
Church, it is critical that we likewise believe in our hearts and declare with our mouths who our God is to us personally just like David and Paul did. In fact, this is what you see throughout the Bible - that the ones who came to know Him as their own personal God, made professions that to some might seem a little arrogant.
For example, the Apostle John declared time and time again in his gospel that he was the disciple whom Jesus loves. But for someone to say that this is not being humble would have to say that the Apostle John was in pride - and I can assure you the apostle of love was not a high-minded person.
You see, Daniel 11:32 says that it is the people who know their God that will be strong and do great exploits, not just the people who know about their God. We must see His face and become intimately acquainted with Him. Then, and only then, will our confidence level be where it needs to be. Then, and only then, will we become persuaded in Him backing us up and being our shepherd.
I WILL SAY OF MY GOD
However, just as it is important to personalize His promises, it is also just as important to then speak them.
We see this in Psalm 91:2, where after the Psalmist describes this whole Psalm in a nutshell in the first verse, he goes on to say, “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.”
So, let me ask you a question: Is what you say important? I can assure you, it is!
There are countless Scriptures that teach us the power in our words. What is most notable is how the Book of Wisdom itself - Proverbs - has so many Scriptures that reveal to us the importance of our words. Therefore, we can simply conclude from just this that a wise person watches what he or she says and a fool doesn’t.
You know, the world will tell us that we are weird if we talk to ourselves; Well, the Scriptures indicate that we are weird if we do not talk to ourselves.
For instance, when you have those times where your emotions are screaming at you - Fear, Panic, Worry!!! Well, what should you do? Just give in to the anxiety? No! You should SAY! Remember, never run at your giant with your mouth shut!
But do you know one reason why people do not do this? It is because they are afraid of nothing happening and either being disappointed or having egg on their face before other people.
THE PEOPLE THAT KNEW THEIR GOD
But the main truth I want to convey to you this week is that it is the one who knows their God that will be strong, bold and courageous!
We all remember the instance where Abraham began to bargain with God over the righteous that dwelt in Sodom. I mean, who actually tries to strike a deal with God? Someone who knows their God!
In another instance, when God told Moses that He was going to wipe out all His chosen people, Moses stood between Him and the Jews and basically told God to repent. Now who does that? Someone who knows their God and knows who they are in Him - that’s who! (See Exodus 32:7-14) You see, the people of Israel knew His acts, but Moses knew His ways!
Saints, every born-again believer is now a friend of God. Notice what Jesus said to His disciples in John 15:14-17: Here, Jesus tells His disciples that he no longer calls them servants for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.
So, we are now the initiated. We are not outsiders - peeking in from the outer court. No, we are insiders - initiated into the mysteries of the kingdom. And as God’s friends, (notice what Jesus went on to say at the end of verse 16) “whatever we ask the Father in His name He may give you.”
So, we should no longer communicate with God with this mentality that we are on the outside looking in. Saints, we are in covenant with the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ! This means we are joint heirs, and no longer strangers to the covenants of promise! So as the friends of God, we can talk to God rather frankly. Of course, not being disrespectful because He is still God, but we must find the middle of the road where we are not communicating to God like we are still lost and without God in the world.
But the good news is that the same confidence that David, Abraham, Moses and Paul had, you and I can have because, under this new and better covenant, we all can know Him from the least to the greatest (Hebrews 8:10). Amen!
So, when we see here in Psalm 23:1- “The Lord is My Shepherd”- what should be our response? We should boldly say, “I will say of the Lord: The Lord is My Shepherd. I shall not lack! He will provide for me! He will take care of me! My enemies are His enemies, and He will deliver me! Amen!”