The Good Life, A Study of the 23rd Psalm - Part 4: Green Pastures & Still Waters
GOOD, GREEN PASTURES
Now notice that David goes on to say that the Lord your Shepherd, who will not let you lack, also “makes me to lie down in green pastures…”
The term “green pastures” literally describe “pastures of tender grass.”
The word “pastures” describes the abode or habitation of shepherds. But like a shepherd, God is not leading us to barren and fruitless places. He is looking to bring us to places of “tender grass” (i.e. good places for His sheep to dwell). The Hebrew word for “green” describes “new grass,” not mature grass ready for mowing, but grass that is just sprouting and young. What does this teach us? It teaches us that the Lord does not tend towards giving us old, used up stuff. He desires to give us a new life, a new beginning, a fresh start. He makes all things new and He has made all things good. Amen.
We see a similar terminology to this used in Ezekiel 34:14-15 when the Lord said, “I will feed them in good pasture, and their fold shall be on the high mountains of Israel. There they shall lie down in a good fold and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God.”
So, we see here the Lord acting as the Shepherd of His people, feeding them in good pasture and making them to lie down in this rich pasture. Notice the word “good” being used here. So, these “green pastures” that our Good Shepherd is leading us to are good pastures, good and green pastures that are on the high mountains of Israel, hallelujah! When you truly know the love of God, it will be almost impossible to wipe the smile off your face.
Again, increase and elevation are involved in this good life. This is the life that the Lord desires to make us lie down in. However, don’t get the wrong impression by this terminology (i.e. to lie down). According to Ezekiel’s prophecy (and many other Scriptures), the Lord’s will is to take us higher, not lower; to be exalted, not debased! Amen!
THE FREE WILL OF THE SHEEP
Now the phrase “He makes me” might give one the wrong impression about how the Lord operates. The Lord is not in the business of “making” us do anything. The Lord gives free-will to mankind.
This is why the ungodly make ignorant statements like, “I just don’t believe that a loving God would ever send someone to hell.” Well, that’s true to a certain extent; He doesn’t send people to hell. But they choose their own condemnation. They choose serving a sin and satan over choosing the Lord’s free gift of salvation. Therefore, they receive the same lot as their master, the devil. It is really that simple.
So, no, the Lord is not making us do anything. Always remember: when God is involved, free will is involved. Therefore, He did not make us choose Jesus as our Lord and Savior, nor will He make us choose this good life that we are talking about either. We all are living our lives on various levels of God’s good, acceptable and perfect will for us.
So, we should never say things like, “Why is God blessing them more than me?” or “Why do I struggle with this and not them?” That is implying that God alone is the variable and we do not have a say in the quality of life that we are experiencing. Saints, the truth is that we are as close to God right now (i.e. experiencing His presence etc.) as we want to be - and this also applies to other areas of our life. We can choose (the good) life (see Deuteronomy 30:19)!
So, you see, the Lord our Shepherd doesn’t drive us. If He did, He would have been called the “Good Cowboy” instead of Jesus calling Himself the Good Shepherd. You see, a cowboy drives his herd. He ropes and ties them. However, a shepherd leads, guides and calls his sheep. Therefore, the Lord is not in the business of making us doing anything. No, He calls us. He bids us to come follow Him. He gently leads us in the way we should go. And that way is on pastures of tender grass. Amen.
LAYING DOWN IN PEACE
Now it has been said that sheep will not lay down unless they are truly at peace, and oftentimes this peace comes as a result of them knowing that their shepherd was present with them. So it is with us:
David said in Psalm 4:8, “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me to dwell safely.”
Here, David gives us a big key to sleeping well - it is learning to lie down in peace. And the major key to doing that is found in the second half of this verse: “for (or, because) You alone, O Lord, make me to dwell safely.”
So, us entering into that peace referred to here is determined by us believing in our hearts that our Lord will cause us to “dwell safely.” In other words, He will cause us to live a life that is guarded, protected and kept by Himself alone.
You see, the “you alone” is an important part of this phrase too. It denotes that the Lord Himself is the One who we see as being able to make us live safely (not with any help of our own, I might add). And did you know what worry and anxiety really are? They are us not believing in our hearts that it is God alone who will keep us safe and sound. Amen?
Church, when we get the revelation that our God is indeed with us and He alone is the One that will protect and defend us, we will indeed be at peace - particularly when we see that the objects of those fears that come up are the Lord’s problem and not just ours.
IT IS NOT OUR FIGHT
It is important for us to realize that the battles we face are not just our battles; they are His battles.
Do you remember the story of King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles chapter 20 - how God began to speak to them and said, “Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the Lord to you: Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.” (2 Chronicles 20:15)
What an awesome statement this is that the Holy Spirit made at the end of verse 15 - “The battle is not yours, but God’s!” We would do good to continuously reflect on this truth in order to remind us that the battle is not ours, but the battle truly is God’s.
You see, this powerful phrase has a whole range of applications to our lives:
These “ites” that Jehoshaphat had coming up against him were types and shadows of the kingdom of darkness that we wrestle against under our New Covenant. And these demonic forces manifest themselves in many different ways. Their effects range from the more obvious demonic devices such as depression, oppression, sickness, and poverty to the subtler areas of darkness such as bitterness, envy, strife, and selfishness. So, when it is written that the battle is not ours but the Lord’s, this applies to any of these different “ites” that come against us today.
For example, when we see the enemy working to destroy our marriages - trying to generate strife and bring division between us and our spouses - we should remember that the battle is not ours, but God’s. Sure, in the middle of these difficult situations, the enemy will feed us the lie that our marriage is hopeless and that our spouse will never change. Sure, he will try and deceive us into thinking that we better defend ourselves lest we be taken advantage of.
But the truth is that the battle for our marriage is not ours, it is God’s. God is able to create hope where there seems to be hopelessness. God is able to bring change when change seems impossible. God is able to heal, restore, and even prosper our relationship with our spouse no matter how discouraging our situation seems. It is His battle, and He is resolved to fight it for us. Hallelujah!
Do you know what happens when we see the challenges we encounter as our battles? Our pride will cause us to attempt to take things into our own hands. For example, when we have lost loved ones, we feel such an urgency to see them come into the light that we allow that fear of their present course to drive us. When this happens, we will take every opportunity that we get to hammer them with the truth and witness to them. While our motives are good, we need to also understand that the battle for our loved-one’s salvation is not ours; it is also the Lord’s battle.
We need to understand that we cannot make anybody see the light; only God can because no one comes to Jesus unless the Holy Spirit draws them (John 6:44 & 16:8). Therefore, we should just rest in Him - trusting that He is fighting that battle and drawing them to Himself - while at the same time being open to share the truth with them as the Lord opens up the opportunities.
You see, understanding that each and every battle we encounter in our life is the Lord’s battle and not our own is such an important part of the Christian life. It is a principle that we see all throughout God’s Word and He desires us to understand: We are victorious only by the grace of God and not by any works that we have done. We are saved by the grace of God. We are healed by the grace of God. We are prosperous by the grace of God. The proud are the ones who are self-sufficient. But we need to walk in humility and realize that God’s grace is Him fighting all our battles for us, and it has been His plan for mankind since Adam. The awesome thing is the battle is the Lord's, but the victory is ours. He does all the fighting and we get all the blessings, when we let Him fight the battle by not fighting it ourselves.
Therefore, every battle we find ourselves in - whether it be over our ministries, over our physical health, over our finances, over our families, or over our own souls - God has said that all of these are His battles and, therefore, should not concern us in the least. When we get bills that are a challenge to our budget, we need to recognize them as God’s battle. Hold them up and say, “God, you’ve got mail.” Thank you, Jesus!
THE ROOT OF FEARING DEFEAT
Let’s now draw our attention to the phrase that the Holy Spirit included before He said that the battle is not ours, but God’s. Again, He said, “Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.”
By including that word “for” before this phrase we have just covered, God is telling us why we are not to be afraid or dismayed when these “ites” come against us. So, what was the reason that He gave them not to fear? It was because it was not even their battle; it was God’s. He told them not to be afraid or dismayed because the battle was not even theirs to fight.
You see, if the battle was ours then we would have every reason to be afraid because we know that we have limitations. We know that there are many problems that we will encounter that are beyond our control. So, if these battles were indeed ours, we most definitely would have every reason to be afraid.
But let me ask you a question: Are you ever afraid of God losing any of His battles? Of course, you are not. So, can you guess the only reason why we ever get afraid when alarming situations enter into our life? It is because we see them as our battles. Yes, the only reason we become dismayed is because we incorrectly see these huge and insurmountable problems as our battles, and not God’s. Therefore, the very root of the fear of defeat is not being fully persuaded that the battles we encounter are the Lord’s battles and not ours. That is the gospel truth, my friends!
Sure, if we were asked if we believed that the problems we have were our battles we would deny it, but the evidence of our faith is in our actions. If we are in fear, it is because we do not truly believe God will fight that battle for us. If we are afraid and worried it is for one of two reasons: Either we do not believe God can handle it or we do not believe He will handle it. And usually our deficiency is not in believing that God has the power or ability to do what He wants to. What we are generally deficient in is not in believing that God wants to. In other words, most believers are not convinced that God is willing and resolved to fight all of their battles for them.
But the truth is God has said that every battle we find ourselves in that was instigated by the enemy is not our battle; they are His battles. Therefore, if we saw our problems in this light, we would be full of peace in the midst of the storm because we know that God is more than able to take care of these situations.
So, my point is: it is both the known presence of the Good Shepherd and knowing that He is resolved to care for His sheep that creates the peace among the flock. Yes, He is there to defend us from the turbulence that arises within the flock and to keep us from the predators that come in from outside of the flock. Amen.
OUR RESTING PLACE
But notice what else David goes on to say that our Good Shepherd leads us to. David goes on to say in Psalm 23:2 that “He leads me beside the still waters.”
Again, He “leads” us. He does not drive us or make us do anything. He leads by that still small voice, by that inward witness. He guides us - for the Holy Spirit has been given to us to “guide” us into all truth and to lead the sons of God.
So, what is He leading us to? We are told here that He leads us “beside the still waters.”
The phrase “beside the still” come from the word menuwchah and describes a “rest or resting place.” It describes a comfortable, still and quiet place or thing (and in this case, that thing is “water”). So, these “still waters” could literally be described as “waters of rest” and for us to be led beside these still waters would describe us being led and guided alongside places of rest - places that are quiet, still and comfortable. Amen.
In fact, this is actually the word that was used to describe the Rest of God referred to in Psalm 95:11 - the same Rest that the writer(s) of Hebrews describe in Hebrews chapter 4.
Now this “Rest” was an obvious reference to Canaan, the Promised Land, and was described as a rest in contrast to their 40-year journey in the wilderness - which was a feeling of never belonging, always moving and striving, never experiencing the fullness of the blessing. And sadly, that is where many Christians live - in the wilderness, living from miracle to miracle (which means they are also living in crisis to crisis) and experiencing this striving, working, and arduous lifestyle. There is a better life, saints! Yes, I said there is a better life! And that is - living in the blessing of Canaan where we enter into His Rest, having taken His yoke upon us! Maybe Jesus healed so often on the sabbath because it was easier for God to work when His people were resting. Amen!
There remains therefore a rest for the people of God - where we can cease from our works, our striving and busyness. This is the Sabbath that we are called to observe - where we learn to rest in the work of another - namely, the Lord Jesus Christ’s work on the Cross. Its ultimate fulfillment will be when we leave these tents and live in the eternal rest in the Kingdom of God, but there is also a rest to be experienced now.
JESUS, OUR SABBATH
Now this leads us into an important biblical principle that was first referred to in the beginning during creation, then was instituted under the Law, and finally was fulfilled in Christ - the Sabbath.
So, let’s start out by looking at this commandment that God gave His people…
In Exodus 20:8-11, God gave them the Ten Commandments and said, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” In this Scripture, we see how He gave His chosen people the Sabbath by comparing it to when He rested from His work in creation.
Now it is important to understand that God did not “rest” in the sense that we think of resting. When we think of resting, we think of recuperating because we are fatigued, but this is not what is implied here. God rested on the seventh day, not because He was tired and exhausted. He rested because the work was finished and complete. There was nothing left to do.
This word “rest” described more of a cessation of activity, the ending of effort. A good example of what transpired here is an artist who was working to paint a beautiful masterpiece and then when his or her picture was completed, they lean back in their chair observing their completed masterpiece maybe with their brush in the mouth. This image in no way describes an artist laying down his brush because it got too heavy. No, he rested from his work because his work was finished and complete.
God had created the heavens and earth and all that is within them and saw that it was all “very good” (1:31). It was finished! His work was complete! So, He was attempting to get His people to see that the work of creation had been completed. Therefore, He gave them the Sabbath to illustrate to them that they are to rest in God’s finished work of creation and redemption.
So, what is our attitude to be regarding the Sabbath? Are we to keep the Sabbath or not? Well, let’s look over at Colossians chapter 2 and, in this passage, we will see the true purpose of the Sabbath and how we should be fulfilling it…
THE SABBATH WAS A SHADOW
Colossians 2:11-15 says, “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”
So, notice here that things like circumcision (another big point of contention), water baptism, and all the other “handwriting of requirements” (i.e. the commandments of the Law) have been fulfilled in us who are in Him. Amen!
Now notice this… Paul goes on to say in Colossians 2:16, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths…”
In other words, because the law has been fulfilled in us through the finished work of Christ (i.e. “so”), we are to let no one judge us in food or in drink (this is dietary laws of the law), or regarding a festival (all the feast days) or a new moon (some other requirement for the Jews to keep) or SABBATHS. Or what? Or SABBATHS! This implies we are not to let anyone judge us regarding keeping the different Sabbaths because we are now under the perfect law of liberty.
But why? Why are we free from keeping the Sabbath today under our new and better covenant? Well, continue reading…
In verse 17, Paul goes on to say, “which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”
Do you see this? All of these requirements of the law - the dietary laws, the feasts, and, yes, even the Sabbath - are shadows of things to come! This means that all of these commands the Lord gave them were meant to foreshadow something which was to come, namely, SOMEONE who was to come - and that is Christ! Praise the Lord!
Actually, this word “substance” literally means “body.” So why would we continue hugging the shadow of the One we love when we have their body? That would be weird!
So, what does this teach us? It teaches us that the Sabbath is simply a shadow of Christ and, therefore, Christ is the fulfillment of the Sabbath. Yes, saints, JESUS IS OUR SABBATH REST!
IT IS FINISHED
Let’s look at another passage where the Lord gave His chosen people a command concerning the Sabbath and we will see this more clearly…
Deuteronomy 5:15 says, “And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”
Notice the word “therefore” in this verse… Being redeemed from Egypt is a type of our salvation, so this is why He commanded them to keep the Sabbath. He did it with His mighty hand and outstretched arm. Therefore, Jesus brought us out of the kingdom of darkness and we should rest in His finished work.
Practically speaking, God gave them one day a week not to work to illustrate to them that they are not their own source. In other words, the Sabbath had an element of trust to it. You had to trust the Lord that He could do more by His mighty hand and outstretched arm in 6 days than you could do by your arm and hand in 7 days. It was to illustrate to them that they are not their own Savior and Provider - God is.
So, this is what we need to understand about the seventh day - that when were we made a new creation in Christ that His work in us is complete. Therefore, we are not a work in progress. His work of grace in our spirit is finished! And it was not by our own hands that we are saved - Jesus did the work Himself.
This is why Jesus said on the Cross just before He gave up His spirit that “It is finished!” He was saying that the price that needed to be paid for our salvation was complete. He was saying that what He hung on that Cross to accomplish was sufficient. Nothing else needed to be done! The price needful for our redemption had been fully satisfied and we are complete!
You see, the word “sabbath” obviously means “rest.” In fact, the words “seven, sabbath, & rest” all come from the same basic word in the Hebrew shabat. And we know the number seven in biblical numerology describes “completion.” Therefore, we see the meaning of the Sabbath… It is that God indeed rested on the seventh day because His work of creation was completed. Amen.
So, we being children of God who have been made new creations in Christ Jesus ought to also follow our Heavenly Father’s pattern - know that the work of the new creation (i.e. salvation) has been completed within us and now we are to rest from our works of the flesh that seek to accomplish what has already been accomplished in us through Christ Jesus. Amen. We are complete in Him. The work of salvation has already been accomplished within us, so now we can cease from our works (i.e. works that seek to justify and obtain what can only be received by faith in His grace) as God ceased from His works. We must cease our WORKS of righteousness (which are not good enough) and REST in the work that Christ did to atone for our sins.
Therefore, we can rest in all the works that Christ has done for us! He has paid the price and done everything that needs to be done in regards to our salvation!
The number seven in Biblical numerology describes “perfection and completion.” Thus, our salvation and the new creation we were made is perfect and complete! There is nothing left undone! God made all things good in the beginning and God has made all the things that are new in us good! When God looked over all that He had made, He said it was very good! Likewise, God looks at His work in us and says it is very good! We have passed inspection!
Now let’s go over to Hebrews chapter 4 where the Sabbath is further explained:
THERE REMAINS A REST
Hebrews 4:9-10 - There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Now the physical fulfillment of the Sabbath will be when we enter in the rest of heaven, but the spiritual fulfillment is the rest we have entered in positionally. Just as the Promised Land was the fulfillment of rest promised to the children of Israel & Joshua - we can partake of Canaan then and now…
You see, just as God gave Israel the 7th year Sabbath (which they never observed) and also the 7th day Sabbath, God has given us two fulfillments of this type and shadow…
There is the Sabbath rest of the next life (i.e. the new heavens and the new earth) and there is a Sabbath rest we can experience every day in this life through our position in Christ. In other words, just as there are three phases to our salvation - one being when our spirit was born again and where old things passed away and all things became new positionally. Another being that we can taste of His salvation in our soul and body now here on this earth as we renew our minds to who we are in Christ and have His Spirit come upon us. And thirdly being when Christ returns, and we receive our glorified body - there are three truths regarding the Sabbath - we have already entered into that rest spiritually as our spirit has been made perfect and complete in Him and our salvation is at rest. Secondly, we have the promise of practically entering His rest everyday as we cease from our own works and self-effort and trust in the work of another. And, last but not least, we will enter that habitual eternal rest when we pass from this life to the next. Amen.
You see, there therefore remains a rest for the people of God - and while being persuaded that God has completed the work of salvation within you is super important - learning to receive the rest that is available to us daily is also super important:
LIGHT AND EASY
Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Notice that twice in this passage Jesus makes reference to “rest.” We must understand that one rest is given, the other is found. One is experienced when we come to Christ upon making Him our personal Lord and Savior. This is the positional rest we have entered in to. But there remains a rest that we can partake of experientially - and that is when we exchange our weakness for His strength, when we learn to wait on the Lord and draw near to Him in fellowship. This is when we will run and not grow weary, when we will walk and not faint. Amen. (See Isaiah 40:31)
Learning to taste and see that the Lord is good and that He is our strength when we are weak is such a vital truth to experience. Oftentimes, we gravitate towards doing things in our own strength and we begin to pull a “Martha”- being troubled with much serving. This is when we must become more like Mary who learned when to sit at the Master’s feet and draw her strength from Him. Strength for service comes from fellowship. This is when we yoke ourselves up together with Him and He does the majority of the pulling. “Burnout” comes as we do all the pulling ourselves. This is not what the Lord intended. The Master said, “Take MY yoke upon you (i.e. get yoked up together with Me) and I will give you rest.
Friends, the Christian life is meant to be light and easy, not heavy and hard. And the moment we begin to feel like our burden is heavy and hard is the moment we have simply realized that we are taking our own yoke and are not benefiting from Him pulling the weight for us.
In fact, all of Psalm 23:2 teaches us this one principle:
For example, the entire phrase at the beginning of this verse, “Me makes me to lie down”- comes from one Hebrew word - the word rabats. This word literally means “to stretch oneself out or lie stretched out.” Thus, the reason that this word is translated “to couch” in a couple of places. Therefore, this word describes “reclining.” So, we might translate this first half of Psalm 23:2 like so today: “He helps me to take a load off and to rest & relax.”
You see, if we are not joyfully serving the Lord, then we are not serving the Lord the way He intended for us to. When we are living the Christian life correctly, we will live a life that is full of peace and joy. It is only when we try to live the Christian life in the arm of the flesh that we become miserable, feeling unfulfilled.
Saints, it is not the Lord’s will that any part of our Christian walk feels like “work.” Sure, it is not always pleasant putting the flesh under, and sure, it is not always easy to go through the various trials we fall into. But if everything always seems arduous and an uphill battle, then we are likely missing it in some way.
You see, the reason working for the Lord is light and easy is because we are yoked up together with Him. In those days, oxen were yoked up together in order to share the load they were carrying. So, if we have been yoked up together with Christ, then we can be certain that He will bear the entire burden! This will result in our walk being light and easy, as opposed to heavy and difficult. The only time that it becomes laborious is when we, of our own accord, unyoke ourselves from Him and try to carry the weights of this life ourselves. This is when the Christian life becomes burdensome and overbearing and we, as a result, lose our joy.
But, no, Christianity is not intended to be burdensome. Again, there is certainly discipline over the flesh and the resistance of temptation involved in the life of a Christian, but in regard to our growth and increase in every area of our walk, it is God Who carries that entire burden. Praise the Lord!
Therefore, to lie down in green pastures describes our Good Shepherd leading us, His sheep, to places of comfort, rest and relaxation - like a spiritual couch or recliner. Amen!
As we have seen, the leading us beside still waters teaches us the same - that there remains a rest for the people of God - a stream that makes glad the city of our God. It is beside these still waters that we find rest for our souls.
May you find rest for your souls today and experience the Sabbath rest - a quality of this good life - that is found only in Christ. Amen.
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