An Exposition of Psalm 23

Grateful acknowledgements to Dr. Peter S. Ruckman

Our lesson is a very familiar portion of Scripture, perhaps the most familiar of any place in the Bible, Psalm 23, the Shepherd's Psalm.

Psalm 23 has six verses. Now, I won't take a great deal of time on introduction with regards to this passage, because it is one of the most well-known passages anywhere in the word of God. It is especially appreciated by unsaved church people who like to think the Lord is their Shepherd when He's not. Unfortunately, some of the better known portions of Scripture are the portions that deal with anything except salvation. Perhaps the most well known verses of Scripture--or portions--are the Sermon on the Mount, I Corinthians 13, the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, and Psalm 23. Now, the reason why these are favorites is because nothing in one of those passages could tell anybody how to be saved. And all those passages assume the man is either an Old Testament saint or a New Testament saint. So all unsaved people like those portions of Scripture that don't call their sins to their attention.

But since we are saved, we do know the Lord is our Shepherd, and that He is our personal Shepherd. And I can truthfully say that the Lord is my shepherd individually.

We will not hesitate to expound the Psalm to the best of our ability. We're not going to throw out these passages of Scripture simply because unsaved people use them as an alibi to go to hell with. That's their problem.

This is the Shepherd Psalm. The placement of the Psalm is, of course, remarkable. Psalm 22 deals with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and resurrection. Psalm 23, then, deals with the relationship of the Lord Jesus Christ to the individual saint after the resurrection. And Psalm 24 plainly speaks of the Second Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Psalms are laid out in prophetic order: Psalm 22, the crucifixion; Psalm 23, a picture of the Church Age; and Psalm 24, a picture of the Second Advent.

Psalm 23 has a beautiful outline: In verse 1 we have a happy life. In verse 4 we have a happy death. And in verse 6 we have a happy eternity. In the great Psalm, Psalm 23, we find the Lord is with me, He is beneath me, He is before me, He is around me, He is after me, and He is ahead of me. Psalm 23 is David historically speaking about his relationship with the Lord, and pictures the relationship of the Christian who's got into the right fold.

It is most significant and instructive to notice that most of the great saints in the Old Testament were shepherds. Abel was a shepherd--a type of Christ. Abraham was a shepherd--a type of Christ. Isaac and Jacob were shepherds. Moses was a shepherd. Joseph, the greatest type in the entire Bible--a type of Christ in 152 particulars--was a shepherd. And David, of course, one of the great types of Christ in the Old Testament, was by nature and by trade and upbringing a shepherd.

There are seven Jehovah's in the Old Testament--what they call Jehovah Nissi, Jehovah Shammah, Jehovah Shalom, Jehovah Ra'ah, Jehovah-Jireh, Jehovah Raphah, and Jehovah Sidkinu. The Jehovah here is Jehovah Ra'ah, the Shepherd. 1. "The Lord is my shepherd" Notice the personal wording. The Lord is not our shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd. There's a big difference when you get to know the Shepherd. "The Lord is my shepherd."

Many people going around quoting the 23rd Psalm don't believe that the Lord has any right to their fleece. If you're one of the sheep, He has a right to the fleece. And if you're one of His sheep, you're to be following Him. Christ said, "My sheep follow me, and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish." "The Lord is my shepherd." It's a personal relationship. We're not worried about the church relationship. Folks say, "I want to get into the church that Christ founded." If you did, you'd go to hell anyway. No church can save a dead horse. What you need is the Shepherd. Jesus Christ said, "I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep." No church lays down life for you at all.

Jesus Christ says in John chapter 10, "I am the Good Shepherd" (verse 11). "The Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." And again, in John 10:14, "I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine."

A fellow was upset once by a comic book put out by Jack Chick called "Sabotage." It blew the bottom out of his phony religion. And that fellow telephoned a Bible-believing pastor recently and did the dirty work for his church, you know, because the ecclesiastical dignitaries in it didn't have enough guts to do their own dirty work. So he tried to give the pastor a hard time. The pastor knew it, so he asked him if he had eternal life. He didn't know. All he could say was, "I know I'm going to live forever." Well, any fool knows that. Where are you going to live--in heaven or in hell? He didn't know. That fellow is going down the country quoting John 6 and saying, "Well, if you eat Christ's flesh and drink His blood you have eternal life." He didn't have eternal life! And if he did, he didn't know it!

Christ said, "I give to my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish." Verse 28: "And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all." There is no church involved. Jesus Christ laid down His life for individuals; the individuals are His; He is theirs; and the Father gave them to Him, and gave Him to them. Jesus Christ is God's love gift to the believer, and the believer is God's love gift to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus says in John 10:27, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them." I know them! "...and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life." We saved people are in the right flock and have the right Shepherd. We never fool with any "shepherds" down here. We know who the Chief Shepherd is. The Good Shepherd is the Lord Jesus Christ. He's called the Shepherd and the Bishop of our soul. And when we say "The Lord is my shepherd," we're talking about a personal relationship that no church can interfere any way in the world with. They simply can't interfere. They might be able to kill us, but that won't sever us from the Shepherd.

Simon Peter says in I Peter 2:25, "For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls." I know who my Bishop is. My Bishop is the Lord Jesus Christ. At least that's what Simon Peter, the prince of apostles, said. He said the Bishop of my soul is Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.

One time at a dinner table a famous movie actor got up and recited the 23rd Psalm at the beginning of the dinner, as sort of a kind of pious introduction. And when the dinner was over, somebody there at the table asked an elderly gentleman there at the table to recite it who was not an actor; he was an old retired preacher. And the old retired preacher got up and recited the Psalm. The difference was, when the actor finished reciting the Psalm, everybody at the table applauded; but when the old preacher got through reciting the Psalm, it was quiet, and some of the people were crying. And when they got through, the movie actor, going out the door, said to the old retired preacher, "What power of delivery do you have that you can move these people like that and I can't?"

And the preacher smiled at him and said, "Well, sir, you know the Psalm. But I know the Shepherd!"

One fellow knew it by rote, and the other fellow knew it by heart. Psalm 23--the Lord is my Shepherd.

You know, there's a big difference between saying that and standing in a congregation saying, "Our Father, which art in heaven"--our--and putting yourself deep in a crowd so God can't spot you? Why don't you go into a closet and shut the door and get down on your knees? And say, "Father..." You see, there's a difference. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

A little boy reciting the Psalm said, "The Lord is my Shepherd; I got all I want." "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." Or, in the language of the New Testament, "My God shall supply all your need, according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Now, what does He do? "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures." Food! A sheep can find food where no animal in the world can find it. Sheep and goats can pick a thing dry till you wouldn't think there was a blade of grass left. And, if there's one left, they'll find it. God's people can find sustenance and nourishment where the unsaved people can't find anything but a barren waste.

Why, you know that's so. God's people in the Old Testament found food and sustenance for 40 years in waste and wilderness. And, in the New Testament, when they got out there in the wilderness with Jesus Christ, He managed to dish up a meal for 5,000 of them! And had food left over! "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures." Well, our bed is our table. The sheep lieth down on his bed; he lieth down where he eats.

Isn't that a beautiful thought? You know what our food and sustenance is? Why, you know what it is! It's not church decrees, you know, and "infallible bulls," and all this pagan, blasphemous nonsense. Our diet is the word of God. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God doth man live." If you're a human being, you're told to live off everything that God said. A sheep knows that. He not only feeds on the word of God, but he rests on the word of God. "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures." "Be still my soul." "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed upon thee, because he trusteth in thee." Our room is our board and our board is our room.

2.  "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters."

Not the turbulent waters. Sometimes they go through deep waters. When He does, it's to be with us in our goal to refine. "Some through the water, some through the flood, some through the fire, but all through the blood." "He maketh me to lie down...beside still waters." He feeds us. Our meat is our mattress at the same time.

The sheep have to move on after feeding so as not to eat everything all up. You don't have to count sheep to go to sleep these days; just talk to the Shepherd. You'll get the sleep; you'll get some rest. The Shepherd cooks the biscuits and makes the gravy.

One time a little boy had been punished by his mother at the dinner table for acting raucous, and she said, "Go over there and sit in the corner, and eat your food in the corner." She made him go over and sit on a little stool and face the wall and eat. Then, before he began to eat, she said, "And don't forget to ask the blessing!" That little old tyke, about seven years old, bowed his head over his plate and said, "Dear Lord, please bless this food that you've prepared for us, in the presence of our enemies!"

And that's what's going on here. Look at verse 5: "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies." He didn't promise you freedom from persecution. But He said, while they're after you, He'll feed you and let them starve. Isn't it something? If they're enemies of the Christian, the child of God, their souls starve. And they dry and wither away from malnutrition and shrink up and rot. And the Christian delights his soul in the Lord, and the liberal soul shall be made fat. He enjoys it; the Lord takes care of him.

3.  "He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake."

He brings it back where it ought to have been. Your soul was tied to a dead body by the circumcision made without hands. By the circumcision of the Holy Spirit your soul was cut loose from your body when you got saved, and married to Christ (Romans 7:1-4).

Isn't that something? Sometimes the Lord makes us do right for His own sake. God knows it's a benefit and a blessing to us, and it's profitable to us. But sometimes He does it for His own sake, for His own testimony. "He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake." We know what the Name is. We know the Name of the Good Shepherd. We know who the Head of the flock is. It's nobody down on this earth. The Head of the flock is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Now the Bible speaks about another shepherd who will show up on this earth, who will profess to be trying to get everybody into one flock. But the shepherd who comes to get everybody into one flock is the Antichrist. He's said to be the adversary. Did you ever read that passage? Let's turn to that passage. Zechariah chapter 11, starting with verse 15. There are two shepherds in the word of God. One is the Good Shepherd who comes and lays down His life for the sheep and goes back to glory and guides the sheep and feeds the sheep and takes care of them, and goes out to seek and to save that which was lost, and when He findeth it He bringeth it home rejoicing upon His shoulders, and saying, "Rejoice with me; I have found my sheep that was lost." And he described in Zechariah 11:15: "And the LORD said unto me, Take unto thee yet the instruments of a foolish shepherd. For, lo, I will raise up a shepherd in the land, which shall not visit those that be cut off, neither shall seek the young one, nor heal that that is broken, nor feed that that standeth still: but he shall eat the flesh of the fat, and tear their claws in pieces. Woe to the idol shepherd"--I-D-O-L--did you see that? Are you taking notes this morning? Zechariah 11:17.

The way you spot the false shepherd, the antichrists, is by his idols--I-D-O-L--Zechariah 11:17. Upset you? Get you mad? If I was rotten and living like the devil as much as you are, I guess I'd get upset too! There's nothing in the word that a godless man hates like the Bible--especially a religious man. Zechariah 11:17: "Woe to the idol shepherd." Not I-D-L-E--lazy--I-D-O- L! He's messing with an image. "Woe to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock! the sword shall be upon his arm"--he'll be assassinated--"...and upon his right eye: his arm shall be clean dried up"--bad right arm! Mark it! Mark it! You better mark it! You had better mark it! Bad arm--"...and his right eye..."--you better mark it!--"...his right eye shall be utterly darkened."

He's a one-eyed Cyclops.

That's an antichrist.

What is he? He's the one shepherd with the one fold with the one flock. He's the devil. Zechariah chapter 11.

Continuing back on with the true Shepherd, Psalm 23:

4. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."

Strange thing when you actually analyze a thing and look at it carefully. "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." In a way, the Christian doesn't even see death. Christ says, "If a man keeps my saying, he won't see death." When death comes to get the Christian, the Christian goes to the valley of the shadow. But he doesn't meet the gentleman in charge. The one who has the power of death is the devil, according to the New Testament.

Hebrews chapter 2, verses 14 and 15. The Christian only sees the shadow. "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod..." The rod was a mace. It was a rod made by whittling a tree root till it had kind of a balloon on the head, into which nails were driven. And in the Assyrian sculptures it's a mace-- it's a club. It's bad news, man. You can knock a guy's brains out with a club shaped like a hardball bat. But the rod that a shepherd had was like a hardball bat with ten-penny nails slapped through the end.

When you read in your Bible about David one time tangling with a lion and a bear, the chances are ten to one that he used his sling on one of them. But the chances are also very good if not certain that in the case of the other one, he came up and took hold of that thing and beat his brains out with a mace. Now, this thing is found in I Samuel. And back in I Samuel, when Goliath the Philistine came out to challenge the tribes of Israel, and Saul got scared to death and decided he couldn't handle the thing, along came David. And when David came along and went out there, and volunteered to go out and fight against the Philistines, he came up to Saul and tried on his armor and couldn't make it.

And Saul said, "Well, you can't make it because you're not big enough."

And David said, "Well, I can't make it because I haven't tried out this stuff. I've got to use my own stuff."

And so David went down to the brook and got him a sling and went out there and took care of the job. And of course everybody knows about the job, and they know what happened. But the thing about this matter is, that when David was explaining why he was able to handle the Philistine, he said this: I Samuel 17:34: "And David said to Saul, Thy servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him,...and when he arose against me.."-- listen! I Samuel 17:35--"...I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him." There's ol' David grabbing a hold of a lion by the mane and knocking its brains out with a mace.

Then that rod is something else. "Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." What's that rod a picture of? Why, that thing is a picture of the devil! Now that shepherd's staff is something else; that's for comfort and for guiding, and for pulling the sheep back into the way, and for getting the sheep out of places where he can't reach him with his hand. But that, my, my. Isaiah 10:5: "O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger..." When Moses cast that rod to the ground, it became a serpent.

Isaiah 10:15: "Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith?" --God using the devil-- "or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it?" --God using the devil -- "as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up."

Well, how in the world can the devil be a comfort to a child of God? Well, a number of ways. In the first place, he can scare him. And when a Christian is scared, he'll humble himself. And when he humbles himself, he resists the devil, and God will lift him up.

There's something else. God uses the devil to punish a Christian and chasten him and get him to repent and confess his sin and get back into fellowship.

There are a number of ways the devil can be a comfort to the child of God. "Thy rod"--the beating, the chastening, the affliction--"and thy staff"--the guidance, the leadership--"they comfort me."

5. "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over."

David is rejoicing in God's goodness. He's tired of pitching a tent and constantly moving from place to place, so he finally says,

6. "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever."

Some very expedient soul has found a way to figure that the "goodness and mercy" that follow David are pictured by two dogs that follow the flock. I don't know whether that's so or not, but it makes good preaching. At any rate, goodness and mercy will follow the Christian all the days of his life, and he will dwell in the house of the Lord forever--certainly, in the sense of heaven, for he HAS eternal life. And Christ said, "I give to my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish."

Now this similitude in the Bible is not without meaning and not without significance, because if there's one animal on the face of this earth that represents the sinner that gets saved, it would be a sheep. In the New Testament, He says, "My sheep hear my voice, and they won't the voice of a stranger."

One time an Englishman went over to Israel back in the 1920s and watched a Syrian sheepherder working with his sheep and calling them together. And he said to the sheepherder, "How about letting me make that call?"

And the Syrian said, "You can call it, but they won't come to you."

And the Englishman said, "I've heard you call it now almost ten times. I think I can imitate it." So he got up on a knoll there and called the sheep: "Men-AAAH! Men-AAAH! Men-AAAH!" Those sheep looked up from their grazing and looked at him, and went right back down and kept on eating.

He couldn't assemble the sheep.

God's sheep know His voice. They know the idol shepherd, the false shepherd, when he shows up.

Notice in Psalm 23, you have "He" in verse 3, He in verse 2. But "He" in verse 4 changes to "Thou" in the middle of verse 4. Did you notice that? He restoreth my soul, He leads me, He leads me, and then in verse 4, nearing death, "Thou art with me." It's a personal relationship.

Sheep get lost because they're curious and just stray off into their own pasture. Sheep get lost because they think the pasture's greener on the other side. They wander off to get something better. And often sheep get lost because they get scared by wild animals and stray from the fold. Either way, the Good Shepherd goes after them.

"There were ninety and nine that safely lay in the shelter of the fold,
But one was old in the hills away, Far off from the streets of gold.
Out in the mountains wild and bare, Away from the Shepherd's tender care.
Lord, thou hast here thy ninety and nine, Are they not enough for thee?
But the Shepherd made answer, I go to find The sheep that has wandered from me.
And though the mountains be rough and steep, I go to the mountains to find my sheep.
But none of the ransomed ever knew How deep were the valleys crossed.
Throughout wild and steep, through the gorges deep, Till He found the sheep that was lost. But the angels echoed around the throne, Rejoice! Rejoice! For the Lord brings back His own.
Rejoice! For the Lord brings back His own."

This is also expressed in scripture:

Matthew 18:13-14, "And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish."

Luke 15:4-7, "What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance."

I trust today you are one of His sheep, securely in His fold, and know who the One, True, Good Shepherd is. And, if you don't, may God help you to see today that the Good Shepherd laid down His life for you, that you, a poor, lost sheep, might go home in the Shepherd's arms, and dwell, as David said, "in the house of the Lord forever."

A new look at the 23rd Psalm:

The Lord is my Shepherd
That's Relationship!

I shall not want
That's Supply!

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures
That's Rest!

He leadeth me beside the still waters
That's Refreshment!

He restoreth my soul
That's Healing!

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
That's Guidance!

For His name sake
That's Purpose!

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
That's Testing!

I will fear no evil
That's Protection!

For Thou art with me
That's Faithfulness!

Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me
That's Discipline!

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies
That's Hope!

Thou annointest my head with oil
That's Consecration!

My cup runneth over
That's Abundance!

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life
That's Blessing!

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
That's Security!

That's Eternity!

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