“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…(1)”
Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 23:1-6
Today’s text is Psalm 23 from the lectionary reading for today, and it is the most favorite psalm for many people, and even unbelievers are familiar with this text as this psalm is quoted at most funeral services we attend to, isn’t it?
Let’s learn what this text really says to us other than giving us a picture of beautiful scenery such as still water, green pasture, and our shepherd leading us through the scary places and to a sumptuous table he prepared for us.
First of all, we note here in verse 1, “the Lord”, Yahweh, the proper name of the God of Israel (which means “I am who I am”) “is my shepherd…”. We can see that the psalmist of chapter 23 confesses that “Yahweh” is his shepherd, meaning he is Yahweh’s sheep. In other words, this Psalm 23 is for those people who confess “Yahweh” as their shepherd. Those people who call on the name of the Lord as their shepherd, as their master and as their guide in life will be in the fold of Yahweh, under the wings of Almighty God.
We know that not everyone calls on the name of the Lord, not everyone makes Yahweh as their Lord, as their shepherd or as their guide in life, even among those people who say they are Christians.
Having said that, what does it mean to make God as our Lord? “Lord” means someone having absolute power or authority over us, like master or ruler under whose authority we place ourselves. We are not the master of our life, but God is. We give the lordship of our life to God, –our will, our wish, our plan, our life itself to God. That is what it means, and without having complete trust in God, unless we know God in such intimate level to trust God no matter what the circumstance is, we cannot make God as our Lord. ‘Whatever your will is, whatever your plan is for me, I will accept’. In this context, how many of us honestly have made God as our Lord, as our shepherd?
‘I personally prefer cold climate over a hot one. I personally prefer country life over city life. I personally prefer to live in a place where my neighbors live comfortably financially than in a place where everyone is poor and living in the shack. But what if God asks me to live in a country where there is only hot summer season, hot and humid weather only? What if God asks me to live in a traffic-jammed city almost always, so many noises almost always and all around me, and to make the matter worse, what if God asks me to live in a ghetto area? In a situation like that, how many of us can really say, ‘Yes, Lord! I will follow your will and your plan for me although I do not see it why I am sure you have a good reason for me to live in a place like this. I know your plan is perfect for me. Yes, Lord, you are my master, I will follow your will’. Or I want to be a medical doctor, but what if God has a different plan for me? I want to live until I become100 years old, but what if God says, I am to live only until next year? What if I myself have financial difficulties, yet God asks me to give to church a lot more than I can afford? It is not easy to make Yahweh as our shepherd, and without having complete trust in the Lord that God’s way is the best way us, we just cannot make God as our Lord and our shepherd.
Yet, King David was happy to make Yahweh as his shepherd and exclaimed out of overwhelming joy saying that because he made Yahweh as his shepherd, he said he lacked anything. His praises came from his personal experiences with God in his past. He knew God intimately and experienced God’s love and mercy that was far surpassed than his own limited understanding of himself.
Verses 2 to 5, we see the list of what Yahweh does for us as our shepherd, who make God as our shepherd.
First of all, Yahweh makes his sheep “lie down in the green pasture”. Green pastures in David’s time were rare, mostly rocky hills with just enough vegetation to sustain the sheep for the day. The sheep had to depend on the shepherd to lead them to the grass they can eat for their daily sustenance.
What does it mean for us? The world is rocky hills where there are no green pastures, no food. Wandering around rocky hills without eating means death; it is God who provides our food, leading us to the green pasture. it is in God we find food to survive, in other words. How many people in the world wandering on the rocky hills without eating, looking and looking for food on their own, starving. If God is not our shepherd, we cannot be fed since we cannot find food roaming around rocky hills. As we learned quite some time ago that sheep are known for their stupidity, having no sense of direction, defenseless and witless. In order for them to survive, sheep cannot be parted from their shepherd, as we cannot be parted from God who leads us to the green pasture, to our daily sustenance.
Another thing we have to know is that “the green pastures” indicate that God gives rest, sometimes forcefully, to His people as we notice the words, “He makes me lie down in green pasture”. If we read this verse closely to its original meaning, “He continually causes me to lie down in green pastures,” implying God’s sovereign care and intervention in our lives. In other words, God does not remotely exist, far away from us and not caring for us, but God closely watches over us and takes care of us intimately.
Although “He makes me lie down in green pasture” sounds so sweet and loving, the process of God making us lie down can be dreadfully painful, like a living hell experience. Since we do not have the sense to know when it is best to lie down and rest in order to be renewed and refreshed. Therefore, God, as our heavenly Father and Shepherd, “causes us to lie down in green pastures” where He might renew and replenish our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical strength. It means sometimes, God forcefully makes us lie down in his green pasture putting a stop to our lives that do not know when to stop, and this is not an easy process, as I mentioned earlier. All of sudden, some people find themselves in the jobless situation, some people find themselves in a hospital bed, sometimes, people find themselves in great financial loss failing from their business deals which had been successful until then.
Among these, many people confess that they have lived a driven life, driven to work, success, accomplishment, or self- promotion, etc. They knew that they have to slow down but they just did not know when and how to stop, like we know when we speed, and we know that we have to slow down, but more and more we speed because we are so used to speed until we get a ticket which makes us think how we violate the speed limit and helps us to slow down. If we learn from getting a ticket and slow down, that is good. But some people never learn until their license gets revoked. If we are too far away out in the rocky hills where there is no food, running around, not knowing where we are heading, yet continuously running ignoring God’s warning voices, God forcefully makes us to stop from running on our own in the desert and leads us to the green pasture in which we can lie down and rest from our own wildly driven lives.
The second part of the verse, “He leads me beside quiet waters,” is equally as important. The phrase “He leads me” has the same connotation implying God’s intense intervention in our lives. Once again, it emphasizes an ongoing, continuous action. As God continually causing us to “lie down in green pastures” when He knows we need to, God intensely leading us “beside quiet waters” when we need that as well. Its Hebrew usage of the words, it clearly presents God doing for us what we are either unwilling to do for ourselves when we need to stop and be refreshed, or we are blind to our need for spiritual, mental, emotional, and even physical rest and refreshment.
Our shepherd leads us to “still or quiet waters”. In Hebrew, the words for ‘still waters’ meaning literally, “restful waters”. Our Shepherd wants to lead us to the place of rest and peace, from the place of seeking things of the world that cannot satisfy us. Some people chase after fame, some chase after money, some chase success, some chase after vainglory which will make us restless and thirsty all the more to death. All those things we seek without God in the “rocky hills” lead us to hunger, exhaustion, and then to death eventually. It is God who is our shepherd intervenes and leads us to rest found in Jesus who takes the “heavy load” from our life and replaces it with His everlasting peace and rest.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. “For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.” Matt 11:28-30.
Another important thing to note in this verse is the fact that we need water. Our Good Shepherd leads us to the place of rest, but before that, He leads us to a place where we can quench our thirst. Without water, one cannot survive for very long; water is a necessity for life and without it, we would die.
Our shepherd leads us to the kind of water that, if we drink from it, we will never thirst again. This is not water in the literal sense, the kind from which we drink and will inevitably be thirsty again. The kind of water that He spoke of is everlasting water, the Living Water that will satisfy, comfort, and nourish our souls forever, that is JESUS.
If you have tasted from this water in the past, but have walked away from the Lord and are now in a place of spiritual dryness, please know that Lord is offering you to return to Him and once again find nourishment for your weary soul:
“Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” John 4:13
When we drink this living water our souls can be restored from the path of death to the path of righteousness. Jesus is the only one who can quench our thirst in life satisfying our souls to the fullest. Are you weary and thirsty, are you tired from wandering out on the rocky hills, come, rest and quench your thirst! Amen.