Psalm 23:1 In Depth
I was volunteered to exhort or to share my thoughts on the first verse of Psalm 23, and I was asked to share last July 21. Unfortunately, July 21 was a day I felt really down – as I mentioned in another post I shared today, I was down with the bad case of the flu – body pains, headache, and fever. I had to ask the Bible study group I was in for prayer, and the main facilitator eventually told me that the meeting was cancelled, and my slot to share was moved to the first week of August.
But I’ve wanted to write about my thoughts on it for the longest time. I do remember our late and great Pastor Oscar telling us that the first verse was enough to formulate a sermon, and even an entire series. I won’t go as far as assembling an entire set of messages, but I will see to it that we see the verse in lots of detail, enough at least for a substantial message to start my study group off for the rest of the Psalm.
Let’s start off with how a majority of translations refer to God here as ‘Lord’. Now, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘Lord’ as follows: ‘someone or something having power, authority, or influence; a master or ruler.’ Of course, this doesn’t necessarily describe who God is. Basing on that definition alone, we can say that Senior Pastor is lord over his Associate Pastors. Parents are lord, having authority over their children. Heck, I can be your lord, considering I have enough influence to keep you reading this right now.
But here’s the thing – the verse starts off by saying ‘THE Lord’. Take note that the Psalmist could have said, ‘God is A Lord’, which would still have been true; but there is a difference when you establish God as THE Lord. It implies that over all the people and things that have power, authority, and influence over our lives, God is THE Lord that matters over all; it’s as if to say that when you call God THE Lord, He is truly as He would be called way later in the Bible – Lord of Lords. The Hebrew ‘Adonai’ is translated as ‘Lord’, but it goes even further – It doesn’t just mean ‘Lord’, but it can also be translated as ‘Lord Master’; that is, of all the lords there are, He is the Master.
There’s so much to glean from calling God ‘The Lord’ – When we say this we are essentially proclaiming that
(1) there may be many things and many people who have power, authority, and/or influence over us, but God is THE Lord who is infinitely superior and infinitely above all of these things, and
(2) while many things and many people may have some power and authority over us, and they may have influence over some aspects of our being, it is God who is THE Lord who presides over all perspectives of who we are, all-knowing, and all powerful.
God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is THE Lord.
And the Psalmist may have proclaimed that our God – who is The Lord – is an all powerful king, or a sage with infinite wisdom, but for some reason, he proclaims – “The Lord is my Shepherd”.
That’s correct – God is all powerful, and has complete and absolute authority over anything and everything involving our beings, down to the smallest details… but we apparently would do well if we saw Him in His glory, as no more than a lowly Shepherd.
I remember my uncle Henry. When he passed away he left Auntie Bel behind, and in our mourning, we made it a point to show up at her place at least once a week, to do prayers before we all gathered together for dinner. One of the hymns Auntie Bel enjoyed singing was a short one, entitled “Shepherd Of My Soul”. The entire song goes as follows:
Shepherd of my soul I give You full control
Wherever You may lead I will follow
I have made the choice to listen for Your voice
Wherever You may lead I will go
Be it in a quiet pasture or by a gentle breeze
The shepherd of my soul is by my side
Should I face a mighty mountain or a valley dark and deep
The shepherd of my soul will be my guide
Basing on this song – well, more on the chorus, really – I have reason to believe that the Psalmist wants to point out two things about God: That (1) by calling Him our Shepherd, we acknowledge that He may have power, authority, and influence over us, but He is as much by our side as He is over all things concerning us. And though we face our mountains, or if we find ourselves already struggling through darkness or wading through the depths, we can be sure (2) that not only is He with us, but He is our Guide.
To call God our Shepherd is to acknowledge that He is with us no matter what, and not only is He with us, but He is for us, and He is not against us, guiding us and directing us as we need to be guided and directed. Actually, when you think about it, you can say that when you are steady, as in a comfortable area, much like sheep in quiet pastures, being tickled by gentle breezes, you can be sure that God is the Shepherd by your side. On the other hand, if you face uncertain prospects or certain danger, as in the tall, overbearing mountains, or the dark valleys, you can take heart, knowing that God is the Shepherd who is your Guide.
To say ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ is to say that God is great, and that God is good.
But take note: We say that ‘The Lord IS my Shepherd’. We would have been right to say that The Lord WAS my Shepherd – Jesus Christ, after all, He said it Himself that He is the Good Shepherd, and His work certainly was finished. By what He did here while He was with us, which was, at least for us, in the past, He certainly proved that He had (past-tense) performed His divine mandate to reconcile us; He WAS our Good Shepherd.
Facing an uncertain future, we could say that no matter what we face, or no matter what happens to us, or what we make happen, Christ will continue to be by our side, and He will continue to be our Guide. He is with us and will never leave us. Christ WILL BE our Good Shepherd.
We could cover past and future tense and we would still be right – but take note, while those claims we make about our good and great God are true, the focus we ought to have is that He is by our side, and He is our Guide, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW. Sure as Jesus Christ is with us here and now, so we can surely say that He IS our Shepherd, right here, right now.
And we shouldn’t just notice that our Savior is as a Shepherd who is as close to us as He could ever be, in these very moments that you’re reading this, demonstrating His greatness and His goodness by way of always reminding us of His presence and His guidance. For see, the Psalmist could have easily said, ‘The Lord is OUR Shepherd’;
…and once again, he would have been right. Christ is the chief Cornerstone, the one who holds all of us together – and, of course, if we are gathered in His name, surely He is with us – He is in our midst as we come together to pray and to praise, and to celebrate Him as families and congregations. He is truly OUR Shepherd, and it’s something for us to recognize and be in awe of, indeed.
The Psalmist could have gone ahead and said, ‘The Lord is the Shepherd of Israel’, and He would have been correct as well, right? Countless times in the past, with the guidance of His chosen spokespeople, God has surely shown Himself as the great presence of Israel, by way of a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. And that wouldn’t have just served as a presence for the Israelites to appreciate, but see, He definitely guided them as well – for when the pillar moved, so the entire nation moved, as well.
But here’s the thing – The Psalmist guides us, perhaps to recognize how the Lord is OUR Shepherd, or even THE Shepherd… but he does point out that it must be emphasized, more than both of these perspectives – that He is MY Shepherd. If there were no other sheep left, it wouldn’t make any difference – Because of all that Jesus Christ has done, we may stand and proclaim with confidence, that the Lord is MY Shepherd.
He may know all of us, but He knows each of us by name – Christ knows ME by name. He speaks to me with me in mind, and He enjoys being with me.
What’s to say when we say, ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’? Well, it’s to say that we have a God who is greater than all things – though there are many people and many things that could be ‘over’ us, having some sort of power, authority, or influence over us, we recognize that God, in all of His glory and might, is not only infinitely superior to anyone or anything that has any sort of claim over us, but He is also completely ‘over’ us – HIS power, HIS authority, and HIS influence covers all angles and all perspectives, and all aspects of our being.
It’s to say that God demonstrates His glory and might, and He demonstrates His benevolence and goodness, by being as a humble Shepherd to us. How is He as a Shepherd? He never leaves us – He is always with us, and we will never be without His presence. Also, in times when we lack direction, and in times where we don’t know where to go, we can call upon our God to be our Shepherd by way of being our guide.
When we say that ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’, it’s to say that we may acknowledge His faithfulness towards us in times past, and we may look forward to His goodness on display for us in the times to come – however, we would do best to recognize that He is with us, and He is guiding us, here and now.
When we say that ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’, it’s to say that He knows everything there is to know about me, and He still chooses to commit to me. It’s just as Tommy Walker would sing:
He knows my name
He knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls
And hears me when I call
What a wonderful thought! Oh, we would certainly be correct to ascribe to God all the greatness and glory due to His name, but what a privilege, what an opportunity to see His infinite power and His everlasting peace from such a humble perspective. Truly, truly, we could say in all confidence and security.. The Lord Is My Shepherd.
Father, thank You so much for all that You do for us – We thank You, because though we could see You and know You in so many other ways, and though we know that Your glory is seen in all Creation, we can also see You as our Shepherd, who knows all there is to know about us, and loves us and will always be with us! I thank You for all that’s been revealed tonight, and I pray that You continue to minister to us, even as we continue through this week. Thank You for Your faithfulness and goodness towards us! In Jesus Christ’s name I pray, amen.
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