Psalm 23 came up in my reading plan today, and I wanted to slow down and take a closer look at this psalm. I tend to find that difficult with really familiar passages of scripture. When you have heard and read something possibly hundreds of times, it can tricky to slow down, and see what is really there.
I love this Psalm in general because of the theme that the Lord is MY Shepherd. I am a sheep, which means, I am one of the dumbest and most helpless animals in existence. If not for my shepherd, I will wander off and be eaten by wild animals, or stave to death because I can’t find food for myself. God, as my personal shepherd, is the one who feeds me, protects me, and keeps me from wandering off on my own.
As I was reading the psalm, my mind zoomed in on a particular phrase in v.2 “He leads me beside still waters.” In scriptures, and especially in the Psalms “waters” are frequently a metaphor for the forces of chaos in the universe – the forces of wickedness which stand in opposition to God. There are many examples of this, but here are just a few:
…surely in the rush of great waters,
they shall not reach him.
(Psalm 32:6 ESV)
Therefore we will not fear…
though its waters roar and foam…
(Psalm 46:2-3 ESV)
Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
(Psalm 69:1-2 ESV)
When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
indeed, the deep trembled.
(Psalm 77:16 ESV)
As I said, there are many many more examples of this. “Waters” are usually seen as raging, as a cause of dread, in stark opposition to the authority of God.
Yet David says, that in the Lord’s role as his Shepherd, he leads him beside still waters. This is a scene of tranquility and peace. More than that, it is a picture of God’s control over the forces of chaos. Just as Jesus commanded the wind and the waves, stilling them, He rules over all the forces in existence which would seek to destroy his work in our lives. If we zoom out a couple verses, we see both how the Lord does this, and why:
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even 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.
(Psalm 23:2-4 ESV)
What is it that shatters the forces of evil and chaos? It is the very presence of the Lord. David refuses to fear in even the worst circumstance because he knows God is with him. Read Psalm 23, and see how active his presence is with his people. He leads, He restores, He is with you, He comforts, He prepares a feast, He anoints, etc. It is God’s living presence with his people that is their comfort, their peace, and their hope.
Why does he bless undeserving “sheep” so immensely? For his name’s sake (v.3)! God’s very reputation is at stake. He has committed himself to saving people, to shepherd them through life, and to lead them to be more and more conformed to the image of Christ (leading in paths of righteousness), all for the sake of his name. His glory is at the heart of his motivation to do his people good. We should be extraordinarily thankful for this, because it is the presence of his glory which provides our peace and our joy, so anything that magnifies God’s glory is also of great benefit for us.
This may be a familiar psalm to you, or it might not. Either way, I encourage you to stop for a minute and soak into this delightful scene, and know that whatever the forces that may be arrayed against you, God offers you his own presence which calms even the raging sea.