This week in my Living on the Rock Bible Study, we took a long, lovely look at Psalm 23.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
No sheep always lives in green pastures, that would have been ridiculous to the first readers. Shepherds were always moving their flocks around – things would get sparse (because the sheep would EAT all the grass), so the flock would move on. We can’t take these as specific promises (I will never need anything; I will always live in lush pastures by quiet waters).
So rather than taking these as specific promises, I think we step back and ask what we learn about God’s character from this Shepherd picture. What’s the big picture promise about who our God is?
Here’s what I think:
He is a God who provides.
He is a God who is leading us toward peace.
He is a God who restores, returns us, turns us back to Him.
He leads us.
He leads us to and in righteousness (for His name’s sake!)
He is WITH us – even in the darkest valley. (This is the first job of a shepherd: He’s WITH the sheep, he leads them and stays with them, that’s what makes him a shepherd! )
He protects and preserves (this is from the rod and staff, the rod is a defensive tool used to fend off enemies, and the staff was used to draw sheep back from ledges or away from other dangers.)
He provides for us in the MIDST of our enemies – not always by removing us. Sometimes right in the presence of danger, there is a feast. (So next time I find myself in opposition – spiritual or physical!, I want to look around and ask my Shepherd: Where’s the FEAST?)
His provision and comfort are abundant (my cup runs over.)
His goodness (pleasantness) and lovingkindness (that is the Hebrew word Hesed, which is committed, covenant love) don’t just follow me – the word means pursue, can even be translated persecute, run after, chase.
His goodness and covenant love pursue me all the days of my life.
I LOVE THAT.
Those of us who don’t actually feel like we’re hanging out in green pastures, by quiet waters, with all our needs met – this promise is for US. His goodness and His faithful, committed, covenant love are chasing us down. I have always wanted to be wanted – to be pursued. And here is this beautiful Shepherd God, whose goodness and lovingkindness are chasing me all my days.
This is SUCH a beautiful picture of our caring, protecting, providing God!
A woman whose God is her SHEPHERD is SECURE IN HIS CARE.
Do you believe that He cares for you this way?
Can you trust His provision? Will you wait for it? (the trick here is to not let the few things you are missing blind you to ALL that God has provided.)
Can you trust His protection? Will you wait for it? Or do you feel compelled to hustle and work and protect yourself?
What about His involvement in your life – can you receive that? Can we learn to watch for His rod and staff, His protection and preservation? I wonder if these look very different from how we expect them to look.
Can you rest in His presence in you, with you, even in the valley of shadow? Not that He’ll deliver you – but that He’ll be WITH you? This takes PRACTICE because I think we’ve been unconsciously trained to feel His presence only when good things happen. But in that valley of shadow, we can ask, “WHERE ARE YOU? You said you’d be here.” And again: We can wait for the answer.
Do you believe that He knows you? That He calls you by name? He’s leading you, His goodness and mercy are pursuing you, and will keep on pursuing you all the days of your life. He calls us by name – can we learn to hear His voice? Only by listening. Don’t give up. This IS our promise – He is calling us by name. His goodness is chasing us. And we get this one wild, beautiful life to learn to hear and respond.
SO MUCH BEAUTY.
So: God is our Shepherd.
A woman who knows this truth, who lives in this truth…
Has broken out of the lie that her God is a hired hand who will abandon her and run away…
Has turned from a view of God that paints Him as a thief who’s out to get her, who might steal from her, or kill, or destroy her.
A woman who has embraced the goodness of a God of provision, protection, PRESENCE.