A reminder that these reading notes are for use throughout January
Last Sunday was the first in our summer series: “The riches of Psalm 23”. Probably the best known of all the Psalms, its promises have inspired generations of people to trust and hope in God through bad times and good. Over the summer break we will explore each phrase in depth and see what it means for us.
So – here’s the plan:
DEC 30 Lacking nothing Psalm 23:1
JAN 06 Brilliant provision Psalm 23:2-3
JAN 13 No fear Psalm 23:4
JAN 20 A table with enemies Psalm 23:5
JAN 27 Pursued by God Psalm 23:6
Once again for this series, I’ll provide one reflection for each week and suggest you supplement this by reading through the early chapters of Luke’s Gospel which we’ll begin in Term 1.
Week 1: Read Psalm 23
King David makes an astonishing claim: that because the Lord is his shepherd, he lacks nothing; he wants for nothing. All his needs are met by the Shepherd.
The background of this is the ancient middle-eastern shepherd who cared for a small flock of sheep – perhaps 30 or 40. He knew them each by name and they followed him. The shepherd provided for the sheep and protected them. As long as they followed the shepherd and followed his directions, they had their every need taken care of and they were safe from both robbers and wild animals.
When Christians today trust and follow Jesus the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for us, we also have all our needs met. We need to ensure that the LORD is our Shepherd. We must surrender all to him and totally depend on him. When we do so, we will find all our needs met by him.
Jesus goes on to reiterate the same principle: Matthew 6:33-34 Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
May it be that you can increasingly and confidently proclaim: “the Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.”
WEEK 2: Read Psalm 23:2-3
The imagery is so rich and beautiful in these verses. “Lie down in green pastures” suggests safety and security but also food. He is at rest because the Shepherd is watching out for him. Quiet waters suggest both a quenched thirst and restful place. But there’s not only physical sustenance – food and water – there is spiritual sustenance – he refreshes my soul. And there is guidance along the right way.
Other verses of the Bible come to mind. Jesus promises the woman at the well in John 4, that if she drinks from the water he provides, she will never thirst again. Then in Proverbs 3 comes the wisdom – in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.
These promises assume once again, that we are following and trusting God as our Shepherd. When we try and live life without him and are filled with self-sufficiency, we find ourselves struggling!
May it be that you can increasingly and confidently proclaim: “he makes me lie down, he leads me, he refreshes me, he guides me!”
WEEK 3: Read Psalm 23:4
Many a Christian facing death has been helped by this verse. And not only those facing death themselves, but close family of those facing death.
Sheep would typically baulk at going through dark valleys where rocks would overhang the track, giving the effect that everything was closing in on them. Sheep were vulnerable in that circumstance as thieves or wild animals could hide themselves and attack when the sheep least expected it. However, when their shepherd was leading them and had his rod and staff to protect them, the sheep were comforted.
David picks up this imagery to proclaim that when he is walking through metaphorical dark valleys – even the valley of the shadow of death – he fears no evil because the Good Shepherd is with him. To know that the Lord is with you in life’s most difficult trying circumstances, brings an incomparable comfort and peace. Read Psalm 112:6-8 and reflect on how these verses flesh out Psalm 23:4.
May it be that you can increasingly and confidently proclaim: “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
WEEK 4: Read Psalm 23:5
Rich imagery here tells more of the blessing of walking with the Lord as our Shepherd.
Under what circumstances do you think you will sit and enjoy a meal in the presence of enemies? When you’re reconciled to them! This is what David anticipated – and he certainly had many enemies over the course of his life. To be able to sit down at such a table with confidence, knowing that you will be secure, is reassuring and comforting. There were certain times in Israel’s history where such a promise was born out: Joseph’s favour with Pharaoh, Daniel’s favour with the King of Babylon, and the favour the whole nation of Israel enjoyed with Cyrus, when he released Israel from captivity in Babylon.
At ancient feasts, anointing with oil of valued guests was common. It signifies honour. And the picture of the overflowing cup? A cup runs over when it cannot hold all that is being poured into it. The Lord not only gives his people what they need (Psalm 23:1–2), but he supplies an abundance in the midst of difficult times.
May it be that you can increasingly and confidently look forward to the time when you will feast with your enemies, you are honoured by God and your cup overflows with God’s abundant blessing.
WEEK 5: Read Psalm 23:6
The sense of this final verse is that God’s goodness and love will not just passively follow us, but actively pursue us!! It’s a brilliant picture. And the promise of dwelling in God’s house? We know we will spend eternity with God, not because we’ve earnt it or deserve it, but solely on the basis of God’s mercy to us in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
Think back over the entire Psalm and consider if the Lord is NOT our shepherd. Then none of our needs are met. There is no safe place to lie down or find refreshment. We will be afraid in life’s darkest valleys, we have no promise of being reconciled to enemies nor dwelling with God forever! So, let us pray with compassion for those who do not know Jesus the Good Shepherd, that in coming to know him, they may enjoy all the blessings of Psalm 23 that we are blessed to know!
May it be that you can increasingly proclaim that God’s goodness and love is pursuing you and may you be confidently assured that because of Jesus’ sacrifice for you, you will dwell in God’s presence forever.
By Mark Calder