Psalm 23:1-6


A Psalm of David


“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:  he leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul:  he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:  for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:  thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:  and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”


Introduction:  Psalms 22, 23, 24, A Triad


“Psalm 23, a Psalm of David, part of a triad.  Remember that as we’re going through Psalm 22, one of the most remarkable pictures of the crucifixion in all of the Bible, again.  Psalm 22 giving us details not found anywhere in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.  Psalm 22, the only place in the Bible actually telling us how he felt on the cross, what he was going through, his physical pain, his emotional pain, what was going on in his own being as he was being crucified.  As we go from Psalm 22 to Psalm 23, now we come to the Psalm of the Shepherd, his care for our lives, his involvement with each of us, his present ministry in our lives.  And then as we come to Psalm 24, it’s his return in glory.  So, these Psalms are about the One who was, who is, and the One who is to come.  Again, the Cross, the Crook, the Shepherd’s Crook, and the Crown, God’s wonderful picture given to us in these Psalms that we are so familiar with.  And certainly the 23rd Psalm, look, as we read through it, familiar with it.  How many of you knew this Psalm before you were a believer?  I remember when I was little, ‘the Lord’s my shepherd, I shall not want, he makes me…  I didn’t know whether it was the Lord’s Prayer or what it was, but I knew it was one of those.  And you know, what happens is, is older people read this, David no doubt an older man as he wrote this, having been persecuted for years by Saul, and driven, the troubles with Michal, the fall into sin, the trouble with Ahithophel and Absalom, and the things he had gone through.  And no doubt when he puts the quill to the page as an older man, and he looks back and talks about the LORD’s shepherding care in his own life, and having in some ways a greater appreciation, himself having been a shepherd for years, understanding what was involved in that process.  And as he goes through these six verses, 17 times he speaks of himself, in six verses, and 13 times he speaks of the LORD.  Some of the old scholars, the old dogs, the dead old guys, I like to read, they call it “the he-me Psalm.”  You know, “he leadeth me,” “he maketh me.”  And when you go through that you realize there is an incredibly deep, personal involvement between the Shepherd and the believer in this Psalm.  Again, we teach it, as an older Christian you start to read this, you think ‘Wow, this is powerful, wow, I never saw that, when I was younger I didn’t,’ and you think, ‘This is important, I’m going to teach it to the kids,’ so all the kids in Sunday [or Sabbath] school are learning it, ‘The Lord’s my shepherd, I shall not want…’ and they don’t know what they’re saying.  But it’s good that they learn it, because as the years go by it’s going to take on meaning.  It’s like, again, when I do a wedding, I have this bride and this groom up here in front of everybody, and I make them say all kinds of things they don’t really mean, or understand, they’re thinking about the reception and the honeymoon, and I’ve got them up here pledging their troth, they don’t even know what a troth is, they didn’t know they had one. [“troth” Middle English “trouthe, trothe, variant of treuthe, from Old English “treoth,” truth, 1) a pledge or oath of fidelity, 2) truth, 3) loyalty; fidelity.]  And, ah, ‘Richer or poorer, for better or worse, in sickness and health,’ they have no idea why they’re saying those things.  The great thing today, is we have it on audio and video, we can prove they said it to each other at one point in time.  But as the years go on, you realize why you said ‘For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or worse,’ that commitment and love is enhanced in depth and value by the difficulties of life, and you realize you’re within a covenant, and it means so much more as time goes on.  And so with the 23rd Psalm, you know, we have to be careful, something we learn as a kid, but the truth is, as we grow older, when we begin to go through this, it means so much, and it speaks so much.  And again, 17 times David talking about himself, 13 times the LORD mentioned, lets read through quickly, it says “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:  he leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul:  he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:” and he changes now, looking at his Shepherd, “for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:  thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:  and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” (verses 1-6)  You could read that every day, couldn’t you?  Man, oh man.  Jehovah-roi, or Jehovah-ra, it’s one of my favorite names it’s one word, ‘The LORD is my shepherd, Jehovah-ra,’ and it’s one of those compound names of the LORD through the Old Testament.  And the interesting thing is, you go through those Old Testament names, those compound names, you know, you have Jehovah-jira there with Abraham and Isaac, “the LORD is my Provider,” and you have that depicted in here, leading, he’s feeding.  You have Jehovah-nisi in Exodus, “the LORD is my Banner,” and here you have him in the face of the enemy, preparing a table.  You have Jehovah-rafa, “the LORD is my Healer,” you have him here restoring the soul, caring for.  You have Jehovah-shalom with Gideon, “the LORD is my Peace,” and you have him leading beside still waters.  You have Jehovah-sikaino [phonetically spelled, have no idea how it’s spelled] in Jeremiah, “the LORD is my Righteousness,” you have him here “he leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  You have in the end of Ezekiel Jehovah-shema, “the LORD Ever-present, and he says “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”  And it’s almost like all that God is, in one of the genres or another, in this song, this ancient song of Israel, all of the fulness of what he is, is brought out.  After the Crucifixion in Psalm 22,  the Shepherd Psalm, now everything is there. 


“The LORD Is My Shepherd, I Shall Not Want”---‘I Will Lack No Good Thing’


He says, “The LORD is my shepherd; I a shall not want” it literally says “I will lack no good thing.”  If he’s all of that, ‘because of what he is, I will lack no good thing,’ then he goes on to talk about it.  But the LORD, Jehovah-ra, it’s one of my favorite names, I have it, somebody in the church years ago did Schnieren Schnitzen, for the uninitiated that’s something that the Germans invented in their boredom I guess, I can make fun of it, I’m German, it’s, they cut out, it’s real intricate, I have one in my office, it says Jehovah-ra, it’s beautiful to look at, ‘The LORD’s my Shepherd,’  and I love that title for the LORD.  David says if that’s true, thinking of his own experience as a shepherd, you know, this is, as a young man, he says he slew a bear.  He said he took a lion, you know, this is a 16, 17-year-old, he took a lion by the beard, and slew the lion.  I’m thinking ‘when you have a lion, and you got him by the beard in one hand, what do you really want in the other hand?’  Because he didn’t have what I, I’d have wanted a .45 or a .357 Magnum, David had a club or something.  [It was probably a shepherd’s knife, cut it’s throat.]  But remembering his own experience with the flock, remembering his care, he’s saying, ‘You know what, the LORD is my shepherd,’ and he’s saying ‘he is,’ he’s not saying “if,” ‘I’m not going to lack anything.’  And we’re going to learn as we go through, you know, the ultimate need that man has is spiritual.  Anything that IQ can provide, hard work, talents, gifts, those are all wonderful things, but they never meet the deepest need in men, they’re never fully adequate because we’re spiritual beings.  And David is saying, ‘You know what?  The LORD is my shepherd, and I’m not going to lack anything.  I was persecuted for years by Saul, I fled like a partridge on the mountains, there were times when I felt like giving up, and here I am.  He [Saul] gave me his most vinegary daughter as a present, and here I am.  I blew it with Bathsheba, and I was responsible for the death of her husband, and in the Law of Moses, the adulterer, the murderer is to be put to death, and I flung myself on the LORD at the altar, and I said ‘Sacrifice and offering thou hast not desired, there is no sacrifice or offering for what I’ve done, but a broken and contrite spirit thou wilt not despise.’  God had mercy on him.  His own son, Absalom, his own family dissolving because of his example, the repercussions of his sin, and yet David at this point in time no doubt as an old man is saying ‘The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want, I’m not going to lack anything.’…The first mention of the LORD in his shepherding act in the Bible is when Jacob comes down to Egypt, as Joseph is established there, and Pharaoh meets Jacob.  And Pharaoh looks at him and says, ‘How old are you, anyway?’  He must have been a wrinkly old man.  And then Jacob as he’s talking to Joseph, he blessed Joseph and said, “God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed’ that’s our word, “shepherded me all my life long unto this day,” he says, this is the God who shepherded “Heal-catcher,” “Conniver,” “Jacob.”  He looks back and says, ‘My entire life he fed me, all along the journey.’  And David, as he says “The LORD is my shepherd” he’s not recoiling, he’s not guilty over his sin at this point in time, he’s realized something wonderful about his God.  You see, many of us know the words to the Psalm, but you know, how many of us can sing this song?  Sometimes, as time goes on, and our hearts are broken, as David says, ‘All your waves, and all your billows are going over me, LORD, how long will my soul be cast down?’  That’s a picture of a sheep thrown on its back, and now David realizing sin, he knows, it’s called “the Sweetest Song,” most of the old commentators called it, it’s “the Sweetest Song.” 


“He Maketh Me To Lie Down In Green Pastures”---The Provision Of Our Shepherd


He says, “The LORD is my shepherd;” ‘I shall lack no good thing,’ “I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:” (verses 1-2a)  Now one of the reason’s he’s going to lack nothing.  “He maketh me to lie down” is one word in the Hebrew, and it’s literally “he causes me to lie down,” and it’s in “pastures of fresh growth.”  It’s not just “green pastures,” the idea is, ‘he causes me,’ not “forces me,” not “wrestles me,” not “body-slams me,” you know, “makes me.”  No, no, ‘He causes me, the way he works, my shepherding God.’  ‘He causes me to lie down in pastures of fresh growth, where the grass is green and sparkling and fresh,’ he says, ‘he causes me to lay down in those places.’  And David knows for a sheep to lay down, he has to be 1) number one, free from fear, or you’re not going to get them to lay down if something’s growling or wandering around.  2), they have to be free from friction, because in the flock there’s a pecking-order, you have the lead ewe, you have the ram, and if you lay down somewhere too soon, and one of the higher-ups wants that spot, they’ll come over, Boom! they butt you, and you’ve gotta move somewhere else.  They have to be free from friction, free from threat, free from enemies.  And what happens, the interesting thing is, when the shepherd stands in the middle of the flock, the pecking-order dissolves, because there’s one, whose in charge of everything.  And his presence removes fear, it takes away the contest.  It should amongst us, we’re sheep, you and I are sheep.  Sorry.  All of us are sheep.  I have a Shepherd, that’s an   incredible consolation for me.  And there’s no pecking-order, we’re all washed in the blood, nobody’s better than anybody else.  And his presence [i.e. Jesus Christ’s], as we realize it, should remove that.  If you’re in the light of his presence, you should know what you are.  You ain’t got no room to point your finger at anybody else.  ‘Lord, I’m glad I ain’t one of them.’   Oh yes you are.  That’s exactly what you are.  ‘He causes me to lie down in pastures of fresh growth.’ 


“He Leadeth Me To Waters Of Resting Places”


It says, he leadeth me beside the still waters.” (verse 2b)  Literally, “he leadeth me” and idea there is ‘he goes before me, I can see him, I can follow him, he goes before me,’  “he leadeth me” literally, “by waters of resting places.”  Two plurals in it.  he leadeth me to waters of resting places.”  Isn’t that interesting?  We say “he leadeth me beside the still waters”, we’re thankful, because we never get still, we’re always bombarded with Iphones, cell-phones, Ipads,, apps, you know, there’s always something.  Just how wonderful that he leads us to still waters, waters plural, of resting places.  You know, I still have a Razor, one of those old phones, the flip-open, they were on Star Trek when I was growing up, that’s SciFi, I don’t need all this stuff.  That’s enough to keep me connected on the horizontal as much as I need to be, I don’t want to be more connected on the horizontal, I want to get to resting places, and it has to be vertical.  ‘He leadeth me to waters of resting places with the Shepherd,’ and David knew this.  There were three basic ways that the sheep were watered in his day.  One was by the dew, particularly in the season when they were in the higher meadows.  Sheep can go over a month without drinking, if every morning they’re eating the fresh grass with the dew on it, and it’s wet.  And God certainly, you know, people come to me and say “I feel so dry.”  I say, “What time did you get up?”  ‘Don’t talk to him, he’s gonna ask you if you pray, he’s gonna ask you if you read [i.e. Bible study].’  What do you want me to do, ask you if you’re doing calisthenics?  If you come to me and tell me you’re dry, I assume you’re talking about spiritually, I looked at you, you didn’t look real wet, so I figured you’re talking about internally, not externally.  And one of the places that we find is “the dew of the morning.”  God said to Moses, ‘You know, I’ll meet you in the morning, be ready in the morning.’  So one of the places we find those still waters, is in the morning. The phone’s not ringing yet, nothing else is going on, it’s really nice if you can beat other people up [he means beat them out of bed, btw], the morning is a good time to be with God.  And I find if I meet with God in the morning, I got less to say when I go to bed at night.  If I don’t meet with him in the morning, he likes to meet with me at night, but I just have a longer list I’ve got to talk to him about.  So there’s the dew of the morning, one of the ways that sheep are sustained.  The other is by deep water, in the shepherds fields outside of Bethlehem, and I’ve been there many times, 17, 18 times, we don’t go into Bethlehem with the tour, because everybody goes to the Church of the Nativity, there are at least three of them there, which one is the real place, which one has the manger, nobody knows that.  But we do know this, outside of Bethlehem, in the shepherd’s fields, there’s a well.  It’s carved down in solid rock, and it’s twenty, twenty-five foot deep, and they know it’s over 2,000 years old.  And the shepherds were keeping their flocks in the field by night when Christ was born.  And you have to have a bucket to let down to draw that water up, because it’s deep.  And the shepherd will do that, and I’ve been there when the shepherd draws the water out and pours it in the trough, and all of the sheep come.  So that’s another way that they’re beside the still waters, it’s deep.  And the other way is [the 3rd way] if there’s a stream.  You know, if there’s a stream, and that’s the territory they’re in, it’s a little more of a problem.  You don’t want sheep out in the rapids.  I heard Damien Crowe talk about years ago, it was at a pastor’s conference, he said “We need to learn this,” because he said “We want to take the sheep right out into the river, ‘Alright!  Get in line!  We’re going out!  Keep your rifles above your heads!  Keep your powder dry, we’re going out, we’re gonna cross the river!’”  He said, “That’s not how shepherds lead sheep.”  Because if the lead ewe goes out in the water, and the current takes her and flips her on her back, she’s drowning, all the other sheep, because of the pecking-order, think ‘Well she’s the smartest one, maybe we’re all supposed to go out, roll over on our back, and breathe water instead of air.’  You know, you always see in the cowboy movies they always, they cross the rivers on their horses, they drive the cattle, they get to the other side, everybody’s running.  You do that with a herd of sheep, a flock of sheep, you get to the other side, you look around, there ain’t nothing, the sheep are floating dead down the river.  So what the shepherd would have to do is he would get rocks and he would build this small kind of pool area, like a little dam, where the water would then become still, and they could go down and drink without getting washed away.  It’s good shepherding.  And in the midst of our crazy life, sometimes it’s in the morning where we find that he goes before us in the stillness, and we drink.  Sometimes it’s a place where he has to let down the bucket, like with the woman at the well, and the water’s deep, and he draws it for us, he doesn’t let us die of thirst.  And sometimes, there’s a pool, and he’s made it, and he’s caused it to be there, and he leads us besides the still waters, he’s the Great Shepherd.  That’s why David is saying, ‘I haven’t lacked good things, he’s feeding me, he’s taking me to pastures, he causes me to rest, to lie down.  He leads me besides still waters.’ 


“He Restoreth My Soul, He Leads Me In The Paths Of Righteousness”---The Guidance Of Our Shepherd


And as he comes to verse 3 now, he kind of switches gears from provision to guidance.  And he acknowledges that man is more than just, yes, he meets our physical needs, he cares, but he goes on to say this, “He restoreth my soul:  he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”  ‘He restores my soul.’  Ah, we fail, he renews.  Aren’t you glad.  He not only takes care of some of the most practical things in our lives in sustaining us, but the deeper things within us, he knows how to restore our soul.  David in Psalm 25 will say ‘Remember not the sins of my youth.’  What are you talking about, David?  David was over 50 years old when he fell into sin with Bathsheba.  What are the sins of his youth, we don’t get them anywhere here, ‘I want to know what they are.’  All our teenagers want to know what they are.  We don’t know what they are.  But David says to him, ‘LORD, don’t even remember the sins of my youth, LORD, don’t.’  He has such great confidence, he says “He restoreth my soul” what a wonderful thing.  Is your soul cast down tonight?  This is not a theoretical discussion, a theological discussion, not to anyone here this evening that feels out of gas and run down and broken, and empty.  Are you broken down in your heart tonight, in the deepest part of your being?  He restores.  And the “eth” tells us he does it continually, he continually restores.  My soul, the deep part of the being, I’m so glad that he can renew, that he can refresh. When I’m throwing up my hands, and I feel like I can’t go another mile, Lord, when I’m out of gas, I am just tired.  For the past couple years I’ve just, for the first time in my life, not because I’m getting old, just because the warfare has been more intense than it ever has been, and I just said ‘I ain’t got nothing left, I can’t go on, I got nothing left, I don’t know if I can do this for ten or fifteen more years.’  And the remarkable thing is, you discover something about him there that you wouldn’t discover anywhere else.  This is a mandatory course, it’s not an elective, you know, crashing and burning, mandatory course, ‘Crash! 101,’ ‘Crash! 102,’ mandatory course, not an elective.  And it’s in that place where you realize ‘Lord, you’re so gracious, I had nothing left, you’ve renewed me, refreshed me, you’ve given me fresh…you’ve encouraged me.’  he leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (verse 3b)  It’s ‘he leadeth me in the old proven paths of righteousness’ is the idea.  How many of you have been to Israel, just comrades? you know, when you descend from the Jordan Valley, the Jericho area up to Jerusalem, it’s called the Wilderness of Judea, where Jesus was tempted by the devil.  And as Americans, when we hear wilderness we think of forests.  It ain’t nothing there but desert, that’s the Wilderness of Judea.  But what you do see is there’s flocks of sheep and goats out there, and you think ‘What in the world do they eat?  There ain’t nothing out there.’  But they eat weeds, they eat stuff that we don’t even know, and the shepherds there lead them, and there’s all these little switch-backs, and you can see the paths that are worn into the side of the hill.  They’re the well-worn paths.  And the shepherd is very familiar with them.  And he’s led a thousand generations through those paths before you and I arrived, and he knows what he’s doing.  And it’s interesting, it says here “he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (verse 3b)  That’s a different word, when it says “he leadeth me beside still waters”, that word means ‘he goes before as an example, you’re following him.’  This word “he leadeth me”, it means he’s actively involved with his staff, prodding, sometimes even with the hook, pulling, it’s a different word for “lead.”  And sometimes on those paths of righteousness, it’s kind of harrowing, sometimes you have to make a decision, your relatives may not like it, people in your family may not like it, your classmates may not like it, your professor may not like it.  But then you realize, ‘I’m not going to compromise, Lord, I’m going to stand here, Lord, but I need strength,’ and he’s so faithful, he leads, in the old proven paths.  We don’t have to invent something.  He’s been leading in that territory for centuries, and he knows how to lead us.  And look, you know, people will talk to me and say ‘Well, I’m not sure what he wants me to do?’  You know, here’s the deal.  The shepherd is never dependant on the IQ of the sheep.  He’s only dependant on whether the heart of the sheep is willing follow.  Great leaders are great followers.  Abraham was a great follower.  Moses was a great follower.  Joseph was a great follower.  Saul of Tarsus, Paul,  was a great follower.  Great leaders are great followers.  We were made to be led.  It’s part of what he wove into our being [the human sheep-instinct], it’s part of how he made us.  Because we’re to be worshippers, we’re to be led.  And people will worship all kinds of things, from cars to money, people are led by parents, by teachers, by coaches, by media, by influence, we’re led by all kinds of things.  And the wonderful thing for you and I, is to realize he [Jesus] is our Shepherd, David’s taken ahold of that.  That’s a reality in his life.  And David knows how stupid sheep are.  You don’t, because you never raised them.  You got a cat or a dog, they’re geniuses.  You never saw a sheep-show.  You see porpoise shows, Shamu, you see Killer Whales, you see lions and tigers at the circus, you see elephants get up and do all kinds of things.  You see dogs and ponies, there’s even flea-circuses [laughter].  We were out once when the kids were young, down in Lancaster, this Amish guy had a pig show, and a pig got on a sliding-board and slid down, he’s real excited, going down the sliding-board.  Did you see sheep do any of that?  Did you ever see a sheep-show? [there have been plenty of sheep-dog shows, where the sheepdog is the star of the show, herding this dumb sheep into a coral.]  Ever see a Frisbee sheep, ‘Here, catch this,’ ?  They stand there.  If a sheep walks around the barn and gets out of eyesight, he’s gone, lost.  David knows the wonderful thing about that, is the measure of dependence that they have on the shepherd.  He’s completely confident, not because of the IQ of the sheep, but because of the prowess of the shepherd, his commitment, his love, his understanding, to lead, to water, to care for, to renew, to strengthen.  And David having done that for years, in his own life, is completely confident in the LORD his Shepherd.  Isn’t it wonderful.  You know, if he’d have made us a little smarter, we’d have never spent time with him.  Think how we are now.  Things are going good, do you pray?  When things are desperate you pray.  Desperate people pray desperate prayers.  And the Lord says ‘Hey, good to hear from you.  I’d try to bless you, but you never come around, pull this out a little bit, here you are, good to see you, that’s why I died, so we could have fellowship, not so I could give you stuff.’  We’re completely dependent on him, and I personally appreciate that. 


“Yea, Though I Walk Through The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death, I Will Fear No Evil”


He says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:” the reason, he turns now to the LORD, he’s not just telling us about him, now he turns and says, “for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (verse 4)  And by the way, there’s no “shadow of death” here, it’s “though”, it’s “even, when,” not if, the Hebrew says “Even when I walk through the deepest darkness.”  There’s no “valley of the shadow of death” in the Hebrew.  If anything, you can add “the valley of deepest darkness”, but it’s “Even when” not if, mandatory course, “Even when I walk through the place of deepest darkness, I fear no evil.  For thou art with me…”  I like “the valley of the shadow of death”, it’s not really death, it’s a shadow.  If you see the shadow of a dog, anybody ever get bit by the shadow of a dog?  Any get stung by the shadow of a bee?  Sometimes you’re sitting at home, you’ll see the shadow of a bee going by, What!?!’ and it’s just a shadow.  It’s not going to stink you.  You’re not going to get cut by the shadow of a sword.  And you’re not going to be injured by the shadow of death either.  But it’s just the idea of the dark places in life.  And this is a picture particularly now where the shepherd is leading, prodding with the staff, pulling, it was quite often they had to go through those ravines to get to higher ground.  Those valleys of darkness were the way, it was a passage to higher ground.  And David is remembering vividly all of these things, as the Holy Spirit is giving him this song to record.  And he says, getting in those places, ‘I remember how I took care of the sheep I had to care for.’  You have to understand, you know, one time I was in Austria, at one of the conferences there, and Bill and I, between sessions, there’s a shepherd up behind the castle, behind us, with his sheep.  This guy’s like a Kodak moment, he’s got the hat with the feather, and he’s got the shorts, got stuff on, and backpacks and he’s got all these sheep with him, about 8 or 10 of them.  And we start talking to him, and he spoke broken English and he said “Dis is Gertrude, und dis is Vivian, und dis ist Liepshen,” he had names for all of them.  He knew all of their names, and he said “Gertrude is stubborn, I have to yell at her, she doesn’t listen.”  He said, “If I yell at Liepshen she’s sad all day, she won’t look at me.”  And he just described them all, they all had different personalities, they had different names, he knew them all from when they were born.  His involvement with them was incredible.  I was delighted, because I was thinking of this.  And even when we go through the place of deepest darkness, David’s remembering how he cared for each one of them individually, because they’re all different.  It’s not just a flock that are all the same, no they’re all different.  And David says, ‘You know, I’m in that place, I’ve been there more than once, God, where I was the sheep, and you led me, and you know what, I wasn’t afraid, LORD, thou art with me.’  That is always the answer by the way, through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee, fear not, for I am with thee.”  Go through the Bible and look at it.  People that are troubled by fear, now fear isn’t always bad.  You stop at a red light because of fear.  It’s good fear. You get insurance because of fear.  You take the steps instead of jumping off the building because of fear.  Those are things that are common sense that are good.  But there’s imagined fear, that goes through a place of darkness.  [Comment:  There are some people who suffer from high levels of anxiety.  They have been classified into six types of Anxiety Disorders, and they are quite real.  One has been brought on by being in or experiencing warfare, and is called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Sadly many children develop this same fear-filled disorder due to the war-like circumstances they go through in their upbringing.  To learn more about this real condition people can find themselves in, due to the high levels of anxiety today’s world brings upon humanity, buy “Anxious in Love” by Carolyn Daitch, PhD and Lissah Lorberbsaum, MA.  Some of my family suffer from these very real anxiety disorders, through no fault of their own.  And it is nothing to be ashamed of.]  Anybody enjoy walking through the cemetery at night?  You can act real brave, but when you’re alone, you know you’re hearing noises, you’re looking around, you’re remembering all the stories about he hook hanging on the side of the car when you’re a kid, and all that craziness, you get the heebie-jeevies.  And it’s all imagined fear.  And you get around, some people they imagine things to be afraid of, ‘Well what if this happens, what if that happens?...  David said, ‘You know what?  I’ve been chased with swords, I’ve had spears thrown at me, I’ve had people try to murder me, I’m too tired to run, he’s going to take care of me.  I’ve been alive this long, I should have been dead a thousand times.’  A cat has 9-lives, and evidently a sheep has a thousand. 


Why Don’t The Sheep Fear When The Shepherd Is Around?---“Thy Rod And Thy Staff, They Comfort Me”


And David says ‘I fear no evil, for thou art with me.’  thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (verse 4b)  Those are two different things.  The rod, was usually like a Shalalie, about this long, and it had a heavier end on it, and the shepherd would sometimes throw it at the sheep, and it would make them turn.  Sometimes he’d use it to beat off a wolf, it was more like a club.  The staff was his signature, and it had a hook on the top called a crook.  Every shepherd has a crook, a staff, I remember somebody told me that a long time ago.  But that was his care, his concern for the flock, his staff.  His rod was his authority, his power.  [In modern day shepherding, Phillip Keller had a .30/.30 rifle he used as his rod, to shoot at mountain lions and wolves who threatened his flock.]  And, sometime, by the way, if you read Phillip Keller’s book, you should all read it, if you like the 23rd Psalm, he wrote “A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23” by Phillip Keller, he kept a flock for years, and he writes.  But he said “Sometimes if you get a stubborn sheep, and no matter how you lead they won’t follow, the shepherd will take that sheep, and take his rod and break the leg of that sheep.  And then wrap it up and bind it, and then carry it until the leg heals.  Then when he puts it down, that sheep will not wander anymore.”  [Comment:  For a sampling of Phillip Keller’s book, coupled to a good sermon about Jesus being our Chief Shepherd, see  Be sure to order a copy of his book at]  And I don’t feel like I’m being led beside still waters when I think about those things, I think ‘Lord, that’s not real consoling, Lord, I’m doing my best to follow, I’m looking for rods to come flying here.’  But the rod and the staff, they were two different things.  But David says, understanding as a shepherd, “thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”, ‘you have authority, you have care, you have concern, I appreciate it so deeply.’ 


“Thou Preparest A Table Before Me In The Presence Of Mine Enemies”


verses 5-6, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:  thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:  and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”  Then he moves to the last phase of this song, where he speaks of communion, or of fellowship.  And he says this, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:  thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” (verse 5)  Look, he’s describing something in context of sheep, but David has translated it into real life.  Going through those valleys of darkness, what happened in the Spring was the shepherds would lead the flock to higher ground, because it was cooler.  And Isaiah says, ‘He shall lead his flock like a shepherd, he shall carry his lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.’  What the shepherd knew sometimes is in the Spring, when the sheep were bearing their young, he would take the baby lamb of the lead ewe, the most dominant ewe in the flock, and he would take that baby lamb and carry it in his arms, and then he would head up to higher ground, and that baby lamb would cry out, ‘Baaah, baaah, mommy!’ and then the lead ewe would follow, and the rest of the flock would follow her, and it was a way he would lead the flock to higher ground.  But he would bring them up to this tableland, we call it a mesa.  Mesa means a table, you go to the high meadows, and I’ve been there, Yosemite or in Glacier National Forest, some of the favorite places to me in America I’ve ever been to are these real high meadows.  There’s not rivers or lakes there, there’s streams bubbling out of the ground, the lakes and the rivers are down in the bottom in the valleys.  But up there, there are these beautiful, beautiful pristine green places.  And it says here ‘Thou preparest a mesa, like a table, in the presence of mine enemies,’ because the wolves are always aware that the young were being born then.  And he [Phillip Keller] said the shepherds would go up, and they would clean out any weeds they saw that were hazardous to the sheep, because sheep are dumb, they’re just going to eat anything that’s up there.  And they [the shepherds] would go up and prepare a place there.  Then they would take the sheep, one by one, they would anoint them with oil, it was an olive oil and a cold-tar mix, because the sheep get these flies that go in their noses, this is just for your information, and they lay eggs there in their noses, and then those little worms get in the bloodstream and go to the brain, and it’ll drive the sheep out of their minds.  And sometimes you’ll see a sheep banging it’s head against the wall, because the worms are driving him nuts.  You ever have those worms?  It’s terrible.  [We have spiritual worms, anxieties, and whatnot, spiritual worms.]  So the shepherd, he’ll anoint their heads with this oil that has this tar smell, swab the inside of the nose, and they inspect the sheep up at those high grounds, one at a time, one sheep at a time.  And they have this big bowl with two handles they put on the ground, ‘my cup runneth over,’ while the sheep drinks, they’re able to go over the whole animal, make sure there’s no parasites, as they bring them to higher ground there’s this care.  But David has translated it into, he’s realized, that’s part of the journey.  ‘You know, the LORD has led me all these years, I told the LORD I wanted to build a house for him, and he said, ‘No, no, you’re not going to do that, you’re a man of blood, but I am going to build a house for you, David.  Your lineage, there is going to be a place, a forever house.’’  And he’s realizing, ‘all the things I’ve gone through in life, here I am an old man, all of the difficulties,’ in 2nd Samuel 23 when he signs off, he says ‘I’m the sweet Psalmist of Israel,’ not the giant-killer, not the king, he says ‘I’m the sweet Psalmist of Israel, and the Rock of Israel, he’s spoken to me.’  And he says ‘He shall be like the light of the morning when the sun rises, even a morning without clouds, like the tender grass after the rain, with a clear shining.’  And he sees these high meadows, glistening in the sun in the morning, and he says ‘Though I don’t see it now, my house will be like that.’  And here in this Psalm he says, ‘He’s preparing a table before me in the presence of my enemies, he’s bringing me into his home, into his hospitality.  This journey just doesn’t crash and burn, it’s been going somewhere, and even going through the ravines, the darkest places, the hardest places, he’s cared, he’s led, he’s preparing a table for me in the presence of my enemies, my cup runneth over, he’s anointing my head with oil.’  David appreciates that, and even in the culture with the Bedouins they often, you see these big black Bedouin tents, they’re living the way Abraham lived 4,000 years ago, except you’ll see a generator next to it, and a TV antenna on top of the tent, and they’re watching American Idol inside.  But besides that they’re living the same, you know.  And they bring the sheep into the tent with them at night.  [oh, that must smell nice.]  If you go there, and you’re a guest, the amazing thing is, those Bedouins will travel, and nobody will touch their tent, they can leave their tent for an entire month, there’s a code between these people, you will not touch that tent.  And if you’re an enemy, and everybody in the area hates you, and that Bedouin brings you into his tent, he will protect you as long as you are there, and all of your enemies will honour the fact that he has given you hospitality, and you’re safe there.  He’ll anoint your head with oil as he brings you in.  They have a special wine they pour, and they’ll pour it until it overflows the cup, it’s the signature of the fact that he’s going to give everything he has to you.  And David is kind of seeing these things, the reflection of heaven, you know, ‘he’s preparing a table before me in the presence of mine enemies, and there’s nothing my enemies can do about it, I’m under his hospitality, anointing my head with oil, the cup is running over,’ he says. 


“Surely Goodness And Mercy Shall Follow Me All The Days Of My Life”


He says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:  and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” (verse 6)  It’s beautiful, because it’s not “Surely” in the Hebrew, it’s “Only”.  “Surely” makes it sound, ‘I’m certain goodness and mercy,’ no, what he says is, “Only goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” ‘That’s all that’s going to follow me.’  And the word “follow” there is not this passive thing, it’s translated many times ‘pursue,’ in fact if you read the Hebrew it says “Only goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life.”  One of my favorite old guys translates it “Only goodness and mercy shall hunt me all the days of my life.”  Worldly men give all of their energy and all of their talents, seeking, trying to catch goodness and mercy.  You and I, we don’t have to do that, because it’s hunting us, because of our Shepherd.  We don’t have to go after it, it’s after us.  ‘Only goodness and mercy,’ look, he’s seeing the end of the journey.  Because you may be listening and saying ‘Oh ya, what are you talking about, my life stinks right now.’  Well say “stinketh” anyway, well look, sometimes life stinks.  This is earth, this ain’t heaven [or the kingdom of heaven, which will end up on earth, cf. Revelation 21:1-23].  What we’re describing here is heaven, table’s set, the home given, goodness and mercy will ultimately, accompanies us into that presence as we get there.  No cell-phones, goodness and mercy shall hunt me all the days of my life.  and I will dwell in the house of the LORD the Hebrew says, “I will come back to”  Isn’t it interesting?  This is what it all comes back to, this is where it all goes, ‘I will dwell, settle down, be comfortable, come home to’ is the idea, ‘the house of the LORD, dwell in the house of the LORD, all the days of my life.’  David said, ‘One thing I desire, and that will I seek after, that I might dwell in the house of the LORD, all the days of my life.’  David sees it, he says in one place, ‘I will be satisfied when I arise in thy likeness O LORD.’  What vision God had given him of the next world.  And that’s home, listen, I don’t travel much.  I’m 62, that’s all out of my system.  It used to be exciting, it’s not exciting anymore.  There’s no, you know, some of you think ‘If I could go here, if I could go there,’ go, go, I like the coming home.  I mean, like getting home from vacations so I can get a good sleep in my own bed.  I can rest, you need a rest after a vacation.  I go when the Lord tells me to go somewhere, but I love to come home, I’ve got my own bed, I have my own chair, I have my own cup, my cup runneth over.  I got my own cup, don’t mess with my cup.  I drink one cup of coffee every day in the morning, don’t put stupid stuff in there like soup or tea or Chi or something, it’s my cup, it’s for me, for coffee, God made it that way.  And you guys know that, “It’s my cup, my chair,” there’s something about that, there isn’t anything else in the world that compares with that, ‘my family, my wife, my kids, my grandkids, home, home, home.’  Our Shepherd is leading us home, where everything will finally agree with us.  There will be no grieving thing.  Everything will finally be right, it will be everything designed for us, and everything we’ve been designed for.  And in the journey, in the pilgrimage, we’re not going to lack anything.  He’s going to cause us to lie down when we’re weary, in fresh growth.  He’s going to lead us to waters of resting places.  He’s the one that will restore our soul in the days when we are shot and have nothing left.  He’s going to lead us on those old proven paths for his own name’s sake, he’s not going to lose us.  And in the times in our lives when we go through the valleys of the deepest darkness, I remember the night my father died, sitting there until he took his last breath, [long pause] and I remember, he was gone.  It was a shell in front of me, and I thought ‘How does an unbeliever deal with this?’  If I was not a believer and it was 5 in the morning, I’d go straight to a bar and get a load on.  If I didn’t know Jesus, this would freak me out.  “Lord, you just took my dad, I know where he is, he’s not lost,”  ‘I lost my dad,’ no, something’s only lost if you don’t know where it is, I know exactly where he is.  And though it’s dark, and though it stinks, I’m not afraid.  He’s faithful, even to lead there, to restore your soul even in that place.  [And what a restoration that will be!  see,]  To comfort, he has authority, it’s his rod and his staff.  And all the while in this journey, though the days come when our hearts are broken, we’re struggling with difficult things, he’s gone before us, he’s preparing a way, he’s preparing a table in the presence of our enemies, anointing our heads with oil, cup running over, and we have to remember ‘only goodness and mercy is going to hunt you for the rest of your life.’  That’s what’s hunting you down, so stop running and trying to get away from it.  I’ve seen, Christians are trying to get away from the Lord, ‘If I yield to him he’s gonna make me do this, and make me do that, I’ll never find a husband if I yield to the Lord.’  No, please, stop hunting, and yield to the Lord, because we got to do the counseling afterwards, just let him, ‘Goodness and mercy will hunt you down,’ and you’ll have a good and merciful spouse if you just let him do that.  Single guys, I pray he does to you what he did to Adam, that a deep sleep falls on you until he brings your, you know…you know, we’re all safer that way.  He does provide.  And though life is sometimes painful and difficult, it’s only goodness and mercy that’s hunting us down, because we have a destiny, we have an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, it fades not away.  It’s reserved for us, designed for us, put in place for us, waiting for us.  So “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:  and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” (verse 6)  John in his Gospel says this, Jesus says “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”  The Lord’s our Shepherd. 


In Closing


Let’s have the musicians come, a little bit of an opportunity for an extra song or two.  I’m going to pray for you right now, let’s do that, and look, why don’t we do this, let’s read this together, if you don’t have a King James you’ll have to struggle, but let’s read it in the Authorized Version, I know some of your are NIV-positive, let’s read this.  I’ll start, you can just jump in with me.  “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:  he leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul:  he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:  for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:  thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:  and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”  ‘Father, I know you’ve overheard, we love this song, Lord, ingrained in us Lord, many of us from the time we were children, and we’re so thankful for that.  And Lord, the beauty of it and the depth of it is one thing, Lord, to study it and come at it, Lord, to break it down.  But to sing it, Lord, to sing it on days when we’re weary, Lord, to sing it on days when we desperately need some stillness in our lives, to sing it, Lord, when our soul is cast down and broken, and we need you to restore us, to sing it, Lord, in the dark, dark days, Lord, when we’re just coming to realize you will never leave us or forsake us, you’re there, to sing it, Lord, when life is failing, and we’re thinking of our eternal home, and the place you’ve prepared before us, and that as we finish the journey, that goodness and mercy will hunt us down, all the days of our lives, Lord, that we’ll dwell in your house forever.  We pray, Lord, for the person on our right, and the person on our left, we think we know them well, and maybe we don’t know them at all, Lord, their struggles, Lord.  Lord, let them be ones that can sing this song and not just know the words, Lord.  The person on the other side, Father, we lift them to you, Lord, maybe familiar, maybe too familiar, maybe not at all, Lord, but you know them, Lord, better than we do, better than we think we do.  Minister to their hearts, Lord, that inner man, Lord, their soul, their spirit, Lord.  Draw them into your arms, your consolation, to your shepherding care.  Lord, bind up the brokenhearted among us this evening.  As we lift our voice in song, would you move among us by your Holy Spirit, Lord, that you touch and heal and encourage, Lord, and save, Lord, if there are any here that don’t know you.  But Lord, we lift these things to you, and pray Lord Jesus, in your name and for your glory, let this be a sweet savour now that rises off of Philmont Avenue, Lord, let our praise rise before you Lord, and Lord let it be a sweet savour before you, Lord, we pray in your name.’…[connective expository sermon of Psalm 23:1-6, given by Pastor Joe Focht, Calvary Chapel of Philadelphia, 13500 Philmont Avenue, Philadelphia, PA  19116]


related links:


For a sampling of Phillip Keller’s book “A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23” see,


(To purchase Phillip Keller’s book “A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23” see for the best prices)