Expositional commentary on Scripture using an inductive exegetical methodology intent upon confronting the lives of Christians with the dogmatic Truths of God's inspired Words opposing Calvinism and Arminianism, Biblical commentary, doctrine of grace enablement, understanding holiness and wisdom and selfishness, in-depth Bible studies, adult Bible Study books and Sunday School materials Dr. Lance T. Ketchum Line Upon Line: The Shepherd’s Thanksgiving Hymn

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Shepherd’s Thanksgiving Hymn

The Shepherd’s Thanksgiving Hymn

There is evil in this world!  This evil does not always present itself with pointy horns and a forked tail.  In fact, evil is subtle.  Evil sneaks in the backdoor often disguised as family or friend.  Evil manipulates, cajoles, flatters, and smiles while it robs its victims of innocence.  Evil eats its victims alive in tiny bits at a time while anesthetizing them with moments of foolish, sinful, and worldly pleasures. 
          David was a shepherd.  He understood the many dangers and snares in world to sheep under his pastoral care.  He had to fight off the wolves, bears, and lions that sought to devour his sheep.  He had to watch his sheep, feed his sheep, and guard them against their own foolishness.  So, when David says “The Lord is MY Shepherd,” it was a significant pronouncement that came from an understanding of terminology few people possess. 

1 A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 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. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 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” (Psalm 23:1-6).

Evil is a major part of our existence “under the sun,” or under the curse of sin.  We cannot escape evil for it is a major part of our fallen nature.  Paul says, “I find then a law {a governing principle of life}, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me” (Romans 7:21).  The created being that God intended to have dominion over His creation was infected with evil by the Evil One.  Can we possibly understand the depth of the love of God for beings that are inherently evil and who oppose everything righteous and good by the very desires of our corrupted flesh?  Why would God love us?  Why would He become incarnate to die for the penalty of death that His righteousness necessitated upon our souls?  He loved us and died for our sin penalty “that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
David understood and experienced the power of evil that was present in his life.  In one moment of careless weakness, David succumbed to temptation and committed adultery with another man’s wife.  Then, to cover up his evil, he plotted and had that woman’s husband murdered.  Sometimes sin opens a door we can never close again and sometimes sin closes a door we can never open again.  David knew unequivocally that he needed God to shepherd his life.  What fools we are if we do not learn this truth!  David was truly thankful that Jehovah was the Shepherd of his soul. 
          A Psalm is a sacred song or poem used to reflect personal worship and appreciation of God.  A major aspect of a sacred hymn is that it iterates the works of God, the character and nature of God, and the mercy and grace of God.  The Shepherd’s Hymn was a song sung about the relationship between the Creator and His redeemed.  It is a beautiful and precious hymn because it is a beautiful and precious relationship.  Until we understand this beautiful and precious relationship, we will never understand the words of Jesus when He said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).  Until we understand this beautiful and precious relationship, we will never be able to worship God and adore Him the way He deserves to be worshiped and adored. 
          David’s twenty-third psalm is a song of thanksgiving.  David knew by experience the unfulfilling emptiness sins promises.  Each phrase he utters is an expression of thanksgiving.  We would be wise to focus our attention upon each phrase for we too should be grateful for the intimacy of our relationship with our Redeemer. 

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want

          Jehovah is MY personal Shepherd.  He is watching over every minute detail of my life because He loves me and cares for me.  Secondly, because He is Jehovah, He is knows me personally and intimately.  He knows my needs.  He knows the dangers I will face today before I face them.  Because He is Jehovah, He is able to provide for me and protect me if I will allow Him to do so and follow His directions.  In the center of His will and while following His directions, I shall not lack for any need.  He will provide. 

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters

          David is not speaking of a herd of sheep in these verses, although God has many sheep.  He does not say us.  He says me.  He is speaking of a personal and intimate relationship with Jehovah.  Pastures of tender grass and waters of quietness are merely pleasant sounding poetic phrases to those who do not understand their significance.  Other than during the spring flood season, finding grass for sheep was a difficulty.  Doing so was often a dangerous venture.  Even when grass could be found, it was often dried and dying, with little nourishment left in it.  The expression “maketh me lie down in green pastures” reflects the restful assurance of spiritual blessings within the knowledge of the holy Scriptures.  Within the Scriptures, we can lie down in the quiet assurance in knowing God’s will in almost every manner of life.  What foolishness it is to famish in the wilderness of sin when the land that flows with milk and honey is readily available if we will but follow our Shepherd and read His holy Scriptures.  How can we know His pastures are made of tender grass if we never actually taste them?  David would speak of tasting and seeing the Lord’s goodness in Psalm thirty-four.  

8 O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. 9 O fear the LORD, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him. 10 The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing” (Psalm 34:8-10).

When David speaks of Jehovah leading him beside still waters, he is speaking of the guiding direction of the Word of God.  Still waters are not rushing waters.  Rushing rapids provided great dangers to careless sheep which often were swept away downstream and drowned.  The still waters were calm pools.  These were safe places.  When believers follow the directions of God Word and stay on the pathways of righteousness, they will find themselves in places of safety and protection.  That does not mean there is not a roaring lion roaming around in the shadows trying to snag a drifting wanderer.  The point is: STAY CLOSE TO THE SHEPHERD!

He restoreth my soul

          The human soul is the essence of our being.  The soul is the combination of our knowledge, thoughts, emotions, and spirit.  The soul can grow weary and weak.  The soul can be discouraged and anxious.  The soul can be filled with doubt and worry.  When any of these things happen to a soul, that soul needs to be restored.  The Hebrew word translated “restoreth” means to be turned away from what is doing the damage and returned to faith in what makes the soul whole and wholesome.  The greatest weakness of the human soul is our ignorance of God and God’s will.  God delights in making the souls of sinners whole.  Eliphaz describes to Job the workings upon the human soul by the Great Physician:

17 Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: 18 For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole” (Job 5:17-18).

          Rest in the calm assurance that there will be no spiritual surgery upon your soul if there is no need for it.  If God opened you up for spiritual surgery, you needed to be opened up.  However, the Great Physician is also the Great Healer.  Your soul will be better and stronger after God’s surgery.  He is the only Restorer of souls. 

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

          There is a presumption that those whose profess faith in God will follow Him and the directions He provides.  To profess faith in God and not follow the directions He provides is a contradiction of the profession – FALSE FAITH!  The point is that God is leading.  If you are following God’s leading, you are obeying the teachings of Scripture, which will be evident by your living on “the paths of righteousness.”  You will walk on the “paths of righteousness” to bring glory to God’s Name. 
“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” (Psalm 23:4).

          The context of this proclamation of faith in this verse is not about the moments just before we die.  The context is living each moment of our lives within the understanding of the eventual moment of our deserved physical death.  For the unbeliever, the event of death is a fearful experience because he can never be sure of what awaits him.  For the believer, death offers nothing but the surety of hope in the promises of God.  Therefore, “I will fear no evil: for thou {the presence, power, and victory in Christ of God} art with me.”  Evil has no power over us even though it lies within our corrupted spirits.  John the Apostle iterates the confidence of faith in Christ in his first epistle.  Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome {by trusting solely in the finished work of redemption in Christ Jesus} them {the spirits of antichrist in false teachers}: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (I John 4:4). 
The words “for thou art with me” is a proclamation of the presence of the Holy Spirit of God with the Old Covenant believer and the presence of God in the New Covenant believer.  Jesus taught this, and it is recorded in John chapter fourteen.

15 If ye love me, keep my commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; 17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:15-17).

The Spirit of God is God’s seal upon our soul until the day of the redemption of our bodies.  This is God’s promise of His eternal presence with the believer and why we need never again fear evil. 

13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).

“And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).

The great truth of Psalm 23:4 is that death has been reduced to nothing but a shadow for the “born again” believer.  There is no remaining substance that can ever harm us.  The substance of death has been borne in the body of Jesus on the Cross of Calvary.  We need not fear a shadow that has no substance.  All that remains is the shadow to reminds us from what we have been saved.  Rejoice in that reality!

20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. 21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: 22 {Now here is our example} Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: 24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. 25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (I Peter 2:20-25).

Jesus is not everyone’s Shepherd.  Jesus is only the Shepherd of those He has redeemed.  If Jesus is not your Saviour, He is not your Shepherd.  That is why the Saviour Psalm (Psalm twenty-two) precedes the Shepherd Psalm (Psalm twenty-three). 
The “rod and staff” of Psalm 23:4 respectively represent the sovereignty of God and the grace of God.  Sovereignty is God’s divine authority and power while grace is God’s mercy and love to the sinner.  God’s sovereignty means He still has everything under control even though the world appears to be in chaos.  Grace means God is operating under mercy and out of love even towards those that ignorantly blaspheme His Name and oppose all the good He seeks to do amid the curse.  Those facts “comfort me.”  They “comfort me” because there is hope for the worst of sinners, for I was once the worst of sinners. 

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over” (Psalm 23:5).

It is a sad testimony for a believer who claims to be a faithful warrior of God but has no enemies in the world.  The world hated Jesus.  Why would we think the world would love us if we are teaching what Jesus taught and living like Jesus lived.  It is one thing to love the world by trying to evangelize the lost.  It is another thing to try to court the world and earn its respect.  Nowhere in the Bible are the redeemed told to court the world, cater to the carnality of worldly people, or employ worldly tactics to gather a crowd of seekers.  If the vast majority of the world does not hate you for the loving message of redemption that you lovingly preach, you are probably doing it wrong. 

18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:18-19).

Amid this spiritual tension with the enemies of those who are faithful, God paints this scene of tranquility and peaceful fellowship.  Three acts of God are manifest for the faithful.  They refer to both physical/temporal needs and spiritual/eternal needs during the Kingdom Age.

1. A bountiful table is prepared by God to refresh the faithful warrior.  A mere Shepherd boy was now feasting as a king.  Do not be discouraged by the number of your resisters.  Be encouraged by the One that is constantly there to support you and enjoy His fellowship.  Remember, that during the Kingdom Age, all faithful believers will rule with Christ in glorified bodies as kings and priests.
2. The faithful believer’s head is anointed with oil by God.  God anointing is God’s consecration and acceptance of the faithful believer commissioning that believer with overwhelming and significant responsibilities of service to Him.  The oil represents the crowning empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
3. The faithful believer’s “cup runneth over.”  This expresses a state of existence where abundance is common to the faithful believer in that there is no want because the Creator is the Supplier.  This is a statement of faith by which a faithful believer lives.  Just as Jesus created new wine from water at the marriage feast of Cana, the faithful believer’s needs will be constantly and consistently met.  David said in Psalm thirty-seven verse twenty-five, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.”

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” (Psalm 23:6).

“Goodness and Mercy” are often regarded as the twin angels of God’s grace.  “Surely” is a verily, verily promise of comfort and encouragement to the faithful believer.  This does not mean that the life of faithfulness to God will have no difficulties or discouragements.  This means the presence of God’s “goodness and mercy” will always be there during every difficulty and discouragement to lift us back up and set us once again upon the high ground of living faith.  No matter how faithful we become in our lives, we do not deserve the attendance of God’s twins of grace.  Therefore, they are called the twins of grace.  Yet, the promise of God, and therefore the knowledge of faith, can rest in the calming assurance that these twins of graceshall follow me all the days of my life.”
The last proclamation of faith in the Shepherd’s hymn is “I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”  This statement is more than a mere statement of fact.  This is a proclamation of thanksgiving.  This is a glory to God in the highest kind of proclamation.  It reminds me of Paul’s last statements to Timothy, his faithful son in the faith in II Timothy 1:6-14 to stir him up and refresh his excitement about serving the Lord.  There is a culmination time to serving the Lord and that day will be glorious.  

6 Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. 7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 8 Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; 9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, 10 But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: 11 Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. 12 For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. 13 Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. 14 That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us” (II Timothy 1:6-14).

Paul was a Roman citizen, a “Hebrew of Hebrews. As touching the Law, a Pharisee” (Philippians 3:5).  These were no longer things for which he was proud.  He considered them as “dung” compared to his new life of service to Christ.  He was going to die a criminal’s death at the hands of the Roman government.  He was not ashamed of the curse of the world when he knew the blessings of God upon his life.  Thousands of souls were “born again” due to Paul’s faithful preaching of the Gospel and his consistent invitation to sinners to repent, believe, confess, call upon, and receive Christ.  Thousands would “hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of” Paul and thousands of thousands down through the ages would be added to the faithful.  Paul’s cup was running over, and he knew it!  He could face death with rejoicing. 

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Numerous studies and series are available free of charge for local churches at: http://www.disciplemakerministries.org/ 
Dr. Lance Ketchum serves the Lord as a Church Planter, Evangelist/Revivalist. 
He has served the Lord for over 40 years.

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