(1) It is safe to say that no other collection of poems has accomplished as much good as the Book of Psalms. Its sentiments seem to touch the soul at every turn — in joy, in sorrow. Referring to the Twenty-third Psalm, Beecher wrote, “It is the nightingale among the Psalms. It is small, of a homely feather, singing shyly out of obscurity; but it has filled the air of the whole world with melodious joy”; and Spurgeon said, “This is the Pearl of Psalms, whose soft and pure radiance delights every eye.”
(2) “Jehovah is my shepherd.” (Psalm 23:1) Only the people of God, in covenant relationship with Him, can properly appreciate this Psalm and apply its gracious sentiments to themselves. The Psalmist David could do this, because he belonged to the favored nation which God had taken into covenant relationship with Himself at Mount Sinai; additionally he had shown in faith in the promises of the coming Messiah. The Israelites had covenanted to walk in Jehovah’s way and to obey His statutes; and God in turn had covenanted with them that He would, in proportion as they would do this, bestow His blessing upon their every interest. (Exodus 19:5) And perfect obedience to that Covenant and its Law would have been rewarded with everlasting life. (Leviticus 18:5; Romans 10:5) We see, as the Apostle explains, that such a complete obedience was impossible. “By the deeds of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight.” — Romans 3:20.
(3) Comparatively few of the Jews even did their best to live up to the requirements of the Law; but the Prophet David evidently was one of these, however far short he came of perfection; for Jehovah declared him “a man after His own heart.” (1 Samuel 13:14; 1 Kings 15:3,5; Acts 13:22) If he made failures, he confessed them, repented, received his punishment, and rejoiced in restoration to Jehovah’s favor, striving the more in the future to maintain his fellowship with God. It is interesting for us to note the kind of man with whom Jehovah is well pleased — the kind of sheep in which the Great Shepherd is interested. And of this same class, of course, were others — the Prophets and lesser personages — all who endeavored to live godly.
THE GREAT SHEPHERD AND HIS FLOCK
(4) In an important sense this Psalm is applicable to our Lord Jesus and His Church. All the features of the Psalm are applicable to our Redeemer Himself as well as to His followers, whom He styles the sheep of His flock. To His Church He is the Representative of the Father, so fully, so completely, that He could say truthfully, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) No human being could, with their physical eyes, see the Heavenly Father and live, as the Scriptures declare (Exodus 33:20); and those who saw and understood Jesus to be the Son of God, could “see” the God and Father of Jesus in Jesus (Ephesians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3), because Jesus spoke the words of, and did the works of, his God and Father. (John 1:18; 6:46; 8:38; 14:6-11) And so we all see Jesus as the Representative of and mediator with the Father (Malachi 3:1; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:6), the Son of the great King, the Son of the great Shepherd, Yahweh.
(5) Jesus and His Church are more particularly the sheep of Yahweh’s flock than were the Israelites of the Jewish Age (1 Peter 5:2); for the relationship of the Jews was through Moses, while the relationship of the Church is through Christ and the superior Covenant which centers in Him. (Hebrews 3:2-6) It is well that we see this clearly; else how could we know whether or not we might apply the gracious sentiments of this Psalm to ourselves? It would not be right for a worldly, unjustified person to apply this Psalm to himself. (John 9:31) He would be deceiving himself; for he is not one of Jehovah’s sheep through Jesus Christ. (John 10:26,27) Nothing is more clear than this. Jesus declared that there is only one way of entering the sheepfold; namely, through the door — and He declared Himself to be the Door. — John 10:1-14
HOW TO BECOME A TRUE SHEEP
(6) By nature we are sinners under Jehovah’s sentence of death, and not His sheep, having been made so through the disobedience of Adam. (Romans 5:17-19; Ephesians 2:3) Our Heavenly Father has purposed a great Plan for the world in general, which will begin to operate as soon as Messiah’s Kingdom is fully established. However, in the interim He is receiving special sheep — during this Gospel Age; and Jesus tells how, saying, “If any man desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross [Greek stauros, stake], and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) Self-denial is the first step — self-renunciation, the submitting of our own will to the will to God. All who would be Jehovah’s sheep must take this step of self-denial; it is the condition under which they may be accepted. This is the only proper course for God’s creatures (Matthew 22:37); these are those who count the knowledge and blessings of a kingdom inheritance as a treasure greater than all joys and riches of this world. (Matthew 13:44-46; Proverbs 2:2-9) However, for those who do take this step now means to love God more than own families and friends in this world, and their own self, thus they are told to count the cost. — Luke 14:25-33.
(7) Moreover, as the Jews could come only through their appointed mediator, Moses, so we can come into this higher sheepfold only under the antitypical, greater Moses, Christ. (Galatians 3:19; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 3:3) There is none other name given. (Acts 4:12) Once having taken this step, once having come into the sheepfold by the Door — in the approved manner — we have the Message of God, saying, “For all things are yours. . . . All are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” What this means is described in this Psalm. — 1 Corinthians 3:22,23.
ALL NEEDS ABUNDANTLY SUPPLIED
(8) “I shall lack nothing.” (Psalm 23:1b) Jehovah’s sheep, abiding in perfection of relationship with Him, will lack nothing. Their every need will be supplied. This may not mean greater earthly wealth or name or fame or luxury. Jehovah’s sheep are new creatures, having received the spirit of the next age, who are temporarily dwelling in the flesh like other people, but who really are waiting for their change, to be completed by a share in the First Resurrection. Jehovah’s blessings to Natural Israel were earthly blessings, supplying their every earthly need; but His blessings to Spiritual Israel are spiritual favors. “No good thing will He withhold” from these — yes, even chastisements and sorrowful experiences that may be necessary for their spiritual development.
(9) “He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” (Psalm 23:2) The Psalm assures us that, as Jehovah’s sheep, we shall be provided with green pastures and the cool, refreshing waters of Truth. Moreover, while thus being spiritually fed and refreshed, we shall have the peace of God, as is implied in the suggestion that the sheep will lie down in the green pastures. But alas! Not all of the sheep have full confidence in the Shepherd and are fully resigned to fully have their will in submission to him. Some are continually getting into difficulty, because they neglect the green pastures and cool, refreshing waters of Truth found in the Word of God — because, goat-like, they sometimes wander off into the desert, straying far from the Shepherd and attempting to feed themselves on the indigestible things of the present life, on which no spiritual nature can thrive.
(10) “He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:3a) Yet even such straying sheep the Shepherd will not leave, if they have become truly His. He goes after them, as the Psalm represents. His rod and His staff are their comfort. With the rod he beats off their enemies, the wolves that would injure; and with the crook of His staff He wisely and carefully assists the entangled sheep out of its difficulties — out from amongst the cares of this life, the entanglements and deceitfulness of riches, and the besetments of sin and of Satan. Many of the sheep of Yahweh’s flock thus can sing, “He restores my soul” — He brings me back to Himself; He makes me again to know, to appreciate, to enjoy His provision for me and to see how much better it is than anything I could have provided for myself.
(11) “He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3) A further experience is next brought to our view — the Shepherd’s leading. “He guides me in the paths of righteousness.” He causes me, even by my own stumblings and difficulties, to learn to appreciate the desirableness of His ways and the undesirableness of every other way. All His ways are perfect, are righteous. He leads us not contrary to our wills, but in harmony therewith, to prove what is the good, next the acceptable, and finally the perfect will of God. — Romans 12:2.
THE VALLEY OF DEATH’S SHADOW
(12) “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 23:4) All of our lives we have been in the shadow of this great Valley of Death. Only father Adam was ever on the mountain-tops of life. He lost his footing there, and descended gradually down the slopes into this Valley of the Shadow of Death. We, his children, were all born here. We are dying daily; we are surrounded by dying conditions. We have merely the hope that Jehovah will lead His sheep back to the heights of life. Jehovah, through Jesus, is now leading His sheep of this Gospel Age — the Church, the Body of Christ. By and by He will lead the world, during our Lord’s Millennial Kingdom; as He declared, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will hear my voice. They will become one flock with one shepherd.” — John 10:16.
“Oh, sometimes the shadows are deep,
And rough seems the path to the goal!”
(13) The end of this Valley of Shadow is near, not merely in the sense that we shall soon reach the end of life’s journey, but especially in the sense that the New Day is about to dawn, of which Jehovah, our Supreme Shepherd, declared the result: “He will destroy in this mountain the surface of the covering that covers all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations.” (Isaiah 25:7) The final result will be that there shall be no more sighing, no more crying, no more dying (Isaiah 25:8: Revelation 21:1-5); but the whole world will begin to emerge from the Valley of the Shadow of Death. For a thousand years, while the deceiver of this world is bound, they will be rising again to the glorious heights of human perfection from which Adam fell, and the right to return to which is secured for all by the death of Jesus, “the just for the unjust.” — Revelation 12:9; 20:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:21,22; Hebrews 2:9; 1 Peter 3:18
THE CHURCH’S BETTER TABLE
(14) “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (Psalm 23:5a) But this precious Psalm seems especially to apply to the Church, as we have said. Thus we appropriately read that Jehovah’s people of the present time have an especially prepared table, where they may partake even in the presence of their enemies. That will not be true in the future; for no enemies nor anything to hurt or injure shall then be permitted. (Isaiah 11:9) But how true it is that Jehovah’s consecrated people, even when misunderstood, misrepresented, defamed and opposed, are still privileged to feast at Jehovah’s Table! The table represents God’s provision for their needs — the promises of God, the assurances of His favor, etc.
(15) “You have anointed my head with oil.” (Psalm 23:5b) Another evidence that the Psalm belongs especially to the Church of this Age is the statement. Jehovah, our Supreme Shepherd, has given the sheep to His Son, Jesus, setting Jesus as the “one shepherd” of Jehovah’s sheep, both the sheep of this age, and the sheep of the age to come. (Exodus 34:23,24; John 10:11-16,29; 17:2,6,9) Jesus, the Head of the Church, was anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows. (Psalm 45:7; Hebrews 1:9) That holy anointing oil used on the priests and kings of Israel typified the Holy Spirit, which came upon the Church representatively in Jesus. (Matthew 3:16) And this same anointing oil has come down over all the members of the Church, which is the Body of Christ, as we read in Psalm 133:2.
THE CUP BOTH SWEET AND BITTER
(16) “My cup runs over.” (Psalm 23:5c) The word cup is used in the Scriptures to represent a draft, sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter, sometimes both. The intimation is that the Master’s cup signifies bitter experiences and trials in the present time; as Jesus said, “The cup which the Father has given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11) And this was the cup — His cup — which He offered to His disciples and which we, in becoming His disciples, propose to share with Him, and which is symbolically represented in the Communion Cup. — 1 Corinthians 10:15-17.
(17) It is sweet and precious, in many senses of the word to be privileged to participate in the sufferings of Christ, in any sacrifices or services for Jehovah and His Cause through His Son Jesus. The sweet mingles freely with the bitter. But our Lord promises that in the future the Cup of new wine in the Kingdom shall more than compensate for any bitterness of the present time. (Matthew 26:29; Romans 8:18) Our Cup is full, but we would not wish it one drop less.
(18) “Surely goodness and lovingkindness shall follow me all the days of my life.” (Psalm 23:6a) How precious the thought — God’s goodness, God’s mercy, with all those who are truly His in Christ — following us day by day, moment by moment, and according to the Scriptures making all things work together for our good! (Romans 8:28)
(19) “I shall dwell in Jehovah’s house forever” (Psalm 23:6b) — in the Royal Home, of which the Redeemer said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions [residences]; . . . I am going to prepare a place for you.;” and “I will come again and receive you to myself.” (John 14:2,3) There are many positions of service in this Royal House. (Psalm 45) Out of this house all people of the earth will learn of the ways of Jehovah. (Isaiah 2:2-4) All in this House of Glory will praise Jehovah forever. — Psalm 135:1-3; Ezekiel 43:5; Haggai 2:9
(19) This shall be the everlasting portion of God’s elect — the Church. The great blessings subsequently to come to the world will in no sense interfere with, but enhance, the glory of the Church; for she will be engaged with her Lord in dispensing blessings to the other sheep. — Galatians 3:29.
Paragraphs are numbered for reference and use in group and individual study.
Earlier publication August, 2012; Updated and republished November 2014.
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