Week of February 26

God Never Abandons His Children

Read: Numbers 7; Psalm 23; Acts 27
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
Psalm 23:1, ESV


“We have all things and abound; not because I have a good store of money in the bank, not because I have skill and wit with which to win my bread, but because the Lord is my shepherd,” says Charles Spurgeon. Psalm 23, to which the great English 19th-century preacher refers, represents the most widely recognized psalm in the psalter and provides a worshiper with reasons to be confident in God’s love and care.
The Psalm has long been called a “song of confidence,” not from inner resolve, but from God’s sheltering care. We need this psalm in this our own global hour of crisis, when billions live with hunger, lack access to clean water, and have no secure shelter. Furthermore, political machinations, economic distress, and senseless and unrelenting violence oppress us. We need a shepherd in this hour and God stands ready for the task!

The Meaning of the Text

Background to the psalm
It is not known what the circumstances are behind what is perhaps the best-known psalm in the psalter. Some suggest that David wrote the psalm when he took flight from Absalom in the wilderness. Others believe that the psalm refers to a king who was in some difficulty, but who was confident in God’s ability to deliver. Regardless of the setting, the psalm expresses confidence in God’s goodness in both this life and the life to come (EBC).
Even a casual reading of the psalm provides the reader with two predominant images—God as shepherd (vv. 1-4) and God as host (vv. 5-6). Both images offer us comfort in life’s trials whatever they may be. Therefore, the psalm has been universally appealing because it provides support to those who have encountered the most difficult circumstances in life. Let’s dig just a bit deeper!
All of you Old Testament scholarly readers will notice that typical symmetrical features are absent from the poem—i.e. parallelism, envelope feature, chiasm (Handbook). One may, however, read the poem like this: first line, short pause, second line, longer pause. It is as though David wants us to consider the first thing that he says about God, then wants us to read something more and let the thought carry the first idea further. Take a moment to read the psalm aloud and use this type of pattern. Now, let’s begin our worship of God our Shepherd!
God as our Shepherd
The Lord is my shepherd summons profound images of God’s oversight, protection, and care. God’s “love, compassion, patience, fidelity, and forgiveness” all come to mind when we ponder the depth of meaning in the shepherd metaphor (see EBC; Exodus 34:6-7). God is personal (“my shepherd”), meaning He is an individual God and not just the Lord over the nation. Whatever difficulty the psalmist faced, he expresses a testimony of a God who entered his world and ministered to his need. The psalmist’s words invite us to do the same. The psalm summons us to turn our worries into worship and our pressures into pious expressions of hope in God’s ability to deliver us from our troubles. We may see the ways that this Shepherd cares for His sheep.
“I shall not be in want” means that the supplicant will not “lack,” “be without,” or “have nothing.” Because God is our shepherd, we will have need of nothing (Handbook). How is this so? He provides a place for me to lie down and find rest (23:2). “Green pastures,” or fields where grass is abundant, provide the Lord’s sheep with their daily needs (cf. Matthew 6:11). Various human rights statements in the last half century have expressed the longing of humanity for the various things that the Lord provides to His people. God also gives His people “waters of quietness” or “refreshing streams.” God makes life good and worth living (23:3; “restores”).
The shepherd provides guidance for the sheep as well (23:3b-4b). In the midst of trials, he is a shepherd that protects the sheep (23:4c). His guidance and protection lead the sheep to the intended destination (“paths of righteousness”). God knows what lies ahead and He does not lead His sheep around in circles (Matthew 6:13). Even if the path takes them through the “valley of the shadow of death,” they still are to have no fear (cf. Acts 27:9-10, 21-23, & 34-36).
God as our Host
The Lord is also “my” Host (cf. 23:5-6). So many of the world’s population have been excluded from the presence of those who govern over them. In fact, much of the world suffers extreme neglect and hardship at the hands of royalty. Not so with this King! He has prepared a banquet feast for His children (cf. Isaiah 25:6-8). Their dignity is indicated by anointing them with oil (Psalm 45:7; 02:10; 133:2; Luke 7:46). The “cup” signifies the “gracious and beneficent” manner of entertainment (EBC).
This God vindicates His servant in the face of his enemies (cf. Philippians 2:9-11). God’s presence erases all the sorrows and sufferings that His servants have faced (Revelation 21:4). This extraordinary love and presence will not end (23:6)! Everything that we read in this psalm serves to remind us that God is loyal to His children. We do know that the cup is not always full, nor are our heads always anointed with oil, but we do know that God’s beneficence will be forever our companion (cf. Acts 27:23; Revelation 21:7).

A Message for Our Lives

The movie “Dunkirk” portrayed the famous World War II battle when the enemy had pinned down Allied forces on the beach in France with no apparent means of escape. I watched the show one time and found myself wondering what it must have been like to walk through such a dark hour. Many of the soldiers on that beach felt entirely abandoned and without hope. When help finally arrived across the English Channel, the battle-weary troops let out a roar of fresh hope. Their deliverers had arrived.
Theology for the heart. Many of us do not face bombs and bullets each day, but we have been battered and pinned down by life’s circumstances. I often hear people express the fear that God has abandoned them in their difficulty. This simply is not so. J.I. Packer has said, “God has not abandoned us any more than he abandoned Job. He never abandons anyone on whom he has set his love; nor does Christ, the good shepherd, ever lose track of his sheep.” Trust the Lord, your Shepherd.

For Thought and Action

1. Walk through the various statements in the psalm and write down the many ways that God has been your Shepherd, despite your difficulties. He fed you, He gave you rest when you were weary, etc. Then thank Him.
2. Find ways to take the framework of this psalm and use it as a plea for God to shepherd and host the great portion of this world that walks through the valley of the shadow of death each day. Ask God to feed, provide water, and give shelter to our world. Then, do something! Take the active step of supporting an orphaned child or donating your time to the homeless in your city (Matthew 25:31-40). 
3. For Families: Have your children memorized Psalm 23? We have been encouraging families to memorize scripture together in this For Families segment. This psalm is one of the “top ten” most important chapters of the Bible to know by heart. Take it phrase by phrase, adding another section each day for a week. When your kids have memorized it, ask them if they will say the Psalm to their pastor on Sunday!

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock