Week of February 25

The True Source of Lasting Hope

Read: Numbers 7; Psalm 23; Acts 27

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
Psalm 23:1, ESV


I hear Christians in recent years express the fear that God has abandoned them in their difficulty. 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.” We may trust the Lord, our Shepherd. Psalm 23, often termed a “song of confidence,” points us to the God who shelters us with care. We need this hymn in this our own global hour of crisis when billions are hungry, lack water, and have no shelter. Furthermore, political machinations, economic distress, and senseless and unrelenting violence oppress us. We need a shepherd in this hour, and God is already rescuing us!

The Meaning of the Text

The psalm’s circumstances
I sure wish I knew the circumstances behind the writing of what has been termed the best-known psalm in the Psalter, but I do not. Do you long to know them? Some suggest that David wrote the psalm in the wilderness while fleeing from his son, Absalom. Others believe the psalm refers to a king who was facing difficulty, but confident in God’s ability to deliver. Regardless, the psalm expresses confidence in God’s goodness in this life and the life to come (EBC). Even a casual reading of the psalm provides us with two predominant images—God as shepherd (vv. 1-4) and God as host (vv. 5-6). Both pictures offer us comfort in life’s trials today, whatever they may be.
God is your Shepherd
The Lord is my shepherd summons profound images of God’s oversight, protection, and care. His “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). Our Lord is personal (“my shepherd”), meaning He is an individual God and not just the Lord over the nation. Whatever difficulty we face, God enters our world and ministers to the need. The psalm invites us to turn our worries into worship and our pressures into prayers of hope in God’s ability to deliver us from our troubles. We may see the ways this Shepherd cares for His sheep.
The Shepherd’s care. “I shall not be in want” means that the supplicant will not “lack,” “be without,” or “have nothing” (Handbook). He provides a place for us to lie down and find rest (23:2). “Green pastures,” or fields where grass is abundant, provide us with our daily needs (cf. Matthew 6:11). God also gives His people “waters of quietness” or “refreshing streams.” God makes life good and worth living (23:3; “restores”)!
The Shepherd’s guidance (23:3b-4b). Amid trials, He is a shepherd who protects and leads us to the intended destination (23:4c, “paths of righteousness”). God knows what lies ahead, and He does not lead us around in circles (Matthew 6:13). Even if the path takes us through the “valley of the shadow of death,” we still are to have no fear (cf. Acts 27:9-10, 21-23, & 34-36).
God is your Host
God is our 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 our God! He has prepared a banquet feast for us, His children (cf. Isaiah 25:6-8). Our dignity is preserved by an anointing with oil (Psalm 45:7; 02:10; 133:2; Luke 7:46). The “cup” signifies His “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 we, His servants, have faced (Revelation 21:4).

The Message for Your Heart

The movie Dunkirk portrays the famous World War II battle where the enemy had pinned down Allied forces on the beach in France with no apparent means of escape. Many of the soldiers on that beach felt entirely abandoned and without hope until their rescuers arrived. Change the setting and circumstances to places like Myanmar, Gaza, northern Nigeria, Cuba, or North Korea, and you will recognize that Christians the world over know the agony of suffering oppression, as well as the hope of living into God’s deliverance. This psalm reminds us that the extraordinary love and presence of God will never end (23:6)! The cup may not always appear to be full, nor 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).

For Thought and Action

1. Walk through the various statements in the psalm and write down the many ways God has been your Shepherd, despite your difficulties. Then, thank Him.

2. For Families: The two motifs in this Psalm 23 are ones we can easily share with our children - Shepherds and Hosts. God will always take care of us, and God will always provide for us. Everything about us is important to God.

To engage your kids in this Psalm, let them take turns reading Psalm 23 from The Message. Then give them construction paper, cotton balls, glue, and magic markers, and let them make sheep - one for every member of your family. To make it fun, invite them to attach names to their sheep, and draw them doing something each of your family members regularly do (like Dad mowing the lawn or Mom cooking). All of the sheep-family going about their daily activities.

Encourage them to draw everything the sheep need in order to be fed, housed, watered, and safe. Then let them draw the Good Shepherd, who always takes good care of the sheep. At suppertime, have a “show and tell,” and let your children show everyone else their sheep and the Shepherd who loves them best.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock