A right relationship with God/Psalm 23
The best estate our souls can be is in a right relationship with God. The Lord Jesus promised a new covenant in his blood to provide for us. It is a covenant of grace, Christ providing what is required by God for man to be accepted by God. It is also a covenant of mutuality, that is, as Christ makes himself ours, we also make ourselves his.
Men naturally value the favors of men, and the promises of a man. The greater the man, the greater value we put on his friendship and promises to us. It grieves us to be out of favor with someone we have depended upon. The propensity of men however, when their consciences tell them they are under the guilt of many sins, and God is not in good terms with them, is to dismiss it. Thus we are prone to reject the help from God we need. This psalm points us in a different direction.
Here is an encouragement for those who have put their faith in Christ as the Good Shepherd. When trouble, sickness, and death come they are not without hope and without God. They have made Christ their refuge. They have purposed in their life to walk with Christ. They can truly say God is my God, as the resurrected Christ said to Mary, “I go to my God, and your God.”
Verse one says, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Christ, lay down his life for his sheep. This solid foundation of life assures the believer that in good times and bad, in plenty and want, the Lord Jesus provides for them what they need. If he died for them, they can be assured he intercedes for them. In whatever circumstance I can give thanks, for the Lord is my Shepherd.
The “green pastures” and “still waters,” are something only Jesus can provide. Those who don’t know him will never experience either. But his people have tastes of what fellowship with God is to the soul. The green pastures point to the soul being full or content as before sin came into the world, and still waters mean the loving embrace of God rather than estrangement, sin, and death. The restoration of the soul is promised. Therefore, call on the name of Christ continually.
Verse 3 reads, “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Here is the assurance of your feet walking on stable ground or a solid foundation. Those who don’t know Christ walk on slippery ground. The Bible says their foot shall slip in due time. Jesus warns about this in the Sermon on the Mount. The day of reckoning draws near. Christ is the only rock whereby we stand.
There are many dangers, toils, and snares to the soul along the path of life in this world. We must walk through the “valley of the shadow of death.” Both those in Christ and those who belong to the world must walk through the shadow of death. Yet those in Christ have no reason to fear evil, for the Lord is with them. This doesn’t mean they will not suffer, but it does mean they go through it in the love of Christ. So there is light in the morning inevitably for them. It’s momentary tribulation only.
Those without Christ have no hope in facing death. They may escape at various times in this world, but it has power over them. There is no one in the darkness with them who can overcome it. Those who reject the hand of Christ will face evil looking to empty helpers.
There is comfort for those who walk with the Good Shepherd. His “rod and staff” comfort his people. They know they can do nothing apart from Christ, so this is a comforting promise. The Lord will correct them as they need it, and he will also drive away evil attacks. They will ultimately trample over all evil opposition and arrive safely into the heavenly kingdom of Christ the Lord.
The “table in the presence of enemies” and the “head anointed with oil,” go together. To be anointed with oil by the Lord means the pouring out of his Spirit. When the Christian worries about how he will face enemies or endure trials and temptations, the answer is the Lord will supply his Spirit. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. And strength comes from the table of the Lord, the Spirit’s confirmation we have eternal fellowship through Christ’s shed blood on the cross.
So the conclusion is certain: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Use this psalm in walking with the Lord.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is the pastor of The First Presbyterian Church of Union.