“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. 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. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
What a marvelous revelation the Spirit of God inspired David to write when he wrote the Twenty-third Psalm. It is such a precious text and a favorite psalm of so many of us that many have committed it to memory. This psalm teaches us about the great love the Father has for us. When this truth is accepted by faith, we have an inner peace that no other teaching can give, no matter where it comes from. It is only in God’s word that we learn that the precepts of God are far better than any of the maxims or teachings the world’s greatest thinkers have to offer.
The world’s greatest thinkers and teachers promote that each individual already possesses qualities to face life and live in a manner that can beat down any form of difficulty. There are many published resources on the subject of positive thinking, yet none of these works of men will ever accomplish the permanence of joy, peace and assurance that God’s word has promised.
“The life of Christ that gives life to the world is in His Word. It was by His word that Jesus healed disease and cast out demons; by His word He stilled the sea, and raised the dead; and the people bore witness that His word was with power. He spoke the word of God, as He had spoken through all the prophets and teachers of the Old Testament. The whole Bible is a manifestation of Christ, and the Saviour desired to fix the faith of His followers on the Word. When His visible presence should be withdrawn, the Word must be their source of power. Like their Master, they were to live ‘by every Word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4).” The Desire of Ages, 390.
Throughout his entire life, in both good and trying experiences, David learned to understand and trust in his Creator so completely that he was continually inspired to write many deep things about God. He said, “For You have magnified Your word above all Your name.” Psalm 138:2. There is a huge difference between the natural things of this world and the spiritual, between our ways and God’s ways. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 59:9.
Positive thinking is humanistic and even though expressions of “positive thinking” may at times give lip service to God, man’s word will always put himself at the center of its counsel. Man’s written works on positive thinking say “believe in yourself.” “You can do it!” But God’s word tells us, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me.” Romans 7:18. The beloved apostle John clearly stated the words of Jesus describing Himself as the true vine that “apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5.
These were David’s thoughts as he tended his father’s sheep. He turned his thoughts to the Great Shepherd and was inspired to write the Twenty-third Psalm. Rather than believing in ourselves, we need to realize the true poverty of our souls and turn our hearts and faith to God. With faith firmly planted in God, in His promises, His word and not in human wisdom, we will be able to say like the apostle Paul: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13. This is Biblical thinking. We must believe that what God says in His word is true. Psalm 139 tells us exactly how well acquainted our Creator is with all of us. “O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me … and art acquainted with all my ways … how precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!”
God’s thoughts are based on an honest evaluation of what we are, and in His word He has compared us to sheep. It may not be a pleasant thought to us, to be compared to one of the least intelligent of God’s creatures, but all the positive thinking in this world cannot change the fact that we are like sheep. Isaiah 53:6 says, “We all like sheep have gone astray.” John 10:27 tells us, “My sheep hear My voice.” And in Psalm 103 David says, “We are the sheep of His pasture.” The thing that differenciates the sheep is the Shepherd!
The fact that sheep are helpless, timid, and feeble requires them to have constant attention and meticulous care. Sheep have very little means of self-defense and therefore need a good shepherd to watch and care for them for sheep can actually walk and graze, completely unaware, into an area that is full of danger. If sheep are not watched carefully they can nibble themselves right off a mountainside and they can overgraze the land and be left without food, unless the shepherd leads them to new pastures. If the shepherd is not paying attention to all these needs the sheep will eventually die. Sheep need a good shepherd.
These facts concerning sheep help us to understand why the Lord refers to us in His word as sheep. When teaching His disciples, Jesus used the familiar things in life to teach the deepest truths. In comparing people to sheep, He not only teaches about our total and absolute poverty of soul, but also our need of a shepherd. In the book, The Desire of Ages, the following quote explains it:
“Now in a beautiful pastoral picture He represents His relation to those that believe on Him. No picture was more familiar to His hearers than this, and Christ’s words linked it forever with Himself. Never could the disciples look on the shepherds tending their flocks without recalling the Savior’s lesson. They would see Christ in each faithful shepherd. They would see themselves in each helpless and dependent flock.” The Desire of Ages, 476.
You can determine the character of the shepherd by the condition of his sheep. They need constant care. The better the shepherd, the healthier the sheep.
The book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Phillip Keller, Zondervan (2007), reveals a deeper insight into the shepherd and the sheep. The author was an actual shepherd in Eastern Africa and relates from his experience that it is impossible for sheep to lie down in green pastures unless four conditions are met:
- They must be free from hunger – lie down right in the midst of green pastures!
- They must feel totally free from fear – sheep are helpless animals that frighten easily.
- They must be free from friction – tension exists within flocks of sheep keeping them in a constant alert mode that must be resolved before they can feel completely at rest.
- They are free from pests – like most creatures in the wild, sheep can be tormented by flies and parasites.
There is one fly in particular that can actually deposit its eggs in a sheep’s nose. Once there, the eggs hatch as larvae, which travel up through the nasal passage into the sheep’s head, making their home in the sheep’s flesh. It causes such tremendous irritation to the sheep that the only way to deal with the irritation is to thrash and beat its head against anything it can find. The sheep can become so irritated that to find relieve it will actually kill itself in its desperation.
Now in a spiritual sense, can the enemy place “evil eggs” that hatch and turn into larvae to burrow deep into our heads? Yes! The enemy of souls can place eggs of torment that can hatch into destructive worms, spiritually speaking, in the form of thoughts of fear, rejection, bitterness, hatred, failure, incompetency, sensuality, greed, and the like. That is why the Good Shepherd “anoints my head with oil.”
What is our Great Shepherd like?
Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” When David wrote the words “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside still waters,” he was not referring to a forced rest for the sheep. These words convey the idea that the shepherd meets the needs of the sheep so they feel peaceful enough to lie down. Jesus tells us he wants us to enter into a covenant of peace with Him.
How does the Good Shepherd take care of all our needs so that “we do not want”?
He first frees us from hunger. Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger.” John 6:35. God’s word tells us that there was a time when He had to teach His sheep, the people of Israel, by allowing them to suffer hunger before providing them with manna from heaven, that they might know that man does not live by physical bread alone, but by every word God speaks to us. (See Matthew 4:4.)
“As our physical life is sustained by food, so our spiritual life is sustained by the word of God. And every soul is to receive life from God’s word for himself. As we must eat for ourselves in order to receive nourishment, so we must receive the Word for ourselves. We are not to obtain it merely through the medium of another’s mind. We should carefully study the Bible, asking God for the aid of the Holy Spirit, that we may understand His word. We should take one verse, and concentrate the mind on the task of ascertaining the thought that God has put in that verse for us. We should dwell upon the thought until it becomes our own, and we know ‘what saith the Lord.’ ” The Desire of Ages, 390.
The Good Shepherd frees us from fear when we come to know Him and believe the great love the Father has for us. “God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. … There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” I John 4:16, 18. When David was surrounded by the Philistines, he wrote, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in Thee. In God, whose Word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Psalm 56:3, 4.
“In His promises and warnings, Jesus means me. God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that I, by believing in Him, might not perish, but have everlasting life. The experiences related in God’s word are to be my experiences. Prayer and promise, precept and warning, are mine. ‘I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20). As faith thus receives and assimilates the principles of truth, they become a part of the being and the motive power of the life. The word of God, received into the soul, molds the thoughts, and enters into the development of character.” The Desire of Ages, 390.
When considering the deep subject concerning the Lord our Shepherd one must say, like David, “How precious also are Thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them (Psalm 139:17)!” As you meditate on this subject you will receive abundant blessings. An abundance of blessings are available as you meditate more on all that God’s word has to say about the Lord our Shepherd.
Hilde Nunez is a staff member of Steps to Life and the wife of Pastor Domingo Nunez. She may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.