We have just heard read one of the most beautiful passages in Scripture. Psalm 23 is a favourite with many people, and those for whom English is their first language usually prefer the more poetic traditional version. It’s a poem and a song that stirs our emotions. It’s uplifting and full of hope.
The first verse says,
“The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.”
“여호와는 나의 목자시니 내가 부족함이 없으리라.”
When a sheep is under the care of a shepherd, the sheep has everything he or she needs. A sheep is completely trusting of the shepherd. Scripture encourages us to be like sheep and to trust the Lord Yahweh for everything. This psalm says clearly that if we have the shepherd as the lord of our lives, we don’t need anything else.
Do you have a shepherd of your life? The writer of Psalm 23, King David, saw Yahweh as his shepherd. We however have another shepherd. The name of our shepherd is Jesus.
“I am the good shepherd.
“나는 선한 목자이다.
“The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.”
“선한 목자는 양을 위해 자기 생명을 바친다.”
Yahweh came to us and was called Jesus. Jesus is all we need. When we have Jesus we have everything. This is heaven, to have Jesus in our lives.
Verse two says what Jesus will do when he is in your life.
“He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.”
“그가 나를 푸른 풀밭에 쉬게 하시고 잔잔한 물가로 인도하시며”
The green meadows, or green pastures, mentioned in this verse are not intended to give us a picture of sheep roaming over gentle hills covered in lots of delicious grass. The meadow describes a protected place with walls or a strong fence. Within that safe place is plenty of food, including grass. When we are with Jesus, we will not be left to wander here and there. With Jesus at the centre of our lives we shall be in a safe enclosure, protected from all our enemies and able to rest.
The peaceful streams, or still waters, are more than cool places to drink. Yes, of course this is a picture of the water of life that flows from the throne of God and the Lamb down the centre of the main street in the new Jerusalem. (Revelation 22:1)
There are other ways as well in which water is an important part of the Bible narrative.
We first see water in the creation, when God puts the waters in their correct places. Then we have the great flood in which the entire human race was drowned except for one family. We have the Exodus in which an entire army was drowned. These are not peaceful waters. They are wild and destructive. They are the home of monsters.
Psalm 74:13 says,
“You split the sea by your strength and smashed the heads of the sea monsters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan and let the desert animals eat him.
“주께서는 주의 능력으로 바다를 가르시고 바다 괴물의 머리를 깨뜨리셨으며 악어 같은 괴물의 머리를 부숴 사막의 짐승들에게 먹이로 주셨습니다.”
Psalm 77:16 says,
“When the Red Sea saw you, O God, its waters looked and trembled! The sea quaked to its very depths.”
“하나님이시여, 홍해가 주를 보았을 때 두려워하여 그 깊은 곳까지 진동하였으며.”
When we have Jesus at the centre of our life, the waters are still. They are calm and peaceful waters when Jesus is our Lord. The wild and chaotic waters retreat from God. God dispels chaos and he brings peace and order.
God was with the Hebrew people when they walked into the Red Sea, and so the waters had to retreat, as it is written in Psalm 77. And after God had passed the waters fell back into place and drowned all those who did not have Yahweh as their Lord.
The waters we are led beside are still and calm because Jesus has stilled them and conquered the forces of chaos.
I used to read this psalm as an encouragement that when life got terrible and I was afflicted with trials, that God or Jesus would come to me and lead me to a safe place. Now I read this psalm and realise it is describing a way of life. All day and every hour, Jesus is our shepherd. At every moment of day and night the forces of chaos are pressing around me, and only my Lord and Saviour can hold them back.
We are in a war. There is a spiritual war raging around us as we speak, and a clash of great spiritual powers. We are only safe while we are with Jesus. Without Jesus at the centre of our lives, the walls of chaos will crash down on us and drown us.
Verse three says that Jesus will guide us. He will lead is in right ways.
And then in verse four we come to the most famous part of this famous psalm.
“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.”
“내가 죽음의 음산한 계곡을 걸어가도 두려워하지 않을 것은 주께서 나와 함께하심이라.”
The ‘darkest valley’ is the shadow of death. The Hebrew word for this is tsalmâveth and it means deep darkness, or dark gloom.
Darkness is also significant from the creation story onward.
In Luke 1:79 the father of John the Baptist gives a prophecy about Jesus. Zechariah says that Jesus will come “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.”
Matthew 4:16 quotes Isaiah 9– “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined.”
Darkness and death are the forces of the enemy. Jesus is the one who has defeated these evil powers. At all times and in all places, the forces of darkness and death seek to defeat us.
We don’t walk through the valley of the shadow of death only when times are hard, but all the time. What the psalm tells us is that at all times we need not fear if Jesus is at the centre of our lives. Jesus is the light of our lives. Jesus is the light of heaven. Jesus cannot be defeated by death and darkness, and neither can we when Jesus is our shepherd.
John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”
John also says that if we reject the light, we suffer the consequences. Just as the waters fell on the heads of the unfaithful in the great flood and in the crossing of the Red Sea.
“And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.” (John 3:19)
David says that at the end of a life lived with God and the Lamb at the centre: “I will live in the house of the Lord forever.”
In order to reach that end we need Jesus, who “guides me along right paths”.
Paul said in Romans 8:14,
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”
“성령님의 인도를 받는 사람은 다 하나님의 아들들입니다.”
We must not only have revelation from the Bible, we must also have transformation from the inside by the Holy Spirit. The word of God and the Spirit of God together provide the leadership we need.
Paul said in Romans 12:2:
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
“여러분은 이 세상을 본받지 말고 마음을 새롭게 하여 변화를 받으십시오. 그러면 하나님의 선하시고 기뻐하시고 완전하신 뜻이 무엇인지를 알게 될 것입니다.”
In order to walk in paths of righteousness we must become new. Otherwise we may try to follow righteousness but will only become hollow formalists – people who try to go through the external motions of righteousness but lack the joy and love and peace that energize and guide the saints. The word and the Spirit team up to transform the mind, and in that way God leads us in paths of righteousness toward his house. He leads us through danger into safety.