At the end of Part One we were looking at the Shepherd’s restoring of our souls, no doubt that we might be ready to be led in paths of righteousness for His own namesake, as we continue our journey.
He Leads Me in Paths of Righteousness
“…For His namesake” is how this phrase ends, and not without justification. Every one of us can identify with the apostle Paul, who cries out with great anguish as Romans 7 ends: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” In total recognition of his own impossibility, he turns to the Lord: “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” God’s love sets Him up to great risks with the likes of you and me. In John 15:5, He says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” Yet, when you and I pass by a vineyard, we don’t exclaim, “Look at that grapevine and all those beautiful branches!” We say, “Look at that beautiful grapevine and those luscious grapes!” Or, if the sight is not that positive, it’s not with so much adulation. The point is that God stakes His reputation on our behavior. So, He leads us in paths of righteousness for His namesake.
Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
Fear, apprehension, anxiety for the unknown easily grips any one of us from time to time, but being unshaken in the midst of turmoil and danger is the goal of our growth in faith. Are statements like, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” or “I will never leave you nor forsake you” lost from our memory bank? All that is said of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, in John 10 is covered in the declaration of 2 Timothy 2:13: “If we believe not, yet he abides faithful: He cannot deny Himself” (KJV). In 1 Corinthians 10:13 Paul indicates that God allows temptation to come at us, but He does not
allow us to be tempted by more than we are able to bear. A quick question is this: “Why allow it at all?” (Yes, I know that James 1:14 rightly says a person is tempted when he is “drawn away by his own lust and enticed.”)But the periodic testing of our faith, if we overcome the test, leads us to a stronger faith, so that we might truly say with the psalmist, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” confidently and consistently.
Here are some promises that mean a lot to me:
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
“The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them” (Psalm 34:7).
A picture like this forms in my mind: As we are held close to a whirling circular saw without being touched, our fear and apprehension diminishes, and we, now being more confident in our faith in the faithful One, are not afraid to walk through those “valleys” that we must face. Even the shadows do not scare us, because we know God is faithful and ever-present with us.
Your Rod and Your Staff
In the Bible the rod is a symbol of power and authority and is an instrument of correction and punishment. In the shepherd’s hand a rod was used in counting the sheep and determining their well-being. A staff seems to have been a possession of most everyone. David carried one when he went out to face Goliath. Of course, he was a shepherd, by occupation. For the shepherd the staff was a means of support, defense or protection and served, too, as an identifying guide marker, much as does the guidon for military troops.
For the sheep of His pasture, His rod and staff are symbols of power and authority; of discipline and correction; of protection and defense; of support and leadership; of determination and purpose. Perhaps it could be summed up in this statement in reference to the sufficiency of the Scriptures:
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Remember, it was said earlier in Psalm 23 that the Shepherd “leads us in paths of righteousness for His namesake.”
The full statement, “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me,” speaks of a comforting presence—the sense of protection round about us by One who is unlimited in His sovereignty and unlimited in His mercy, grace and love for us—that is beyond our comprehension.
A Table Is Prepared Before Me
This table has some unusual onlookers—our enemies! But how could that be? Jesus prayed in that high priestly prayer of John 17, these words: “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are” (John 17:9-11).
What do you suppose is the expiration date on that prayer? (How about…never?)
At the first experience of the Passover provision recorded in Exodus 12, the blood of the lamb was to be put on the doorposts of the homes so the death angel could not enter and destroy their first born. The blood of the Lamb of God whom John the Baptist recognized (John 1:29) is on the doorposts of the hearts and lives of those who believe in Him, and no enemy of our souls can access our lives or violate our territory when we trust in Him. And Jesus further prayed in that prayer of John 17, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (verse 15). And so it is, that we can feast on the riches of His mercy and grace in the midst of an evil and corrupt world.
Possibly the most visible example of this expression is that of Israel in the midst of those on all sides, who have declared their intent to devour the Jewish people, wiping them off the face of the earth (Psalm 83). Yet, as one traveling reporter noted recently, looking out one window of the vehicle, the view was the bare desert of Jordan, while out the other window were green fields and a flourishing economy. Nahum 1:7 comes to mind:
“The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who trust in Him.” One day, the Lord says, all Israel will acclaim that!
He Anoints My Head with Oil
Oil is a physical symbol of the Holy Spirit in the spiritual anointment rituals in which He is called upon to be a vital part of the ministry, service or activity that is being considered. In preparing the disciples not to be upset in His coming absence, Jesus said, “…you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17b). Paul then writes in Romans 8:9b: “Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” It is a phenomenon that broke all the rules at Pentecost, for nothing like that had ever happened before! No wonder that Paul later wrote, “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). In the believer, He has taken up residence, a ready anointment.
My Cup Runs Over
A cup is a container, usually for something to drink, like tea or coffee. In the scriptures it is identified in various ways with its contents, as: the cup of His fury; the cup of trembling; the cup of salvation; the cup of consolation; the cup of drunkenness; the cup of the Lord’s right hand. In this Psalm 23 reference, the cup indicates a container of blessings, whose abundance causes the cup to overflow. It brings to mind Proverbs 10:22, “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.” Consider, too, the implications in Psalm 116:12-13: “What shall I render to the LORD Forall His benefits toward me? I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD.” The Psalmist says he will drink his fill of the benefits of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, as an acceptable response for all the Lord’s benefits he already has been receiving. Let’s check out again what is in that cup of salvation that is overflowing its rim!
Surely Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow Me
At the beginning of that Psalm 103 are listed several benefits that the Lord insists we are not to forget. All of them could be fitted under this heading, but two are particularly applicable: “He redeems our lives from destruction” and “He crowns us with loving kindness and tender mercies.” Earlier, the psalmist wrote, “He leads us in paths of righteousness” and now, following behind us are these qualities of His loving care. In front and behind us is His protective presence, for like unwary sheep, we can easily wander off track.
I Will Dwell in the House of the Lord Forever
Having come this far in our meditation, it is remarkable that we have not seen any indication that the Lord requires any heavy list of things we must do to merit His salvation. The confident statement of the writer of the psalm is one that proclaims, “It is settled.” Hebrews 10:12 says, speaking of Jesus, “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God….” One sacrifice, once for all—that’s it! He is the Great Shepherd of the sheep:
“Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom beglory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21).
Simply put, John writes, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). There is assurance of salvation.
Finally, the only way to properly conclude this meditation on the greatness and grandeur of this Great Shepherd is to record that exaltation and praise in David’s prayer in 1 Chronicles 29:11-13:
“Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all
that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; in Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, we thank You and praise Your glorious name.”