For twenty years I have wanted to write a booklet based upon the teachings of the 23rd Psalm, but just didn’t get the task done. During the latter part of 1957 (a year of strange and fiery tests) I was awakened one morning about one o’clock. After being in prayer for an hour or more regarding perplexing problems, my soul was specially drawn out in meditation upon this psalm. Before the break of day I had the title — “HE CARETH FOR YOU” — and most of the chapter headings as they are herein given. The material for the manuscript was prepared while aboard the S. S. President Wilson sailing for Japan and Hong Kong while Gerald, my son, and I were en route to New Guinea.
As I implore the patience of my readers for the imperfection of these pages, I also lift my heart in prayer to our Heavenly Shepherd that He may take the truth contained therein and make it a blessing to many of His dear sheep. If you, my friend, have been helped by this booklet, then may you in turn help others by scattering these booklets near and far.
G. T. Bustin
THE SONG OF THE SYRIAN HILLS
The 23rd Psalm is everywhere known as the Shepherd Psalm. It has been called The Pearl of the Psalms, The Song of the Shepherds, The Nightingale of the Psalms, The Sheep’s Journey with the Shepherd, The Christian’s Creed, and The Gospel in Miniature. It might be well termed The Biography of Saints, as it is in fact the autobiography of David. One has said, “David’s autograph is on every line.”
With the possible exception of what is commonly called The Lord’s Prayer, and John 3:16, this psalm is the best loved of all the world’s literature, and is the most often quoted by infant lips, students, scholars, speakers, saints; and is the most comforting word spoken to the suffering and the dying.
These six simple verses consisting of only 118 common words, easily read within sixty seconds, have furnished more thought for songs, sermons, articles, booklets, and books than any other equal number of verses in the Bible.
As to the authorship of the psalm we are certain, but as to the exact time in the life of David when it was written we cannot say. Some believe it was composed in his shepherd-hood days, while others feel this period was premature. Some of us like to think of this as a psalm of life — born, grew, and matured. It is easy to believe that its birthplace was somewhere among the hills of Bethlehem, beneath the clear star-studded skies, surrounded by slumbering sheep. Possibly a sense of loneliness grips the shepherd boy, and suddenly this is augmented by the muffled roar of a lion in the nearby shades of the valley.
In all probability this psalm was given as one of the “songs in the night.” Unusual blessings are born in the hours of unusual darkness. It is not hard to believe that this psalm of psalms came to the world through great trials. It might help us to appreciate this child of the night if we can get a glimpse of shepherd life which is by no means the life of a softling.
These caretakers of sheep are not always able to share the common lot of men who, at the close of the day’s toil, can lie down upon pleasant beds for their rest. Shepherds are often compelled to lead their flocks to fields afar in order to find green pastures and fresh water. At times the shepherds are able to group together in their night vigils about the camp fire, but on other occasions they abide alone. It was doubtless on such an occasion that David slew the lion and the bear. It may have been at such time when this song of songs had its beginning. Bear with me in a bit of reverie in the paragraph which follows:
For days, if not weeks, the brave Shepherd had been leading his sheep out over the hills, across the plains, and through the valley. He is now on the homeward stretch. Yonder over the gray hills is Bethlehem. A few more warm days and cool nights; a few more camp fires to build; a few more valleys to pass through; a few more enemies to face while protecting his sheep, and then he shall see home and shall drink freely again from the well of Bethlehem.
As the evening shadows lengthened the faithful shepherd leads his sheep from the wayside pasture to the place of refreshing waters “beside the still waters.” The camp site is selected, examined, and the grass well beaten down to make sure that no venomous serpent is near. A fire is started, then the sheep are bedded for the night behind the wall of giant boulders. The brave boy prepares his scanty evening meal as the sun drops beyond the Palestinian hills and settles in the Great Sea beyond. As the last traces of the golden glow fades from view, the fair evening star (Venus) begins to show its face. Far away in the south, Sirus, the brightest star of the heavens, comes from its hiding place. Straightway myriads of the mighty hosts of heaven appear in their nocturnal journeys. Alone, except for his slumbering sheep, our shepherd boy naturally turns his thoughts toward God and home. The brave lad lays more and larger wood on the fire, thus breaking the chill of the brisk mountain air, also serves to ward off a possible attack of wild beasts upon his flock.
Yonder on the eastern horizon arises the constellation of Orion (the legendary Mighty Hunter) with its great giants. Two of these stars, Betelgeux and Rigel, are said to be many thousands of times larger than our sun which is fourteen hundred thousand times larger than our earth. Climbing the eastern skyway is Aldebaran, said to be 25,000 times the size of the sun. There is Arcturus (mentioned by Job 38:32) which is said to be more than 25,000,000 miles in diameter. Away out in the depths of space shines Antares, the unspeakable giant of the heavens, calculated to be 335,000,000 miles in diameter — so large that if it were hung out where our sun is, the planets of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars would all be circulating inside this star.
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While resting upon his bed of straw and gazing into the heavens David is reminded of the fact that he is not alone. The Creator and Sustainer of the stars in their courses is his Shepherd. As he considers the heavens and the might of his soul — Shepherd who has made all of these celestial bodies and shepherds them in their eternal circuits he becomes thrilled with the thought that he can never have a need which is beyond the ability of his Shepherd to supply. The Shepherd — Lord also makes His sheep to lie down in pastures of green and leads them to the pleasant watering places, restores and recreates their weary souls and drooping spirits, leads them in paths of pleasantness and righteousness, guides and guards them through the darksome valleys, shames his enemies by providing a feast of fat things in their very presence, anoints their aching head with heavenly oil, quenches their thirst with an overflowing cup of living water, hedges them about with goodness and mercy following, and with His own sweet presence leading onward over the homeward trail. Thus the psalm of psalms was born.
Perhaps this wonderful psalm was not penned until later years — after the psalmist had sinned and was restored, had suffered and was healed, had been tested and had triumphed, had hungered and was fed, had passed through the valley where he was protected and comforted, and the lights of his eternal home were casting their glow along the last turn of the trail. Personally experienced, Divinely inspired, and sublimely inscribed, we have the 23rd Psalm — The Poem of Life.