Asked for It Part 2
The Lord is My Shepherd
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
August 8, 2004
Psalm 23:1-6 (NLT)
Psalm 23. It’s one of the best-known
passages in all the Bible. Many of us learned it as children and it
continues to be popular today. You see it on plaques on the wall, you
hear it at funerals, you even receive parodies of it in emails. Here’s
one I received about a week ago…
MY APPETITE IS MY SHEPHERD (POUND 23)
My appetite is my shepherd; I always want.
It maketh me sit down and stuff myself.
It leadeth me to my refrigerator repeatedly.
It leadeth me in the path of Burger King for a Whopper.
It destroyeth my shape.
Yea, though I knoweth I gaineth, I will not stop eating
For the food tasteth so good.
The ice cream and the cookies, they comfort me.
When the table is spread before me, it exciteth me
For I knoweth that I sooneth shall dig in.
As I filleth my plate continuously,
My clothes runneth smaller.
Surely bulges and pudgies shall follow me all the days of my life And I
shall be "pleasingly plump" forever.
Most everyone is familiar with Psalm 23.
Even if they don’t realize where it came from, most people have heard
it. Let me give you some background for it. Psalm 23 was written by
King David during a particularly difficult period in his life. His own
son, Absalom, had rebelled against him and seized control of Israel. So
David fled Jerusalem with his life in jeopardy, and he was hunted and
hounded for a number of months (see 2 Samuel 15-18). And it was during
this time that David wrote his most famous Psalm, “The Lord is my
Shepherd.” Of course, David had worked for his father as a shepherd
while he was growing up. So when he sat down to write a song about what
he was experiencing, he wrote in the terms of a shepherd.
Now, I’ve never been a shepherd. But then, you already knew that.
(There’s no pulling the wool over your eyes.) In fact, I dare say that
none of you even know a real shepherd, much less are familiar with what
a shepherd’s life is really like. It’s just not a very common
occupation in our society. And so I think we have a tendency to lose a
bit of the meaning that David intended when he wrote these words.
Since I don’t really know much about shepherding, much of what I will
be sharing with you this morning comes from a book by Philip Keller, A
Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. Keller himself grew up in East
Africa where he was surrounded by sheep-herders similar to those in the
Middle East. Plus, as a young man he spent eight years of his own life
as a sheep owner and sheep rancher. So the insights that he is able to
bring into the subject will, I think, help us to understand what David
probably felt as he wrote the words, "The Lord is my shepherd."
This Psalm is only six verses long, and really it’s one verse with five
more verses explaining that verse. In the NIV, it begins…
Psalm 23:1 (NIV)
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in
That’s the key verse in this Psalm, and it contains the key word. Any
guesses of which word I’m talking about? “MY.” “The Lord is “MY
It’s not, “The Lord is A Shepherd.” Just one of many. If He’s only “a”
shepherd, that means you have other shepherds, too. Your job, your
family, your retirement fund…
It’s not, “The Lord is THE Shepherd,” either. That would mean that He’s
the one and only, and that’s fine. But it makes no indication that He’s
personal. He may be “the” Shepherd but have no connection to you
It’s not even, “The Lord is OUR Shepherd.” That would imply that
perhaps He takes a greater interest in some more than others. He may
not care about you personally, but He cares for the whole flock.
No, it’s “The Lord is MY Shepherd.” I belong to Him and no other. He
cares for me, and I am identified with Him.
One of the nasty tasks that a Shepherd has is to mark each sheep as his
own. Kind of like branding a cow, only different. Typically, this would
involve cutting a notch in the ear. The sheep would literally be
earmarked for that shepherd. And will forever be identified as
belonging to him.
In his book, I Shall Not Want, Robert Ketchum tells about a Sunday
school teacher who asked her group of children if any of them could
quote the entire twenty-third Psalm. A little four-and-a-half-year-old
girl was among those who raised their hands. A bit skeptical, the
teacher asked if she could really quote the entire psalm. So the little
girl stood up, faced the class, made a little bow, and said: "The Lord
is my shepherd, that’s all I want." Then she bowed again and sat down.
She may have overlooked a few verses, but I think that little girl
captured David’s heart in Psalm 23.
“The Lord is MY Shepherd; I shall not be in want.” I have everything I
need. I belong to Him, and He is mine. What else do I need?” The idea
throughout the Psalm is that we are completely content in the
shepherd’s care and there is nothing else that we desire. It’s amazing
to read these words when you realize they were written by a King who
had just been chased off his thrown by his son and was now on the run
for his life. Yet David was able to say with complete clarity and
confidence, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not be in want.”
This morning, we’re going to explore that picture that David paints of
God as our shepherd. In your Sunrise Update you will find some notes
you can use to follow along with the message and fill in the blanks.
What I want to do over the next 20 minutes or so is identify seven ways
in which God operates as our Shepherd today.
is My Shepherd:
1. He provides care and nurture.
Let me tell you what a good shepherd is
like. He loves his sheep. For him there is no greater reward, no deeper
satisfaction, than that of seeing his sheep contented, well fed, safe
and flourishing in his care. That’s what his life is all about, and he
gives everything he has to it.
He goes to a great deal of trouble to provide them with the finest
grazing, ample winter feed and clean water. He provides shelter from
the storms and protection from the enemies, diseases, and parasites to
which sheep are vulnerable.
From early dawn till late at night the good shepherd is alert to the
welfare of his flock. He gets up early in the morning and goes out
first thing to look over his flock. He examines the sheep to see if
they are fit and content and able to be on their feet. He can tell if
they have been injured during the night, whether they are ill or
require some special attention.
Throughout the day he looks over his flock to make sure everything is
all right. Even at night, he sleeps with "one eye and both ears open",
ready at the least sign of trouble to protect his sheep. He provides
all the care and nurture they need.
Psalm 23:2 (NIV)
He makes me lie down in green pastures…
According to Keller, in order for sheep to lie down they must be free
from four things:
To rest peacefully,
sheep need to be free from…
They must not feel like they are vulnerable to attack. If they feel
there’s even a hint of danger, they won’t lie down.
There must be no tension between members of the flock.
They must not be aggravated with flies or parasites. That will make
them restless and maybe even frantic.
Who wants to go to sleep on an empty stomach, right?
God is our Shepherd. So He provides basic care for us, His Sheep. He
makes it possible for us to relax because our basic needs are taken
care of. The next part of the verse says…
Psalm 23:2 (NIV)
He leads me beside quiet waters…
Something you need to realize is that Sheep are timid animals. They
won’t even drink from a running stream. It frightens them. Problem is,
they will also dehydrate quickly and need to drink. So if there are no
other options, they’ll find a muddy puddle or pothole someplace and
start drinking from that, even though they may catch a disease from
them. Remember Rudy on Survivor: All Stars? He drank stagnant water
even though he was warned about the dangers of parasites that would
flourish there and risked catching some deadly disease.
So it’s important that a shepherd find quiet but safe water. If he
can’t find it, he’ll make it by building a dam. As a shepherd cares for
the needs of his sheep, God cares for us and our needs. He provides
care and nurture for you and for me.
2. He provides strength and
I think there’s a reason we’re referred to
as sheep. That’s because sheep are among the dumbest animals on the
face of the earth. They’re always wandering off or getting into
trouble. They get tangled up in bushes, walk off the side of cliffs,
and fall into crevices they can’t escape from. A jackrabbit could cause
a flock to stampede. They’re not the brightest of animals.
Remember that old commercial, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”? Well,
sometimes that happens to sheep. They fall down, turn over on their
back and can’t get up again. And this happens quite frequently. When it
happens, all the sheep can do is lie on its back, with its feet
flailing frantically in the air. Sometimes it will bleat, but usually
it will just kick. And without help, the sheep will be stuck like that
and will either be attacked by predators or will starve to death. So if
the shepherd counts his sheep and notices that there’s one missing, his
first thought will be that it has fallen over and he must find it and
put it on its feet again. This is what David may have been referring to
when he wrote…
Psalm 23:3 (NIV)
He restores my soul.
Many times when this happens, a shepherd will search for hours for a
single sheep, only to find it on its back, lying helpless. He will turn
the sheep over on its side, rub its legs to restore circulation, then
lift it to its feet. He will restore its soul. And after a while the
sheep will stumble and stagger off, and eventually walk steadily and
The verse goes on to say…
Psalm 23:3 (NIV)
He guides me in paths of righteousness for
His name's sake.
Because sheep are so prone to accident, the shepherd has to make sure
that the pathways are safe… that they’re right. And as he does this the
sheep learn to trust their shepherd. They’ll follow Him because they
know they can have confidence in His decisions.
An interesting phrase in this verse is “… for His name’s sake.” It’s
interesting because the shepherd’s reputation was important. Often, a
person would buy a sheep without ever seeing it based solely on the
shepherd’s reputation. So the shepherd knew that the choices he made
had consequences. He had to choose the paths wisely or it would damage
Let me tell you, you can trust God. You can depend on Him. You can have
confidence in His leadership. His reputation is on the line. His
reputation depends on it.
3. He provides protection.
Sheep face all kinds of dangers… floods,
avalanches, rock slides, mud slides, poisonous plants, predators… and
it’s up to the shepherd to protect the sheep from all these dangers.
Psalm 23:4 (NIV)
Even though I walk through the valley of the
shadow of death, I will fear no evil…
I watched Open Range recently starring Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall.
In the movie, the main characters are open range cattlemen, meaning
they bring their cattle to one area of the plains, stay there for a
while, and then move on when the cattle has eaten most of the
Shepherding is like that. The sheep eat, and they eat, and they eat. If
they stayed in the same pasture, they would eat every blade of grass
and turn the pasture into a desert wasteland. They would completely
exhaust their food supply and then starve. So a shepherd needs to lead
the sheep from one pasture to the next in order to provide a continual
source of food. Sometimes this kind of move would be fairly simple.
Other times, it might mean they have to move through some rather
dangerous terrain or even through a dark valley. But to get to the lush
plateaus, to get to the mountaintop, sometimes you have to go through
God may lead you through a dark valley in your life, but that’s because
it’s necessary to get you to where you want to be. He led the Hebrews
through the wilderness to get them to the Promised Land, and He may
need to lead you through a wilderness, too. But you can trust Him.
Psalm 23:4 (NIV)
...I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
For a shepherd, the rod was the main weapon of defense. Each rod was
hand carved to fit the shepherd’s grip. Sometimes, the rid would have a
nail sticking out of the end of it. The shepherd would take that rod
and practice throwing it for months, until they could throw it with
remarkable speed and accuracy. It was their primary means of defense,
and could be quite lethal. Even today, handguns are often referred to
A number of years ago I read about how the Alberta Department of Pest
Control had been experimenting with a special type of sheep collar
designed to protect the sheep from it’s enemies. The collar was made of
leather and covered with sheep skin to blend with the sheep’s wool.
Between this leather collar and the sheep’s skin was a rubber tube
containing a repellant. When a coyote attacks, it typically goes
straight for the neck. So if a coyote were to attack a sheep wearing
this type of collar, it would puncture the rubber tube and leave the
When David was a shepherd to his sheep, he wouldn’t have had such a
collar available to him. So his rod was what the sheep would have
depended upon for safety. If the shepherd was leading the sheep through
a valley and suddenly the sheep were attacked by wild dogs, then the
shepherd would throw his rod at the dogs killing some and driving the
So the rod was used for defense. It was also used to gently discipline
and correct wayward sheep. It was used for training. It was used by the
shepherd to look over and count his sheep.
Our rod today is the Bible. It teaches us and corrects us. It protects
and defends us. God uses it to guide us and direct us.
Paul wrote about the Word of God as a weapon, too. He wrote in
Ephesians 6:17 (NLT)
Put on salvation as your helmet, and take
the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
4. He provides encouragement and
Psalm 23:4 (NIV)
…Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
We’ve talked about the rod. How about the staff? Well, while the rod
was used against predators, the staff was used for the care and
management of the sheep. It was a symbol of concern and comfort for the
The staff could be used by the shepherd to give gentle pats of
encouragement on the back of the sheep. If a sheep needed to jump over
a small crevice, then the shepherd could use his staff to encourage
them to go for it. He could use it to steer the flock in the right
direction. Sheep do, after all, have a tendency to wander off and get
Isaiah 53:6 (NLT)
All of us have strayed away like sheep. We
have left God's paths to follow our own.
So the staff was used to guide the sheep in the right direction.
Sometimes the shepherd would walk along with the sheep, using the staff
to provide contact. Just as if they were holding hands.
The staff could also be used to bring all the sheep together, forming
them into a community. The shepherd would use the staff to give them a
sense of identity with the flock.
The staff could be used in other ways, too. Say a newborn lamb wandered
away. If the shepherd picked up the lamb and returned it to the mother,
then the mother would reject the lamb because it would carry the scent
of someone else. So the shepherd would use the staff to return the
sheep to the mother, instead.
The shepherd would use his staff when examining the sheep for defects
or injuries. Even the shyer, more timid sheep that liked to keep its
distance could be brought close with the staff.
Our staff today is the Holy Spirit. He watches over us and keeps us in
the fold. The New Testament refers to Him as our Counsellor and
Comforter. He provides the encouragement and direction that we need
from day to day.
5. He provides peace and safety.
Psalm 23:5 (NIV)
You prepare a table before me in the
presence of my enemies.
This has always seemed like a strange verse to me. I mean, we’ve been
talking about a Shepherd and His sheep, and suddenly we’re sitting at a
table having dinner? I tried to picture this…
[PowerPoint – sheep at table, #1 movie villain of all time Darth Vader,
Okay, that’s not actually the picture this verse paints. You see, in
many languages the word “table” refers to high plateaus or tablelands
where sheep ranges are found.
A shepherd may plan to bring his sheep to a plateau for them to graze
and feed, but before he brings the sheep to that table… to that
plateau… he makes a trip there himself. He wants to determine the best
area of the plateau, distribute needed salt and minerals, clean out any
watering holes, and detect any poisonous plants that may be in the
area. There’s a record of one shepherd who lost 300 sheep because he
failed to do this.
The shepherd will also survey the area for potential predators. He
wants to make sure that any predators won’t have the opportunity to run
out, cause a stampede, and kill many of the flock. The shepherd’s
alertness and attention to detail can save the sheep from being
slaughtered. He provides peace and safety. God provides that for us.
6. He provides healing.
Psalm 23:5 (NIV)
You anoint my head with oil; my cup
Here’s where the discussion gets a little, well, gross. You see, there
are all kinds of insects that can pester animals in the summertime.
Warble flies, bot flies, heel flies, deer flies, gnats, and a host of
others. The Nose Fly is particularly annoying. If they’re able, they
will deposit their eggs on the damp, mucous membrane of the sheep’s
nose. Then, within a few days these eggs hatch and worm-like larvae
[pron. Lar-vee] appear. These larvae work their way up the nostril and
into the head where it burrows into the flesh causing intense
irritation and inflammation.
How do you think the sheep deal with this? Much like you and I deal
with irritations and frustrations… they beat their head against the
wall. Or against a rock. Or against the ground. Whatever they can find.
The danger is they can cut themselves, blind themselves, even kill
themselves. Plus, the irritation of the flies flying around their head
can cause a sheep to run and hide and stay in hiding. It can even cause
them to stop milking, and potentially stunt their growth.
The good news is that there is an ointment that can be used by the
shepherd to repel these flies. And when shepherds use this ointment,
they notice an immediate change in behaviour. Suddenly the sheep are
able to feed quietly and rest peacefully. The ointment drives away the
Plus, summer is Scabies time. A sheep can catch scabies (a contagious
itch caused by parasitic mites) and it can spread through the flock in
no time. This, too, can be cured with ointment.
Oh, and there’s one other reason to anoint a sheep with oil. In autumn,
rams become mature and begin to fight for their mates. We get spring
fever, it appears they get autumn fever. Anyway, a shepherd may apply
oil or grease to the heads of the rams so that when they charge at each
other they glance off to the side with little damage done except to
their pride. They just stand their feeling confused and a little stupid.
How many of us find ourselves butting heads? How many of us fight with
each other to get what we want? God wants for us to live in peace, and
he provides the grace and patience we need to live in unity, peace, and
7. He provides confident assurance.
Psalm 23:6 (NIV)
Surely goodness and love will follow me all
the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
The sheep realize their position with the shepherd. They count on their
shepherd. They know that their shepherd is never going to leave them at
the mercy of predators, will never lead them down the wrong path, and
will never abandon them in some valley. And the sheep are perfectly
content with their shepherd. There is nothing they are left wanting.
They have a confident assurance in their shepherd, just like you and I
can have in our Shepherd… a confident assurance for eternity.
I think I would be negligent this morning if
we read through this Psalm and failed to look at how Jesus referred to
Himself in the New Testament.
John 10:11-15, 27-29 (NLT)
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd
lays down his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a
wolf coming. He will leave the sheep because they aren't his and he
isn't their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the
flock. The hired hand runs away because he is merely hired and has no
real concern for the sheep.
"I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as
my Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for
“My sheep recognize my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give
them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them
away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more
powerful than anyone else. So no one can take them from me.”
I read a story this week, and I don’t know if it’s a true story or not.
Either way, I believe it does convey some truth. It was about a famous
actor was the guest of honour at a social gathering where he received
many requests to recite favourite excerpts from various literary works.
An old preacher who happened to be there asked the actor to recite the
twenty-third Psalm. The actor agreed on the condition that the preacher
would also recite it. The actor’s recitation was beautifully intoned
with great dramatic emphasis for which he received lengthy applause.
The preacher’s voice was rough and broken from many years of preaching,
and his diction was anything but polished. But when he finished there
was not a dry eye in the room. When someone asked the actor what made
the difference, he replied "I know the psalm, but he knows the
Do you know the Shepherd this morning? If not, I want you to know you
can. And He would welcome you with open arms.