The Shepherd Psalm

FFF 8:10 (Oct 1962)

The Shepherd Psalm

John Bramhall

Out of one hundred and fifty Psalms, the one we learn to love the most as children and to cherish the longest as adults, is none other than the Shepherd Psalm, the beloved twenty third!

In Psalm 22, I see my Saviour as the “Good Shepherd” in death, giving His life for the sheep (John 10:11). In Psalm 23, I see my Shepherd, “that Great Shepherd of the sheep,” guiding me through life toward home (Heb. 13:10). And in Psalm 24, I behold my King, as the “Chief Shepherd” appearing in future power and glory (1 Pet. 5:4).

In the Shepherd Psalm, there are three wonderful secrets, each based on the first five words, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Possession of the Lord as MY Shepherd is the foundation of all the blessings in the Psalm: the secret of a happy life; the secret of a happy death; and the secret of a happy eternity.

Secret of a Happy Life

We live in a covetous and selfish world, but happy is that person who can say from the heart, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” A little girl once quoted these words, saying, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want anything!” How right she was! The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament renders the verse thus: “The Lord tends me as a shepherd: and I shall want nothing.”

Are we satisfied with this Shepherd? Having Him, we are perfectly cared for and should be satisfied with Him regardless of circumstances. This is the secret of a happy life, based on the perfection of His person and work.

“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.” How vividly the “green pastures” and the “still waters” portray the abiding contentment of the believer. Digest this truth and drink of the blessings of perfect peace and contentment.

“He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” He knows my wandering heart, but His perfect ministry of care never fails! With discipline and guidance, He leads me in His way. “Mine eyes are ever toward the Lord: for He shall pluck my feet out of the net” (Ps. 25:15). It can be said, “He will keep the feet of His saints” and provide them with perfect restoration and guidance.

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” The Psalm does not change in the middle, as some have thought, to that of an indoor banquet; rather, all the way through, it depicts the Shepherd’s care for His sheep. Surrounded by enemies, I still find my portion in Him. Perhaps bruised, weary and torn, yet I receive His healing and He generously makes my cup run over. “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: Thou maintainest my lot” (Ps. 16:5). In Him there is perfect provision and blessing.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Unfailing “goodness” and “mercy” are sometimes called God’s faithful watch dogs over me. “He abideth faithful” (2 Tim. 2:13) and “faithful is He that promised,” saying, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee” (Heb. 10:23; 13:5). What perfect faithfulness!

Are not these truths the facts of a happy life? Deny them if you can! Rather, enjoy them as you prove them all because you are able to say, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”

Secret of a Happy Death

“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.” Our Shepherd is not alone faithful in life, but also in death.

Note these five precious facts: his composure — “I walk” — indicating no terror or panic, only tranquility; his confidence — “through” — it may be dark, but his confidence assures a safe arrival in the home above; his courage — “I will fear no evil” —the dangers of life are terminating and a wicked world is being left behind. In the valley, “What need I fear, since Thou art near?” his Companion — “Thou art with me” —divine protection and companionship are my portion. Who else could be with me here? None! Only the Shepherd; his comfort — “Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me” — the Shepherd’s rod of protection and staff of connection have ministered through life and will also be my comfort in death.

Secret of a Happy Eternity

“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever!” No better climax to the Psalm would be possible. After a “happy life;” after a “happy death” — the Psalmist enters into a happy eternity! Through the darkness of the valley he now emerges forever into the eternal sunshine of God’s presence. Blessed consummation!

How different for unblievers! With no shepherd, such pass into the “blackness of darkness forever.” The famous orator and infidel, Robert Ingersoll, stood by the casket containing the remains of his deceased brother. His grief-stricken soul poured out its hopelessness and uncertainty of any reunion as he said:

“Is there beyond the silent night
An endless day?
Is death a door that leads to light?
We cannot say.
We do not know—
We hope and wait!”

This was the hopelessness of his soul, all because Robert Ingersoll refused the Good Shepherd, the Saviour — refusing to say in truth, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”

How different for the believer in Christ! Listen to the consolation, comfort and cheering words of the Great Shepherd to His own sheep: “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you … I will come again, and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3). What a happy eternity indeed!