The LORD is my shepherd… (Psalm 23:1a)
Psalm 23 is probably the most well-known text in the Holy Scriptures. This is a most beloved psalm and has been quoted in almost every conceivable venue where people need hope. Many a soldier has carried it into battle or placed it next to his heart in a frightening foxhole. Hospitals and funeral homes are also often places of recital. There was a time when every school child would learn it and say it as a daily routine. Sadly, those days are mostly gone because of our government’s hatred of all things godly. However, disdain for the Bible does not diminish the spiritual impact made by its words.
Although the psalm is loved and quoted by nearly everyone that claims to be Christian, and by some that do not, the message is not generic and it does not apply to everyone that claims it. It begins, “The Lord is my shepherd…” Is this really true of everyone? Does the Lord direct everyone that claims these words? I remember hearing them at state funerals in the National Cathedral said by political figures that were instrumental in keeping God’s word out of our classrooms and the Ten Commandments out of our courtrooms. These are not people led by God. They are defiant against the one they claim leads them. In times of deep sorrow and distress, they are quoted by those with no intentions of surrendering their lives to the Lord. They are troubled for the moment and they need help, but they have never been led by God nor do they intend to be afterwards.
The one who wrote this psalm had an abiding relationship with the Lord. David was not always obedient and there were times when he sinned greatly, yet the difference between him and other sinners is that he always recognized his sin and he came to God in deep contrition asking to be restored to fellowship. David was a man with a regenerated heart. He knew his God personally and called upon Him affectionately. His relationship to the Lord was never to do as he pleased and live daily as if God did not exist—or only exists for times of trouble. He felt God’s presence on a daily basis and this is why he was easily convicted when his heart was not right.
The last verse of the psalm says, ”Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” This is a claim that can hardly be made by a false professor. Even while David wrote this psalm, his enemies were planning their next attack. What would motivate him to make this claim? It could only be that his relationship to the Lord and his belief in God’s sovereignty was such that he knew nothing would befall him that was not in the divine providence. This is reflected in the preceding verse as he says, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” Who can write such words without perfect confidence in God?
Those that have not claimed salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ have no right to this psalm. Their claims are not valid though they may quote with all feigned sincerity. God does not stand by anyone that rejects the sacrifice of His Son. The difference is false hope versus good hope. Good hope belongs only to the righteous that have bowed the knee to Christ and received Him as the Shepherd who guides ALL of his life. This is what makes Him the God of your valleys who leads you through to green pastures and beside still waters. You can make the claim “The Lord is my shepherd” only if you have truly committed to follow where the Shepherd leads.
Pastor V. Mark Smith