Guided on the right paths of life by the Shepherd

TUESDAY, APRIL 17
Psalm 23

Knowing the goodness and love of the Lord who is with us in the twists and turns of life

A psalm of David.

1  The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.

“My shepherd” – this form of personal address is unique in Psalms, although “my God” is often used. It is the most intimate metaphor David uses in contrast to the more impersonal ‘rock’ or ‘shield’,  and the more remote ‘king’ or ‘deliverer’. The shepherd lives out with his flock as their guide, healer and protector.

2  He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters,

The true shepherd sees things from the perspective of the flock – the quality of pasture, the safe and relatively still water which sheep need.

3  He refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

“Refreshes my soul” – in more formal versions, ‘restore’. A parallel verb has the meaning “makes wise”. ‘Causes my soul to repent’ is possible and amounts to the same as ‘refreshes’ or ‘renews’.

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

“You are with me” – only the Lord will go on with us where others turn back, continuing to guide along the “right paths” which may at times take us through the valley of the shadow of death. But not alone, with an armed escort.

5  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Specially honoured guests would receive an anointing on the head of perfumed oil

6  Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

“Your goodness and love” – God is good, God is loving and He is the Lord (v.1) the Shepherd, in a covenant relationship.

“All the days of my life” – in the O.T. world, to eat and drink with someone was to establish a covenantal relationship – like at the Last Supper and the shared cup that Jesus said was the New Covenant, 1 Cor. 11:25.

God’s goodness and love, covenantal and bestowed, rather than earned, follows us into the dark and threatening places – and out again. The outcome is assured.

Application

We enter into a relationship with God and we enter into a covenant of salvation. His part is as the provider, guide and protector. Our part is being committed to trust Him, even when life takes a turn down what looks like death valley.

He is with us. Are we with Him? This is the nature of a covenant relationship, and it requires faith. There are times when we feel secure in God’s guidance and provision. Then life takes a turn down a different kind of path which is potentially more fearful. Is God still guiding? Where is His provision now?

The point of the psalm is that we can say, definitively, “Yahweh is my Shepherd. I shall not want.” This brings us into agreement with His intention. The Valley of the Shadow of Death is the place where the devil will try to deceive us into agreeing with him, and believing the fears and the apparent lack – what we see with our eyes. But we are in a different covenant – a covenant with Almighty God in which nothing has changed. However, we need eyes of faith to see that and the resolve of faith to agree with the covenant-giver. With eyes of faith, we can turn for a moment and see that He is with us, and that His goodness and mercy are following us right into this adverse terrain – and out again.

Knowing we are in covenant with God gives us a choice in what we hear, which is where the spiritual battle is fought. We can choose to agree with what God is saying.

For discussion and reflection

Think of a test you are facing in your life right now. Who are you agreeing with?
The voice of God, the whisper of the Holy Spirit reminding you of promises which cover you?
Or the more sarcastic tone of the enemy showing you what appear like impossibilities?

Mon, Dec 4: Good News of enduring salvation

Isaiah 40:1-11

God announces through the prophet Isaiah Good News of enduring salvation

1 Comfort, comfort [i.e. comfort greatly, emphasised] My people, says your God.

2 Speak tenderly to [lit. speak to the heart of, encourage] Jerusalem [the Lord’s people], and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double [punishment] for all her sins.

  • They had endured the punishment of captivity and exile.
  • This section starts with an announcement of the Good News; it continues.

3-5 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare [clear] the way for the Lord [remove the obstacles]…

  • This voice, God’s messenger who prepares the way for God’s coming, was identified with John the Baptist in all four of the gospels Matt 3:1-3, Mark 1:1-3, Luke 3:4 and John 1:23.
  • In Isaiah 35 the picture is of a holy highway with the people travelling towards Zion, where the Lord has come. The imagery here is reversed; the Lord is coming out to the people (verses 9-11).

…make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.

  • ‘Desert’ is not smooth sand but a picture of sharp crags and crevasses – terrain that is difficult to negotiate. NLT renders this “Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills, straighten the curves and smooth out the rough places…”
  • The Near East custom was to send representatives to prepare a processional way; a bit like preparing a way down the Mall for the Queen in the royal coach.

And the glory [and majesty and splendour] of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

  • Yahweh – the Lord – could not be seen; every Israelite knew that. But they needed assurance that the Lord was with them. The was the cloud, kabod, which unlike our idea of damp, grey clouds had a radiance as well. In Exodus 24:17 it is called a consuming fire. It is felt and not just seen – when the tabernacle was completed God’s glory so filled it that even Moses was unable to enter Exodus 40:35. The glory of the Lord that was the constant reminder that God was with the Israelites is the glory that Isaiah here will be seen again by everyone. The Transfiguration of Jesus was a cloud of dazzling radiance that surrounded Jesus and revealed others Matt. 17:1-3.

A voice says, “Cry out [prophesy]!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”

[The voice answered] “All people are like[all humanity is as frail as] grass, and all their faithfulness [lit. all that makes it attractive] is [momentary] like the flowers of the field.

7-8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely [all] the people are [like] grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”

9 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem [God’s people], lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!”

  • ‘Shout’ – this is a message for all to hear.

10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and He rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with Him, and His recompense accompanies Him.

  • Unlike the unjust, and ultimately powerless, rulers who He will judge, God’s rule will be different: marked by compassion and righteousness – with power to rescue, Isaiah 59:16 and defeat enemies such as the Egyptians, Isaiah 63:11-12.
  • His reward is with Him – God is Himself the Good News.

11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; He gently leads those that have young.

  • The Ezekiel 34 passage (Nov 26 readings) portrayed God as the careful shepherd who would Himself rescue and shepherd His flock, Ezekiel 34:11, 15-16

Application

This is a message of hope and encouragement for God’s people. The immediate hearers were Jews of the 8th century BC. But we can take hold of this as a lesson about God’s character; uncompromising in holiness and angered by our stubbornness and independence, but essentially loving, gracious and having our protection and best interests at heart, like the best kind of shepherd.

We may have done all sorts of things (and held all sorts of attitudes) entirely worthy of God’s anger. That is why we go back to Him often and agree with Him that we are prone to fall into sin, usually through our own independence. He has given us free will, to do what He would have us do, or to do what we want to do. Of course we get it wrong at times. The nation of Israel kept on getting it wrong, ignoring clear warnings and lessons from history, until they were expelled from their holy city and holy land to a life of servility in exile.

Here God is announcing that this ‘hard service’ has been completed and His love and mercy will once again override the need for judgment.Unlike the Jewish nation, we have a ‘fast track’ to God through Jesus. The hard service or worse that should have been ours, from our inherited independence and human pride, has been completed by Jesus in his dying for us. For the Jewish nation there was, quite justifiably, condemnation. The Bible word for us is that for us who have sincerely chosen to give our lives to Jesus, there is no condemnation, Romans 8:1-2 . There is always a way back for us in Jesus. The announcement of Good News is for our hearing. As we respond and turn to meet God, we find Him coming out to meet us. The way for Him to come, needs some levelling and preparation; thanks to Jesus we are equipped to do that.

Discussion starters

  1. What are the obstacles, or obstructions, to God coming to us again and showing His glory?
  2. How do we do our bit to make straight… a highway for our God?