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"My Shepherd Leads Me"

March 18, 2018 Psalm 23:1-4


David in Psalm 23:1 proclaims, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Now THERE’S an unusual thought! Shepherds in Israel were the bottom rung of society, considered not even worthy of giving testimony in court. Shepherds were the uncultured back-woodsmen, the lowest income serfs who were only fit to tend sheep.

             What do people usually look for in a leader? Someone from the fringes of society, or someone with power and influence, well-connected? Would you consider Doug Ford anything akin to a shepherd? (I’ll leave partisan dissection of that statement to the parking lot rather than the pulpit, depending on your political persuasion!) On Facebook a local elected official was bemoaning the choice of Ford to lead the Ontario PCs as something akin to Americans choosing Donald Trump as president. Would you say Donald Trump is anything akin to a shepherd? He is more at home in the corridors of power and rich corporate boardrooms than in the back 40 minding vulnerable sheep. Politically we tend to choose leaders who are more ‘take-charge’ types, not afraid to throw their weight around, to sack those who disagree with them (hence the ‘revolving door’ at the White House), to intimidate and exercise control over others.

             Recently the world was shocked to hear that President Trump had agreed to meet North Korea dictatorial leader Kim Jong Un. I saw on Facebook some comic saying that in advance of the conference they had agreed to swap hair styles – the pictures were quite hilarious! Kim Jong Un’s nickname is “Rocket Man” because of North Korea’s foray into the field of launching nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles. When somebody’s threatening to lob bombs in your general direction, you sit up and take notice. No doubt Kim Jong Un has captured the devotion of many North Koreans due to his “strong man” approach, ready to confront even the powerful United States.

             The idolization of the “strong man” political leader has a history. Back in 1883 German atheistic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche popularized the idea of the “ubermensch” or ‘super-man’ / transcendent ‘over-man’. Encyclopedia Brittanica summarizes, “This superior man would not be a product of long evolution; rather, he would emerge when any man with superior potential completely masters himself and strikes off conventional Christian “herd morality” to create his own values, which are completely rooted in life on this earth.” One dynamic leader who bought into Nietszche’s philosophy was Adolf Hitler (who gave copies of his fave philosopher to both Mussolini and Stalin). What can we say? Obviously the ‘strong man’ concept of political leadership WORKS – to a point. With bloody, catastrophic results.

             Back to the Biblical pattern. “The Lord is my SHEPHERD”, David declares. What content or background does David himself bring to this metaphor? David actually grew up as a shepherd, out in the back 40 not far from a little burg called Bethlehem, before the prophet Samuel ‘discovered’ him under the Lord’s guiding. When David finds out a giant is taunting the armies of Israel and defying their God, he defends his intention to go fight said giant to then-king Saul saying, 1Sam 17:34f “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep.When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth.When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.” So for David, being a shepherd wasn’t about soaking in the glory of a coveted leadership role, but about being ready to risk one’s life for those for whom one is supposed to be responsible.

             The Bible portrays the best shepherds as those who hold their flock PERSONALLY PRECIOUS. Hear this summary of God’s shepherding as voiced by the prophet Isaiah, Is 40:11 “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.” No strong-arming here! No coercion, forcing others to toe the line ‘or else’. Instead, carrying close to the heart, GENTLY leading.

             Coming to the New Testament, we find Jesus has a whole section of teaching comparing His own style of leading to that of the best kind of shepherd, in John chapter 10. Jesus identifies Himself as “the Good Shepherd” (Jn 10:10,14). Jn 10:3 the shepherd of the sheep “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” – calls them BY NAME, knows them personally. Jn 10:14 “"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me...” We’re talking about a close personal relationship here! Not ruling over the herd. In vv10-13 Jesus contrasts Himself with the “hired hand” who flees when he sees the wolf attacking; v13 “The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” The hireling CARES NOTHING for the sheep; if Jesus is UNLIKE the hired hand, what’s that imply about Him as the Good Shepherd? He CARES for you! You are PERSONALLY PRECIOUS to your Shepherd. Ps 23:1 BBE “The Lord takes care of me as His sheep.”


Another dimension of God’s leading as shown in this psalm is that He acts as PROVIDER to those who are His. In ancient Rome, emperors sought to allay discontentment amongst the masses by providing them with “bread and circuses”. They figured that was the key to successful leadership – allowing them to hold on to power. Yet David in the 23rd psalm depicts the Lord as providing our basic needs.

             23:1B “I shall not be in want”; NLT “I have all that I need”. Note – ‘needs’ not ‘greeds’! V2 “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters...” “Green” pastures in the original language can be related to TENDER grass – much nicer to chew than dry hardened brownish roughage. Note “lie down” – sheep tend to be defenceless, nervous, skittish animals vulnerable to attack by predators; in order for them to “lie down”, they have to first be convinced there’s no danger, they’re safe and secure in the shepherd’s care. Likewise a noisy gushing torrent can make sheep unsettled; “quiet waters” would instead describe a place where they can feel safe, a refuge – in the Hebrew, literally “waters of resting places”. At the end of the Bible, in Rev 7:17 Jesus is described this way: “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Provision, tenderness, gentleness – provided by the very One who is at the centre of God’s throne, described as “the Lamb”!

             God’s word written contains several assurances of His kind PROVISION for the needs of those who seek Him. Ps 34:9 “Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.” Mt 6:33 “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Romans 8:32 “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all— how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” And Php 4:19 “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Again, our needs, not our greeds – no health-and-wealth prosperity gospel here!

             Our modern earthly existence is shot through with advertising designed to make us discontent, wanting the next thing going, ever eager to ‘upgrade’ from our previous model. But life is about much more than hoarding material belongings. A February 9 article in The Guardian was written by Dr Alastair McAlpine, a pediatric palliative care physician; it’s titled, “What terminally ill children taught this doctor about how to live.” Dr McAlpine writes, “The kids were not hung up on ‘stuff’. What mattered were the things that we all intrinsically know are important, but often forget in the hustle and bustle of daily living. The biggest takeaway for me is that the happiest, most meaningful moments were simple ones that did not require vast sums of money or effort to attain, but instead embraced the importance of human connection. It was also surprising how frequently the so-called small things were the ones that turned out to have enormous significance at the end.”

             V2 “He makes me LIE DOWN in green pastures...” How much of the hustle-bustle of our everyday life is really not necessary? How much is driven by lesser idols – longing for the latest toys, the biggest house, the freshest fashion? Are we really allowing God to be the root of our contentment and worth? When we ourselves are in palliative care, how much of the things we’re now pursuing will prove to be not important in the long run?

             Once a rich industrialist, disturbed to find a fisherman sitting idly by his boat, asked, “Why aren’t you out there fishing?” “Because I’ve caught enough fish for today,” was the reply.

             “Why don’t you catch more fish than you need?” asked the rich man. “What would I do with them?”

             “You could earn more money and buy a better boat so you could go deeper and catch more fish. You could purchase nylon nets, catch even more fish, and make more money. Soon you’d have a fleet of boats and be rich like me.”

             “Then what would I do?” asked the fisherman.

             “You could sit down and enjoy life.”

             Came the reply – “What do you think I’m doing now?” //

             Ps 23:3A adds, in connection with the Lord’s provision, “He restores my soul.” What nurtures, refreshes, replenishes that deep inner part of you? How might spending more time in God’s presence speak to the empty spots profoundly at your core? In Luke 10:38ff we’re told of Mary and Martha hosting Jesus at their home. Mary is sitting at the Lord’s feet listening to what He has to say, while Martha is rushing about; Luke notes “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” When she protests her sister’s inaction, how does Jesus respond? Lk 10:41f “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” How might you focus more on God’s “one thing needed” that would nurture your soul?

             When visiting our daughter Meredith in Crossfield Alberta last month, they had a laptop in which the hard drive had failed or developed errors, so it wouldn’t boot. I got poking around a bit and found it had a separate partition called “HDD Recovery”. Soon it restored the machine to its original state as it came from the factory, a complete reset, like brand new. Sometimes we need the Lord’s restoring of our soul when we’ve crashed, so we can function again as He designed us – a “reset” according to manufacturer’s specs. He restores my soul.


But God is not a “Sugar Daddy” who supplies materially without also providing positive direction. Psalm 23 reveals He is a PRODDER as well as provider. V3B “He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” NLT, “He guides me along right paths, bringing honour to his name.” The next verse refers to the shepherd’s “rod” and “staff” – for ‘rod’ you could substitute ‘club’, and for staff, ‘crook’ – that long stick with a hook in the end that could be used to reach down an embankment, hook a sheep’s neck, and assist it back to safety. When walking along the shepherd could also use the bottom of the staff to guide a wayward sheep so it would stay with the rest of the flock. And if it were really wayward, the club could be used for discipline as well, though in a way different than for a predator. The rod could also be drawn gently along a sheep’s fur to draw it back and check for insect parasites, examining the animal for potential problems.

             God’s discipline is part of the package; His PRODDING trains us in His ways. Why? The verse tells us: “He guides me in paths of righteousness FOR HIS NAME’S SAKE” – to bring His name “honour” (NLT). When we wander from right paths, we discredit our Master, we make Him ‘look bad’. So, Heb 12:6 “the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

             A couple of other verses from the Old Testament unpack a little more this idea of “for His name’s sake” relating to the honouring of God, bringing Him renown. Ps 79:9 “Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake.” The parallel structure likens God being glorified to His name being magnified. And Ezek 20:14 “But for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out.” When we are disobedient, it’s akin to ‘profaning’ God’s name, treating it as common or unholy.

             I have zero experience with sheep; I never have been a shepherd! But I DID grow up on a dairy farm where we milked about 35 Holsteins. For several years my brothers and I had 4-H calf projects. Each year we would show them in the ring at the Mitchell Fair. This involved training them to be led at slow walking pace with a halter; grooming them with liniment until their coat would shine; teaching them to stand patiently while the judge made his final appraisal and awarded prizes. Now there was a certain way you were supposed to get your calf to stand with one hind foot slightly ahead of the other. The trick to this was to gently step on the calf’s hoof until it moved its foot into position. I doubt the pressure actually hurt the beast; more like a nudge to a human! But the exhibitor applied disciplining pressure in order to get the calf to stand “just so”.

             A well-trained calf made me “look good” to the judge and all the spectators. When we keep to “right paths”, we make our Lord look good, we bring honour and glory to Him. The meaning of “name” here according to the lexicon relates to reputation, fame, glory, renown. Your behaviour reflects on your Saviour!


You need a faith that’s big enough and robust enough to handle the vagaries and disappointments of life. Ravi Zacharias points out that any worldview worth its salt has to be able to answer four key topics: origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. Origin - how did we get here? Meaning – why are we here, what for, what’s the purpose of it all? Morality – what’s right and wrong? And Destiny - where are we headed?

             Because you don’t live long until you discover not all of life is a rose garden. Recently the life of a popular student at a local high school came to an abrupt end that left many who knew her in shock and grief. Our health is fragile, increasingly so as we age. My wife’s condition 15 years after her initial surgery for a brain tumour showed a significant deterioration in the past month, so a week ago she had a CT scan, this week an MRI, and I just found out her neuroncologist has scheduled her for an EEG in May. (Thanks to all those of you who have been praying for Yvonne!) Meanwhile we are relieved to hear Krista Poidevin’s surgery for a brain tumour went well. We can’t presume upon tomorrow.

             David had encountered the lion and the bear in the wild; he didn’t have a .303 or even a .22 to deter the ravenous beasts. He with just a slingshot went up against a giant 9 feet tall with a spear the iron point of which alone weighed 15 pounds! David knew what it was like to stare death in the face. Where did he get the sheer GUTS to do all this?

             Ps 23:4 tells us: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” NLT “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.” How could he ‘fear no evil’? How could he declare, “I will not be afraid”? The answer’s right there: “For YOU ARE WITH ME” / “For YOU ARE CLOSE BESIDE ME”. God’s PRESENCE brings both COURAGE and COMFORT.

             Let’s review the effect our Shepherd has on us “sheep” from the beginning. Because He holds us Personally Precious, we are CARED FOR. Because He is our Provider, we can be CONTENT. Because He is our Prodder, we can be CORRECTED. And because He is Present, we can be COURAGEOUS and COMFORTED.

             The God of Christianity is not the God of the Deists, that wound the universe up like a clock with its natural laws then walked away. The God of Christianity is not like the nihilist Nietzsche’s “God is dead”.

             The God of Christianity is not like the impersonal force cited by some scientists to explain life’s origins. This week esteemed and brilliant theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking passed on to his reward. A couple of quotes from him: “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist,” he wrote in The Grand Design. “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” [And] “Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation,” he said. “What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.”

             I’m sorry, Mr Hawking, but spontaneous generation is not a convincing explanation for the origin of the universe. You simply don’t get something from nothing. And you can’t say there isn’t a God unless you yourself possess infinite knowledge and have examined all the nooks and crannies of the universe.

             By contrast, David and the heroes of the Bible maintain that GOD IS PRESENT – “I will fear no evil, for YOU ARE WITH ME.” Ps 118:6 “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid.What can man do to me?” (Now THERE’S courage!) Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I AM WITH YOU; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I WILL BE WITH YOU; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Finally, the disciples and others in the early church experienced the presence of One who came back from the dead, proving He was the author of life; and we now have His promise – Mt 28:20 “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

             The trademark of this Good Shepherd is that He lays down His life for the sheep (Jn 10:11,15); and He also has authority or power from the Father to take it up again (Jn 10:18).


Because David knew His Shepherd, he exuded confidence and hope. GK Chesterton said: “Joy is central to the life of a Christian and sorrow is peripheral. For the unbeliever, sorrow is central and joy is peripheral. This is because the central questions for a skeptic can’t be answered, only the peripheral questions can be answered.” “Joy, which was the small publicity for the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian...”

             There was a poor woman who earned her living by hard labour but who was a joyous, triumphant Christian. A gloomy Christian lady said to her one day, “Ah, Nancy, it is well to be happy now, but I should think the thoughts of the future would sober you.Suppose, for instance, you should have a spell of sickness and be unable to work, or suppose your present employer should move away and no one would give you a job.Suppose...”

             “Stop!” cried Nancy. “I never suppose.The Lord is my Shepherd, and I know I shall not want.You know, dear, it is all those supposes that are making you so miserable.You had better give them all up and just trust the Lord.” Let’s pray.