The Lord Our Shepherd
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
"The LORD is my shepherd — I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever."
What cheerful, happy words are these! "The Lord is my Shepherd — I shall not be in want." Because the Lord is my Shepherd — therefore I shall not want. They are plainly the words of one who knew what he said to be true, because he experienced the truth of it continually. It was David who wrote this Psalm. In his youth he had been a shepherd himself, and perhaps this Psalm was written in his youth, while he was still a shepherd; for there is no doubt that he early learned to love God.
At all events, he was well acquainted with a shepherd's work. He knew the watchful care which he takes of his sheep, especially in an open country like that in which David lived. He knew how he leads them to the best pastures and the clearest streams; how he keeps them from straying, or brings them back when they do stray; how he watches over them by day and by night; how kind and gentle he is towards them, especially when they are tired or weak or sick. Knowing this so well, it must have made David happy to say, "The Lord is my Shepherd." He was sure that he would not be in want. His Shepherd would supply all his needs, and defend him from every danger. He felt quite safe under his Shepherd's care.
Jesus Christ also speaks of Himself as a Shepherd, "the good Shepherd'' (John 10:11) — and all His true disciples are His sheep. If we are true disciples of Jesus Christ, then we are His sheep, and we may feel as safe and happy as David felt when he said, "The Lord is my Shepherd — I shall not be in want." We shall not be in want — or be without anything that is good for us, if Jesus Christ is our Shepherd. He knows what is best — and He will give us what is best. He does so now. He acts the part of "the good Shepherd" to us continually.
"He makes me lie down in green pastures." He supplies the needs of our souls. He . . .
gives us the food of the Word of God,
strengthens us with His grace, and
makes us to find our rest in Him.
"He leads me beside the still waters." He . . .
refreshes us when we are weary,
revives our hearts by His promises,
cheers us by His presence,
gives us His Holy Spirit, and
enables us to rejoice in His salvation.
Amidst all our trials and troubles — He comforts us and gives us fresh hope.
Some may say, "Why should I have trouble at all? Why does the good Shepherd send me anything besides comfort and pleasure? Why am I poor or sad or sick?"
The sheep do not choose their own pasture — the shepherd chooses for them. In the same way, the disciple does not choose his own lot in life — it is appointed for him. His Lord knows best what is good for him. The best is not always what is the most pleasant at the moment — but what is most profitable in the end.
Our Shepherd sometimes leads us through what seem to us dry and stony places — but they lead to the Heavenly pastures. And even along the way, He feeds us and comforts us with all a shepherd's care. Never is our Shepherd nearer to us, than when we are in want or danger.
"He restores my soul." This seems to refer to a sheep that has gone astray. As a shepherd goes after such a one and brings it back to the fold — so does our Lord seek and restore those who wander from Him. This was what He came to do. "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). And He does so still.
By His Word,
by His ministers,
by His grace,
by providential dealings,
by the work of the Spirit,
He is ever seeking wanderers from the fold — both those who never knew Him — and those who once knew Him but have gone astray. He does not leave the backslider without seeking to win him to Himself again. "Return, O backsliding Israel, says the Lord" (Jeremiah 3:12). "I will heal their backsliding; I will love them freely — for My anger is turned away from him" (Hosea 14:4).
"He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His Name's sake." But for His leading — we should go astray continually. It is only His grace that keeps us in the right way. And when we have strayed and He has sought us and brought us back — we still need the same leading.
Past experience of the misery and ruin of the ways of sin, is not enough to keep us from going back to them. We need the Shepherd's leading at every step.
"For His Name's sake," He gives us this leading. Well might He leave us to ourselves; well might He give us up to follow our own desires and to walk in our own way — as we do not deserve His guidance. But "for His Name's sake," in His undeserved mercy, grace, and love — He not only restores us, but leads us in the paths of righteousness.
The simple, unthinking sheep follow the shepherd's guidance, and feel safe under his protection. But they cannot look forward, and therefore they are not troubled by the thought of coming evil.
Not so with us. Half of our troubles, are the troubles that we fear in the future. Though our present needs are supplied and no evil presses on us now — yet we are apt to look forward with anxiety to what may come. But we ought not to do so. The sheep of "the good Shepherd" need have no fear, either for the present or the future. David expresses a happy confidence with regard to both.
"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." Our Shepherd does not change. He will never leave us nor forsake us. We know not what lies before us — but He knows, and He will provide accordingly. He is with us — let that be enough. He is with us and will be with us — whatever may arise. Nothing can come without His providential ordering; nothing can come in which His grace will not be found sufficient. Come what may — loss, poverty, sickness, sorrow upon sorrow, or even death itself — yet the Christian may say, "I will fear no evil." He has gone to the fountain of Christ's blood, and has committed his soul to his Savior; let him trust and not be afraid.
"You are with me." Happy words! "You are with me; Your rod and Your staff — they comfort me." The Savior's presence with us now, and the comfort and support it brings should assure our hearts in looking forward: "I will fear no evil." We need fear no evil, indeed, if we keep close to Him. Evil may threaten on every side, and enemies may be all around; yet, if He is with us — we need fear nothing.
Even in the midst of enemies, David could say, "You prepare a table before me" — that is, You supply all my needs. He added, "You anoint my head with oil, my cup runs over." He was full of thankfulness and joy. God gave him abundance — even all that he wanted. His cup of blessing was full — and more than full.
"Surely goodness and mercy," he goes on, "shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." He had no fear that God's goodness and mercy would ever be withdrawn. He could trust God for all his life, and even far beyond that. While he was upon earth, he would still delight in the house of God; and after this life, he had the blessed prospect of being with Him forever in the "house not made with hands." In that house, every true disciple will surely dwell.
We can speak of even more grace and love in our Shepherd, than David could. For long after David's time, "the Good Shepherd" gave His life for the sheep. Jesus died to save us; and then, when He had risen from the grave, He went to prepare a place for us. In His own good time, He will take us to be with Him there. And there He will be our Shepherd still — our Shepherd forever! There we shall know Him better and love Him more than we do here on earth. No fear, no danger, there — no rough places, no sickness, sorrow, or want. "For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes!" Revelation 7:17