I Will Dwell in the House of the Lord Forever

Psalm 23:6 – and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. 

Today’s article is inspired by the last chapter of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller.

Going home. With the Lord forever.

The sheep started out at the house, and he was guided to the still waters and green pastures. Then he was taken up to the summer grazing pasture in the high tablelands, and as he went he was led by the shepherd through the dark valleys. Now they are coming back home to spend the winter. They made the journey, they came through disease, friction, fear, threats from predators and dark valleys, etc., and now they are coming home to be at peaceful rest with the Good Shepherd.

The shepherd was always there. Always attentive. Always looking over the sheep and caring for their needs. Always looking out to see where they need to go next and keeping a vigilant eye for predators.

As a Christian, you journey with God as he leads you to green pastures and still waters. When you are diseased or pestered by the things of this world, He treats you and brings you to healing. As you are faced with fear and the threat of predators, God protects you with His rod and His staff. You travel with him through the valleys of the shadow of death. You don’t stay there, you travel through it. As you are surrounded by enemies, God feeds you and prepares a feast for you. He even anoints you to heal you and show you that you belong to Him.

One day, He will bring you home. His home. You will be at peace forever with Him. No one will take you from that home. There will be no more fear, friction or flies. Not another dark valley to tread. No more enemies lurking in dark places. Safety, rest, healing and contentment with the Shepherd in His house forever. That’s awesome.

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
(John 10:9-10)

Surely Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow Me

Psalm 23:6 – Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…

Today’s article is inspired by chapter 11 of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller.

Two thoughts about “goodness and mercy” following us all the days of our life.

From one perspective, we can think of how God’s goodness and mercy as our Good Shepherd will always be with us. His vision, tender care and protection will always be with us. He is our “rear guard” (Isaiah 52:21; 58:8). He goes before us and follows us from behind. We are completely encircled by God’s goodness and mercy as His sheep.

Another perspective is that the trail God’s sheep leave behind is goodness and mercy. Under the management of a bad shepherd, a flock of sheep will completely destroy a pasture and leave it bare, full of parasites, and erosion will wash ruts left by sheep into a gulley. But under the disciplined and loving care of a good shepherd, the pasture is left in good shape, maybe even better than before.

Let’s take a moment today to thank God for being such a wonderful Shepherd, and for the fact that His goodness and mercy always follow us!

You Anoint My Head with Oil

Psalm 23:5 – …you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 

Today’s article is inspired by chapter 10 of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller.

In this chapter, the experienced shepherd, Phillip Keller, talks about how he anointed his sheep and more importantly why. He spoke of all kinds of nasty bugs and critters that will absolutely drive a sheep crazy, or make them sick. Keller also spoke of “scab” that afflicts the sheep.

The cure for treating his sheep from certain parasites and flies was anointing their heads, faces, noses and ears with a combination of oils and other remedies. The shepherd was anointed the sheep’s head with oil to bring comfort and healing and peace. A ewe would bash its head against fences and walls because flies were driving her bonkers. But after her “anointing,” she was contented and at peace because the shepherd anointed her.

You can look throughout scripture to see God or His leaders “anointing” His people for various reasons. The anointing was sometimes for healing (John 9:11; James 5:14; Mark 6:13; Luke 10:34) . Other times it was a calling to a specific work like a priest or king (Psalm 2:2; 89:20-21). Those anointed by God were also under his protection (Psalm 28:8; 105:15). Sometimes it was to honor and show gratitude to someone, which happened to Jesus more than once (Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8). We also see that God’s anointing involved teaching and guiding His people (Psalm 132:17; 1 John 2:20-21,27). But above all that, God anoints His people to say, “You are mine!” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). Also remember that God’s anointing is an oil of gladness – it was true for Jesus and it is also true for us (Psalm 45:7; Isaiah 63:3)!

God is our shepherd. He anoints us to care for us, to teach us, to protect us, to heal us, and to reassure us. We are His sheep, and He loves us. And when He anoints us, our cup truly overflows.

You Prepare a Table Before Me

Psalm 23:5 – You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…

Today’s article is inspired by W. Phillip Keller’s book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.

Keller in his book describes his perspective on what it means for a shepherd to prepare a table for the sheep in the presence of enemies. He points out that the high meadows in the mountains where sheep are taken to graze are called “mesas” which means table. As a shepherd he would go before his sheep up to those meadows and make sure those summer grazing pastures were ready. He and his boys cleared the water holes and painstakingly removed the poisonous weeds from the pasture.

In those high summer pastures, there are wolves, and other predators that lurch in the shadows. When he brings his sheep there, he must always be on the lookout for the predator that will attempt to take one of his sheep. Because of the vigil eye of the shepherd, the wolves are kept at bay and the sheep can safely graze, even in the presence of their enemies.

Think of how God has gone before us to prepare a way for us (John 14:1-6). Jesus laid out the way, prepared the table, and we can sit and eat at God’s table today as His children, even in the presence of our enemies. God’s blessing, provision and protections are still right here with us, even while the Enemy (Satan) seeks to snatch us away. We can feast on Christ and His richest blessings, even as our enemy lurks in the shadows.

John 10:9 -I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Your Rod and Your Staff, They Comfort Me.

Psalm 23:4 – 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.

Today’s article is inspired by chapter 8 of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller.

Two essential pieces of equipment for the shepherd were the rod and the staff. We also know that David and many other shepherds carried a sling as well. Shepherds in the field traveled light, but the rod and the staff were always with the shepherd. And in this Psalm by David, those two pieces of wood were somehow a comfort to the sheep. But why?

Why is the sheep comforted by the rod and staff of his shepherd?

Rod

The rod was a shorter, club like device that the shepherd used for multiple purposes. Protection – A shepherd became deadly accurate in throwing this rod and used it effectively to protect the sheep from wolves and other predators. Discipline – sometimes a wayward sheep would wander away into danger and the shepherd whizzed this by the sheep to scare her back to the fold. Counting/Inspection – The Old Testament spoke of those who “passed under the rod,” and that referred to when a shepherd would have each sheep pass under his eye to inspect it and count it. He was not only making sure all sheep were present, but he was checking for any problems or diseases with His sheep.

Under the shepherd’s rod, you were his. You belonged to him. He looked over you and made sure you were healthy. Your loving shepherd uses the rod not only to keep you in line, but to keep you safe. It is no wonder that the rod is a comfort to the sheep.

Staff

A shepherd’s staff is a long, slender piece of wood, usually with a crook or hook in one end. There are many images, both today and in the Scripture of a shepherd leaning on his staff (Hebrews 11:21). Keller points out three ways he would use the shepherd’s staff. Drawing the sheep close to him – This is a picture of intimacy. The shepherd is pulling that lamb or ewe close to his side for inspection or to get a baby lamb by its mama. Guiding sheep – Not by beating it, but by pressing the staff against the side of the sheep. Rescue – Sometimes a sheep is caught and needs rescued and pulled from danger. The loving shepherd would use his staff with the crook on one end and help pull the sheep to safety.

It is no doubt why David looked at those two pieces of shepherd’s equipment as a huge comfort to the sheep. But of course, he was talking about himself as a sheep with God. God’s rod and God’s staff were a comfort to David. It is a comfort to know that God knows we are His. We are comforted by God’s inspection and discipline, even though for a season it might be uncomfortable. It is a peace of mind to us to know that our Shepherd is protecting us from predators sent by Satan himself. And I love that the Shepherd draws me close to Him with His staff, just as the Holy Spirit draws us to the Father’s side.

Intimacy. Protection. Relationship. Training. Rescue. Jesus’ rod and staff are truly comforting.

Even though I walk through the valley…

Psalms 23:4 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.

Today’s article is inspired by chapter 7 of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller.

In order to get to the mountain meadows, which might include the “table” or plateau above where the summer pasture is for the flock, the shepherd has to lead his sheep up the mountains. This includes going through ravines and dark valleys. Dangers can abound in such places, but the shepherd is there by their side.

In his book, Keller, talks about his reasons for taking sheep up through the winding valleys. One is that as mentioned, his goal is to take them up to the summer meadows to graze. A second is that those valleys were generally the gentlest grades up the mountain. Thirdly, he pointed out that valley is usually well watered. And a fourth reason is that there is usually good grazing along the way in those valleys.

To parallel this to our lives under the Gentle Shepherd, Jesus, we know that on the way to that higher ground with God, we have to walk through dark valleys. Death and danger are there. But in the valley as we face those trials, God is with us all the way. We are well fed and watered through those valleys. It is in some of the darkest valleys of our lives that we find the greatest refreshment from our loving Shepherd.

Keller also pointed out the phrase, “I walk through” this valley. We don’t stop there. That is not the end. The shepherd walks the sheep through this valley. And the sheep are secure, because of the presence of the loving shepherd. The dark valleys are temporary and even necessary to reach that higher meadow in the mountains. But they are just that, temporary. We walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Remember that Jesus as our Shepherd walked this valley for Himself, and He knows the terrain. He was a sheep, the lamb who was slain, and now He is risen to be our Good Shepherd. As you can see in our final verse below, Jesus was not alone in those valleys, because His Shepherd was always with Him.

John 16:32-33 – “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world”

He Leads Me in Paths of Righteousness

Psalms 23:3 – He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Today’s article is inspired by chapter 6 of “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” by W. Phillip Keller.

“…it is no mere whim on God’s part to call us sheep. Our behavior patterns and life habits are so much like that of sheep it is well nigh embarrassing.” – W. Phillip Keller

In this chapter, Keller observes a couple of things about sheep. First of all, sheep left to themselves will absolutely destroy a pasture. They will turn a lush green pasture into a useless piece of ground filled with parasites. The sheep need to be rotated onto different pastures, for the health of the pasture and for the health of the sheep. This takes a considerable amount of energy, knowledge and foresight on behalf of the shepherd.

Secondly, sheep are notorious creatures of habit. They will follow a path until that path becomes a rut, and that rut eventually erodes into a gully, according to Keller. Their stubborn, habitual ways leave a path of destruction behind them.

Aren’t we as human sheep the same way? You and I may not want to admit it, but doesn’t God have to keep us on the move and change our pasture regularly? Otherwise we get stuck in a rut spiritually. Also, just like sheep our habits and stubborn ways leave a wake of destruction behind us. We arrogantly assert that our ways are right and we try to justify them, but as the Proverb writer points out, the end of the path I choose is death (Proverbs 14:12).

I need a shepherd. You do too. That shepherd is Jesus. He is the Way (John 14:6), and as the Good Shepherd He leads down that pathway of His righteousness. He came to give us life and an abundant life at that (John 10), but that requires keeping us on the move down His pathway, not our own.

He Restores My Soul

When the sheep is downcast, the shepherd comes to restore and put the sheep back on its feet.

Psalm 23:3 – He restores my soul…

This article is inspired by chapter 5 of the book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller.

According to Albert Barnes in his commentary, this phrase “He restores my soul” means literally “He causes my life to return.” This leaves us with a question, why would a sheep in the excellent care of the loving Shepherd need restoring?

We know that even under the best shepherd’s care, a sheep can get himself into danger. Sheep wander. Sheep end up on their backs and find themselves in a bad way because they can’t get back up. Keller, as a shepherd in the field, saw many sheep who were “cast” or “cast down.” He points out that this term for a “cast” sheep is an old English term for a sheep that is on its back and cannot get up on its feet. The sheep is in danger and will die if the shepherd does not find the sheep and help set it back on its feet. He sometimes knew a sheep was downcast by looking in the air above the pasture and seeing buzzards circling. The other animals knew the sheep was in trouble and close to death.

David himself was “cast down” at times and in need of restoration. Sometimes it was because of the oppression of the enemies around him. Other times it was other adversities in life. Even more than that, David found himself downcast and on his back because of his own sins before God. David, as God’s sheep, needed the Lord as His shepherd to help set him back on his feet and work with him until he could stand and walk again.

Keller observes three reasons why his sheep would get downcast (on their backs and unable to get back up).

  • Seeking a soft spot – His sheep would find a nice soft spot in the ground where there is a depression in the ground. Eventually the sheep would be laying such that she couldn’t get her feet to contact the ground.
  • Too much wool – Sometimes it was just too much wool, and all that heavy and soft coating disabled the sheep from rolling back on its feet.
  • Too fat – The sheep was at times just too heavy and it couldn’t move or adjust itself like it should.

If you think about the parallels to ourselves spiritually, you can see why sometimes we are cast down and in need of restoration. Maybe we got too comfortable in life, and we lost sight of the important things. It might be that we just want to seek the soft spots of life and avoid anything that might cause us discomfort. We fail to grow, and we end up on our backs spiritually flailing and in desperate need of the Shepherd’s restoration. Other times, we just got too fat on the blessings of life, and we can’t move too well spiritually.

This is not to say, and please hear me, that anytime we are suffering that we have lost sight of what’s important. That wasn’t true for Job, for Jesus, or for many other people that follow God. Sometimes the most faithful suffer the most. Elijah was downcast and despondent because of how bad it was in Israel at the time, and God lovingly set him back on his feet (1 Kings 19). God restored the depressed Elijah’s soul.

For others followers of God the problem is complacency. We need some loving training from the Lord as our Shepherd. We might have to lose weight spiritually (Hebrews 12:1-2). Jesus offers us His clothing and not the cumbersome fleeces of material prosperity (Revelation 3:14-22, see below). It might be that the Lord has to take us through some difficult training to set us back on our feet again (Hebrews 12:5-11).

But its worth it, isn’t it? What’s the alternative? If you as a sheep stay on your back flailing, you will die. The wolves will find you, and the vultures will clean up what’s left. You don’t want that for yourself, and certainly your Loving Shepherd doesn’t want that for you.

Thank Jesus that He seeks us out when we are downcast and works to set us back on our feet. He restores our soul. God brings us back to life again!

He Leads Me Beside Still Waters

Psalm 23:2 – He leads me beside still waters.

This article is inspired by chapter 4 of W. Phillip Keller’s book, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.”

Sheep, like other creatures including humans, need good water. This is the shepherd’s responsibility to provide good water and lead his sheep to it. If sheep do not get access to good water, they will find water somewhere, and it will be sources like a mud puddle or other waters polluted with parasites and worms and diseases.

Keller, in his book, speaks of three sources of water for his sheep: the morning and evening dew, deep wells, and springs or streams. I was impressed by his discussion of how his sheep can go for months without actually drinking when they have access to dew-drenched pasture. The author’s view is that there are no more “quiet waters” than the early morning grazing of the sheep in that moisture-soaked grass. He also spoke of how shepherds will work so hard to provide good, quiet water for their sheep. The sheep come to the water and enjoy the refreshment, but they do not understand how hard the shepherd worked to get that for them.

In the book, Keller wrote about those sheep rising early to eat dew-drenched vegetation. He made the parallel between those sheep and the great men and women of the Bible who “rose early” to pray and meditate (think of Abraham, Moses, Hannah, David, Jesus, etc.). It is in the early morning hours that God’s people can imbibe on His word and truly be satisfied. That is something for all of us to think about. Are we rising early to meditate, pray and read God’s word?

The observation was also made in the book that even while the shepherd is leading his sheep to those pure waters, some stubborn sheep will drink polluted water along the way. It is as if they are convinced that this is the best water for them. Humans are no different. We forsake the Living God, the fountain of living waters, and instead go for broken cisterns that only hold a small amount of bitter water (Jeremiah 2:13). Jesus said that the truly blessed ones are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).

We drink pop, coffee, alcohol, etc., and none of those things quench the thirst. We end up actually dehydrated and in need of more water! There is no substitute for water that God made for our bodies. In the same way, we try to quench our spiritual thirsts and cravings with things that destroy us and leave us even thirstier than before. People are thirsting for meaning, purpose, finding understanding, having a relationship with a higher power, etc. But we will search out the infested ponds and mud puddles of human philosophy. This was Paul’s concern for the Colossians and Laodiceans, that they would cheat themselves through the emptiness of man’s wisdom and philosophies (Colossians 2).

The Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is calling you to quiet, pure waters. Don’t drink anymore from polluted ponds and the mud puddles of this world (Isaiah 55:1-2). Come to the living water (Revelation 21:6; 22:17). God has paid for it already through the blood of Jesus, you can drink it without charge! Eat and drink of Jesus, meaning eat and drink of the Holy Spirit who gives us the life-giving words of Jesus (John 6:53-56,63).

John 4:10-14 – Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

John 7:37-39 – On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Psalm 42:1 – As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.

Isaiah 12:3 – With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

He Makes Me Lie Down in Green Pastures

According to W. Phillip Keller, a sheep cannot lie down unless 4 requirements are met.

Psalm 23:2 – He makes me lie down in green pastures.

Today’s article is based on chapter 3 of W. Phillip Keller’s book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.

Keller observed that sheep will not lie down unless 4 requirements are met. In order for sheep to lie down they must be:

  • Free from fear
  • Free from friction within the flock
  • Free from flies (parasites, irritating critters)
  • Free from finding food

Much of this is dependent upon the Shepherd. His presence and protection can calm their fears. His watchful eye can see a ewe that is overly aggressive and bullying the other sheep (take a look at Ezekiel 34:21 for how the Scripture uses this analogy). The shepherd also has to be vigilant for flies, parasites and other pests that will either drive the sheep crazy or make them sick. Also, it is the shepherd’s responsibility to look ahead and provide the proper nutrition for the sheep. It is because of the loving Shepherd’s care that the sheep can lie down in comfort.

I encourage you to read this book by Keller if you haven’t already. It is a short book and well-worth the read.