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more light #347
The 23rd Psalm
by Ed Halpaus
The author Ernest Wilson wrote a lesson on the 23rd Psalm well over 50 years ago. I want to share it with you in the hope that not only will it help you today in this moment, but later on when you may have to face difficult appearances.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, He makes me lie down in green
pastures. He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul. He leads me
beside still waters; He restores my soul. He leads 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 Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they
comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Thou
anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.
To all who are weary and confused and oppressed,
Here is a message for you. It comes to you with supreme simplicity, but it has in it a steady, unwavering strength and power. It speaks from the lips of a plain shepherd of many years ago, but it has in it the authority of God Almighty for your life. You have spoken it many times for the sheer beauty of its flowing speech; you shall speak it again and again for the assurance and courage and guidance that are in it for you. It is the immortal 23rd Psalm.
You are discouraged and disheartened, you say? You are pressed from every
side by demands greater than your strength? You are called on to make decisions
for which you have not the needed wisdom? You have sought vainly among all the
persons you know, for one clear voice that will set you right, that will tell
you what to do. You have longed to find some wise seer, like the fabled masters
of old, at whose feet you might sit, in
Together we shall go on a little journey, you and I; a little journey of thought. It takes us far away from the crowded streets of cities; far away from any place with competition and financial pressure and barter and trade. We leave the jangling noises of the streets behind. We shake from our shoulders the heavy weight of cares. We let go of the pressing sense of hurry and urgency that has obsessed us.
We find ourselves on a pleasant country hillside, reclining under a rugged,
old twisted tree for whose shade we are grateful, because the sun is hot today.
We can see little heat waves rising from the sparsely covered earth. Before and
below us is a smiling valley. A flock of sheep is grazing there calmly in the
sun. They are munching the green
The shepherd has taken precautions against every danger that threatens them. He has led them in ways of pleasantness through the paths of peace. Conscious of their safety, he reclines now on the hillside a little way below us, amusing himself with the birdcalls that he picks out upon a flute that he has fashioned from a willow branch. About him is an air of lazy ease, but do not be deceived by it. Let the slightest danger threaten his charges and he will be up in a flash, ready to defend, with his life if need be, the lives of his charges.
He is only a simple shepherd boy, but he is a veritable god to the sheep; and though he is simple in much that would seem important to us, he is wise in all things pertaining to them. He has a way to meet their every need, to protect them from every danger, to lead them into plenty, to thwart their enemies, and to bring them, at the close of the day, safe and secure into the fold. They, lowly dumb creatures that they are, nevertheless are wise enough to trust him, and they know his voice among many, and respond to it without hesitation.
How like unto a shepherd is God toward us! Through the varied adventurings
“The Lord is my shepherd,” the song begins. For you, the harassed,
discouraged one, this opening sentence of the shepherd’s song holds a precious
message. The Lord is YOUR shepherd. Place your trust in God. God will lead you
into your good. God will protect you, and guide you. Nothing disastrous can
befall you. God is mightier than any adverse circumstance or condition that
confronts you. God will not desert you or forsake you or even forget you. Take
care that you do not desert or forsake or forget God! Keep your trust in God.
Even though you cannot see how God can possibly help you, be faithful to your
trust. God’s wisdom is greater than yours. God sees farther than you do. God
knows ways that are hidden from your sight. When every way seems closed, when
dangers threaten, when want looms on the horizon like some fierce wolf to slay
you, remember the one who is the Good Shepherd. “I am the good shepherd,” God
assures us; “and I know mine own, and mine own know me. Fear not, only believe.”
Do you fear lack? Does it rear its ugly head, like a specter, in your life?
Follow the shepherd as he leads his sheep into places of plenty. Say with the
shepherd, “I shall not want.” In the Orient the hillsides become parched and
dry. The grass, none too plentiful, withers in the hot sun. Many hungry sheep
have roamed the same pastures. They have nibbled close down to the roots the
little grass there is. The wise shepherd knows where
Because of his wisdom, they do not lack. As familiar ground, now parched and
barren, is left behind, they hesitate, but the shepherd goes ahead of them, and
they follow, even though the way is strange to them. Surely it will be only a
little way, but the way stretches into a long way. The sheep become hot and
tired and hungry and thirsty. Still they follow, because they trust their good
shepherd. At last they come to green
Our Lord is a Lord of bounty, not of lack. It is God’s good pleasure to share
that bounty with us. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good
pleasure to give you the kingdom.” But we must trust God, and follow God. God’s
way may lead us away from familiar paths that have become barren to us. The way
ahead may seem even more desolate than that behind us. It is strange to us. We
feel completely lost. We have no
Except for the Good Shepherd, we should be lost indeed. With God we are secure. Let us keep close to God indeed. “If ye abide in Me, and My Words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you,” God promises; and God fulfills God’s promise. God brings us not only plenty, but rest from anxiety that enables us to enjoy in peace the blessings God provides. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.”
In times of drought, when the hills are dry and only the tranquil hidden valleys are still green, all but the largest of the streams have dried up. The quiet little streams and the pools from which the sheep like best to drink are gone. Sheep are afraid of the rushing waters of the big streams, and well they may be, for they are easily caught in the rushing waters; the heavy wool on their backs quickly becomes saturated with water and weighs them down.
Even the wise, strong shepherd may be unable to help them when they are caught in the turbulent current. This the shepherd knows even better than they. If quiet waters are still to be found, the shepherd leads them there; if not, he diverts some of the water from one of the noisy, rushing streams, so that it forms a quiet pool where the sheep may drink in safety.
How grateful they are for the cool water! How fortunate to have a shepherd who is so wise and so loving! How fortunate are we to have a Shepherd whose guiding care brings peace into lives that are harassed and troubled by the confusion and dangers of rushing streams of human thought. Our Shepherd makes it possible for us to rest in the peace of plenty, to cleanse our world-begrimed thoughts, and quench our thirst for things, in the still waters of peace. Surely we too can say, “He leadeth me beside the still waters.”
Are you weary and confused? Do you seem to have been left behind in the swift
onward rush of things and events? Look again to the shepherd. Sometimes the
march over the hillsides is a long one. The sheep are hot and dusty and weary.
They are hungry and thirsty. Some of them, the weaker ones, lag behind. The wise
shepherd calls a halt while they rest. And if some poor sheep is especially weak
and wobbly, he takes it in his arms and carries it awhile, as the others resume
the onward march. His clear voice
Soon they come to green pastures and still waters. Truly he restores not only the soul but also the body of his charges. So does the Master bid us pause in the onward rush of things, to renew our strength and faith, to make a fresh start. We feel the steadying influence of God’s presence. God’s words ring softly upon our inner ears: “Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.” And we whisper, “God restoreth my soul.”
All day long the shepherd goes before his flock, choosing a way for them to
go. He picks a path where rocks are fewest, lest they dash their feet against a
stone. He prods in the grass with his staff to force out any snake that may be
frightened into biting the ankles of the sheep as they pass, and to disclose,
hidden gopher holes that may cause the sheep to stumble and fall. He leads them
by the best way that he can find, for his
It might seem to the sheep that another way would be better—or quicker, for they are impatient to reach a place of food and rest—but he knows better than they. He is their guardian, and must guard them from themselves as well as from outside dangers. How much more so, does the Good Shepherd guard and guide us. “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
The shadow of death is ever upon the sheep, death from tooth and claw,
skulking in the distance, waiting to rush and kill, death from cruel fang
darting from the grass, death from hole and pit open to trap slender feet and
legs, death from rushing water reaching with greedy fingers to catch and carry
downstream the luckless animal whose thirst overbalances his judgment, winged
death soaring overhead to swirl upon the young and
Wise is the human who has an equal faith; who knows that even death itself is
only a shadow, and that beyond the shadow and all around it is light, the light
of eternal life. Conscious of an abiding presence, whose nature is life that is
the light of humans, then the human says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” In our
Shepherd’s hands, to defend and protect us is a
The hillsides and valleys and tablelands are the table of the sheep, spread with food and drink for them. The tables of their masters are not unlike their own, for in nomadic countries humans commonly spread a skin upon the ground before the door of their tent, and placing on it their simple foods, they squat upon the ground around it and eat. Often both their own and their master’s meal is in the presence of enemies, wild animals who, emboldened by hunger, may attack; and sometimes thieves who live from the spoil of other men’s labor. The shepherd prepares a table before the sheep, truly in the presence of their enemies.
Humans often feel today that they are surrounded by persons and circumstances
and events that are adverse to their best interest. It sometimes seems to them
as if all life is a kind of conspiracy against them, separating them from all
they want to possess or achieve, and in the “fell clutch of circumstance” they
do not always clearly know the
We come now to the closing lines of the shepherd’s immortal song and to the closing scenes in the shepherd’s day. From dawn until sunset he has trudged the hills and valleys with them, going before them, making their way safe and plain and easy, finding them food, guarding them against dangers both imaginary and real, bringing them safely home again.
Now, as the sheep return to the fold, comes the most beautiful scene of all. The shepherd stands guard at the entrance to the fold. He has a dipper of olive oil, and another, brimful of cool water by his side. He examines the sheep as they enter. If he finds a bruise or cut, he cleanses it and binds it up with a healing ointment. His quick eye and gentle hands seek out the weariest animals, a ewe heavy with young, or a lamb that is still none too steady on its wobbly legs. He refills his cup of water, and lets the tired animal drink its fill. He anoints the hot, dusty head, bramble-torn as well, perhaps, with the healing olive oil, and sends the poor beast on to its night of rest. Not until the last of his charges is safely cared for, and the door of the fold closed and barred, does he retire to his own refreshment. Surely, with such a good shepherd, goodness and mercy shall follow them all the days of their lives!
The sun has set. The flock is safely in its fold. Its low murmurings have hushed to quiet. Twilight deepens into night, velvet-soft, and darkest blue. A light twinkles in the window of the herdsman’s home, beckoning him a welcome. Overhead the steadfast stars appear.
Within us, you and me, something of the serene faith and courage of the
shepherd’s day is born anew, and something of the calm peace of the starlit
night. We have found a strong and gentle presence, the Lord who is OUR Shepherd;
and as we turn once again from the sweet simplicity of the shepherd’s song to
the challenge and activity of our own busy days, the closing words of the singer
of Israel echo in our hearts: “Thou anointest
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Last modified: March 22, 2014