“The LORD is my shepherd, but I do want. That’s my problem: I want… I want… I want…” So says my reader honestly echoing the thoughts of many of us. We want the LORD to be our shepherd – that is, to give us all that we think we need AND we want to dictate what we need.
This kind of thinking really misses the point. King David is not saying that God has met all of his wants or desires. In fact, the word he employs has nothing to do with desire or wishes. He speaks not of volition, but of provision.
His point is that the LORD is caring for him in such a way that he gets everything that he really needs. His greatest need (and also ours) is met by the life, death and resurrection of his greater Son centuries later. But his focus here is really on the consistent and gracious care he consistently receives from the LORD.
Although David had a keen interest in music and poetry, his life was far from contemplative. David was a warrior, ruler and architect of not only buildings but also a kingdom. When God called him he was quite literally, a shepherd. And then God placed him in a position of great power and authority – General, King and Prophet. He faced fierce opposition as well as tremendous challenges personally and professionally. His domestic and public life were filled with challenges – both successes and failures. It’s amazing to me that he penned such a description of tranquility. So it seems that he is describing his contentment with the provision of the LORD as he faced demands and responsibilities.
In other words, David is unfolding the way the LORD has dealt with him in his life and putting it in terms which he personally experienced. He knows what it is to rest in the LORD. As a devout Old Testament believer, he would have observed a weekly Sabbath, monthly and annual Jewish holy days, sabbatical years, etc. In many ways his circumstances dictated his lifestyle which had these built-in days of rest. Thus, even if indirectly, he intimates that he needed rest. He was well aware that he urgently needed not only physical but spiritual rest. Thus he came to appreciate the green pastures and the quiet waters provided by his Shepherd.
But of course we modern and enlightened Westerners think we know better. We prefer recreation and busyness to rest and reflection. For all of our accomplishments and advancements we have neglected this necessary element and the fact of life. We need to rest. Our Creator has established a natural rhythm for our lives – “six days you shall work and on the seventh you shall rest.” Like many other guidelines from our Maker, we ignore his instructions…
It seems however that David knew better; he was well aware that as God’s sheep, he needed the rest prescribed and provided by God. Further, as a shepherd, he knew that people, like sheep, need nourishment, protection and guidance, if they are to find rest.
Thus, David muses on the benefits he has personally received from the LORD and records them for our benefit. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me by still waters. The primary focus here is on nourishment. For the moment, the protection of the sheep by the shepherd is assumed. And the provision of the shepherd is highlighted. The sheep lie down in green, grassy pastures and enjoy an abundant supply of calm, cool water. The Shepherd provides the necessary nourishment for his sheep.
We human sheep are slow to recognize our need of real nourishment found in Jesus. People hunger and thirst for an inward emptiness which goes unsatisfied. We desperately but unsuccessfully attempt to find satisfaction in any and every aspect of creation. Yet Jesus graciously offers: … “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35, ESV) The good Shepherd feeds his sheep. One of the ways he does this through his Word, the Bible. As one of the sheep of the good Shepherd, I have found it helpful to feed on his Word every day. I also benefit from the Word preached by faithful men of God who carefully explain and expound it.
So it’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and there are a great many good opportunities for work, recreation and leisure: outside chores, football games, TV, movies, outdoor activities, more football games… Have you spent time in God’s word today? Are you planning to worship with God’s people tomorrow on the LORD’s Day? Don’t be a hungry, thirsty Christian. Spend time with the LORD in his Word and with his people as we worship him and sit under the preaching of his Word. Rejoice in the benefits the LORD has provided. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.