The Shepherd’s PsalmPsalm 23Theme: Our Provider.This week’s lessons remind us that Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd. LessonFifth, we shall not lack provision. The Twenty-third Psalm says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (v. 5).
Keller sees this as the shepherd’s preparation of the high table lands or mesas where the sheep graze in summer. A good shepherd will prepare these before the sheep arrive, removing physical hazards, destroying poisonous plants and driving predators away. Keller also has a chapter in which he describes how ancient shepherds used a mixture of olive oil, sulphur, and spices to protect their sheep from insects and promote healing from infectious skin diseases.
In biblical imagery oil and wine also speak of joy and prosperity, since olives and grapes take time to grow and oil and wine require time to prepare. In periods of domestic turmoil or war these tasks were not performed.
Moreover, oil and wine were highly valued in the dry barren lands of the Near East. In Palestine, where the sun shines fiercely most of the year and the temperatures continually soar up into the hundreds, the skin becomes cracked and broken and throats become parched. Oil soothes the skin, particularly the face. Wine clears the throat. When a guest arrived at the home of a friend, hospitality demanded the provision of oil and wine so the ravages of travel might be overcome. David spoke of this somewhat differently when he prayed, “O Lord, …let your face shine on your servant” (Ps. 34:14, 16). A shining face was the face of a friend. In another passage David thanks God for “wine that gladdens the heart of man” and “oil to make his face shine” (Ps. 104:15).
If we will allow God to lead us where he will, we will find that a table has been prepared for us, our heads have been anointed with pst ureoil, and our cups have been filled to overflowing with the wine of true joy.
Sixth, we shall not lack a heavenly home. The Twenty-third Psalm portrays life as a pilgrimage, and in the final verse the psalmist rightly comes to life’s goal, which is God’s house. “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
To have a sure home has always been a desire of the nomadic people that occupied the area of the Near East bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, and the great Arabian desert. T. E. Lawrence, who gained fame as Lawrence of Arabia during the first world war, wrote of this in his classic volume Seven Pillars of Wisdom. He tells in the opening pages of that book how, because of the geography of this area, one tribe after another came out of the desert to fight for the lush Judean highlands which contained the best trees, crops, and pastures. Under Joshua the Israelites were one of these peoples. When a group like this succeeded, the conquered people generally moved just a bit south into the Negev, which was also good land though not so good as the highlands. They in turn displaced others, and those still others, until the last of these people were pushed out into the desert with nothing before them but Damascus. For most of them Damascus, with its ample rivers and fields, thereby became a symbol for the end of life’s long passage.
We too long for such a home. Only our home is not Damascus. It is the place the Lord himself, our Good Shepherd, has gone to prepare for us. “I am going…to prepare a place for you,” he said. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3). John writes of those who are to dwell in that land in the very last book of the Bible:
Never again will they hunger;never again will they thirst.The sun will not beat upon themnor any scorching heat.For the Lamb at the center of the thronewill be their shepherd;he will lead them to springs of living water.And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:16-17).
These blessings have been achieved for us by the Shepherd who became a lamb to bring us this salvation. He is both Lamb and Shepherd.
Is he your lamb? Has he become your shepherd? If he is and has, you will not lack rest, life, guidance, safety, provision, or a heavenly home. You will lack nothing essential in time. You will lack nothing in eternity. You will be greatly blessed, and you will be able to say with David, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Hallelujah!
Key PointIf we allow God to lead us where he will, we will find that a table has been prepared for us.