Tuesday, April 12, 2016

When Earthly Bread Is Not Enough: Jesus As The Shepherd in Psalm 23 (Verse 1)

In January of 2014 I released my first Bible commentary "Discovering The Shepherd: A Study of Psalm 23." I knew then that one of my greatest passions was to acquaint believers and even non-believers with a deeper understanding of the Bible, the living Word of God. Below is chapter 1 of the commentary, part 2 of the discussion of verse 1. 

May God bless you with understanding and revelation power through His Holy Spirit as you read. Amen.

Psalm 23, Verse 1 (Pt. 2)
“The LORD is my shepherd…”

We are all familiar with the use of the possessive pronoun “my.” We use it daily to refer to the things that belong to us, the things that we possess and have ownership of. We also use it to establish a personal relationship or connection between ourselves and the object that we are referring to. David’s use of the word in Psalm 23 is very similar to this not in the sense that he is claiming to own the Lord, but rather he is establishing the existence of a personal connection and relationship between himself and the Lord.

We have already seen how the beginning of the verse establishes the Lord’s sovereignty over all of creation, but here David uses “my” to focus that sovereignty onto himself in a personal way. The image that flashed into my mind as I was writing this was of a pure, white light shining brightly across the entire sky and from that light, one ray of light extended down and engulfed David. This is how the connection should be for all of those who are believers in Jesus Christ, the flesh manifestation of Jehovah God. Though infinitely vast in His existence, Jehovah still desires to focus on us individually, to have a personal relationship with each of us. We too should be able to say boldly “The Lord is MY shepherd” and that even on an earth where billions of people live daily, Almighty God is available to me personally at all times.

So now that we see the absolute reign and eternal existence of God, and the fact that we are able to access Him on a very personal level, we come to David’s characterization of God’s role in His personal relationship with us – Shepherd. Though most believers are familiar with at least a few of the images of God illustrated in the Bible such as fortress, shield, and provider, David chooses to illustrate the loving presence of Jehovah in Psalm 23 as a shepherd. So why would he choose such a meager, even lowly title to bestow on One so vast and powerful? I believe a quick look at David’s past holds the answer.

Before King David ruled over Israel and wore the royal crown, and before he defeated armies to become known as a great warrior, he was himself a shepherd. He began his life tending the flocks of his father Jesse and it was literally in a field where the Prophet Samuel found him in order to anoint him for the life that God was calling him to. Surely the Lord knew everything about David, even before his birth, for as we see in His speaking to the Prophet Jeremiah, the Lord says “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart….” (Jeremiah 1:5) Because of the uniformity of God, and the fact that He remains forever the same (Hebrews 13:8), this same thing would have applied to David as well and applies to each of us as believers. He knew each of us before we were born!

God knew that David would tend to sheep as a young boy and He chose the image of Shepherd in order to reveal Himself to David in the most deeply personal way. Jehovah used David’s earthly knowledge of the life, work, and responsibility of a shepherd to give him spiritual understanding of God’s own existence, work, and responsibility in being the Shepherd over His own holy sheep. God deliberately used something that David was familiar with for this revelation so that David would have no trouble understanding. It also established for David that even before He was anointed by Samuel with his Godly purpose, God knew all about him and was by his side as he went about tending his earthly father’s sheep. Tending his father’s sheep… that reminds me of Jesus. No wonder David was a man after God’s own heart!

Now that we have examined David’s choice of characterization, we should take a closer look at the word “shepherd.” The use of “shepherd” found in the first verse of Psalm 23 comes from the Hebrew word ra’ah. The first, and possibly most fascinating fact to note about this word, is that though its translation in the English bible to “shepherd” would indicate that it is a noun, ra’ah is actually a verb! This means that “shepherd” is not just a word to describe or characterize Jehovah God; it is a word to illustrate what action He is taking in our lives!  Jehovah as “shepherd” means that He is actively engaged in the act of shepherding us at every moment. So, what does the act of shepherding entail?

“Shepherd” (biblical usage) – 1) to tend, feed ; 2) to associate with, be a special friend

1a)To Tend
Generally speaking, to tend to something or someone means to “care for and look after” that thing or person. It also means to “give special attention” to whatever we are tending. (dictionary.com) This means that as God is shepherding us, he is caring for us and looking after us. 1 Peter 5:6-7 confirms this when Peter writes, “Therefore humble yourselves [demote, lower yourselves in your own estimation] under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you, Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully.” (Amplified)

But not only does God care for us and look after us watchfully, He also gives us special attention. This special attention is designed to meet our individual needs on a personal level. Though we are all human and do indeed have the same basic needs, we all certainly have different personalities, different emotional quirks and life issues. God knows each of us intimately, inside and out, from head to toe because He made us. Jesus confirms this in the Gospels by letting us know that He even knows the exact number of hairs on our head! (Luke 12:7) This is why David was able to boldly claim the Holy Shepherd as his very own by using the possessive “my.”

1b)To Feed
We are all aware that in a literal sense, all living things must eat in order to survive and certainly Jehovah God is concerned with whether or not we have food to eat.  He confirms this in Matthew 6:31-33 when Jesus says to His disciples to not worry or fret over what they would eat or drink because their heavenly Father was well aware of these needs in their lives. He instructed them instead to seek His Kingdom and righteousness and all other things that they needed would be given to them. In other words, it is important for us to make seeking a relationship with God our top priority while also allowing Him the opportunity to shepherd us. In that relationship is the provision of all things, including literal food!

But God is not just concerned with feeding our bellies. He is also concerned with the feeding of our spirit. In Matthew 4:4, Jesus says “…It has been written, Man shall not live and be upheld and sustained by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” (Amplified) Since words coming forth from the mouth of God are not tangible objects, clearly he was not instructing us to literally eat the words from His mouth. Please do not bite your Bible! Instead, He is referring to studying the bible, praying, meditating, and any other act that puts you in communication with God in order to receive and digest His Word. In reference to the Word of God, John MacArthur says the Word is “a more important source of sustenance than food; it nurtures our spiritual needs in a way that benefits us eternally rather than merely providing temporary relief from physical hunger.” (Study Bible, NKJV)

2)To Associate With, Be a Special Friend
In this action of the shepherd, Jehovah’s close personal relationship with each believer, or each of His sheep, is reaffirmed. Not only does He tend to us without ceasing and provide nourishment for both our bodies and spirits, He also acts as a special friend. This hopefully helps close the gap that believers often perceive between themselves and God when relating to Him. Some see Him as being distant or sitting so high that He is unattainable when in fact, He is daily acting as a close, special friend in each of our lives. The next time you pray and seek God’s face, I encourage you to close your eyes and picture Him not hovering above you, but sitting right next to you. Draw Him close to you and communicate with Him in that intimate space.

Wow! What a lot of information there was to consider in just the first half of the first verse of Psalm 23. Please take time to soak and meditate in what you’ve already read so far. Though we covered a lot, keep in mind that there are layers upon layers of revelation hidden in the Word of God because God himself is infinite in His existence. I believe that as you read and continue to move forward through this examination of Psalm 23, the Holy Spirit will speak to you personally, adding more revelation and wisdom to your reading than I could possibly uncover in a lifetime of writing.

**Have questions or comments? E-mail me at gejohnsonmedia@gmail.com or leave them in the comment section below. Discussion is welcome!**

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