F. A. Hughes.
This paper is but a few simple thoughts which recently brightened a "night season."
"The LORD is my Shepherd". It is certainty expressed in these five words which intensifies the preciousness and wealth of the Psalm. If not known and enjoyed the following verses tend towards mere sentiment — beautiful language indeed — but its intrinsic beauty unappreciated. What untold blessings! What realms of peace and joy and satisfied affections are the portion of those who know the Shepherd as their own!
"I shall not want". In spite of the boldness and strength of their sire even young lions may lack, but the simple sheep (yea the lambs, too) that seek this Shepherd "shall not want any good thing." It could not be otherwise — for "the earth is the LORD's
and the fulness thereof" (Psalm 24).
"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures". The compulsion of love and of the tenderest solicitude. "Green pastures" — what restful freshness, what comfort too, in a scene of arid waste and barrenness. The "tender grass" has its place in relation to the welfare of the flock (cf. Proverbs 27) and "His favour is as dew upon the grass" (Proverbs 19) — this so blessedly manifest as He made the people sit down where "there was much grass in the place" (John 6:10). Blessed, compassionate Lord!
"He leadeth me beside the still waters". The cognates of this word "still" are rich in their expression; perhaps the most precious of all is that of "a settled place," "a home." Ah! beloved, this is the ultimate of His leading — HOME. How wondrously great is this Shepherd who leads! Listen to the words of Asaph — "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, Thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth" (Psalm 80:1). The "Great Shepherd" (Hebrews 13) indeed, and yet the gracious Leader of His own.
"He restoreth my soul". One interpretation of this word is to "carry home again." Love resents distance, and the love of this Shepherd is such that He would "go after that which (was) is lost, until He find it." Did He not carry the erstwhile wandering sheep "home again"? Precious words "My sheep"! more precious, blessed Lord!
"He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His Name's sake". In a day when moral values are largely ignored and truth is lightly esteemed, how blessed to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd — "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:27). He is "Jesus Christ, the Righteous" — He leads in right paths. Peter in his epistle speaks of the unique dignity marking the path of those who knew the shepherd — "that ye should follow His steps." The path in which He leads is not limited by earthly circumstances, nor even by death itself — it is the "way everlasting" (Psalm 139).
The remainder of the Psalm is the appreciative response of hearts that have learned to value the affection and love of this surpassingly precious Shepherd. The "shadow of death" may be experienced (indeed the whole scene around is morally this) but the triumphant note is "Thou art with me." This glorious Shepherd has Himself moved through the very portals of death itself — triumphing over it and destroying its power. "I am He that liveth … I am alive for evermore, Amen." He, not death, has the last word, He is the "Amen." Thus as passing through this scene where death is rampant we have the assured company of the living Christ until we either "sleep through Jesus" or are raptured to be "for ever with the Lord." The "rod" speaks both of ownership and of sustenance (cf. Ezekiel 20:37; Micah 7:14); the staff of support for the pathway. Blessed indeed to know and value the hand that holds both rod and staff! What comfort in His company, His provision of love, His support.
Opposition and misunderstanding, even from the most intimate circles, fail to disturb as our souls are nourished by the continuing supply of the rich provision of His love; the power and fragrance of His anointing would direct our every thought, lifting them above the level of earth and giving us to know more intelligently the blessedness of that sphere where he who loves us is supreme.
Let us from our hearts join the Psalmist in both his assertion of confidence and avowal — "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."
Beloved, one closing word. Our Shepherd is the "Good Shepherd," He who has given His life the sheep. The hostility which marked those who heard these words from His blessed lips (John 10) marks this present world still. Man, as such, has not appreciation of the worth of Christ the Good Shepherd (cf. Genesis 46:34). The Lord grant to each of us to keep close to His side, near enough to ever "hear His voice" and to "follow Him."
"LORD, keep thy flock most graciously,
By Thine all-powerful hand;
Keep us from every harm away,
'Twixt us and danger stand;
'Till thou shalt fully have obtained
In us the fruits of grace,
And we, in joys that never end,
Shall see Thee face to face."