Psalm 23, the beloved Shepherd Psalm, is perhaps the best-known chapter of the Bible. Several months ago, at Easter in fact, I read a blog post that drew my attention to Psalm 23 in a new way by placing it in the context of the psalms that surround it. In “Living in the Valley – For Now,” Jonathan Parnell writes that Psalm 22, 23, and 24, when we look at them together, say something even more meaningful about Jesus’ devotion and authority as our Shepherd.
As we read Psalm 22, we recognize Jesus right away in verse 1, especially His agony on the cross:
“My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (22:1; see Matthew 27:46).
“… scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads” (22: 6 – 7; see Matthew 27:39).
“… people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment” (22: 17 – 18; see Matthew 27:35).
As Psalm 22 depicts Jesus’ cross, Psalm 24 describes His coronation:
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is He, this King of glory?
The Lord Almighty—
He is the King of glory (24: 8 – 10).
Psalm 22 reminds us of Jesus’ sacrifice. Psalm 24 proclaims Jesus’ sovereignty and strength. As Jonathan Parnell put so well: “If Psalm 22 is a Good Friday meditation, Psalm 24 is our Easter morning song.”
But between Friday and Sunday, there is sorrow, uncertainty, disappointment, and confusion. There is a valley. There is a shadow of death.
But it is a mere shadow. As Charles Spurgeon said, “Nobody is afraid of a shadow, for a shadow cannot stop a man’s pathway even for a moment.” Sunday’s a-coming. The Light of the World will dispel every shadow of darkness and death. The King of glory is coming.
I wholly lean on the triumphant hope of Psalm 24.
But today …. Today has felt like a valley. On days like these my head knows that Sunday is real but my heart is stuck in Friday. There is sorrow, uncertainty, disappointment, and confusion. I pray for vision yet I am short-sighted. There are steep and rugged mountains in the way.
In Psalm 22, I remember Jesus as Savior. In Psalm 24, I trust Him as Sovereign. But today I find myself in Psalm 23. And I need a Shepherd.
The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.
Between the images of Jesus’ cross and His crown, here is my Comforter. The Messiah is in the middle.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.
I fit the characteristics of a sheep – stubborn, needy, timid, and prone to wander (Isaiah 53:6). Yet, as I see in Psalm 22, the Good Shepherd bought me with a very high price.
Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
“The position of Psalm 23 is worthy of notice,” said Spurgeon, “It follows the twenty-second, which is peculiarly the Psalm of the Cross …. It is only after we have read, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” that we come to “The Lord is my Shepherd.” We must know the value of blood-shedding, and see the sword awakened against the Shepherd before we shall be able truly to know the Sweetness of the good Shepherd’s care.”
Because this Shepherd is willing to care for me, a sheep, at such a tremendous cost to Himself, I can trust Him. Because this Lover of my soul is a Shepherd King – a King of glory – I can rest in His ability and authority to command all circumstances and lead me into places for my good – even the valley.
Though I walk through the valley … You are with me.
As a real-life shepherd, Phillip Keller explains that sheep are led to the mountain tops through the valleys because it is the well-watered route. In the valley there are rivers, streams, and still waters. The Shepherd who called Himself the Living Water (John 7:38) will refresh me again and again. Hope quenches my thirsty soul.
And as I’m here in the valley, I remember that the Shepherd is leading me through it. This is not a stopping place. One day I will join Him in Psalm 24.
“I am the gate for the sheep,” Jesus said, “Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture … I have come that they may have life and have it to the full (John 10: 7 – 9).
The valley is the gateway to the fullest Life we will ever know. Jesus the Savior, Shepherd, and Sovereign makes it so.
“Living in the Valley – For Now.” Jonathan Parnell. April 8, 2013. http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/living-in-the-valley-for-now
Psalm 23 in The Treasury of David by Charles H. Spurgeon http://www.spurgeon.org/treasury/ps023.htm
A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller