To our mind this Psalm is not so much an expression of David’s mind and experience as it is the Spirit of Christ speaking through David. The primary meaning of all Old Testament prophecies is Jesus, all in some way relate to him. Peter said when preaching on the day of Pentecost, that David in writing the sixteenth Psalm had no reference to himself or his own experience, but was prophesying of Jesus and things pertaining to Jesus. So we believe in this twenty-third Psalm that David is speaking of Jesus and his relation to the Father, that God the Father is the Shepherd of Jesus, and that Jesus, who is God manifest in the flesh, speaks of himself through David under the similitude of a sheep. In the twenty-second Psalm, the one preceding this we have under consideration, David is moved to testify of the sufferings of Jesus, and uses the exact words used by Jesus himself upon the cross: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” All through this Psalm we are given in minute detail the crucifixion of Christ, which did not actually transpire until several hundred years after David wrote this. The twenty-third Psalm, immediately following this recital of suffering, takes a more lofty and sublime tone, and depicts the grand trust and confidence of the Savior in the midst of his awful shame and agony. This is akin to what Job said: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” It is as though Jesus said, Though thou, my Father, bruiseth me, and willeth that I be put to death in an open shame, yet thou art my shepherd, and I shall not want for anything that I need to carry me safely and successfully through it all. God the Father is and was certainly the shepherd of our Jesus in all his life, and in his death. It was not in the power of Jesus as a man to map out his own life, or to direct his own steps, he could but walk and act as it had been decreed from eternity and had been prophesied of that he should walk and act. Jesus came into the world, not to be subject to himself, but to be subject to the will of his Father in all things. He came to carry out and to fulfill the will of his God, which will was that of all that the Father had given him he should lose nothing, but raise it up at the last day. In all this work he was shepherded by the Father, he was guided and watched over by him. Not a stone could touch him until his hour had come, and when his hour to be offered had come nothing could possibly keep the venom and spite of men from being vented upon him. Yet even in death he was shepherded by the Father, for though they broke the legs of the thieves on either side of him, they could not break his legs, for the prophecy was already gone forth, Not one bone of his body shall be broken. God is not our shepherd, or the shepherd of any one, only as he is the shepherd of that one through Christ Jesus. We must always hear in mind, and it cannot be emphasized too strongly, that God is not related to us, nor we to him, only as that relationship comes through Christ Jesus. Take away, if you can, this truth of the eternal vital unity of Christ and his people and there remains no ground whatever for the salvation of any sinner, nor any basis” whatever for the relationship of any mortal to the immortal.
“I shall not want.” Jesus never needed for anything that was necessary for him in the successful prosecution of the work assigned him. The word “want” is here used in the sense of “need,” and because Jesus wanted, needed, nothing but what those needs were all supplied, so every one chosen in him from before the world began shall never need anything that is essential to their welfare here or in the world to come. We may want many things that we shall not have granted us, but no one of all God’s flock shall ever want for anything that God knows that one needs.
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” The fact that these were “green“ feeding-places means that they were“living” pastures. We might consider this second verse in connection with the fifth, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” Please bear in mind that the figure of a sheep and a shepherd goes all through this Psalm, and therefore “table” does not mean a table such as we use to eat upon, which is made of wood and set upon legs off the floor so people may sit about it. In those eastern countries, and especially in Syria and Palestine, a “table” literally meant “table-land,” a place suitable for the pasturage of sheep. Whenever a shepherd led his flock to a place where good pasture grew, this was called a “table.” Thus, it seems to us, that “he maketh me to lie down in green pastures,” and “thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies,” mean about the same thing. The enemies of Jesus could not see this living pasturage of the Savior wherein he fed and wherein he was refreshed, but while he was in the midst of his enemies this table was spread before him for his strengthening and encouragement in the work of salvation. Listen to this from John iv. 31-34: “In the mean while his disciples prayed him, saying, Master, eat. But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of. Therefore said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought him ought to eat? Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” Is not this wonderful? More than raiment for his body, more than food for his outer man, more than earthly comforts, was the inner consciousness that he was walking in obedience to his Father’s will. This was meat indeed to him. His enemies could not perceive this secret sustenance that upheld him while in the midst of them. He moved among them in a mystery, he lived a divinely enchanted existence.
“He leadeth me beside the still waters.” “Still waters” mean deep waters. Stillness signifies depth. He was led into the deep things of God. God’s election, predestination, foreknowledge, all these deep things were not secret from him. To him they were unfolded, and he knew who to save and who not to save; he knew whose sins to forgive and whose not. This was because the deep things of God kept secret from the foundation of the world were to him unfolded. He knew his sheep,, and called them by their name, and they followed him. He never made a mistake and called one that did not belong to him, nor did he ever omit to call a single one the Father had given him. This was all because he was led beside the still waters.
“He restoreth my soul.” How true this is of Jesus. His soul was not left in hell, neither did this Holy One of God ever see corruption. This was because“He restoreth my soul.” The same mighty power that brings sinners to believe in God also wrought in this Jesus that lay in Joseph’s new tomb, and raised him from the dead. Thus his soul was restored. Experimentally, whenever we have a taste of this resurrection power working in us, we, too, are restored, and the joy of our salvation restored to us. The basis of all such restorations that ever God’s people experience is because Jesus’ soul was restored. He is the first-fruits of all things that come unto the elect of God. Jesus must first know these things for himself before he can beget his individuality in the people belonging to him. All we have and are flows to us through him.
“He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Just think what a path this was. It began in eternity with the Father, where the Son was equal with the Father. Then the Son laid aside his glory with the Father, and took upon himself the body of flesh and blood, condescending to be born of a woman, and to be made under the law of sin and death. Now, being found in fashion as a man, he is a servant, and humbles himself and becomes obedient unto the shameful death of the cross. He dies publicly disgraced as a common felon, yet he was without guile. He descends into hell, the grave, and is risen therefrom by the power of his majesty abounding over death. After this he reveals himself unto certain witnesses to establish beyond all successful contradiction that he is really risen from the dead. This done, he ascends to heaven and is again with the Father in that glory he had with him in the beginning. Is not this a wonderful and a most glorious path for the Holy One of God to tread? From heaven to earth, from earth through death to hell, from hell through resurrection to earth again, but not to earthly life again, from earth to final and ultimate glory never to be ended. This is the path of righteousness: the way to heaven lies through earth and hell, and just as Jesus, the sheep, trod this path, being shepherded by the almighty Father all along the way, just so shall every one that is in Christ know and learn this pathway in some measure. Though many dark and trying things lie in this path, though it leads through persecution and humiliation, though it passes through death and hell, everything connected with it is right, whether we see it that way or not at the time, for it is a righteous path.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” We do not think that by the “valley of the shadow of death” is meant any particular place in this pathway, or that it simply means the hour of final dissolution, but that this whole world of human existence, from the day of one’s birth to the day of one’s death, is “the valley of the shadow of death.” The moment we begin to live, that moment we begin to die. All that we do, and all that we think, and all that we are, as men and women in this world are stamped with the shadow of death. Nothing lives forever but God, no immortality anywhere but in Jesus Christ. Through this valley of the shadow of death Jesus walked, but feared no evil, because, “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” The “rod” signifies the protecting power of God. Some have said the rod means the chastisements of God. This is not so in this instance, for the shepherd’s rod was never used to beat the sheep. In that day they had no guns or modern weapons with which to protect the sheep from the wolves and other dangers, so the shepherds used a heavy club, or rod; with this they heat away the enemies of the sheep and slew them. This “rod” or defense of Jehovah, comforted Jesus through the valley of the shadow of death. The shepherd’s staff was for the guidance of the sheep. In those days shepherds went ahead of their sheep and led them, they did not go in the rear of the sheep and drive them. Thus, going before the sheep, the shepherd carried in his hand a long and conspicuous staff, which he turned this way and that to show the sheep which way to go and where to turn, and so on. This “staff” is figurative of the Holy Ghost, or Spirit of God, which was the leader and the guiding star of Jesus as the sheep, and led him in all the walk and in all the work of his life and death. Just so is the Holy Ghost the shepherd’s staff of every one of the elect in Christ, and guides them in all the journey of their lives. Thus preserved and guided by the power of Jehovah and the Spirit of his truth, why fear any evil as we journey through this world of sin and woe?
“Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” This brings to light the priesthood of Christ. Just as Aaron in the type was anointed with holy oil so that it was poured upon his head and ran down over his beard and to the uttermost. skirts of his garments, so more really is Jesus anointed with the holy oil of God’s own self. Not only is this oil poured upon Jesus, thus constituting him the great High Priest of our profession, but his cup runneth over, so that every member of his body is also made a priest and a king through him. ,Had not the cup run over, Jesus only would have been anointed, but the fact that the anointing cup ran over means that some drops come to each of the Lord’s people, and they, too, through his anointing, are made kings and priests unto God, to offer unto him, not the blood of bulls and goats, but the spiritual sacrifices of thanksgiving.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Wherever Jesus went, and wherever he now manifests himself, the goodness and mercy of God follow in his wake. He came unto Mary the Magdalene, and found her in her sin, but when he left her he left behind him a heart uplifted in adoration to its Maker for his goodness and mercy in making her pure and clean. He came unto the man at the pool of Bethesda, and found him crippled and diseased, he left him whole and clean, for the goodness and mercy of God followed wherever he went. Thus, to-day, Jesus comes into a sinner’s heart and condemns sin in that sinner’s flesh, but before Jesus gets through with him that sinner is praising God for his abundant goodness and mercy. Wherever Jesus passed along his pathway blossomed behind him with spiritual hearts uplifted in psalms to the goodness and mercy of God. It was so then, it is so now.
“I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” How different this is from the expression of David in the twenty-seventh Psalm. There he says, “I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” But in the twenty-third Psalm, Jesus says, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” Quite a difference between “I may dwell,” and “I will dwell.” Also quite a difference between “for ever” and “all the days of my life.” Man must say, “I may,” but Jesus, God incarnate, can say, “I will.” It is the will of Jesus, and therefore the will of God, that Jesus shall dwell in the house of God (the church) forever, for all eternity. Because he is in the midst of her she shall not be moved. He dwells always in the church, he is her life and her king, the center of her wellbeing and her governor, her peace and her salvation forever.
Sister Olivia Norris Hellings, of the Hopewell Church, N. J., asked us a long time ago to write on the words, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies,” so we have incorporated a few thoughts upon those words in this article, but have been impressed to consider the whole Psalm, instead of just that part of it. We fear the sister has thought we completely ignored her request, and indeed it looked like it, but we have not until now felt able to deal with the matter. Again we want to remind those who ask us for our views that we have no intention of ignoring their requests, but have no control of our mind in these matters, and can only write as we are led out; into these things. L.
Elder H. H. Lefferts
Signs of the Times
Volume 84, No. 16.
August 15, 1916