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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 23

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-6

Psalms 23:1-6

The Lord is my Shepherd.

Exegesis of the Psalm

This Psalm, so personal and tender in its tone, may be called a lyric; and its reference to shepherd life makes it a pastoral; and being such, it becomes by its brevity and finish an idyll--an idyll excelling in naturalness and truth any that Theocritus, the father of idylls, ever wrote. But in its simplicity it sets forth the weightiest theme. Feeble man may have constant companionship with the mighty and everlasting God, may cast all his anxiety upon Him, for He careth for each one of us. The Psalmist was not unacquainted with the shepherd’s office; for he had fed his father’s sheep in the mountains about Bethlehem, and often in solitude shut up to their lowly and loving companionship, by sympathising in their wants, he had loved them much, and for their sake had struggled hard with lion and bear. Verse 1. The Lord Jehovah; from derivation, the “Everlasting One”--the “One that is.” Verse 2. Lie down--Applies to animals that lie upon the breast with the limbs gathered under them. Pastures--The place where one settles down. It can stand for the dwellings of men, for dens of wild beasts, for encampment of flocks. Green--Implying grass in its early growth. Still waters--or waters of rest. Verse 3. Soul--or spirit; used of animals as well as men. They and we lose spirit by exhaustion. We lose spirituality by sin. Paths of righteousness--Not only a right course, but one which ends in righteousness or safety. Verse 4. Valley--Not death, but a deep ravine overhung with rocks or trees, and full of gloom, even at midday. Rod and staff--In the Himalayas the shepherd has been seen using his crook to draw a straying sheep from the brink of a precipice. Verse 5. Preparest--We set a table, putting all upon it in fit order. Runneth over--Literally, my cup (is) abundance. Original of abundance is used of draught that satisfies for quantity. Verse 6. Follow--Its original is often used of the eager pursuit of enemies and persecutors. (T. H. Rich, D. D.)

The Psalm of faith

This has sometimes been called the Psalm of faith, and certainly with great reason. It breathes in every line the air of serene and happy confidence undisturbed by a single doubt. Nowhere else is the absence of misgiving or anxiety so remarkable. Yet equally noteworthy is the connection of this state of safety, rest, and peace with the statement made in the opening words; for the fact that Jehovah condescended to be the writer’s shepherd was the underlying basis of the whole experience. The representation of God as a shepherd is found first in Jacob’s blessing of Joseph (Genesis 48:15), “the God which fed me,”--literally, who was my shepherd. It was afterwards often used in reference to Israel as a people, and in the New Testament is applied to our Lord both by Himself and by His disciples. The whole tone of the lyric is personal, and this it is that makes it so precious. Jehovah cares for the flock just because He cares for each member of it. The believer is never lost in a crowd. “I shall not want.” The expression is absolute and unlimited. Neither food, nor protection, nor guidance, nor loving care and sympathy shall be lacking. The believer is sure not only of repose, restoration, and guidance, but also of protection and deliverance even in the most trying circumstances . . . The last verse of the Psalm summarises what went before, with the additional thought of its continuance. “Only goodness and loving kindness” means that the favour bestowed on the believer is unmixed, or that the exceptions are so few as to be unworthy of consideration. Goodness supplies our needs, and mercy blots out our sins. (Talbot W. Chambers, D. D.)

A Psalm of personal trust in God

The world could spare many a large book better than this sunny little Psalm. It has dried many tears, and supplied the mould into which many hearts have poured their peaceful faith. To suppose that the speaker is the personified nation chills the whole. The tone is too intense not to be the outcome of personal experience, however admissible the application to the nation may be as secondary. No doubt Jehovah is the Shepherd of Israel in several Asaphite Psalms and in Jeremiah; but notwithstanding great authorities, I cannot persuade myself that the voice which comes so straight to the heart did not come from the heart of a brother, speaking across the centuries his own personal emotions, which are universal because they are individual. It is the pure utterance of personal trust in Jehovah, darkened by no fears or complaints, and so perfectly at rest that it has nothing more to ask. For the time desire is stilled in satisfaction. One tone, and that the most blessed that can be heard in a life, is heard through the whole. It is the Psalm of quiet trust, undisturbed even by its joy, which is quiet too. The fire glows, but does not flame or crackle. The one thought is expanded in two kindred images, that of the shepherd and that of the host. The same ideas are substantially repeated under both forms. The lovely series of vivid pictures, each but a clause long, but clear cut in that small compass like the fine work incised on a gem, combines, with the depth and simplicity of the religious emotion expressed, to lay this sweet Psalm on all hearts. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Serenity of soul

Is there anything in the religious life outside of Christianity that shows such trust in God as this Psalm? There are psalms of the pantheistic religions in which the soul seems to lose itself in the great current of the Divine Being, and become but one drop in the ocean of universal existence. They have the idea of rest and repose and freedom from disturbance and trouble. But in this Psalm there is something different. There is indeed the individual consciousness of love resting on the soul, that still has its own right to live and to know its past. Every religion bears its testimony to us of God dwelling in human nature. I do not know of a religious yearning of mankind in any part of his spiritual history which has not sought to see beyond the clouds the peace of God resting on the human soul. That is the great mission of religion in the human soul. There are times in our experience when we are inclined to overstate the necessity for turmoil in the soul. The soul at times needs to be disturbed and broken hearted; but always in anticipation and preparation for the calm that lies beyond. The ultimate condition of the human soul is repose, such as fills the sweet rich verses of this Psalm of David. It is a man who has been through great experiences who thus lifts up his voice and sings to God in absolute trust in the Divine goodness and strength. This Psalm is an outpouring of the soul to God, never matched in all the riches of the Christian day. It is the utterance of a soul absolutely unshaken and perfectly serene. In the New Testament many of the expressions of deepest faith have their origin in this Psalm. Jesus said, “I am the good Shepherd,”. . .”I shall not want.” There are two ways of not lacking a thing in this world. He lacks nothing who has everything. The better way is for a man to look up, and bring his desires down to that which God sees fit to give him. This applies emphatically to things of faith . . . There are two ways by which we come to “green pastures and still waters.” God had led David into sweet and beautiful circumstances, where it was easy for him to walk. But a place is not simply a thing of the outward life. It is a thing of the inward life. To go with calm soul, because it calmly trusts in God in the midst of tempests and tumults, and say, “I am at peace and rest,”--that is the triumph of the Christian state. First of all comes a peaceful condition within the soul, and by and by comes the kingdom of heaven with all its scenery . . . ”For His name’s sake.” The poor soul loves to think that God is taking care of him for his own sake, because it is precious to Himself. Many a time the soul has to flee from the sense of its own little value to the thought that God values it because it is dear and precious to Him “In the presence of mine enemies.” This does not mean separation from our enemies, nor driving them away. God gives us peaceful moments in the midst of the distress and struggle of our lives Let your souls rest in peace on God. Only, be sure it is really He on whom you rest. He is continually caring for your souls, and will not let you rest in absolute torpor. You cannot rest too peacefully, too tenderly on the love of God, if only it is really God’s love. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)

Religious conceptions coloured by secular vocation

This Psalm does not provoke our thinking: it touches us away down below our philosophy and our theology; comes to us rather like a covert from the heat, a refuge from weariness, a shelter from the rain, and folds as unthinkingly into the creases of our souls as water adapts itself to the thirsty. The longings of the human spirit have their own beatitude, and better than any other interpreters make clear the meaning of the Holy Word. Round this oasis of truth, this 23rd Psalm, tired, hungry, erring, and anxious men and women have gathered, and found green pasturage, still waters, recovery from their wanderings, and gentle light to guide them through the valley of the death-shadow. This Psalm brings us not only near to God and our own souls, but also near to one another. It is a great, roomy catholic Psalm. The things which the Gospel has to supply are the great, deep, common wants of all human souls. We can all stand up in front of this Psalm, and feel ourselves so far perfectly “brothered” in each other. David must have written this Psalm when he was a good deal more than a youth. It is not dated, yet its quality is its own date, as the wine tester finds the age of the wine in the flavour of the wine. Time is a factor in the arithmetic of all life and growth. Experience and discernment ripen much in the same way as corn and wheat ripen. Ripeness is not to be extemporised, nor is it transferable. Time is one factor, suffering is another. The two together and the product sanctified is Christian maturity. This writer had learned the lesson of weariness; he had passed under the discipline of sin. He had learned to know himself by sinning, and learned to know God by enjoying the Divine deliverance and recovery from sin. He had tested God, and found Him faithful, and tested Him so many times that he knew He would always be faithful. The imagery of the Psalm suggests to us as a passing lesson that every man paints religious truth in the colours furnished by his own character of life and mode of occupation. Objects and relations that are familiar to us furnish us with a vocabulary whose terms even the Holy Ghost Himself will have to use if He is going to make to us any revelation. A shepherd, familiar only with pastoral relations, can apprehend the bearing of God toward us only under the figure of a shepherd. He thinks in that way. The one impression that flows from off this entire Psalm is that of a man who has come now where he is able and glad simply to trust and let himself be taken care of; and that, too, is a long and very slow lesson. Faith is distilled from unquiet experience. We have to learn to trust. (Charles H. Parkhurst, D. D.)

Sufficiency in God

The great name--Jehovah. In Egypt thousands of gods, but no Jehovah.

A great faith--“My Shepherd.”

A great sufficiency--“I shall not want.” The insatiable character of man. Life a hunger and thirst, intellectual, social, emotional. David’s contentment arose from finding sufficiency was in God. The Lord was more to him than the manna, or the stream in the wilderness. He is sufficing beyond all thought, feeling, hope. To whom is He thus? To the weary, troubled, perplexed, and penitent. (G. S. Reaney.)

The shepherd God

But let us notice the result in us.

1. First, there is the banishment of want. David says, “I shall not want.”

2. The Good Shepherd banishes fear. David says, “I will fear no evil.” Perhaps there is no blessing so great for the happiness of the soul as the driving away of fear, which God does for those who give their hearts to Him. He rescues us from the fear of punishment. He takes away the fear of the judgment. The man who has received a pardon from the President of the United States has no longer any fear of punishment for his crime. What a blessed relief that is! God takes from us also the fear of death. How many have been held slaves to the fear of death. Many people are so afraid of death that they will not attend a funeral service.

3. Finally, what a beautiful and glorious hope the shepherd God holds out to us of the future life, toward which He is willing to lead us through all our life’s journey. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Our Good Shepherd said to His friends just before He went away, “In My Father’s house there are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you.” (L. A. Banks, D. D.)

Personal relationship with God

“My Shepherd.” Every believer is not only permitted to say, but has that within him which constrains him to say, “O God, Thou art my God.” It should be to us a source of unfailing comfort to know that His nature undergoes no change or modification when it is directed towards us and the exigencies of our condition. The wisdom, the power, the goodness with which He controls the affairs of the universe are in their measure available for our individual needs. And as the shepherd knows each sheep of the flock, and calleth it by its name, so God knoweth each of us, and gives Himself to us with the whole energy and affectionateness of His being.. There exists between God and ourselves a distinct personal relation. He recognises the individuality of every human soul, and ascribes to it a separate worth. Bound as we are by innumerable ties to the great brotherhood of men, we are, in the deepest centre of our life, isolated from them, and stand before God alone. Under many current systems of thought this individuality is endangered. Beyond the ken of an omnipresent spirit and the power of an almighty friend we cannot go. He is about our path and our bed, and the secret thoughts and desires and needs of all hearts are open to Him. We may be weak, obscure, despised, but He thinks of us with as special a care and as devoted a love as if we alone, in all the vast universe of men, were dependent upon Him and claimed His gracious aid. (James Stuart.)

Confidence in the Shepherd

It is not as a literary gem, rich and rare though it be in that respect, that its chief attraction lies. What renders it so exceedingly precious to the experimental believer are the blessedness of its truths and the sublimity of its sentiments--the delightful spirit it breathes and the hallowed impressions it produces. By it the faith of God’s people in every age has been confirmed, their hearts have been gladdened, their hopes elevated, and their strength renewed. “The Lord is My Shepherd.” Our faith is greatly lacking as respects three things--

1. It is not sufficiently confiding.

2. It is not sufficiently realising. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for.”

3. It is not sufficiently appropriating. (Anon.)

A deep consciousness of God

The deep consciousness of God that pervades the Psalm. Its great outstanding thought is God. And God, too, present to the mind and heart of the writer: a living, personal agent, who touches his life at every point, and with whom he holds conscious and happy intercourse. Here we have a man evidently walking not by sight but by faith. This consciousness of God manifested itself in two ways.

1. He found in his own humble employment as a shepherd a representation of God, and a means of fellowship with Him. By the thoughtfulness, tenderness, sympathy, and care he exercised in his shepherd calling he learned and realised the heart and character of God.

2. His daily employment was to him a symbol of God, and of God’s relation to him.

The relation of God to the individual life. Nowhere is God presented in such close relations with individual life and experience as in the Psalms of David. We have here the precious scriptural doctrine of a special providence. It is objected to this doctrine, that it is derogatory to the greatness of God that He should be thought of as concerning Himself with the minutiae of life. But “great” and “little” are only relative terms. It enhances His greatness that He can comprehend at once the vast and the minute.

The happiness of the man whose God is the Lord. One characteristic of the Psalm is its repose, its serene enjoyment.

The man whose God is the Lord can look hopefully into the future. In order to do this he must be reconciled to God, and regenerated and renewed in the spirit of His mind. (Alexander Field.)

The God of the world as seen by the good

He appears as a Shepherd to the good. Those who follow this Shepherd are truly blest.

1. They are blest with deliverance from the fear of want. “I shall not want,” or as some render it, “I do not want.” The fear of “want” is one of the most disturbing fiends of the human soul. Men are everywhere fearing that they shall lack a something which they regard as vital to their interests, Godliness expels this fear from the human heart by inspiring unbounded confidence in the bountihood of heaven.

2. They are blest with the enjoyment of satisfying good. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” He has allayed my appetite, dispelled my anxieties, satisfied my nature, and caused me to “lie down” amidst the affluence of His love.

3. They are blest in being calmly led along the river of life. He leadeth me beside the still waters.

4. They are blest with the reinvigoration of soul. “He restoreth my soul.” There is a wear and tear of soul as well as of body. The holiest and the strongest angel would soon get exhausted were it left to depend upon itself. God is the strength of all finite intelligences, however pure and strong.

5. They are blest with being divinely conducted into the paths of rectitude. “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness.” There are as many paths of life as there are men. As every star has its own orbit, so every man has his own particular path. No two men can walk in exactly the same way, from the diversity of their faculty and their training. All human paths are of two descriptions, the morally right and the morally wrong; The good man’s path, whether it be that of a labourer, mechanic, artist, poet, philosopher, statesman, king, or preacher, is “a path of righteousness.”

6. They are blest with the moral heroism in their march to eternity. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.” (Homilist.)

The life of faith

Faith’s recognition (Psalms 23:1). “The Lord is my Shepherd.” A spiritual recognition made through the medium of His surroundings, Faith makes the same recognition today. It is an old recognition. It is a comforting recognition. Recognising God as our Shepherd, what an infinitude of tenderness, watchfulness, love, and carefulness that recognition involves! “I shall not want.” This is no guarantee against poverty; because poverty may be, in the Divine estimation, better for us than riches. It is no arrant for indolence or thriftlessness. Work and diligence in it are again and again commended. No want would be universal were it not for these two widespread evils!

Faith’s experience (Psalms 23:2-3; Psalms 23:5). Verse 2 expresses repose rather than feeding. Repose in “pastures of tender grass,” hard by the “waters of quietness.” It is also expressive of satisfaction. “To lie down.” Sheep stand to eat, but lie when filled. Life only finds satisfaction in God; the world is too small to fill the soul. The fulness of the Godhead alone can meet this moral necessity. Verse 3 sets forth restoration and guidance. Leadeth, not driveth. Law drives, love leads. Example is more forceful than command. Eternal footprints He has left on the pathway of virtue, patience, purity, self-sacrifice, benevolence, obedience, that we may plant our feet in them and be as He was in this world. Verse 5 suggests plenty and protection. God gives banquets in unlikely places and at unexpected times.

Faith’s prospect (Psalms 23:4; Psalms 23:6).

1. Celestial attendants all the days of life.

2. Companionship in the shadowed valley. Inspiring confidence and courage; and preventing unrest and disquietude. (J. O. Keen, D. D.)

What the Lord is to the believer

What the Lord is to the believer is here set forth in a poem peculiarly Oriental in imagery. Two figures are employed, the Shepherd and the Host. The one is expressed, the other is implied. Two figures are employed because either alone is inadequate. Each is complemental to the other. The second uniformly is an advance upon the first. Seven suggestions are very prominent.

1. All wants are met in God.

2. All energy and joy are supplied in God.

3. All needed guidance.

4. All blessed companionship.

5. All security.

6. All comfort in sorrow.

7. An abiding place for homeless souls.

All this depends on our faith, whether we can appropriate god and truly say, “my shepherd.” it is curious to notice how the second figure is left to be inferred. Why did not David, in introducing the second part, say, “Jehovah is my Host”? Perhaps because the feelings of this relationship waited to be revealed (John 1:11-12). God is in Christ more than host, and we are more than guests. He is our Father, and we are His sons and daughters. Hence our welcome home, and our dwelling place there. He is ours and we are His, and all that is His is ours, To the Jew He was Shepherd, to the Christian believer He is Father. (Arthur T. Pierson D. D.)

The Shepherd figure for Jesus

“Shepherd.” That precious word for God was uttered first by Jacob--himself once a shepherd--as he lay a-dying in his hieroglyphed chamber; and with the long thoughts of old age went back to the imagery of his early life, speaking of God as having “shepherded him all his life long.” All through the Bible the golden thread runs, until in its closing pages we read of the Lamb who leads His flock to the rivers of the waters of life. The Eastern shepherd occupied quite a unique position towards his flock; and a friendship sprang up between him and the dumb creatures of his care to which there is no counterpart among ourselves. He can do almost as he wills with any of them, going freely in and out amongst them, without exciting the slightest symptom of alarm. Now, all this is true of the Lord Jesus, that Great Shepherd of the sheep.

1. He has a shepherd’s heart, beating with pure and generous love that counted not His life-blood too dear a price to pay down as our ransom.

2. He has a shepherd’s eye, that takes in the whole flock, and misses not even the poor sheep wandering away on the mountains cold.

3. He has a shepherd’s faithfulness, which will never fail nor forsake, nor leave us comfortless, nor flee when He seeth the wolf coming. He has a shepherd’s strength, so that He is well able to deliver us from the jaw of the lion or the paw of the bear.

4. He has a shepherd’s tenderness; no lamb so tiny that He will not carry it, no saint so weak that He will not gently lead, no soul so faint that He will not give it rest. He pities as a father. He comforts as a mother. His gentleness makes great, he covers us with His feathers, soft, warm, and downy, and under His wings do we trust. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

The pasture gate

If David’s shepherd life had furnished nothing else than the materials for this wonderful pastoral ode we should all be inclined to say that no period of David’s history would have compensated the Church for the loss of his shepherd life. Yet the Psalm is not the utterance of the shepherd days, though it perpetuates their memory. This peaceful idyll is a voice out of the maturer life of the Psalmist; a voice that tells that peace and rest of heart depend not upon the absence of life’s burdens, nor on the presence of nature’s tranquillising scenes, but solely upon the shepherding of God. The keynote of the whole song is--God’s servant finds his all in God. He wants nothing. All needs are met for him by that one fact--the Lord is my Shepherd. The problem of life is thus reduced to its very simplest statement. “But one thing is needful.” The possession of all gifts is included in possessing the Father. Then the true end of every man’s life is to become one of God’s flock. And here the figure, while it magnifies the wisdom and tenderness of God, correspondingly depreciates the wisdom of man. The dependence of man upon God must be just as absolute as that of the sheep upon the shepherd. The guidance of the life cannot be shared between God and man, any more than between the shepherd and the sheep. There is a comforting assurance in the comparison of man to a sheep. A sheep is not a wild animal. He is a property. And man is God’s valuable property. The Spirit leads us forth into the pastures.

1. Provision is made for two sides of man’s life in his new relation to God. A godly life, if it be healthful, must be both an active and a contemplative life.

2. Provision is made for restoration. “He restoreth my soul.” Here we see restoration under three phases.

(1) Forgiveness.

(2) Rest and refreshment.

(3) Righteousness or rightness. (Marvin R. Vincent, D. D.)

The Lord a Shepherd

God gives His people nourishment. One of the first duties of an Eastern shepherd was to provide ample pasture for the flock, to lead them hither and thither that plenty might be found. The Lord, as David’s Shepherd, would make provision for his necessities. And not for David only, but for all His people “the Lord will provide.” We have here--

1. A repudiation of naturalism. The advocates of this system maintain that though God made the world and its noblest inhabitant--man, He now feels no interest in the work of His hands. “He is so great,” say they, “that it would be beneath Him to notice the little things of earth or the concerns of man.” The love, compassion, and Fatherly goodness of God are here ignored. A meagre view of the Divine character is this. God is a Shepherd, and will never neglect His flock.

2. A truth to which God has pledged Himself God cares for less important creatures than man: the blade of grass, the lily, the sparrow (Matthew 6:24-34).

That God gives His people protection. It was as really the duty of the shepherd to protect his flock from harm, as to supply them with food. He would even expose himself to danger for the safety of his flock. David did when he grappled with the lion and the bear. God protects His people.

1. The good have enemies--

(1) Numerous.

(2) Cunning.

(3) Powerful.

2. The Great Shepherd is engaged to protect them.

(1) He protects their bodies. He gives “His angels charge,” etc.

(2) He gives spiritual protection. He is--to change the figure--a “Shield,” “a wall of fire,” etc. God is “more than all” who are against His people.

That God gives His people rest. God, as a Shepherd, will give His followers rest.

1. Here. From storm within, and from oppression, etc., without.

2. Hereafter. He will take His own to be in His presence forever.


1. The importance of being “the sheep of His pasture.” Only those who are such have any claim to this provision, protection, and rest.

2. The value of trust in Him who has condescended to sustain to us these gracious relationships. (John Hill.)

The Lord our Shepherd

How He reveals Himself to the sheep.

1. AS the good Shepherd Love (John 10:11)--His death.

2. As the great Shepherd Power (Hebrews 13:20)--His Resurrection.

3. As the chief Shepherd Glory (1 Peter 5:4) Second Advent.

What he does for the sheep. Gives His life for them and to them (Zechariah 13:7; Matthew 26:31; John 10:11; John 10:15; John 10:28). Seeks them out and brings them home (Ezekiel 34:12; Luke 15:4-5). Gathers them and heals them (Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:4). Guides and feeds them (Psalms 23:1-3; John 10:3-4; John 10:9). Protects and preserves them (Job 31:10; John 10:28).

What He expects from the sheep. That they should--

1. Hear His voice (John 10:3).

2. Follow His leading (John 10:4; Matthew 9:9; John 21:22).

3. Rest under His protection (Psalms 23:1-2). (E. H. Hopkins.)

The song of the flock,

View it--

As expressing thankfulness for the past. Jehovah, all-sufficient, has been my Shepherd. Many there are who can see no better law or principle regulating the allotments of their daily life than accident and capricious fortune. They see the shuttles of apparent chance darting hither and thither in the loom of existence. They do not see that the shuttle is in the hands of the Great Artificer. Life is not a mere kaleidoscope.

As implying confidence in the present. Jesus, all-sufficient, is my Shepherd. How blessed thus to repose our present in God, and to say, “Undertake Thou for me.” He does not consult our short-sighted wisdom in what He does. A necessary result of this confidence in the wisdom of God’s shepherd dealings will be contentment with our lot, whatever it is. And if we thus confide in God He will confide in us.

As expressing trust for the future. Jehovah, all-sufficient, shall be my Shepherd. That dark future. How many are speaking of it as such. It is in the Shepherd’s keeping, and we may well leave it there. Let us banish all unholy distrust of the future. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)

The shepherd king of Israel

We do not know at what period of David’s life this Psalm was written, but it sounds as if it were the work of his later years It is very beautiful to see the old king looking back with such vivid and loving remembrance to his childhood’s occupation, and bringing up again to memory in his palace the green valleys, the gentle streams, the dark glens where he had led his flocks in the old days. The faith which looks back and says, It is all very good, is not less than that which looks forward and says, Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. The train of thought in the Psalm is clear and obvious. The Psalm falls into two halves.

The divine shepherd and his leading of His flock. The various methods of God’s leading of His flock, or rather, we should say, the various regions into which He leads them, are described in order. These are rest, work, sorrow.

1. God leads His sheep into rest. The Psalm puts the rest and refreshment first, as being the most marked characteristic of God’s dealings. It is so. The years are years of unbroken continuity of outward blessings. The reign of afflictions is ordinarily measured by days. But it is not mainly of outward blessings that the Psalmist is thinking. They are precious chiefly as emblems of the better spiritual gifts. The image describes the sweet rest of the soul in communion with God, in whom alone the hungry heart finds food that satisfies. This rest and refreshment has for its consequence the restoration of the soul, which includes in it both the invigoration of the natural life by the outward sort of blessings, and the quickening and restoration of the spiritual life by the inward feeding upon God, and repose in Him.

2. God guides us into work. The quiet mercies are not in themselves the end of our Shepherd’s guidance; they are means to an end, and that is--work. Life is not a fold for the sheep to lie down in, but a road for them to walk on. Rest is to fit for work, work is to sweeten rest. All this is emphatically true of the spiritual life. It is not well that our chief object should be to enjoy the consolations of religion; it is better to seek first to do the duties enjoined by religion. Joy in God is the strength of work for God, Rut work for God is the perpetuation of joy in God. Here is the figurative expression of the great evangelical principle, that works of righteousness must follow, not precede, the restoration of the soul. We are justified, not by works, but for works. The basis of obedience is the sense of salvation.

3. God leads His people through sorrow. The “valley of the shadow” means any and every gloomy valley of weeping through which we have to pass. Such sunless gorges as we have all to traverse at some time or other. It is never given to the human heart to meditate of the future without some foreboding. Some evils may come; some will probably come; one at least is sure to come. So there is never pure hope in any heart that wisely considers the future. But to the Christian heart there may be this, the conviction that sorrow, when it comes, will not be evil, because God will be with us. Strange as it may sound, the presence of Him who sends the sorrow is the best help to bear it.

God as the Host, and us as the guests at His table and the dwellers in His house. All is here intensified.

1. God supplies our wants in the very midst of strife. The mercy is more strikingly portrayed as being granted not only before toil, but in warfare. Life is a sore fight; but to the Christian man, in spite of all the tumult, life is a festal banquet. Always the foe; always the table. This is the form under which experience of the past is presented in the second portion--joy in conflict, rest and food even in the strife. Upon that there is built a hope which transcends that in the previous portion of the Psalm. As to this life, “goodness and mercy shall follow us.” Higher than all rises the confidence of the closing words,--“I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This should be at once the crown of all our hopes for the future, and the one great lesson taught us by all the vicissitudes of life. Yonder we sit down with the Shepherd, the Master of the house, at His table in His kingdom. Far off, and lost to sight, are all the enemies. We fear no change; we go no more out. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The Shepherd King of men

Knowledge of God. David believed that all the attributes of the shepherd relation and service belonged to God.

1. God’s intimate acquaintance with us.

2. Intense practical sympathy. Once a clergyman told the wife of a besotted drunkard that the Lord had abandoned her husband to his evil habits. Said she, “Do you say that God has abandoned my husband to his sin? Then it is high time I should stand up for him, and see him through. I will be God for him if God is of your mind.” It was a noble speech from a noble-hearted woman.

3. Disinterestedness. He “giveth His life for the sheep.” What will not a mother do for her child? At its service she puts the whole store of her being. Carry this thought up, as Christ taught us, into the sphere of the infinite, and you will have gained some conception of the disinterested tenderness and unselfish love of God.

Relationship to God. “My Shepherd.” He appropriates God. Learn to use this syllable of endearment, and the blessedness and power of David’s Psalm are at once felt.

Confidence in God. “I shall not want.” If we believe that God is the Shepherd of His people, we must conclude that He will supply all their wants. If we have learnt to call Him “My Shepherd,” then we shall confidently add, “I shall not want.” (George Bainton.)

The Divine Shepherd

What with post and rail fences, and our pride in Southdown, Astrakhan, and Flemish varieties of sheep, there is no use now of the old-time shepherd. Such an one had abundance of opportunity of becoming a poet, being out of doors twelve hours the day, and ofttimes waking up in the night on the hills. If the stars, or the torrents, or the sun, or the flowers, had anything to say, he was very apt to hear it. The Ettrick Shepherd of Scotland, who afterwards took his seat in the brilliant circle of Wilson and Lockhart, got his wonderful poetic inspiration in the ten years in which he was watching the flocks of Mr. Laidlaw. There is often a sweet poetry in the rugged prose of the Scotch shepherd. One of these Scotch shepherds lost his only son, and he knelt down in prayer, and was overheard to say, “O Lord, it has seemed good in Thy providence to take from me the staff of my right hand at the time when to us sand-blind mortals I seemed to be most in need of it; and how I shall climb up the hill of sorrow and auld age without it Thou mayst ken, but I dinna.”

Of the shepherd’s plaid. No splendid apparel, but rough strong apparel fit for his hard work. The Lord our Shepherd coming out to hunt the lost sheep, puts on no regal robe, but the plain garment of humanity. No; in the wardrobe of heaven He left the sandals of light, the girdles of beauty, the robes of power, and put on our besoiled and tattered raiment. The work of saving this world was rough work, rugged work, hard work; and Jesus put on the raiment, the plain raiment, of our flesh. The storms were to beat Him, the crowds were to jostle Him, the dust was to sprinkle Him, the mobs were to pursue Him. O, Shepherd of Israel! leave at home Thy bright array. For Thee, what streams to ford, what nights all unsheltered!

The shepherd’s crook. This was a rod with a curve at the end which, when a sheep was going astray, was thrown over its neck; and in that way it was pulled back. There is no animal that struggles more violently than a sheep when you corner it and catch hold of it. Down the glen I see a group of men around a lost sheep. A ploughman comes along and seizes the sheep, and tries to pacify it; but it is more frightened than ever. A miller comes along, puts down his grist, and caresses the sheep, and it seems as if it would die of fright. After a while someone breaks through the thicket. He says, “Let me have the poor thing.” He comes up and lays his arms around the sheep, and it is immediately quiet. Who is the last man that comes? It is the shepherd. Ah, be not afraid of the Shepherd’s crook. It is never used on you, save in mercy, to pull you back. The hard cold iceberg of trouble will melt in the warm Gulf Stream of Divine sympathy.

The shepherd’s dogs. They watch the straying sheep, and drive them back again. Every shepherd has his dog--from the nomads of the Bible times, down to the Scotch herdsman watching his flocks on the Grampian Hills. Our Shepherd employs the criticisms and persecutions of the world as His dogs. There are those, you know, whose whole work it is to watch the inconsistences of Christians, and bark at them. If one of God’s sheep gets astray, the world howls. It ought to do us good to know that we are thus watched. It ought to put us on our guard. They cannot bite us if we stay near the Shepherd. The more dogs take after you, the quicker you will get to the gate. The bloody muzzle of the papacy hounded fifty million Protestants into glory.

The shepherd pasture grounds. The old shepherds used to take the sheep upon the mountains in the summer, and dwell in the valleys in the winter. It was well for the sheep to be out of doors. Wells were dug for them, and the shepherd led his flock wherever he would: nobody disputed his right. So the Lord our Shepherd has a large pasture ground. He takes us in the summer to the mountains, and in the winter to the valleys. Warm days of prosperity come, and we stand on sun-gilt Sabbaths, and on hills of transfiguration; and we are so high up we can catch a glimpse of the pinnacles of the heavenly city. Then cold wintry days of trouble come, and we go down into the valley of sickness, want, and bereavement, and we say, “Is there any sorrow like unto my sorrow?” But, blessed be God, the Lord’s sheep can find pasture anywhere.

The shepherd’s fold. At shearing time--a very joyful time to all the country round--the sheep were put in a walled enclosure, where they could easily be counted, and any wanting would at once be missed. This was the sheep fold. (T. De Wilt Talmage.)

Jesus as “my” Shepherd

Some time ago a gentleman taking holiday in a rural district came across a little boy minding sheep. The stranger entered into conversation with the lad, and asked him if he knew the 23rd Psalm. The little fellow answered “No.” “Then let me teach you the first sentence,” said, the gentleman. “Say these words after me, ‘The--Lord--is--my--Shepherd!’” The boy repeated the words; “Now repeat each word again, and count a finger as you do so; in this way. And he told off a finger at each of the words. “And when you come to that word my, grip your fourth finger tightly with your other hand, and never forget, my lad, that the Lord is not only a Shepherd but your Shepherd.” The stranger went his way, and the boy told his parents at night of the strange gentleman and his lesson. During the following winter the snow fell heavily in that district. One day the boy and his sheep were missed. They were discovered in a deep drift. After the sheep had been dug out, the search party came upon the dead body of the boy--his left fourth finger tightly grasped in his right hand. Now the sequel. A distinguished Baptist minister was quite recently preaching Sunday school anniversary sermons in a northern town. Not far from the chapel lived the M.P. for the district. He was rich toward man, but not rich toward God. He had a great fondness for hearing children’s voices; and when he heard of the anniversary services he decided to attend the afternoon meeting for the children. The preacher told the simple story given above and presently the service ended. During the following days the rich man was taken ill, and died somewhat suddenly. When the doctors came to examine him, they found him already dead, and clasping his left fourth finger with his right hand. Not in vain did the stranger teach the shepherd lad; not in vain did the preacher tell the simple child’s, story; not in vain is the sequel, now printed. Let every, one who reads this remember as he goes through life that “The Lord is my Shepherd.”


This name Jehovah is, as I may so speak, the most eminent of all the names of God; it carries that in it which is all in all, and, as it were, above all; namely, the verity or fidelity of God, making good all His goodness to us. The Hebrews make it to be an invariable and ineffable name, and it hath no pronouns affixed unto it, nor doth it admit any demonstrating article before it, and it wants the number of multitude; it is a name singular and proper to God. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

The properties of a good shepherd

1. One is science: I am the Good Shepherd, and know My sheep, saith Christ (John 10:14). A skilful knowledge, by which he must understand how to handle them or deal with them.

2. A second is providence. The good shepherd provideth pasture and water for the sheep, and always that which is wholesome, lest the sheep rot and die; as he is not negligent that the sheep want feeding, so he is diligent that they have wholesome feeding (Ezekiel 34:13). The Lord will provide sufficient pasture, and the best too.

3. A third is guidance, He doth not leave them to the misguidance of sin or Satan, or the world, or their own hearts.

4. A fourth is vigilance. The sheep are weaponless, weak, unarmed creatures, and they have many and strong enemies, as the lion and the wolf and the dog. Jacob watched night and day (Genesis 31:40). Such a Shepherd is God over His people; His eye is ever over them (1 Peter 3:12).

5. To which, as a part, may be added defence. He is my defence, saith David (Psalms 59:9). The Prophet Zachary calls Him a wall of fire round about His people (Zechariah 2:5).

6. The good shepherd does not only provide pasture but coverture also for the sheep: he hath his shady places from the sun, and retiring places from the storms, to refresh, as well as to flesh the sheep (Psalms 121:5).

7. A seventh property of a good shepherd is tender prudence, for in a flock of sheep there is great diversity: one part may be strong sheep, and they are driven; another part may be weak lambs, and they are sometimes carried by the shepherd. Some of the sheep may be sound and well, others may be diseased; some keep in better, others are more apt to stray (Isaiah 40:11).

8. Lastly, diligence and care, lest any one sheep be lost and perish. The good shepherd would not lose any of the least of all the flock. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

Choice properties of sheep

1. One property in them (which the Scripture doth express) is obedience (John 10:4).

2. Another property of sheep is meekness and patience.

3. A third property of sheep is usefulness.

4. A fourth property of sheep is unity and peaceableness. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

The chiefest Shepherd to be yours

But more particularly thus, you have--

(1) A most wise Shepherd.

(2) You have a most tender Shepherd; and as He is tender in corrections, so in His directions (Genesis 33:13).

(3) You have a most faithful Shepherd; One who will never intermit His care over you.

(4) You have the most loving Shepherd; He loves you with the highest degrees of love in all kinds.

(5) Lastly, you have the most rewardful Shepherd. Have you such a Shepherd as Jehovah? Then be counselled in a few particulars.

1. Be contented with His pasture. God is pleased to feed us sometimes in the valleys with much plenty, variety, ease, delight; and sometimes, again, He is pleased to drive us to the mountains, to a shorter, sharper condition of life; if we be His sheep, we must be still contented with His pasture.

2. Carefully regard His voice.

3. Thrive under His feedings.

4. Cleave together as the flock of one shepherd. The wolf, it is his property to scatter the flock, and then to make a prey of one after another.

5. Lastly, if God be your Shepherd, then be not disquieted at His dealings with you. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

I shall not want.--

A trustful confidence

The confidence was well grounded.

1. You shall not want a guardian; I will protect you.

2. You shall not want a justifying righteousness, by which you may have a good right and title to a place in My kingdom.

3. You shall not want a meetness for the kingdom of glory. I will make you free from the accursed bonds of sin.

4. You shall not want persevering grace. I, who have “begun a good work in you, will perform it.”

5. You shall not want spiritual refreshment.

6. You shall not want needful support. The world shall not overcome you. You shall gain the victory over its smiles and frowns. The Great Shepherd will crown you with His loving kindness forever. (J. Jennings.)

The Divine supply of human want

Then the useful application of all this unto ourselves.

In what sense the assertion is to be understood.

1. There are two sorts of things: some which do conduce to make the condition good and happy; others which do serve to make the condition smooth and delightful. As about an house there are pillars and rafters, etc., which are the bones, as it were, and absolute ingredients; and there are the varnishings and paintings which do set forth the house. Or, as in a garden, there are profitable fruits, and there are pleasant flowers only to look on and smell. So it is with us: there are some things which make our hearts truly good, and tend to our everlasting salvation; there are other things which do only serve to cheer and refresh us in our passage. Now, when David saith, I shall not want, they conjecture this to be the sense: Nothing shall be wanting to me which concerns the making of my estate truly happy; though delightfuls may be wanting, yet principals shall not.

2. Some things are

(1) redundant,

(2) necessary.

Those things are redundant without which a man may well pass over his condition of life. As a man may well serve God, though he have not an estate of riches or honour comparable to another, or always equal to itself. Those things are necessary without which a person cannot well serve God, as our daily bread, for which Christ would have us to pray: our bodies cannot be fitted to duty without these external necessary supplies of food and raiment. Even a good man, a David, may want superfluities; his table may not he variously furnished, nor his garments gaudily embroidered, nor his coffers excessively stuffed and piled. But yet he shall not want necessaries, though he be not sure of plenty, yet of enough (Isaiah 33:16). He doth not say his wines are sure, but his waters; and he doth not say his feast, but his bread shall not fail. Though he hath not always what he needs not, yet he shall have always what is needful. Though he hath not the lace, yet he hath the garment; though he hath not the sauce, yet he hath the meat; though he hath not the palace, yet he hath the chamber; though he hath not the softness, yet he hath the bed; though he hath not what he may spare, yet he hath what he may use,

3. Of necessary things, some are desirable, and some seasonable. Those things are desirable which have any kind of good in them; those things are seasonable which have a kind of conveniency or fitness in them. It is granted that there are many desirable goods which a good man hath not many times. Yet no seasonable good shall he want: When health is good for him, Hezekiah shall recover; when liberty is good for him, Joseph shall be loosed; when favour and dignity are good for him, then David shall return and be settled. It is good for me, saith David, that I was afflicted. A good man may want this thing and that thing, but he shall not want anything that is good, nor when it may be good for him.

4. Again, divines say that good things may be had two ways, either explicitly: when a person enjoyeth the individual or particular things (suppose health, strength, liberty, friends, and other comforts); interpretatively, when a person enjoyeth that which is equivalent to those things (a citizen may not have a garden, a farm, sheep or oxen, yet he hath thousands in his purse which are equivalent to all these). Thus do they say of a good man, that either he enjoyeth the very particular good things which he needs, or else those things which are equivalent to them, nay, far exceeding of them. Though he cannot have much lands, yet he hath many graces; though he cannot have the countenance of men, yet he hath the favour of God; though he cannot enjoy quiet abroad, yet he settleth peace within his conscience. He that hath but one diamond may have far more than he who hath a thousand stones digged out of the quarry.

5. You must distinguish ‘twixt absence and ‘twixt indigence. Absence is when something is not present; indigence or want is when a needful good is not present. If a man were to walk, and had not a staff, here were something absent; if a man were to walk, and had but one leg, here were something whereof he were indigent. It is confessed that there are many good things which are absent from a good person, but no good thing which he wants or is indigent of. If the good be absent, and I need it not, this is not want; he that walks without his cloak walks well enough, for he needs it not.

6. There are two sorts of wants: in some part of the condition, in the heart and affection; as a man may abound in his condition, and yet want in that of his affection. He may have abundance in honour, in estate, in wealth, and yet through an endless covetousness and vain discontent he may be in want, still complaining, murmuring, craving. So a man may want something in his external condition, and yet abound and not want in that of his inward affection. Though he hath not the outward thing, yet he wants it not, for he is contented with the absence of it.

7. Lastly, you must distinguish ‘twixt real wants and imaginary wants,--a want to the person and a want to the corruption: a child is sometimes clamorous for a knife, and sometimes he cries for bread; when he cries for bread his father ariseth and fetcheth the loaf, the child shall not want bread; but when he cries for the knife this he shall not have, the father will not satisfy his wantonness, though he will supply his wants. Our corruptions are still craving, and they are always inordinate; they can fled more wants than God needs to supply. God will see that His people shall not want, but withal He will never engage Himself to the satisfying of their corruptions, though He doth to the supply of their conditions. It is one thing what the sick man wants, another what his disease wants. Your ignorance, your discontents, your pride, your unthankful hearts may make you to believe that you dwell in a barren land, far from mercies (as melancholy makes a person to imagine that he is drowning, or killing, etc.), whereas if God did open your eyes as He did Hagar’s, you might see fountains and streams, mercies and blessings sufficient; though not many, yet enough; though not so rich, yet proper and every way convenient for your good and comfort.

How far the verity of this assertion extends, whether to soul and body, to spirituals and temporals. I answer briefly, it holds firm of both; both soul and body are the object of Divine providence and of Divine love, and both of them are serviceable to Divine glory.

1. That the soul shall not want, the Scriptures are abundant. It shall have grace and glory: there is redemption for it, righteousness for it, sanctification for it, and salvation; there is the Word to help it, the Sacraments to help it, afflictions to help it, and the Spirit of God still to help it--

(1) to justifying grace,

(2) to sanctifying grace,

(3) to strengthening and assisting grace,

(4) to comforting and refreshing grace: you shall never want proper comforts, nor seasonable.

2. That the body shall not want in respect of temporals; take them in any kind, and as suitable, and necessary, and seasonable. How it may appear that the people of God shall not want, and why.

(1) It may appear by a series of experimental instances.

(2) It may appear by the wonderful supplies of God unto His people rather than they should want; sometimes God hath created helps unto them--manna in the wilderness.

(3) Shall not heaven and earth pass away before any one word of God doth fail?

(4) Fourthly, consider His present donations.

(5) His special affection to His people.

(6) His singular relations. The Lord is to His people as a father to his children (2 Corinthians 6:18).

(7) Lastly, take the acquaintances and acknowledgments of all the servants of God that they have made unto the Lord and delivered under their own hands (Genesis 32:1).

But now it is objected against all this, that there are no people in the world that are in such want as the people of God for outward things. You know that all these outward things are promised not peremptorily, but

(1) with condition, if good for them;

(2) with exception of the Cross.

Now I come to the application of this point to ourselves. Shall not the flock or people of God want? Then you who take yourselves to be the people of His pasture, give ear and hearken this day unto two things.

1. Your sins: That you suffer your hearts so to be cracked with fears, and your minds to be filled with cares. Thou hast no reason at all to conclude that thou shalt want. Consider, what hath God been unto thee already? What is the nature of God for the present: Is He like man, that He should change? Was He God all-sufficient? is He not so still? thy loving and compassionate God? is He not so still? thy almighty God? is He not so still? Is He deceitful? or is His band shortened? Doth He cease to be God, or to be thy God? If the fountain still lives and runs, why shouldest thou imagine to die by thirst? If the sun still shines, why shouldest thou fancy nothing but darkness? What is the promise of God for the future? Thou hast all the reason in the world to conclude that thou shalt not want, when thou considerest that fulness, infinite fulness which is in God. But Divine goodness is such a common as cannot be overlaid: though there be not water enough for a few ships in the river, yet there is water and room enough for all the ships in the world on the sea. That great God who feeds a whole world every day, He is able enough to sustain thee all thy days. That willingness that is in God to do thee good.

2. Your duty: To be humbled for vexatious cares and fears, and then to cast your care on God. The motives, which shall be drawn--From the evil inconveniences of not trusting on the Lord your Shepherd to supply your wants. They are very many. It is a dishonourable thing not to cast your care on the Lord.

(1) You do dishonour to God.

(2) Your holy profession: how apt are people to fasten all miscarriages of godly men upon godliness itself.

(3) It is an unpeaceable thing: you lose all your peace until ye can rest upon God by faith for your supplies.

(4) It is a prejudicial thing.

(5) It is a very sinful thing: of all sins unbelief is one of the greatest, and a causeless unbelief is the greatest of all.

There are three things in God, whereof if a man be ignorant he will be much in cares and fears of want.

1. One is God’s fulness. If he apprehends not a fulness in all and every of God’s attributes, his soul will fear and care. If I conceive that God is fully able to supply one want, and not many, or many of my wants, but not all, or all my personal wants, but not my domestical wants; all my wants heretofore when I was a single person, but not all now, when my charge increaseth and multiplies by children and servants. He who thus conceives of God, no more than of a half God, of a God of the valleys and not of the mountains, one who can supply low and mean, but not high and great wants; few and not many wants, former wants, but not present, present but not future wants, extremely mistakes the fountain of supplies, and must necessarily be tossed and crucified with perpetual waves and darts of rolling fears and cutting cares.

2. God’s affectionateness.

3. God’s immutability or unchangeableness. David reasoneth so in this place. Jehovah is my Shepherd, I shall not want. The Lord is my God, He hath undertaken for me all my life, therefore I am not solicitous. Christians are exceeding faulty in this, to make sure of God, and yet it is the way to make sure all His mercies. The mathematicians must have some principles granted unto them, and if once you assent unto those truths they will thence infer many infallible and undeniable conclusions. Among Christians this should be a principle made firm that God is their God, and then they may quietly sit down, and confidently conclude all comforts for soul and body. Be diligent in your callings. He who eats the bread of idleness, may well resolve to drink the waters of carefulness. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

The Lord our Shepherd

The relations subsisting between man and the lower animals play no insignificant part in the formation of human character and the discipline of human life. No relations appeal to heart and imagination more than those of shepherd and sheep. The emblem is dear to us yet, even to the dwellers in town and city. The emblem is dearer still, because it has been confirmed and hallowed by the lips of One greater than David.

We want nourishment. Body, mind, spirit, each need this.

We want refreshment. The shepherd brings his flock to the “waters.” As pasturage is an emblem of that which nourishes, so water is an emblem of all that refreshes. The difference between the pleasures which the devil gives and those which the Lord gives, is just this--the former intoxicate, but these exhilarate. Think of all the pleasure of simple, innocent recreation--of nature, music, poetry, and art; of friendship and the pure affections of the home. Let us never forget that the rapids and the cataract are sometimes only farther down in the very same stream, beside the still waters of which the Lord is leading His people. There is a boundary beyond which lawful pleasure passes into lawless.

We want rest. The shepherd makes the flock lie down in some cool, shady place. So every night the Lord maketh us to lie down. And He provides rest for the soul also. There is too little repose in the life of most of us. Too much bustle, too much impatience.

We want guidance. Often we are perplexed as to what is our right path; and when we have found it we are liable to go astray.

We want restoration. From sickness and from wilfulness. He restores when we are weak and weary.

We want the comfort of protection. Through the hilly gorge--even through death. (T. Campbell Finlayson.)

David’s confidence in the prospect of the future

The grounds of David’s freedom from anxiety are--

The relation in which the Lord stands to him. It is not the mere utterance of a promise, but his recollection of the fact that the Lord is his Shepherd. Now, in order to see God sustaining such gracious character towards us, we need--

1. A view of God as a gracious God; One who is gracious to sinners. This we can only know as we see Him in Christ.

2. And we must know this gracious God to be err God.

God’s presence with him. “Thou art with me.” We ]nay think little of this presence, but the godly man thinks much, and has habitually this recollection in his mind.

God’s present mercies. Probably David was thinking more of spiritual mercies than of temporal. He notices--

1. Their abundance.

2. The safety with which he enjoys them.

3. The strange circumstances under which these mercies were enjoyed, “in the presence of mine enemies.”

4. The honour which the Lord puts on him while blessing him, “Thou anointest my head with oil.” After having reviewed these mercies which he enjoys, he ends by making the inference that all his (lays goodness and mercy shall follow him. My Shepherd will be with me on earth, and take me at last to heaven. (C. Bradley, M. A.)

Verse 2

Psalms 23:2

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.

The green pastures

The image, so clear and beautiful in itself, is singularly forcible and suggestive in relation to our inner life. Is not the background of the picture true to the facts which we everywhere witness around us, and the needs and aspirations we have felt within us? How much there is in life to remind us of the long tracts of desert sand, the fierce and scorching rays of the sun, the lassitude and ennui of worn-out and wearied hearts. Without attempting to push the details of the imagery to excess, we may assert that the green pastures and still waters find their counterpart in the truths and doctrines of Scripture, in the ordinances of the Gospel, and the means of grace established for our sustenance and growth. For permanent comfort and strength we are dependent upon the revelations of the Divine Word. God Himself is the source of our satisfaction and peace. When our hearts, “ceasing from self,” can stay themselves upon Him, and find in their obedience to His will the great purpose, and in their consciousness of His approval the great reward, of their life; when, moreover, we can look forward to complete assimilation to, and eternal fellowship with, Him in heaven,--it is only then that we can realise the expressive image of the text, and “lie down in green pastures, and beside the still waters.” To these resting places God leads us, even on earth. (James Stuart.)

The oases of life

These sentences do not describe the regular and uninterrupted experience of those who follow the Great Shepherd. They are by no means always reclining in green pastures, nor being conducted by the restful waters. Moreover, life after such a pattern would be entirely unsatisfactory and insufficient. Green pastures and still waters would prove an unspeakable curse if life contained nothing else for us. How soon we should grow weak and indolent and useless. The text refers to the occasional privilege rather than to the common experience of the sheep of His flock. David was passing through a time of sorrow, want, and wandering. And if the way of your life often seems to lie through the desert, you need not lose heart and hope. Following God’s guidance, you will not be denied needful refreshment and rest. God will bring you to the oasis where the quiet waters lie, and the grass is fresh and green. He will discover to you some peaceful hour, some shady nook, some prepared table, where the soul may be refreshed and renewed. It would be easy to enlarge upon the many privileged occasions which, in our wilderness life, answer to “green pastures and still waters.” Everything that brings relief from the ordinary pressure of daily life and revives the drooping spirits may be so regarded. Music, friendship, and religious privileges are as still waters. And it is hardly possible to overestimate the worth of a wisely spent summer holiday. As far as in us lies, and especially in opportunities afforded by the summer holiday, let us search out the green pastures and the still waters, and “reap the harvest of a quiet eye.” (G. Edward Young.)

Spiritual rest

Three things are needed ere sheep or human spirits can rest.

A consciousness of safety. Who can rest so long as eternal destinies lie uncertainly in the balance? Against this our Shepherd Jesus has provided. He has Himself met the great adversary of our souls, and has forever broken his power.

Sufficiency of food. A hungry sheep will not lie down. The shepherd who can provide it with plenty of good pasturage will soon bring the most restless animal to lie contentedly. We can never rest so long as the hunger of the spirit is unappeased and its thirst unslaked. There is no answer to the unrest of the inward man until the voice of Jesus is heard saying, “He that cometh to Me shall never hunger.” The Word of God may be compared to green pastures. There are many spiritual realities corresponding to the waters of rest.

Obedience to the shepherd’s lead. The tenderest shepherd cannot bring the flock to rest unless they follow him. This test of following the Shepherd’s lead is most important. It is by no means wonderful that we lose our rest when we run hither and thither, following the devices and desires of our own hearts. We substitute our plans for His. We do not look up often enough to see which way He is going, and what He would have us do. Ann so our rest is broken. We must follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

Green pastures

Man’s want of green pastures. In this hustling world it is difficult to enjoy a pleasant repose. The hard-working servant of the community, whether it be by hands or by brain that he chiefly performs his part, is apt not only to feel a strong necessity for rest, but to pant and sigh for a more retired and soothing kind of rest than his position often permits him to attain.

The discovery of green pastures.

The experience of green pastures. It is one thing to behold the picture of a rich and fertile pastureland; it is another thing to be in actual contact with richness and fertility in the locality of our dwelling place. The Psalmist refers, not to one pasture only, but to pastures. The field of enjoyment to which Jesus introduces the once wandering soul is extensive. The provision of the field is various. When brought to be at peace with God, through the blood of the Cross, the soul is set in a large place. The power, the wisdom, and the goodness of the Almighty have prepared innumerable sources of pleasure for His intelligent creatures. The treasures furnished by Divine loving kindness are inexhaustible.

The expectation of green pastures in greater and more abundant measure. Experience of past love is the strongest foundation for the anticipation of future love. He that maketh me to lie down in green pastures is the very One from whose power I may hereafter expect a provision of green pastures in larger varieties and in greater richness. (H. Wellwood Moncreiff, D. D.)

The Guardian care of God

Divine provision for needed rest. The picture presented is that of happy satisfaction and calm delight. Even for timid sheep all sense of danger is gone, and the whole aspect of the flock speaks of peace, quiet, repose. It tells of a soul in harmony with God, passion hushed, discord in the unruly will, and the struggle of sinful desire destroyed.

Divine provision for appropriate sustenance. “Pastures of grass, and waters of quietness.” Supply not only sufficient, but suitable for the needs of the flock. It answers to the Gospel--the good tidings of God and from God, a proclamation of what God is, and how God feels towards us. Says George Eliot,--“The first condition of human goodness is something to love, the second, something to reverence.” In the character of our Lord Jesus Christ we have that which inspires both love and reverence.

Divine provision for renewal of strength. Few creatures are more helpless than sheep. The thought of God as physician to His flock brings Him into most intimate and close relationship.

Divine provision for active service. He will lead, and it will always be in righteousness. No guarantee for character like that of God’s leadings. Character is not predestinated. It is won by achievement, and it will be won if we follow where God leads. “For His name’s sake”--that is the secret of all His kindness, and it is the secret of our consecration. (George Bainton.)

The green pastures and still waters where the flock are fed

Here we have the ample supply of grace afforded to the believer in the new covenant, to meet all his spiritual wants.

The idea of rest and security. “Lie down.” The pasture is indicative of perfect repose. The life of man is a constant striving after rest and satisfaction. True rest can be found in God alone.

The idea of abundant provision. It is not one piece of pasture ground that is spoken of, but pastures. There is no scant supply. And what diversity there is in God’s spiritual provision for His people! Grace for all times and every time “Still waters.” These words convey, under another figure and symbol, a description of the same calm and hallowed repose, secured to the believer, which the Psalmist had in his mind in the preceding clause. This is an inland river, a quiet, gentle stream. Here, too, as in the former figure, we have the abundance of God’s mercies set forth; not only varied pastures, but varied waters. We have streams of peace, of purity, of pardon, of sanctification,--all exceeding great and precious. Conclude with the reflection suggested by both clauses, that religion is happiness. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)

Pastures that please as well as feed

Not only He hath green pastures to lead me into, which shows His ability, but He leads me into them, which shows His goodness. He leads me not into pastures that are withered and dry, that would distaste me before I taste them; but He leads me into green pastures, as well to please my eye with the verdure as my stomach with the herbage, and inviting me, as it were, to eat, by setting out the meat in the best colour. A meat though never so good, yet if it look not handsomely, it dulls the appetite; but when besides the goodness it hath also a good look, this gives the appetite another edge, and makes a joy before enjoying. But yet the goodness is not altogether in the greenness. Alas, green is but a colour, and colours are but deceitful things: they might be green leaves, or they might be green flags or rushes; and what good were to me in such a greenness? No, my soul, the goodness is in being green pastures, for now they perform as much as they promise; and as in being green they were a comfort to me as soon as I saw them, so in being green pastures they are a refreshing to me now as soon as I taste them. (Sir Richard Baker.)

Good pasturage

1. Here is fulness (pastures and waters). Pastures alone are not enough for sheep, but they must have waters too.

2. Here is goodness. Though there be pastures, yet if they be not wholesome, the sheep are not fed, but destroyed by them. Not mere pastures, but green pastures; not mere waters, but still waters are provided here for David.

3. Here is well-pleasedness.

That God doth provide enough, or sufficiently for His people.

That as God provides a full estate, so the best estate for His flock or people. Pastures which are green, and waters which are still. To omit many things there is a threefold estate of God’s people:

(1) Their spiritual estate;

(2) their glorious estate;

(3) their temporal estate.

That the condition of the godly is much better than the men of this world do judge it. Godliness is no parched wilderness, no barren heath, nor like the mountains of Gilboa: it hath the greenest pastures, and the stillest waters. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

Repose in life

Here is a promise, then, to the weary, of repose. Thank God this is not an age of idleness. Can we equally say, thank God this is not an age of repose? It is almost the prevailing stamp which defines the character of the present day--its restlessness. Call it, if you will, impatience; call it hurry. Certainly, whatever is the opposite to repose. It is just the same wherever we look. Politics, religion, social movements, are all whirled along, catching up in their gusty flight whatever is on the surface, whatever is light and movable, one scheme sweeping on the dust of another, as if men had imbibed the creed which proclaims, “Whatever is, is wrong, and therefore the opposite to the present system, whatever is, is right.” How much there is around us and about us to think of, if only we would be still! The world is eloquent with parables on every side; the walls of our daily environment are hung with pictures. The sower as he sows is also preaching; the lilies as they grow, the ravens as they fly,--all are our teachers. How much there is to observe, as naturalists alone will tell us, to our shame, if we are only patient and ready to watch! And, besides the pastures of our daily experience, there are the deep cool pastures of good books, with a ready supply for our need; above all, there is the Holy Spirit, ever shedding His freshening dew on the daily events of our common life. What can we expect, if we never meditate, if we never think, if we never read; if there is no repose and no green pasture, but only such hurried nibbling of roadside verbiage and well-worn platitudes as lie along the dusty track of our daily routine? If the pastures of God are green because they are fresh, they are also green because they are sheltered. Around them is the protecting hedge of God’s Law. God’s service is the service of perfect freedom, where to admit any taint of sinfulness is to admit weariness and distastefulness. Let us try, then, and gain some repose in the midst of this weary restlessness. Repose, if possible, in our methods; for God works slowly, and to work together with Him means to work slowly also. Let us gain repose in our daily spiritual life. Restlessness is at the bottom of many hasty actions, which end in flying in the face of God’s good providence for us. The restlessness of unsettled belief, the restlessness of no belief, are the punishments which await the neglect of spiritual repose. These green pastures are no luxury of religion; they are a necessity of life. Each day must have its Nazareth of devotion, as life has its own Nazareth of subjection in childhood.

Another note which rings out clearly in this verse, is peace. “He maketh me to lie down . . . He leadeth me.” How sadly the soul needs peace--peace in His felt presence! The world is sown with trouble, but still “He maketh me to lie down . . . He leadeth me.” Panting and affrighted, and doubtful of ourselves, He makes us lie down, He feeds us, He leads us on, where the temptation at one time had seemed likely to kill us. Peace rises out of their furious onslaught, or their petty annoyance. And yet how often little troubles seem to have power to vex and irritate us, even more than great ones!--such things as distraction, interruption, accident, disappointment; so many barriers put in our path to deflect us into duty, so many obstacles to provoke our peevish ill-will. Let us cheerfully recognise that, if the Good Shepherd is leading us, there is no such thing as accident. Trifles may very easily interfere with our peace of mind; but they may also be God’s messengers to teach us to cast away all appearance of grumbling and fretfulness, and if an obstacle arise in our ministry, to recognise that it is of the Holy Ghost.

And yet there is a third note which swells up in the triple harmony of this verse; and that is, comfort. “In the multitude of the sorrows that I had in my heart: Thy comforts have refreshed my soul.” “The waters of quietness” have become in one version of the Psalm, which is very dear to us, “the waters of comfort.” (W. C. E. Newbolt, M. A.)

He leadeth me beside the still waters.--

Still waters

Still waters are distasteful to the worldly spirit. Men of the world seek for novelty and excitement, but their pleasures dry up like a summer brook. The edge of appetite gets dulled, and he succeeds best who can give fresh keenness to the world’s appetite. Still waters? No! These to worldly hearts would be misery. We can, however, often see behind all these brilliances of earth. Within, there is an aching, dying soul.

Still waters make us hear the voice of our Saviour. Sometimes silence itself is rest.

Still waters are not stagnant waters. They are deep, pure, living, flowing. The waters are living waters. True of the Bible.

Still waters are in the keeping of Christ. The Shepherd has beforehand surveyed the mountains and the plains. What road are we to take when there seems no path? Amid the broken debris of rocks the Shepherd leads the way.

Still waters are with us all the journey through. “Beside” them. The path and the waters go together. We may miss some joys, they are temporary--suited to certain tastes and eras in our life. The curtain has fallen over them. Can that photograph represent your childhood? Can you ever live again as once you did? As the rivers from their simple fountain--along their broadening course--flow into the sea, so these other “waters” lead on to the great ocean of immortality. Listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd. Human hearts hungry for the sacrament of truth hear Him. By the still waters of meditation and Scripture and prayer, we make silence in our hearts for Him. (W. M. Statham.)

Beside the still waters

God’s chosen ways of working in the physical world are not wholly of the sudden and violent sort. Storm and earthquake and flood have undoubtedly played their part; but God seems to work, by preference, slowly and in silence. The same is true in the moral world. It is indeed difficult to overestimate the force of a great soul. It is well to remember that not all dislocating and disturbing spirits put forth any true claim to greatness. One indeed speaks what the many feel; but his word is with power because of the dumb aspirations stirring in many breasts, and a universal emotion which has not yet found expression. And this is even more the case with regard to moral operations of a quieter and less signal, though hardly less important kind; forces which do not so suddenly change the world, as keep it sweet and pure, and perhaps, in the course of ages, urge it a little nearer the throne of God. A father’s integrity; a mother’s sweet goodness; the quiet air of a happy home; a domestic courage and patience, at which you have looked very closely, and whose every line and lineament you know; some ancestral saintliness, which is a household tradition, and no more, but which has never withered in the fierce light of public estimate,--these things have inspired and nourished your nobler part. They are the refreshing dew and the fertilising rain, the restful night, and the kindling day of God’s moral world. We insist too much on our own estimate of small and great in the moral world, forgetting that any single fact or individual life is but one link in an endless chain of causes and consequences, of which we ought to know the whole before we can rightly estimate a part. No mistake can be greater than to suppose that all the world’s best work is done by the eloquent tongue and the busy hand. God Himself provides a diversity of work for His own purposes; but God tempers His weapons in His own way. (C. Beard, B. A.)

Still waters

You have, I daresay, often seen a stream rising up on the mountain side, amid rocks and ferns and twisted roots, and the short, sweet herbage of the hill. With many a playful plunge and headlong leap it finds its way to the valley, and as it pursues its course passes through various scenes. So flows our life. Now in sunshine, now in shadow, now torn by strife and doubt, and now reposing by the quiet waters of rest. The variety adds to our moral healthfulness and vigour. Few lives have been more varied than that of David. The extremity of danger and even the dread of death he knew, as well as the heights of success and the intoxicating sweets of power. In firm faith upon a Divine and unchanging love he had found the quietness and assurance of which he speaks. There are times when rest seems the one thing we most long for. As when--

In the conflict of doubt. Faith is difficult in our day. There are two ways in which a man may seek rest--one by thorough examination of the ground of his faith; the other by trusting those feelings which carry us beyond reason; to faith which sees and hears God where reason cannot.

Under conviction of sin. This is a dread experience. But it would be good for many to know it who now lead a smooth and easy life, sailing merrily over sunny seas. There is much in the Bible to awaken such conviction of sin--the Divine wrath, the severity of Christ. It is when we see Christ as Saviour, we have rest.

In suffering and loss. But rest in God is possible. And this happy condition of mind is to be cultivated by meditation, worship, prayer, and communion with God. (P. W. Darnton, B. A.)

Still waters

And now see the great goodness of this Shepherd, and what just cause there is to depend upon His providence; for He lets not His sheep want, but He leads them “beside still waters”; not waters that roar and make a noise enough to fright a fearful sheep, but waters still and quiet, that though they drink but little, yet they may drink that little without fear. (Sir Richard Baker.)

Verse 3

Psalms 23:3

He restoreth my soul.

The restoration of the soul

1. It implies the quickening and invigoration of the soul in seasons of depression and exhaustion. A sheep may languish from internal weakness and disorder, and may need the application of medicinal restorations. So the soul may suffer from its inherent liabilities to weakness and weariness, and mistrust of God, and from its inability to rest calmly and in good faith upon the precious promises of His Word. At such times, He who has hitherto sustained us will act as a wise and good physician, and restore us to health and vigour.

2. The distemper of which we complain is in truth a form of sin, and has its source in a declining faith, and in a relaxed hold on God. The main feature of the restoration implies the wandering of the sheep from the pasture and the fold. Thank God there has been revealed to us a love which is not measured by our merits, and which our needs cannot exhaust; a love which bears with us tenderly and patiently in the midst of all unfaithfulness; a love stronger than death--many waters cannot quench it. In our wildest and most distant wanderings the eye of God wistfully follows our course, nor will He suffer our disloyalty and ingratitude to baffle His purpose of mercy, or sunder the ties that bind us to Him. (James Stuart.)

Happy restoration

Restoration, like conversion, is the work of God. Who can convert a sinner? God only. Who can restore a backslider? The Almighty alone.

The means God employs to bring the backslider to repentance. Anyone who has tried to deal with a backslider knows how difficult it is.

1. He uses memory (Matthew 26:75); of warnings; of promises.

2. He reveals Himself as unchangeable.

3. Makes known His faithfulness.

4. His tenderness (John 6:37).

Thy way of return.

1. It is a way of humility.

2. Of prayer.

3. Of distinct renunciation of evil.

4. The return must be whole-hearted and unreserved.

I would say, however, do not try to work yourself into a certain state of feeling, or, as an old writer has said, “Do not go on spinning repentance, as it were, out of your own bowels, bringing it with you to Christ, instead of coming to Him by faith to receive it from Him.” Of the exact nature of your feelings you never can be a proper judge. But this I would urge, look your sin steadily in the face; judge it as in the presence of God; consider it in the light of His warnings and promises, His exhibition of Himself, and His former dealings with you. Ask that you may see it as He sees it, and in all self-loathing and self-renunciation cast yourself afresh at the feet of Jesus.

The joyous experience of the restored. Pardon is enjoyed, Life realised. Peace. Zeal and rest in work. And all heightened by contrast. (W. P. Lockhart.)

Restoring the soul

The soul is the chief part of man; it is the offspring of God. All that relates to it must therefore be full of interest.

A painful fact implied. The soul may wander. All have done so, but even the converted may wander, foolishly, perilously, without power to return,--and all this through sin.

A pleasing truth expressed. “He restoreth,” etc. We cannot do this of ourselves. The Lord restoreth--to real safety, to prosperity and enjoyment. He does this by various means--by affliction, by mercies heaped upon us; by His Word; through the ministry of the Gospel, and chiefly by the power of the Holy Spirit. In all this He displays wisdom, power, compassion.

The obligations which result. Penitence, gratitude, watchfulness, dependence. You who are strangers to this restoring grace, take heed, think, pray, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. (T. Kidd.)

The soul restorer

What are the several methods or ways wherein the soul of a converted Christian may be oppressed and made to droop on languish?

1. Conscientious apprehensions of sinful guilt.

2. Insolent operation of sinful principles.

3. Incessant assaults of temptation.

4. Ample and more permanent desertions.

5. Near and strong afflictions.

How doth God refresh and bear up comfortably the soul that languisheth under any of those kinds of oppressures?

1. By His Word. This was that which quickened David in his afflictions, and kept him from fainting (Psalms 19:7).

2. By His Spirit. Who is therefore styled the Comforter, because He doth restore joy and cheerfulness.

3. By faith. This is the great restorer of life to any oppressed Christian.

Why doth the Lord restore life, as it were, and comfort unto the souls of His people?

1. Necessity on their part. Sense of sin is a heavy thing.

2. Goodness of compassion on God’s part.

3. Fidelity and truth in God.

4. His affections are much towards oppressed, and distressed, and languishing souls.

Consider a few particulars,

1. Soul oppressions are very painful. The soul is the seat of sweetest comfort or deepest sadness. A little thing in the eye will trouble, and a small thing on the brain is weighty, and any burden on the soul is very heavy.

2. Soul sinkings are very prejudicial.

3. The Lord only hath power over the soul, and the burdens of it. We can mar, and we can trouble our own souls and cast them down, but it is no power and art but that of a God which can raise up, revive, and settle the soul again. The air may be good to refresh some bodies, and merry company to hearten a melancholic body; for sinking bodies, physic, diet, recreation, etc., may be good restoratives; but for souls that are sinking, or sunk, no helps can restore them but such as are like themselves. Spiritual souls, spiritual maladies, are to be raised up with spiritual restoratives only. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

Soul restoration

“He restoreth my soul. That is just what the sinner needs. It is idle to talk about Christian culture, or Christian growth in any way, until the soul is restored again from sin. Before you can expect your plant to grow you must plant it out; before you can expect the sheep to be led in green pastures, and by still waters, and protected from enemies, it must be brought back from its wandering. He wants to bring you back to your lost goodness; your lost innocence; your lost relation to God, when you could pray to Him as naturally as you could talk to your mother; your lost peace of heart; your lost tenderness of conscience; your lost love for good things; your lost sense of safety; your lost hope of heaven and eternal life. (A. L. Banks, D. D.)

The great Restorer

God will preserve the grace that is in His people. The new nature in the believer is the workmanship of God; he hath a new nature. There is in that new nature that which is like God’s nature, that which is some reflection of God. There is not a single grace of the believer but what shows forth some of the attributes there are in God. In order to keep His people God puts them into the hands of His Son. Jesus said, “Neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.” What an infinite suitableness and propriety there is in Jesus to restore. Look at His name--Jesus. It supposes a restorer. As God He is omnipotent; as man He has infinite sympathy.

The sort of restoration. Many a man has shed tears for sin who has never come to a knowledge of its true evil. There is a sorrow which does not work death, a godly sorrow. It is oftentimes difficult to tread the maze in the labyrinth of our hearts about repentance. I think of those who have no one with them when they fall; they are alone. It is an ,awful thing to be alone with God. The subject, however, has a sweet aspect to God’s tried and tempted children. If through depravity and strong inward corruptions we are led into sin, let our motto be, “Quick restorings”: no delay; no spirit of self-dependence; seek restoration in true repentance. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)


The Psalmist describes the revival which in the periods of spiritual languor and decline he derived from the care of the Lord his Shepherd.

The care which the great shepherd takes to reclaim His people. From the erroneous and sinful courses into which they do but too often allow themselves to be betrayed. Even the renewed man is not in this world so thoroughly established in holiness as to be beyond the possibility of sinning, beyond the reach of temptation, beyond the assaults of spiritual danger. But even when astray, He will in His wisdom and love seek them out and bring them back to Himself.

The RECOVERY of the soul from languor and despair. Often David had felt his soul when it was, as it were, overwhelmed with anguish and despondency, refreshed and revived by the assurances of the Good Shepherd’s love, by the experience of the Good Shepherd’s soothing care. David’s experience is that, mere or less, of every Christian soul.

The design of this comfort. It is that the Shepherd may lead the soul “in the paths of righteousness.” in the word of God the Psalmist recognises the only absolute and infallible rule, whether of belief or duty. And it is as copious and complete as it is accurate and sure. (T. B. Patterson, M. A.)

My Restorer

This sweetest of the Psalms sings of many mercies which the believer receives, and traces them all to one source--the Good Shepherd Himself. Text reminds us--

Of our true position. It is that of a sheep abiding close to its shepherd. Now this should be ours because of--

1. Our obligations to Christ.

2. Our relationships to Him.

3. If we would have happiness.

4. Our daily necessities.

5. Our infinite perils.

6. The benefits of fellowship.

Of our frequent sin. “He restoreth my soul”--He often does it; He is doing it now. With many suspended communion is chronic. This most wrong. And where it is not so bad as this, there are sad seasons of declension. They are brought about by worldly, conformity, forgetfulness of duty. Jesus is a jealous lover.

Of our Lord’s faithful love. He will never give up His sheep. For His name’s sake. He will use all manner of means.

Of his supreme power. It is He who does this. It was He who begun the work of grace in you, and therefore He will restore. No outward temptation has force when Christ is present. His presence is the death of every sin, the life of every grace. I see the green leaves of a plant most dear to all who love the woods in spring. It is seen nestling under a hedge under a shelving bank, just above a trickling stream. I ask it why it does not bloom, and it whispers to me that it will bloom by and by. “But, sweet primrose, why not put forth thy lovely flower at once, and gladden us with thy beauty?” She answers, “I am waiting for him--for my lord, the sun; when he cometh and putteth forth his strength I shall put on my beauty.” “But wilt thou not need soft pearly drops of dew to glisten on thy leaves, and the violet and the harebell to keep thee company, and the birds to sing to thee?” To which she replies, “He will bring them, he will bring them all.” “But art thou not afraid of the frost and the dreary snowstorms?” “He will chase them all away; I shall be safe enough when he comes. Now, we are the plant and Jesus is our sun. And He restores us entirely, and now. Come to Christ direct, not round by Sinai. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The Shepherd of the lost sheep

If He has appealed to my love as the Good Shepherd of the green pastures, even more does He claim my adoration, my reverence, my heart, as the Shepherd of the lost and straying sheep.

There is no disguising the fact, hide it as we will, of our frequent falling away. Be it the weakness of our human nature, ever prone to evil; be it the corrupted atmosphere in which we live, the swampy marsh of the world, from which rises up, in stealthy, deadly fumes, the vapour of bad public opinion, which we call the world, where the mosses are brightest, and the flowers the fairest, and the sunbeams dance the merriest; be it Satan, above all, with his terrible power of trickery and deceit;--whatever it may be, try as hard as we may, we have to reckon with a constant deflection from a high ideal. And all along the course of our life, His efforts to restore us, to help us to persevere, are spread out. Think only of the many new beginnings which He offers to us. The oft-recurring strength of our Communion, the storehouse of Sundays, the manifold means of grace which surround oar path, are well known to us. But think, also, of such things as the disposition of day and night, the necessity of sleep, and the like: these are all merciful new beginnings which offer us occasions for fresh efforts after amendment. It is so with the Church’s seasons, with the great round of fast and festival, each with a fresh aspect of Divine grace, each with a fresh hope of a better life.

And being restored, once more the paths of righteousness lay open before us--the paths which come from righteousness, which end in righteousness, and are righteousness. Certainly we ought to strive for a more harmonious life of goodness. Our lives are too often sharply divided up, as you might divide a concert, into sacred and secular. Most certainly we should all strive to live by rule. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of rule. Rule makes us like Jesus Christ, to whom every action apparently had its hour, and whose whole life was a fulfilment of minute prophecy. Rule, once more, helps us to utilise life. It is the scaffolding from which all the materials which daily life brings us can be placed upon the wall. The paths of righteousness, the very highest paths, are open to us; our very sins may be stepping stones to higher things, and produce, if not humility, at least watchfulness. Christ will bring out character, if only we do not hinder Him, until it becomes established in righteousness.

And this will He do “for His name’s sake.” “The revealed name, which gathers up and expresses for man just so much as he can apprehend of the Divine nature.” His name is Jesus. As great conquerors are named after their victories, so He is named from His. “He shall save”; “able to save”; “mighty to save.” Through Jesus is the way to escape. This, perhaps, is Satan’s chief terror which he holds over us--the impossibility of escape. His name is Emmanuel, “God with us”: with us, in every stage of our life; with us, when we broke away; with us, when we came back; with us, as we are gaining strength. His name is the Christ, the Prophet who warns me, the Priest who atones for me, the King who rules me. So He restoreth my soul; so He leads me in the paths of righteousness; so He pledges to me the assurance of His holy name. (W. C. E. Newbolt, M. A.)

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.--

Guidance in the right path

There is a well-known similitude which represents human nature as a chariot driven by two horses, one of them high-spirited and aspiring, the other, heavy, tame, and grovelling; and the charioteer unable to exercise over either of them absolute control, yields first to the one and then to the other, so that the chariot is not carried along a straight, continuous path, with uniform progress towards its goal, but frequently, turns aside and stands still. The image is in itself so striking, and so true to experience, that it needs no explanation. There is in all men a higher and lower nature, which are utterly at variance, one drawing us toward good, the other drawing us toward evil; one having its source in the spirit, the other in the flesh. And hence there is within us a more or less perpetual conflict; and even when we have been awakened to the realities of the spiritual world, and have felt the attractions of the Divine life, our difficulties have not ceased. In addition to accurate knowledge of the right, we need a motive power which will ensure obedience to its claims, transform our intellectual perception into spiritual deeds, and harmonise all the powers of the soul in the presence of the highest light. And such an efficient of morality is suggested to us by the words of the text, “He leadeth me.” Referring to the custom of the Eastern shepherds--going before their sheep. So God guides us. We enter the paths of righteousness, not because we are driven into them, not because we are subjected to some irresistible force, but by the attraction of our Lord’s loving presence, and the persuasive power of His holy will. The Bible, valuable as it is, is not the only means of God’s guidance. In some conditions of mind the wisest words of themselves cannot suffice us. Apart from the living will of which they are an expression, they are poor and inefficient, and our hearts can be reached only as we see the Father. But the great principles of religion are presented to us not as dry and formal statements, as mere axioms and rules, but are clothed with flesh and blood, and embodied in a perfect life, He leadeth in the paths of righteousness, and thus gives us the encouragement of His own perfect example. Christ trod before us every step of the way which He wishes us to tread. It is wonderful to see how there is in Christ a manifestation of every virtue we have to acquire. “He leadeth,” and therefore He draws us after Him by gentle and gradual guidance, in which He graciously accommodates Himself to the measure of our strength. Then the motive power of our life must be found in our love to the Great Shepherd of our souls. He goes before us that He may win our affections and draw us after Him. The value of the Divine guidance is enhanced by the ground on which it is seen to rest, the reason for which it is given--“For His name’s sake.” The name of God is symbolic of His nature. Probably the Psalmist’s main idea is that God will lead us in the paths of righteousness, not because He is urged by considerations external to Himself, but as prompted by, and in order to honour the wisdom, the love, and the power which constitute His nature. If the name which David has especially in view be that of the Good Shepherd, God will do for, men all that that term implies--He will not deny Himself. (James Stuart.)

God’s guidance

How much would be gained, and how much would be lost, if we came to the conclusion that this Psalm was not written by David? A great deal would certainly be lost. For David is a man whose character and experience have an enduring moral and religious interest; everything that throws light on his sorrows and joys, his faith, his fears, his sins, and his repentance, is of great value; and his Psalm contains a very striking illustration of the depth and strength of his personal trust in God. It helps to make one part of David’s life real and vivid to us. Something perhaps would be gained. If it was written by some obscure saint this might seem to draw the Psalm nearer to some of us, and to give us a stronger claim to all its disclosures concerning the blessedness of a life in God’s keeping. David was an exceptional man; what applies to him may not apply to us. Whoever was the author, the Psalm was written more than two thousand years ago, and but for our familiarity with it, its very antiquity would interest and move us, as we are interested and moved by an ornament that belonged to a Greek who lived under the Ptolemies, or to an Egyptian who worshipped in the temple of Carnac, in the time of its glory. But the Psalm has another and pathetic interest. This Psalm has been in daily use for more than two thousand years. It has become the expression of the experience, not of a solitary saint, but of a countless multitude of saints. The Psalmist says that he belongs to a flock of which the Living and Eternal God is the Shepherd. All that a good Eastern shepherd is to his flock when he is guiding them from pasture to pasture and stream to stream, God will be to us. It is very easy to lose our way in life, and very hard to find it again. Without any evil intention, we form habits of living which are sometimes injurious to a noble morality, and are still more often fatal to an earnest loyalty to God. When a man learns that he has gone wrong, he should appeal at once to the pity of the Good Shepherd, who goes after the lost sheep till He finds it. It is easy to lose our way when we are not looking to Him to guide us; it is impossible without His guidance to find it again. The better thing is not to lose it. The really devout man has submitted himself to the authority of God, has committed himself to the love of God, and may rely confidently on the guidance of God. It was not the truth alone that the Psalmist relied upon to guide him, but God Himself, the loving God. Religion is a right relation, not between man and truth, not between man and law, but between living person and living person--between man and God. The Psalmist had consented to follow God’s guidance, and he was relying on God to guide him in “the paths of righteousness.” Those words, however, do not precisely convey the Psalmist’s meaning. He says that God will guide His flocks in the “right paths,” the “direct paths,” to their water and their pasture. And only righteous paths can bring us to where God desires us to come. The Psalmist means that if a man is under God’s guidance he” will be protected from making a wrong decision in critical moments; he will not take the wrong path. God’s guidance keeps a man from sin; but it also keeps him from wasting his strength and failing to make the most of all his powers and opportunities. In all projects for doing service to mankind, a devout man may trust God to guide him in right paths. We may miss our way in the service we endeavour to render to others, as well as in the ordering of our personal life, because we lean too much on our own understanding, instead of trusting in the Lord with all our heart, acknowledging Him in all our ways, and looking to Him to guide us in right paths. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)

The Divine leadings

Some of the means by which God leads us. That is, by which He prompts us to, guides and encourages us in, a good and righteous conduct.

1. God hath implanted many principles in our nature which prompt and incline us to a righteous conduct. These may be more powerful and more obvious in some than in others; but in some degree they exist in all: nor can they be referred but to an intelligent cause. All that is good in us comes from God. If there are found in the soul of man certain feelings and propensities, certain desires and affections, which incline him to a good and righteous conduct, let us give glory to God, and in all these acknowledge His hand leading us in His righteous paths. Feelings of sympathy and commiseration are general and powerful principles in the heart of man. There are not many who can witness severe distress unmoved. The principle of conscience is a powerful principle operating to the same end. It will rarely fail to point to the righteous path; it will plead with us to adopt it; it will remonstrate against deserting it; it will applaud us when forming the resolution to persevere in it. The desire of honest fame which men so generally feel; the dread of the disgrace which they know follows the discovery of an unworthy deed; the pleasure felt upon hearing of a generous act; the indignation, the honest indignation, which arises when we are told of flagrant injustice or merciless oppression,--are further instances of strong internal feelings all favourable to a righteous life. But God can work by any means and suit His dealings to any character.

2. By events which take place in the course of His providence, God urges us to a good and righteous conduct. To a person of a serious and well-constituted mind, the most familiar objects, and the most common events will convey instruction. If there are those who are insensible to the ordinary benignity of the ordinary operations of Providence, there are few who will not be impressed by more affecting events which at times occur.

3. From the Divine communications which God hath been pleased to make to us, we learn yet other means which He employs to guide, to animate, to support us in the paths of righteousness.

Acknowledge our obligations to God, for employing so powerful means for so gracious an end. The paths of righteousness are the only paths of peace. In the paths of righteousness one may find difficulties, and may be called to some painful efforts, but they lead to certain and everlasting bliss. Can we be blind to the great criminality of our conduct if we resist these means which God employs to urge us to a good and righteous life? Let us wisely improve what God hath done for us. When He is employing these varied means to “lead us in the paths of righteousness, it is that He may conduct you to the mansions of bliss, and that you may dwell in His house for evermore. (Robert Bogg, D. D.)

God leading His people

That even converted persons need a God to lead them. O Lord, saith the Prophet (Jeremiah 10:23), I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. And therefore David prays, (Psalms 143:10) Teach me to do Thy will. What the leading of God is which is here meant.

1. There is a double leading. One is general in a way of common providence. Another is special and proper to the state and acts, and ways of grace and salvation, whereto a more singular aid and influence is necessary.

2. This efficacious guidance or leading consists of these particulars.

(1) Of a clearer illumination. They have eyes given them to see their Leader, and ears given them to know their Leader and His voice: This is the way, walk in it (Isaiah 30:21). Show me Thy ways, O Lord, teach me Thy paths (Psalms 25:4).

(2) Of a peculiar inclination of the will or heart to obey and follow the direction of God, which some do call exciting grace.

(3) Of a special cooperation, wherein Divine assistance concurs with the will renewed and excited, enabling it both to will and to do those things which are pleasing unto God, for it is God that worketh in us both to will and to do.

(4) Lastly, of a singular confirmation, which some call sustaining grace.

This for the nature of this guidance, now for the manner of it. It is delightful as well as gentle. It is a safe leading. It is a faithful leading. Such a leading as will not mislead us. Such a leading as will not fail us.

But why should converted persons need the leading of God?

1. In respect of the imbecility that is in their graces. Grace (considered in this life) though it be a sweet plant, yet it is but a plant very tender; and though it be a pleasing child, yet but a child very weak.

2. In respect of the difficulties which are in the way. Though righteous paths be heavenly and holy, yet many times are they made stormy and uneasy.

3. In respect of that erroneous aptness in us, even the best of us; error is manifold, and truth simple; many ways to miss the mark, one only to hit it.

4. Christians must make progress in grace, as well as find an entrance of grace.

5. Lastly, in respect of that backwardness that is in our spirits: The flesh is weak, saith Christ. The journey to heaven is up the hill, we fail against wind and tide. The first use shall be to inform us of the great love of God towards His people, whom He is pleased not to leave, but to guide and lead, to make and keep, to raise up and lead. It may likewise inform us, that we have no cause to glory in our own strength.

It will prove our best comfort, having such a leader to follow him. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

In the paths of righteousness.--

Right paths

The paths. The Lord can lead us in no other paths than such as He walks in Himself. The paths of creation are all right paths. There is nothing crooked, perverse, or capricious in the laws of nature. The paths of Providence in which God walks before us are paths of righteousness. People never question it when He goes before them in the glow of sunshine, dropping rich bounties every step He takes. But when the Lord walks before us covered with clouds, and a rod in His hand, how common then to talk of “mystery.” In whatever way the Lord is going before you now, the way is not only a right one because it is expedient for your good, and will yield you benefit at last; but it is absolutely, constantly, and without exception, a righteous one. The paths of duty, too, in which God would have us walk before Him are paths of righteousness. They are perfectly straight. The paths of Christian faith, and obedience, and self-denial, and purity, and truth, and honesty, and love, are all straight. They run parallel with the laws of the whole outer universe. They run parallel with the laws of our own being. They run parallel with the interests of the eternal future. Sin runs across those interests.

The guidance. It is Divine. He, the covenant-keeping God, leadeth me. His character is a pledge that He will lead me right. It is individual. “He leadeth me.” He leadeth and we are led. How many thoughts this suggests.

1. How manifold are the methods of His leading!

2. How mysterious is the innermost secret of His leading! (John Stoughton, D. D.)

The paths of righteousness

There is a world of comfort contained in the simple words, “He leadeth me.” There is a Divine hand and purpose in all that befalls us. He leads in righteousness. He has an infinite reason for all He does. It is not for us to attempt to unravel the tangled thread of Providence. What a grandeur and dignity, what a safety and security it would give to life, if we sought ever to regard it as a leading of the Shepherd,--God shaping our purposes and destinies, that wherever we go, or wherever our friends go, He is with us. Let us learn the lesson of our entire dependence on our Shepherd Leader, and our need of His grace in prosecuting the path of our spiritual life. Be it ours to follow after that holiness, that righteousness, without which no man can see the Lord. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)

Right paths

It is noted as a further mark of our Shepherd’s care that He leads us in the paths of a good and right way. What these paths are, a study of the context will enable us with little difficulty to decide. They are spoken of in conjunction with the restoration of the soul, and refer to the guidance which completes and crowns it. Our revived life is directed in a worthy course, and we are prevented from further wanderings and transgressions. God directs us into right paths, as opposed to such as are crooked, uneven, and deceptive--paths which lead directly to the goal which, as reasonable, responsible men, we ought to reach, and which, indeed, we must reach for the completion of our life’s work and the satisfaction of our nature. The standard to which we are bound to conform is righteousness. We must live in rectitude and integrity of character. There is one course open to us. We must act up to the light that is in us, be conscientiously faithful to our conceptions of right, and submit with all loyalty of heart to the decisions of our judgment and conscience. (James Stuart.)

Paths of righteousness

What the paths of righteousness are. A path is nothing else but an open and beaten way or tract to walk in. There are two sorts of paths wherein men may be said to walk. Some are called erroneous and false ways; the Scriptures sometimes call these crooked paths, because they do not lead us directly to heaven, but wind off. Sometimes our own paths, because they are not ways of God’s institution, but of our own invention. Sometimes paths not cast up (Jeremiah 18:15), in opposition to ancient and established and perused ways prescribed by God, and insisted in by the old faithful servants of God. These paths are those of infidelity and impenitency and impiety. In this place they are called paths of righteousness, which again are two-fold, either--

1. Doctrinal, in which respect the precepts of God are called the paths of righteousness, a rule to a man in his journey, and that, if which he will still follow, will assuredly bring him to his journey’s end; so the precepts of God are the rules of our lives, according to which, if we do square them, everlasting life would be the end of that journey.

2. Or practical, and this path of the righteous is that which the Scripture calls the path of the just, or the way of good men (Isaiah 26:7), and the paths of uprightness (Proverbs 2:13). And they are called paths in the plural number, not for diversity, but for number, and some of them respect--

(1) God;

(2) Man. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

Righteous ways

The ordering of our hearts and lives according to the right line or rule which is God’s Word; a course, not an act.

What is it to be led in the paths of righteousness? And they are called righteous paths--

1. Because the righteous God prescribes them.

2. Because the righteous person only walks in them.

3. Because they are the ways which are the right and only ways to lead us to our journey’s end.

But why doth the Lord propound righteous paths to His servants, and cause them to walk in them?

1. Because they are paths and ways suitable to His own nature. Every leader hath ways suitable to his own nature: the devil leads in ways like himself, sinful, unclean, etc. And God leads in ways suitable to Him; He is an holy God, and therefore leads in holy ways; a righteous God, and therefore leads His people in righteous paths.

2. Righteous paths are the best paths. God is the best God, His people are the best people, and righteous paths are the best paths. Best in many respects--

(1) No paths so holy and clean.

(2) Nor so safe. The way of the wielded seduceth them (Proverbs 12:26). Nothing exposeth us to more hazard than a sinful way; false ways are always unsure, many snares and dangers.

(3) Nor so pleasant. On a good way, a man hath the company of a good God, and the peace of good conscience.

(4) Nor so honourable. Wicked ways are ever most shameful.

Righteous ways are the right way to heaven. God will lead His people in such ways wherein--

1. He may receive glory from them.

2. They may receive glory from Him. Their graces would never be exercised, nor sins subdued, were not the paths righteous, etc. For what is the exercise of grace, but a motion in a righteous path, graces breaking out, working, walking, if grace were only bestowed for our conversion, and not for our conversation?


1. There are divers paths and ways that men may walk in besides the paths of righteousness.

2. Though every man hath a path to walk in, yet naturally the way of righteousness we do not know.

3. Of all paths to walk in, our hearts are most averse to these.

4. What avails it though paths of righteousness be propounded unto you, and that you do know them, if all this while you are not led in those paths of righteousness? The properties of righteous paths are these--

(1) They are supernatural.

(2) They are difficult. It is more difficult to creep in a righteous path than to run in a wicked way.

(3) They are holy.

(4) They are straight, and not winding and crooked. One is a rectitude of conformity. Another is a rectitude of tendency.

(5) They are solitary.

The qualifications of those persons who do or can walk in paths of righteousness. As affection is a property of these righteous walkers, so likewise is subjection. Circumspection is another property. Perfection. What a man must do, so that he may come to walk in paths of righteousness? He must get such a light of understanding which must clear his mind of

(1) extreme vanity, and

(2) of unjust prejudices.

There must be resolution and courage.

1. Walk in these paths diligently.

2. Uniformly. Haltings and excursions, tripping in the way, or starting out of the way, are both opposite to a righteous walking.

3. Answerably. Not only to his profession, that his conversation be copied out of it, but also to his means and long standing.

4. Progressively.

5. Undauntedly. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

For His name’s sake.--

The Divine name a plea

But why is it that this great Shepherd will do those great things for me? Is it because He finds me to be a sounder sheep and to have fewer blemishes upon me than some other? Alas, no; for I am nothing but blemishes and unsoundness all over; but He will do it for His name’s sake; for seeing He hath taken upon Him the name of a Good Shepherd, He will discharge His part, whatever His sheep be. (Sir R. Baker.)

Verse 4

Psalms 23:4

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Valleys of the shadow

The royal poet is putting a spiritual meaning into the various experiences of his shepherd’s life; and as he once led his flock to the green pastures and by the still waters, so he ascribes whatever of peaceful happiness, his own life had known, to the kindly guidance of God. Today let us give David’s metaphor a practical application to our own character and fate. No man knows what is the real meaning and worth of life till he has consciously passed through the valley of the shadow of death. All healthy life is at the beginning unconscious. The analogy of the body helps us to understand this. A happy child lives without at all thinking of life--what it is, when it begins, how it must end. One can conceive of such a life as this prolonged through manhood and old age; but there would be something less than human in its unconsciousness. And there are lives, far more frequent, which are unconscious in another way, because today they eat and drink, and tomorrow die, and never know that there is anything more in existence than this; which are below the consciousness of sin, and never rise to a knowledge of their own wretchedness. So much is common to these two kinds of unconsciousness, that they can only be startled out of themselves by a touch of pain. The consciousness of sin can alone reveal the infiniteness of duty, the pangs of sorrow make plain the depth and compass of life. But no one of us ever goes down into the valley of the shadow of death of his own accord. We are willing to live the unconscious life if we can. We know the depths that lie below, but none the less rejoice to skim lightly over the surface. By and by God comes, and with His own Fatherly hand He leads us into the gloom, and leaves us there awhile alone. There is not one of us who would not rejoice in life-long exemption from bitter bereavement, who would not, if he could, choose this form of blessing almost before shy other. And yet it is far better that God’s visitation should come this way than not at all. If the soul has in it a certain capacity of education into the likeness of God, and can acquire a strength and a sweetness that were not in it at the first; if, moreover, this growth into a finer force, and symmetry is to be manifested upon a larger than any earthly scale,--then these blows of fate are not mere subtractions from the sum of happiness, and therefore to be wholly deprecated, but stages of discipline, states of training to be accepted, when they come, as part of the tuition of life. There are troubles and distresses the characteristic of which is to recall us to God from the mere external shows and shadows of life, and so out of seeming darkness to bring us into real light. But sometimes a darkness falls upon us which will not lift, and whose peculiar horror it is to rob us of the belief that there is any light at all. It may be the result of misfortune; it may come from reasoning overmuch; it may be the dizziness of the imagination. Every day men go down into this darkness, not knowing it, and able, almost content, to live in it. Can anything be so truly pitiable as to be altogether without life’s divinest thirst, as never to know the desire which transcends all others, as to be wholly unconscious of the satisfaction which, once felt, is recognised as including all strength and all happiness? It would not be good for us never to go down into the valley of the shadow of death until we were called upon to make the inevitable transit from this life to another. Until we are shaken out of our moral unconsciousness by some great shock and conflict of the spirit we cannot tell what nobleness of strength, what debasement of weakness, lie concealed within us. Our faith is never firmly rooted in our hearts till we have looked out upon life and faced what it would be without faith. We never know what God is, and may be, to our spirits till we have gone down with Him into the valley of the shadow, and there in the thick darkness felt the stay of His presence and the comfort of His love. (C. Beard, B. A.)

Fearless in dangers

That great calamities, and terrible dangers, even the shadows of death may befall the people of God. For the understanding of this assertion premise these particulars, namely, that there are several shadows of death, or terrible dangers; some are--

1. Natural: as grievous diseases and sicknesses, which do even close up the day of life.

2. Malicious: which arise from Satan and from evil men, his instruments.

3. Spiritual: these dangers of all others are the most sore. These shadows of death, or great and near dangers, do cause them to shake off their great security. When a storm ariseth it is time for the mariner to awake and look to his tackling, and when the city is beleaguered it will make every man to stand to his arms. Standing waters gather mud, and disused weapons rust. They do demonstrate the solidity and validity of true grace. They increase the spirit of prayer more. They do dissolve and loosen the affections more from the world. Shadows of death make us better to discern the shadows of life, the poor empty vanities of the world, and set the heart more on heavenly purchases.

That righteous persons are fearless even under the shadows of death. And the reasons or causes of this fearlessness of man, or dangers by man, are these--

(1) God hath wrought in them a true fear of Himself; He hath put His fear into their hearts (Jeremiah 32:40). Now, the true fear of God purgeth or casteth out all vain fear of men.

(2) They know that the originals of fear are not in the creatures. Men are afraid of men because they take them to be more than men.

(3) They are in covenant with God, and God with them, therefore they fear no evil.

(4) They have much clearness in conscience; and integrity in conscience breeds audacity in conscience.

(5) They have faith in them, and can live by faith. The just shall live by his faith (Hebrews 2:3).

(6) Lastly, they may be fearless notwithstanding all dangers, forasmuch as those dangers shall never do them hurt, but good. And who is he that will harm you if ye be followers of that which is good? (1 Peter 3:13.)

That God is present with His people in all their dangers and troubles, and that presence of His is the ground of their confidence.

(1) That God is present with His in all their dangers.

(2) Divine presence is the ground of Christian confidence. Some distinguish thus; there is a fourfold presence of God--

(1) One is natural. And thus is He present with all creatures. Whither shall I flee from Thy presence (Psalms 139:7).

(2) A second is majestical. And thus is He said to be present in heaven; and we pray to Him as our Father which is in heaven.

(3) A third is His judicial presence. And thus is He present with ungodly men.

(4) A fourth is His gracious or favourable presence.

Consider the qualities of His presence with you, and it may yield you singular comfort and support.

(1) It is the presence of a loving God.

(2) It is the presence of an Almighty God.

(3) It is the presence of an active God.

At such times you will certainly need the presence of God. Our affections are apt to be most impatient. Our fears are apt to be most violent. Our unbeliefs are apt to be most turbulent. Our consciences are apt to be most unquiet. And Satan is most ready to fish in troubled waters. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

Light in a darkened way

A picture of the way of life darkened. When this will be we know not. Bunyan puts it midway, but sometimes it is nearer the beginning than the end. Childhood knows it not; gladsomeness and enjoyment are his of right. But later on life darkens. But come how and when it may, it will come at the right time and in the right way. If it ever work evil, the fault will be ours. Sometimes the shadows are those of sorrow. At others, of doubt. At yet other times it is the result of some sin. The sorrow of wasted power, of lost confidence, of violated vows, is a pang which wrings the human heart with an agony it knows not how to bear. Such experiences are stern and solemn realities.

No man need go down the valley alone. There is light in the darkened way. “Thou art with me.” And He is with us to help and protect. Augustine would leave Carthage to go to Rome. His pious mother, fearing the snares of Rome for her wayward boy, begged him not to go. He promised to remain, but in the night stole away. But there, where his mother feared he would be lost, he was saved. Years after he wrote thus, “Thou, O God, knowing my mother’s desire, refusedst what she then asked, that Thou mightest give her what she was forever asking.” (George Bainton.)

The valley of the shadow of death

The pass and its terrors. “The valley of the shadow of death.” Get the idea of a narrow ravine, something like the Gorge of Gondo or some other stern pass upon the higher Alps, where the rocks seem piled to heaven, and the sunlight is seen above as through a narrow rift. And so troubles are sometimes heaped one upon another, pile on pile, and the road is a dreary defile. It is exceedingly gloomy. Some of you don’t know such troubles. Do not seek to know. Keep bright while you can. Sing while you may. Be larks and mount aloft and sing as you mount. But some of God’s people are not much in the lark line; they are a great deal more like owls. But desponding people, if to be blamed, are yet much more to be pitied. Still, the covenant is never known to Abraham so well as when a horror of great darkness comes over him, and then he sees the shining lamp moving between the pieces of the sacrifice. And there are parts of our life which are dangerous as well as gloomy. The Khyber Pass is still terrible in men’s memories, and there are Khybers in most men’s lives. No doubt the Lord’s ways are ways of pleasantness, but for all that there are enemies on the road to heaven. And then its solitude. This is a great trial to some spirits, and mingling in crowds is no relief, for there is no solitude of the spirit so intense as that which is often felt in crowds. Still, this valley is often traversed. Many more go by this road than most people dream. But it is not an unhallowed pathway, for our Lord Jesus Christ has gone along it.

The pilgrim and his progress.

1. He is calm in the prospect of his dreary passage.

2. And is steady in his progress. He walks through, does not run in haste.

3. And he is secure in his expectancy. There is a bright side to that word “through.” He expects to come out into a brighter country.

4. And he is free from fear. I have read of a little lad on board a vessel in great peril. Everybody was alarmed. But he kept playing about, amused rather at the tossing of the ship. When asked what made him so fearless he replied, “My father is the captain. He knows how to manage.” Let us so believe in God. Yet--

5. He is not at all fanatical. He gives a good reason for his fearlessness. “Thou art with me!”

The soul and its shepherd. “Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” The rod and the staff, the tokens of shepherdry, are the comforts of the saints.

1. The rod is for the numbering of the sheep.

2. For rule.

3. Guidance.

4. Urging onward. I have had to lay on the rod at times on certain fat sheep not so nimble as they ought to be. But their wool is so thick that I can scarcely make them feel. But the Great Shepherd can, and will.

5. For chastisement.

6. For protection. How David defended his sheep. May God give us all the faith expressed in our text. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The path of life

The path of life as shadowed by death. “The valley of the shadow of death.” David does not speak of the article of death here as some suppose. He does not say, though I may walk, or though I should walk, or though I must walk, but though I walk. He is speaking of his walking it now. There is a bright sun, it is true, in the sky of life, otherwise there could be no “shadow”: but the figure of death is so colossal that its shadow covers the whole sphere of our existence.

The path of life as trod with a fearless soul. “I will fear no evil.”

1. Some tread the valley of life with a stolid indifference. They seem utterly regardless of the dark shadows on the path, and whither the path conducts them. “Like brutes they live.”

2. Some tread the path of life with a giddy frivolity. The everlasting jest and ceaseless round of hilarious excitement indicate that they have never been penetrated with a true idea of life.

3. Some tread the path of life with a slavish dread. They are afraid of their end.

4. Some tread the path of life with moral bravery. Thus did David.

The path of life as walked in companionship with God.

1. Thou art with me as the infallible Guide in the ever-thickening gloom.

2. Thou art with me as a safe Protector from every conceivable evil. (Homilist.)

The valley of the shadow of death

Preparation for death is two fold--of state and of susceptibility. We may be prepared in state, as David was when he cried, “Oh, spare me that I may recover strength before I go hence and be no more seen,” but he was not prepared in feeling. But here in our text he is prepared in both ways. “I will fear no evil”; his experience was ripe for death, and he could anticipate the event with confidence. The Psalmist looked upon the Shepherd in this place as the Master of death, and so “feared no evil.”

To some the valley of the shadow of death is a place of danger and alarm. That one could say he feared no evil is no proof that there is no evil for others. For the ungodly there is. For--

1. He must feel “the sting of death,” which “is sin.” That removed, death is no more dangerous than a serpent whose sting is withdrawn.

2. Then, too, conscience will be roused, and there will be no means to pacify it. Conscience cannot sleep then, though they have dozed and slumbered undisturbed by the thunders of Sinai, and the noise of death cutting down some old barren fig tree in their neighbourhood.

3. Then, too, Mercy will depart forever. She outstays all others, but now even Mercy says, Good-bye forever. Thou didst never see a morning when I did not meet thee with my arms full of kindnesses toward thee. Thou art now going where I have not been and whither I shall never come--Good-bye! And the hope of man is lost!

3. There also must he meet the wrath of God without a hiding place. It had been declared many times that it was approaching; but there was no way of escape. But now it is too late to turn back. God’s wrath must now be faced. The terrors of God array themselves against the ungodly men.

The godly man’s confidence in the face of death. “I will fear,” etc. Yet how terrible the description of death.

1. A valley--a deep and dismal place. Some live their lives in the hilltops of prosperity, others in the vales of adversity and sorrow, but this valley lies lower than these. Yet the godly man fears not.

2. A dark valley--a valley of shadow, “the shadow of death where the light is as darkness.”

3. A dreadful valley--for it belongs to death. This is its home, here its court and throne. Some have fainted at the sight of some of its subjects; what of the King Himself? But here is one going down into its domains. It is probable that he will run silently through, and as swiftly as he possibly can, until he is nearly breathless. No. He intends walking slowly through, as if resolved to view it well, the only time he shall go that way. Probably he intends crossing it in the narrowest place. No. He speaks of walking the whole length of the valley. Is he afraid he may fail and faint half way? No. He confidently trusts that he will reach the farther end.

The grounds of his confidence. God’s presence. “Thou art with me.” No one is so timid as a godly man without God. He will go nowhere without Him. But with Him he will go anywhere. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. (David Roberts, D. D.)

The valley of the shadow of death

the circumstances in which the believer is placed. “The valley of the shadow of death” has been supposed to describe a gloomy defile in which the traveller sees, as it were, the image of death depicted wherever he turns his eyes. Others, again, and perhaps with greater simplicity of interpretation, have found the idea of dark shadow, impenetrable gloom cast by some overhanging object which shuts out all light. The natural effect of peril is to create alarm; and it is nothing less than a signal triumph over the strongest instincts of the human constitution for a man, when he walks “through the valley of the shadow of death,” to fear no evil. It is, however, a triumph over nature, to which the religion of the Bible frequently calls, and for which she abundantly prepares her followers.

The feelings which in these circumstances he is able to entertain. The Psalmist does not say, “I will not fear,” though even had he said so we should have known how to interpret his words with due restrictions; but he says, “I will fear no evil,” that is, I will apprehend no real or ultimate injury. The Psalmist had made too enlarged an observation, he had passed through too varied an experience of life, to suppose that the clouds which lowered upon the scene before him would always pass away innocuous. Exactly so the Christian now has no reason to expect that he will be spared the suffering--and that to the extremity of mortal endurance--of what is painful, and desolating, and agonising; but every Christian may be assured that all these things shall fail to do him real evil. And while this is the feeling which every child of God may be expected to entertain, in every condition in which he can be placed of deadly gloom and peril, so it is peculiarly the sentiment which he is called upon to cherish when treading in particular that dreary path which, to most minds, Is suggested by the appellation, “the valley of the shadow of death.” A sharp thrill of undefined yet overwhelming terror is apt to shoot across his soul that, in the words of the Psalmist, he exclaims, “My heart is sore vexed within me, and the fear of death is fallen upon me.” But it will be but for a moment that the Christian, trusting in his Redeemer, will suffer such gloomy thoughts as these to involve his spirit; presently, as he proceeds deeper and deeper down the perilous descent, you will hear a voice of solemn yet not desponding melody ascending from the shades, “I will trust and not be afraid”; “Yea, though I walk through,” etc.

The reasons on which the Psalmist grounds and justifies his persuasion. That, with whatever circumstances of direct and most deadly peril he might be environed, no real evil should befall him.

1. The fact of Jehovah’s friendly presence.

2. The fact of Jehovah’s pastoral care: “Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.” The Scriptural expression, “to be with one,” denotes the special presence of Jehovah with those whom He loves, to guide, to help, to protect, to favour, and to bless them; as when Abimelech, for example, congratulated Abraham on the manifest tokens which his history presented that he was the object of Almighty favour, by saying, “The Lord is with thee in all that thou dost,”--when our Lord, in order to encourage His apostle amidst the arduous toils and trials that awaited him at Corinth, spake to him in vision,--“Fear not, for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee.” (T. B. Patterson, M. A.)

A funeral sermon

Death is what human nature is prone to dread. Most men shrink, as long as they are able, from the entrance into “the valley of the shadow” of it. Let us consider what are the evils to he encountered in passing through “the valley of the shadow of death.”

In the first place, the pains of death must be encountered by us; and these fill many minds with dismay. God has been pleased, notwithstanding the redemption of our race from utter destruction, to leave in the world demonstrations of their fall, and amongst these are the anguish and manifold distresses which accompany our mortality.

The valley of death is rendered terrible to man, because it interrupts and terminates all his earthly pursuits and expectations.

The separation from the objects who were endeared to us, and the scenes and pleasures which delighted us in the present world. But how happy those who in this solemn hour can entrust not only themselves, but all whom they love, to the tender and faithful protection of God.

Another thing which renders death terrible to many is the darkness with which it is encompassed. Shadows, clouds, and gloom rest upon it. To the infidel it is dismally obscure. Bones and ashes are all he can discover. Conscience fills it with ghosts and spectres and images of terror. They shudder as they enter. They cry aloud for light.

But the greatest of all the causes of anxiety and fear which the children of men encounter at the approach of death is the apprehension of the judgment which will ensue. (Bishop Dehon.)

Through the dark valley

Observe that dark valley attentively. Consider what it is; whither it leads; what its shadow means; what are its evils; what its security in the midst of those evils. You are daily approaching it.

A gloomy shadow.

A fearless traveller.

A present God. (R. Halley, M. A.)

The valley of the shadow

We are debtors, every one of us, to that old poet, whoever he was, who, in ransacking a teeming brain--teeming with images of idyllic peace and happiness, and also with images, of nameless dread and gloom--lighted upon the “valley of the shadow of death,” as Bunyan afterwards lighted upon a “place where was a den,” and gave to all that in human experience which before death is worse than death itself, a local habitation and a name. Different forms of the religious sentiment have their different values in regard to the dismal experience thus happily named. None of them has actually the value assigned to it. Religion, natural temperament, courage, cheeriness, all mingle in the confidence of him who here says “I will fear no evil.” For aught we know, there may have been as much of the one as of the other. Natural temper and disposition count for much, usually for more than anything else, in the most trying moments of human life. Then, the natural man is apt to part company with his costume of habits and customs, and to show himself as he was born, the bravest of the brave or the weakest of the weak. It is not the most pious man in the regiment, I suppose, who is always the coolest in the forlorn hope. Some men, like John Wesley, are brave on land who are great cowards at sea; others, like some of Elizabeth’s buccaneers, are timid in regard to the least adversity occurring in a hospital, but undaunted in regard to it if it threatens in a gale. Not according to differences of religious belief, but according to idiosyncrasies of disposition or accidental habits of mind, the valley of the shadow of death varies its character. As regards the last fact of all, which makes all human life a tragedy, we who look forward to it with a shudder cannot help envying the coolies of St. Helena and elsewhere, who lie down to die as peaceably as if it were to sleep; or the Turkish soldiers at Plevna, who preserved such coolness in presence of the horrors there. You can scarcely call their fatalism religious sentiment, yet it did that for them. Some surgeons say that there are people without nerves. What is a terrible ordeal to some in the way of pain, to others is a mere trifle. Now, though religious people will hardly allow, it, it is a fact that natural temperament has far more to do with heroism in its most striking forms than religion has. But religion has to do with it, and different forms of the religious sentiment have, therefore, different values in this respect. That it is glorious to die for one’s country was an idea with which the whole Greek and Roman life was saturated in a way unknown to the Hebrew race. That sentiment produced its natural effect in Plutarch’s Lives, the reading of which is like reading the Charge of the Light Brigade. But it is when you come down to Christian times that you have the religious sentiment, the rise of which takes you back to this Psalm and earlier, and we find it so pervading the lives of multitudes of common men and women that they are found to be instinct with a courage and patience which can hardly be matched in Plutarch. It is a heroism, not of the general and his staff, but of plain people. And we have it here in this Psalm. The trust in the Divine Shepherd is an antidote to all alarm. What that sentiment has done to lighten, for countless multitudes of human beings, all adversity, and the last adversity of all, to make the unendurable tolerable or even welcome, may be partly imagined but cannot certainly be told. It is still what it has been--to multitudes it is still what nothing else is or could be in the way of solving the enigmas of life and making the heavy and the weary weight of it intelligible and supportable. (J. Service, D. D.)

Deep shades

The image of David’s Heat distress, “the valley,” or ravine, “of the shadow of death,” or, as it may be translated, “of deep shades,” can, without any fancifulness, be connected with the scenery through which he passed in his flight. He must, after crossing Olivet, have descended to the fords of the Jordan by one of the rocky passes which lead from the tableland of Jerusalem. These deep ravines are full of ghastly shadows, and David passed down one of them as the evening had begun to fall, and waited by the ford of Jordan till midnight. It is not improbable that we have here the source of the image in this verse. Such a march must have impressed itself strongly on his imagination. The weird and fierce character of the desolate ravine, the long and deathly shadows which chilled him as the sun sank, the fierce curses of Shimei, the fear behind him, the agony in his own heart repeating the impression of the landscape, fastened the image of it in his memory forever. He has thrown it into poetry in this verse. For now, when be mused upon his trial, he transferred to the present feelings of his heart at Mahanaim the agony of that terrible day, but added to it the declaration of the faith in God which his deliverance had mane strong within him. And his words have become since then the expression of the feelings of all men in the intensity of trial. Not merely in the last Heat death trial, for God knows that there are valleys of the shadow of death in life itself which are worse than death a thousand times. Thousands welcome death as the reliever, the friend,--they who have seen every costly argosy of hope sink like lead in the waters of the past, and whose future stretches before them a barren plain of dreary sea on which a fiery sun is burning; and they who look back on a past of unutterable folly and darker sin, and who know that never, never more “the freshness of youth’s early inspiration can return.” The innocent morning is gone, and they hide their heads now from the fiery simoom of remorse in the desert of their guilty life. It is the conscience’s valley of the shadow of death. There are times, too, even in youth, when, by a single blow, all the odour and colour have been taken out of living, when the treachery of lover or friend has made us say, as we were tortured and wrung with the bitterest of bitterness, that all is evil and not good. It is the heart’s valley of the shadow of death. And there are times in the truest Christian life when all faith is blotted out, and God becomes to us a phantom, a fate, impersonal, careless, and we cry out that we have no Father in Heaven; and of our prayer, too, it may be said though we have prayed, oh how fervently, “He answered never a word.” It is the spirit’s valley of the shadow of death. Now, what was David’s refuge in one of these awful hours? It was faith in God, the Ever-Near. David had entered the valley of the shadow of death of the heart; he had been betrayed, insulted, exiled by the one whom he had loved best. It was enough to make him disbelieve in Divine goodness and human tenderness, enough to harden his heart into steel against God, into cruelty against man. In noble faith he escaped from that ruin of the soul, and threw himself upon God--“I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” The next verse, supposing the Psalm to have been written at Mahanaim, is at once comprehensible. For far away in the Eastern city there came consolation to David, through the visit and help of Barzillai, who brought him food. “Thou preparest a table for me,” etc. One of the sad comforts of trial is this, that it is the touchstone of friendship. We realise then who are true gold. We often lose in trial what is calculable; we oftener gain what is incalculable. Precisely the same principle holds good in the spiritual world. The blessing of all trial is that it disperses the vain shows of life on which we rested, and makes Christ, the eternal Certainty, more deeply known. But how? How do we know another? Only by entering into his spirit, by sharing in his life. There is a broad distinction between an acquaintance and a friend. We may see an acquaintance every day, but we never see his heart. We hover with him over the surfaces of things, touching, it may be, now and then the real inward life as a swallow touches a stream in its flight, but we never dwell with him within the temple of inward thought or enter with him into the inner shrine of feeling. A friend--how different! one to whom your heart has opened itself freely, to receive from whom is pleasure, for whom to sacrifice yourself is joy. So we become at home in his nature, and so is it with Christ and the Christian man. If you would be the friend of Christ you must partake of His life--the life of self-sacrifice. (A. S. Brooke. M. A.)

The shadow of death

This valley, in Bunyan’s dream, lies about midway in the journey of life. This is one of those revelations of the soul’s experience which makes Bunyan’s book a mirror. If this valley lay right across our path at the outset it would wither our life at the spring. While if it came too near the end it would be too late to bless our souls. No, not near the beginning is that valley. I have often seen a little child sit beside the coffin that held its mother, with as fair a light on its face as I hope to see in heaven. And I have said, there is no valley and shadow of death for these little ones. Nor, either, for those who are still young. Sorrow comes, but they recover. They soon resume the natural habit of their life if you let them alone. They break out into the warm bright world again, like a Norway spring, and it is by the tender mercy of God that they do so. And in old age that valley and shadow lie behind us. When a great English painter in water colours was past work, and was waiting for his summons to depart,--for he was ninety-one,--he told his servant to bring in his masterpiece, that he might see it once more before he died. It was a picture of a shipwreck. He looked at it a good while and then said, “Bring me my pencils and lift me up; I must brighten that black cloud. It used to seem just right, but I see now it is too dark, and I must brighten it before I go.” And when it was done he died. Now, I doubt not that when he painted that picture the cloud was not one shade blacker than be felt it ought to be; because true painters always dip their pencils first in the water of their own lives, and press the pigments out of their hearts and brains. But the way from middle age to ninety-one had lain upward into the light, the sweet, calm sunset of his life. And so it is with every healthful old age. Travelling into these high latitudes we touch at last a polar summer, where the morning twilight of the new day comes out of heaven to blend with the evening twilight of the old. The fear of what death may do, and the awful sense of what death can do, falls on us most heavily, through the prime of our life, when all our powers are sturdiest. It is in mid-ocean that the storms come. And this experience is universal. I notice it in all the saints whose lives are revealed to us in the Bible. And Christ Himself passed through it. Bunyan makes all his pilgrims who come to any good go down into it. But with a wonderfully sweet pathos, he makes it easier for the lame man who is getting on in years, and for the maiden, and for the mother with her children, than he will ever allow it to be for stout stalwart souls like his own. If a man should come to me and say, “I have never been down there, I know nothing about it,” then his future is a sorry one. It is because we bare a soul and a future that we have to go through all this. But for this man would be mere vanity and hollowness. And there is a great growth of goodness down in that valley. Do not go alone, then. Have God with you as David did. Muster all the promises you can hold in your heart. I would try to trace the beatitudes even in the flames of hell. And look on to the dawn of the new day. (R. Collyer.)

The valley of the shadow of death

This hymn is the pilgrim’s song of the soul on its way to eternity. The Psalm is beautiful and impressive, if we take the central death as its keynote. Then all that goes before is the preparation for that dark crisis which is the turning point of endless joy. The valley rules the whole; what precedes is its anticipation, and itself is the anticipation of heaven.

1. Mark with what exquisite simplicity the anticipation of the valley is introduced. The idea of death is inwrought into the habitual thought of the godly man. There is a sense in which life is a continual alternation of light and shade, of open pastures and shaded valleys. The whole of our probation may be said to be spent under the shadow of the great death that sin hath begotten, of the terrible cloud that has come between us and God. True religion is a constant and distinct realisation of the fact that we live to die, and must so live as not to be taken by surprise. This will give to life a certain solemnity and pathos which nothing else will give. It is, nevertheless, certain that the expectation of the valley cannot really distress the religious soul. It is very different from that horror which the ungodly and the unsanctified feel. There are, indeed, some who are all their lifetime in bondage, though true Christians, through want of trust in the resources of the Gospel. Many reasons conspire to this palsy of their faith. They love the world too much, they do not drink deeply enough of the river of life, they do not meditate as they ought on eternal things, and thus they cannot join the chorus of our hymn. But the anticipation that makes this Psalm so glad is better taught. The Christian singer is one who lives under the powers of the world to come; and those powers are to him the working forces of the present state. He lives in a supernatural world, and regards everything in its relation to that world. The thought of the valley becomes the familiar and cheerful habit of the soul. It does not diminish the energy of life nor blunt the appetite for such pleasures as God does not interdict.

2. The singer sings his way into the valley that he had predicted for himself. The language of his poetry blends the future and the present, “I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” The pilgrim is guided into the valley by the Good Shepherd Himself. Here is the secret link between death and preparation for death. The blessedness of all our religion, whether in life or death, is union with Jesus. Our preparation to die well is the habitual communion of our soul with God. Jesus went that way of sorrows before us. We may be sure that the Saviour is most intimately with and in His dying servant. His rod is the symbol of His authority in the domain of death: it is His alone. The staff is the symbol of the strength He gives the dying saints. The pastor’s crook, the shepherd’s rod, is no other than the Redeemer’s mediatorial sceptre swayed over one special region of His vast empire, that which is under the shadow of death. We may interpret the staff as that special support which the Redeemer affords to every dying saint when his heart and flesh would otherwise fail. (Mr. B. Pope.)

I will fear no evil.--

On the fear of death

Fear, though a natural passion, becomes the occasion of innumerable disquietudes and infelicities. It has the same effect upon the real evils and calamities of life which a misty air has upon the objects of sight: it makes them appear confused and indistinct, and at the same time much larger than they are in reality. The object most universally dreaded is death. It requires all the aids of philosophy and of religion to enable the wisest and best of us to look forward to this event with composure. Give some general directions which may enable us in measure, to overcome the fear of death.

1. That we maintain a virtuous habit of mind and course of life, and exercise ourselves to have a conscience void of offence, both towards God and towards man.

2. Make the idea of death familiar to our minds, by frequently considering our latter end. Many of the usual terrors of death appear upon examination to be imaginary, or of very little moment.

3. Reflect that this is a natural and unavoidable event which is common to all the human race.

4. We should preserve in our minds a lively conviction and devout sense of the wise and righteous government of Almighty God, and cheerfully resign ourselves and all our concerns to His direction.

5. Look forward, with joyful expectation, to a state of perfect and endless felicity in the life to come. (W. Enfield.)

Courageous faith

That true faith is a courageous grace; it inspires the soul with a holy and undaunted boldness amidst the greatest of dangers.

1. Some of those evils that are ready to intimidate and discourage the hearts of the Lord’s people in a time of danger. Their own weakness and insufficiency. The might and multitude of their enemies. A sense of guilt and fear of wrath. The prevalence of indwelling sin. The black clouds of desertion. The wrath of man, and fury of the persecutor. The dangerous situation of the Church and cause of God, and the approach of death.

2. Some account of that faith which fortifies the soul against the fear of these evils. Sometimes it is called a trusting in the Lord, or a looking to the Lord, or a staying ourselves on the Lord, or a casting of our burden on the Lord. Some of its ingredients are--a knowledge and uptaking of a God in Christ, revealing Himself as reconciled, and making over Himself to us in a well-ordered covenant. A firm and fixed persuasion of the truth and certainty of the whole revelation of God’s mind and will in the Word. An application of the promises to the soul itself in particular. A persuasion of the power, love, and faithfulness of the Promiser. A renouncing of all other refuges. Some concomitants of this faith. A blessed quietness and tranquillity of soul. A waiting upon the Lord in the way of duty. Earnest prayer at a throne of grace. A holy obedience or regard unto all God’s commandments. Often with a soul-ravishing joy in the Lord. The courage of faith appears from the serenity with which it possesses the soul; the hard work and service it will adventure; the bold and daring challenges it gives to all enemies and accusers; the weapons which it wields; the battles it has fought and the victories it has gained; the heavy burdens it will venture to bear; the hard and difficult passes that faith will open; the great exploits which it has performed, and the trophies of victory and triumph which it wears.

3. That Christian fortitude and boldness which makes a believer fear no evil. The seat and subject of this Christian fortitude is the heart of a believer, renewed by sovereign grace. This fortitude consists in a clear and distinct knowledge and uptaking of the truth as it is in Jesus. It makes God’s Word the boundary of faith and practice. A tenacious adherence to truth and duty. A holy contempt of all a man can suffer in this present world. Cheerfulness and alacrity of spirit.

4. The influence faith has upon this boldness. It inspires the soul by presenting God to the soul; by enabling the soul to make right estimate of truth, and by curing it of the fear of man. It views the inside of troubles for Christ, as well as the outside of them. And it keeps the eye of the soul fixed on Jesus. (E. Erskine.)

On death

This Psalm exhibits the pleasing picture of a pious man rejoicing in the goodness of heaven. He looks round him on his state, and his heart overflows with gratitude. Amidst the images of tranquillity and happiness one object presents itself which is sufficient to overcast the mind and to damp the joy of the greatest part of men; that is, the approach of death. With perfect composure and serenity the Psalmist looks forward to the time when he is to pass through the “valley of the shadow of death.” The prospect, instead of dejecting him, appears to heighten his triumph, by that security which the presence of his Almighty Guardian afforded him. Such is the happy distinction which good men enjoy in a situation the most formidable to human nature. That threatening aspect which appalls others, carries no terror to them. Let us consider what death is in itself, and by what means good men are enabled to meet it with fortitude. It may be considered in three views. As the separation of the soul from the body. As the conclusion of the present life. As the entrance into a new state of existence. The terrors of death are, in fact, the great guardians of life. They excite in every individual that desire of self-preservation which is nature’s first law. They reconcile him to bear the distresses of life with patience. They prompt him to undergo its useful and necessary labours with alacrity; and they restrain him from many of those evil courses by which his safety would be endangered. If death were not dreaded and abhorred as it is by many, no public order could be preserved in the world . . . To preserve it within such bounds that it shall not interrupt us in performing the proper offices and duties of life is the distinction of the brave man above the coward, and to surmount it in such a degree that it shall not, even in near prospect, deject our spirit or trouble our peace, is the great preference which virtue enjoys above guilt. It has been the study of the wise and reflecting, in every age, to attain this steadiness of mind. Philosophy pursued it as its chief object; and professed that the chief end of its discipline was to enable its votaries to conquer the fear of death. In what lights does death appear most formidable to mankind.

1. As the termination of our present existence; the final period of all its joys and hopes. The dejection into which we are apt to sink at such a juncture will bear proportion to the degree of our attachment to the objects which we leave, and to the importance of those resources which remain with us when they are gone.

2. As the gate which opens into eternity. Under this view it has often been the subject of terror to the serious and reflecting. We must not judge of the sentiments of men at the approach of death by their ordinary train of thought in the days of health and ease. Their views of moral conduct are then too often superficial. Here appears the great importance of those discoveries which Christianity has made concerning the government of the universe. It displays the ensigns of grace and clemency. What completes the triumph of good men over death is the prospect of eternal felicity. To those who have lived a virtuous life, and who die in the faith of Christ, the whole aspect of death is changed. Death is no longer the tyrant who approaches with an iron rod, but the messenger that brings the tidings of life and liberty. (Hugh Blair, D. D.)

Facing death

When Sir Henry Havelock lay dying he said to his friend and fellow soldier Sir James Outram, “For more than forty years I have so ruled my life that when death came I might face it without fear.”

Looking into the great abyss

How we die is certainly of much less importance than how we live; but still it strengthens faith to see the hope and courage that are sometimes, but by no means always, felt by God’s own people at the last. During the sixteen weeks in which Sir Bartle Frere was dying, though he was nearly always in great pare, not one murmur escaped him. Just at the end he said, I have looked down into the great abyss, but, God has never left me through it all.” “Name that Name when I am in pain,” he once said to his wife; “it calls me back.” (Quiver.)

The power of the presence of Christ

“Thou art with me.” I have eagerly seized on this; for out of all the terrors which gather themselves into the name of death, one has stood forth as a champion fear to terrify and daunt me. It is the loneliness of death. “I die alone.” Now, loneliness is a thing which we must learn to face in our work, in the separations of life, and in times of quiet. Certainly, whether we like it or not, we must be alone in death, as far as this world is concerned. And men preach to us detachment. “Sit loosely to the world,” they say, that the wrench may be less when it comes. But the Good Shepherd says rather, learn attachment. It is His promise, “Fear not; I will be with thee.” It is our confidence, “I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me.” Nay, more; it is our joy, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” And is not this the true answer to our fears: How call I go to meet that shadow? How will my faith stand its cold embrace? How shall I ever believe in the bright promise of a land beyond, when here all is dark? Let us ask rather: How am I going to meet the duty just before me? Is He with me now? Have I learned to find Him in the quiet hours of the day? Have I found His presence in desolating sorrow? Have I felt His hand in darkness and doubt? If so, I need not look forward. He is leading me on, step by step and day by day. He is habituating me, little by little, to the withdrawal of the light, and to utter trust in Him. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” “Thou art with me.” Now is the time to make firm that companionship. To be still, and know that He is God. To find the guiding Hand in all its strength and security amid the death and life of each day’s hopes and fears. And then, when we enter the shadow, still it will be “with God onwards.” (W. C. E. Newbolt, M. A.)

Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.--

Comfort through the rod and staff

What is the shepherd’s rod? It is the symbol of his defending power. It is the weapon by which our Shepherd strikes down our adversaries. He is ever on the alert to ward off from us threatening ills. What is the staff? We would rather call it the shepherd’s crook, which is often bent or hooked at one end. Beneath it the sheep pass one by one to be numbered or told. By it the shepherd restrains them from wandering, or hooks them out of holes into which they may fall; by it also he corrects them when they are disobedient. In each of these thoughts there is comfort for the tried child of God. We are numbered amongst God’s sheep as we pass one by one beneath the touch of the Shepherd’s crook. By the Shepherd’s staff we are also extricated from circumstances of peril and disaster into which we may have fallen through our own folly and sin. By the staff the shepherd also corrects his sheep. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

The wonderful staff

It is wonderful for its power to protect. David had found this as a shepherd when, by means of his staff, he vanquished the lion and the bear. So the Bible is our defence against our soul’s enemies. See how Jesus used it (Matthew 4:1, etc.). It is wonderful for its power to protect.

It is wonderful for its power to comfort. Well, God’s Word is like a staff for this reason. It gives strength to His people when they feel weak and ready to faint under their labours or their trials.

It is a wonderful staff, because of its power to save. (James 1:21.) The Word of God is able to save the soul. (R. Newton.)

The shepherd’s rod and staff

In 1849 Dr. Duff was travelling near Simla under the shadow of the great Himalaya mountains. One day his way led to a narrow bridle path cut out on the face of a steep ridge; along this narrow path that ran so near the great precipice he saw a shepherd leading on his flock following him, but now and then the shepherd stopped and looked back. If he saw a sheep creeping up too far on the one hand, or going too near the edge of the dangerous precipice on the other, he would at once turn back and go to it, gently pulling it back. He had a long rod as tall as himself, round the lower half of which was twisted a band of iron. There was a crook at one end of the rod, and it was with this the shepherd took hold of one of the hind legs of the sheep to pull it back. The thick band of iron at the other end of the rod was really a staff, and was ready for use whenever he saw a hyena or wolf or some other troublesome animal coming near the sheep, for especially at night these creatures prowled about the flock. With the iron part of the rod he would give a good blow when an attack was threatened. In Psalms 23:4, we have mention made of “Thy rod and Thy staff.” There is meaning in both, and distinct meaning. God’s rod draws us back, kindly and lovingly, if we go aside from His path. God’s staff protects us against the onset, open or secret, whether it be men or devils which are the enemies watching an opportunity for attack. (Life of Dr. Duff.)

Verse 5

Psalms 23:5

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.

The Lord’s guests

This is a desert scene. A hot, panting fugitive is fleeing for his life, pursued and hunted by the forces of a fierce revenge. At last he touches the tent rope of a desert man, and now he is a guest, and a guest is safe. Such is the undimmed glory of Arab hospitality. To injure a guest is the mark of the deepest depravity. Such is the desert symbol in the text. What is its spiritual significance? The soul is a fugitive, in flight across the plains of time. The soul is pursued by enemies, which disturb its peace and threaten its destruction. What are these enemies that chase the soul across the ways of time?

1. The sin of yesterday. I cannot get away from it.

2. The temptation of today. Sometimes he approaches me in deceptive deliberateness; sometimes his advance is so stealthy that in a moment I am caught in his snare.

3. The death that awaits me tomorrow. Man seeks to banish that presence from his conscience, but he pathetically fails. Whither can we turn? On the whole vast plain is there one tabernacle whose tent ropes we may touch, and in whose circle of hospitality we may find food, refuge, and rest? In the Lord our God is the fugitive’s refuge. In the Lord our God we are secured against the destructiveness of our yesterdays, the menaces of today, and the darkening fears of the morrow. We are the Lord’s guests, and our sanctuary is inviolable. And what shall I find in the tent? The enemies frown at the open door, while the Psalmist calmly sits down to a feast with his Lord. We shall find a sure defence, refreshing repose, and abundant provision. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)

Feasting amidst enemies

1. That the malicious envy of evil men hath not been able to hinder blessings from descending upon the godly.

2. That it hath not been able to tear off the blessings which have descended.

3. That upon their greater fretting and contriving God yet hath added more blessings upon His servants. God doth not at all depend up, on wicked men in the benediction of His servants. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

God’s hospitality

1. He provides for His guests a feast in the midst of their enemies. “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”

(1) The life of the true is a feast. The figure implies three things. A variety in the pleasant. Variety is ever the characteristic and the charm of banquets. How boundlessly varied the blessings which heaven has spread out for the enjoyment of the good on this earth. There are the sensuous, the intellectual, the social, and the religious. The figure implies an abundance in the pleasant. It is almost essential to a feast that the provision should be ample. Meagreness and scarcity are carefully avoided at banquets. How immeasurable are the blessings provided for the good. The figure implies a social participation in the pleasant. A feast is not for one but for many, and generally for those of such kindred sentiment as will heighten the enjoyment. Life is social.

(2) The life of the tree is a feast prepared by God. “Thou preparest.” Not only does He prepare the feast for His guests, but He prepares His guests for the feast. The banquet, however sumptuous and varied in its provisions, is worthless to all but those who are inclined to participate, and who have the necessary appetite. But the point here is that the feast is spread out in the “presence of enemies.” A good man has ever had enemies, and ever will. David had them.

They now surrounded him as he was feasting at the table of God’s providence. There is something gratifying to a man in feasting before enemies.

(1) There is a gratification of the feeling of independence. Enjoying a banquet with the eye of an enemy on you, you seem to dare him to do his worst. You have the happy feeling that unrighteous malice cannot injure you.

(2) There is a gratification of the feeling of benevolence. Sitting down, enjoying a banquet sufficient for all your enemies, and to which they were invited but would not enter, you feel that as they look on there is a splendid opportunity for them to learn their folly, relent, and attend the entertainment.

(3) There is a gratification of our religious feeling. You feel, as you enjoy the rich banquet provided for you, that you have an opportunity of showing your enemies the wonderful bountihood of the Master of the feast. You give Him the praise. As a Host.

2. He follows His guests constantly with His goodness. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

3. He entertains His guests forever in His house. “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” What a house is His. How vast, how grand, how infinitely numerous and elegant its apartments! The universe is His house. “In my Father’s house are many mansions,” etc. To dwell in this house forever, no longer a prodigal in a far country, no longer a wearied pilgrim in the desert, but a son settled down for ever in the mansions of the Father. (Homilist.)

The conflict of life

That life is a conflict is an assertion made so frequently that it has become one of the common places of moralists. But the common place assertion contains, nevertheless, a deep truth to which we have all at some time or other to bear undisguised and heartfelt witness. We have enemies; we are liable to commit grievous mistakes. We find, in ways innumerable, that our very strength is weakness, that we are sadly imperfect and fallible. Our enemies take advantage of our weaknesses, and use them as weapons for our destruction. It is no vague and meaningless metaphor which describes as our enemies “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” Whether we will or not, life is a conflict, as God doubtless designed it to be. The hostile influences awaken and invigorate the noblest elements of our nature, supply them with a field of action, and by means of risks and dangers train them to hardihood and endurance. God is educating us for higher things, that we may be resigned amid trial, pure in the midst of temptation, trustful though surrounded by darkness, and thankful even when our will is crossed. The servants of God are to be heroes. How can they triumph if they do not strive? There is deep truth enshrined in that old Oriental legend, according to which no one can sing a song to the immortals who cannot be the hero of his tale or live the song he sings. He must in this way vindicate his right to speak of deeds of high and holy daring, and therefore does God place him under such forms of life as his own imagination has portrayed, that He may try him whether he be a hero indeed. (James Stuart.)

The lyric of perfect trust

“The nightingale of Psalms,” somebody has called it--filling the night; flooding it with its song when every other song is hushed. “The pearl of Psalms,” another has called it pure, beautiful, and beyond price. “The Pleiades,” says a third, among the constellations into which these ancient singers have mapped the heaven of love and hope and peace which bent over them. Hero is a man who believed in God, believed in Him in no fictitious sense. David had in his mind a personal Being of infinite love, wisdom, and beneficence whom he had made his own--“my Shepherd.” What has such a man to say of life? Four things.

The wealth, completeness, fulness of it. It is something worth possessing. A new science has been developed of late--the science of being miserable. Side by side with this there is a mistaken and exaggerated pietism, which, in the name of religion, takes hold of everything by the wrong end. Things are what you make them to be. Life is what you make it. Take the man who has a personal hold of God. See in him the wealth, completeness, fulness of life. Full provision is made for all the necessities of man’s nature. Life is a feast: “Thou preparest a table for me.” I will tell you how life looks to me.

1. I am--personal existence is mine. I have a being, the integrity, the sanctity of which even God respects, the boundaries of which even my Maker does not trench upon.

2. The world is mine. The heavens and the earth are mine.

3. Then there is the world of ideas, which come greeting you like troops of angels, from the books of gifted souls, from the mystic recesses of your own heart.

4. Friendship has been yours. The joy of serving, the joy of charity, the joy of dispensing sympathy, of bearing burdens which are not your own.

5. The happiness and ennoblement of benefiting the world.

Here is the sense of perfect security, of absolute freedom from all anxiety. “Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” What a load would be lifted off some minds if they could only say that, and be sure of it. Many are spoiling their life through the dread of what may be somewhere in the future.

You have the record here of deliverances, restorations. “He restoreth my soul.” The Psalm does not give an altogether rose-coloured view of life. Perils, fears are implied, if not plainly stated. They are the background of the Psalm, but that only brings out the Psalm into brighter relief Take the dark side first. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” That is not the valley of death. It is the valley of doubt. It is the sorrow into which you can put no meaning. It is the agony of remorse. But from these things God restores us. Very graphic is this language. Engulfed, overwhelmed in these things, He giveth back my soul to me. Shall I speak of forgiveness, or of sorrow, or of doubt?

A determination arising from this experience of God. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” It means, I will live in free intercourse, in frank fellowship, in unbroken friendship with God. That is the first meaning; but it does mean the material house also,--the temple of the Lord, where we meet to renew our vows, and to remind ourselves in concert of the God who is the inspiration of our life. (J. Morlais Jones.)

The table prepared in presence of foes

These words are generally supposed to allude to the seasonable hospitality which Barzillai and his friends gave to David during his flight before Absalom. Then the hospitality of strangers upon whom he had no claim revived the heart that had been sorely stricken by the ingratitude of his own flesh and blood. Such was the table to which David refers; and such were the enemies in whose presence it was prepared. It was so remarkable, so well-timed, and so suitable in every respect that the Psalmist could not fail to recognise in it the direct interposition of God’s own hand. It was a miracle of Divine providence. There are three points of resemblance between the provision made for David and the provision made for us. These are its Divine preparation, its abundance and suitableness, and its being made in the presence of our enemies.

The enemies in whose presence our table is prepared. In ancient Greek fable we are told about the Harpies, monstrous creatures with the bodies and wings and long claws of birds, and the faces of maidens pale with hunger. They were sent by the gods to torment the blind prophet Phineus, who had offended then by his misdeeds. Whenever a meal was placed before the unfortunate man the Harpies darted down from the air and carried it off, and either devoured the food themselves or rendered it unfit to be eaten. It was with the utmost difficulty that he was delivered from these frightful enemies, by the prowess of two of the Argonauts who had come thither in search of the golden fleece. Like all classic fables, this one has a profound moral. Here man is represented as a tiller of the ground, upon whom the Divine curse has been pronounced because of his sins, that in the sweat of his face he should eat bread; wise by insight and experience in regard to the common operations of agriculture, but blind as to the issues and results of these operations, and ignorant of what may be the increase of his sowing and the harvest of his toil, if any. In the Harpies we see represented the various enemies that are connected with the growth and supply of our food that are constantly on the watch to prevent us reaping the fruit of our labours, and rendering it unprofitable and unpalatable when it is reaped. Since sin came into the world God has ordained that man should encounter in full force the unkindly elements of nature. Nothing is more precarious than the growth of the corn upon which we depend for our daily bread. It is surrounded continually by innumerable enemies. There is--

1. Unsuitable soil and climate. It is within a comparatively small area of the earth’s surface that we can grow our corn. Beyond that area it is too cold or too hot.

2. The growth of our corn has many enemies of the animal and vegetable world to encounter. It has to contend with its own kind. Weeds, thorns, and thistles cumber the ground, and in their growth endeavour to choke and starve the corn and gain sole possession of the soil for themselves. There are birds that eat the seed as soon as it is sown in the field. There are caterpillars and insects that prey upon the tender blade. And worst of all, there are rusts and mildews that grow with its growth, and appear only when the full corn is in the ear, and turn the nutritious grain into black dust and ashes. And there are human enemies as well as natural. Competitions and rights restrict the cultivation of the soil; and commercial interests cause unequal distribution of its produce. The farmer has to encounter the difficulties of the market. Man, in having thus to grow his food amid a continual struggle with hostile forces, is taught in the most impressive way the solemn lesson of his dependence on God.

The table which is thus prepared for us. It is wisely adapted to our necessities as human beings. What a table is thus spread every year. On the table of the wilderness is spread spontaneously a plentiful feast of grass, wild fruits, and herbs for the sustenance of the dumb, helpless creatures that can neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns. On the table of the cultivated haunts of men are spread, year after year, the golden cornfields which witness to human industry, prudence, and foresight. What sacred memories gather round the table thus so richly furnished!

Who it is that has prepared this table for us. The harvest is the subject of a Divine covenant engagement. Our table is prepared by God’s own hand. The common event hides from us the Divine hand. In reality, in every human operation man’s part is utterly trifling compared with God’s. When we ask God to give us day by day our daily bread we simply ask that God would enable us to live from hand to mouth during all our life. To the use of one day’s supply the laws of providence restrict the rich and the poor alike. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)

Feasting before enemies

In the former part of the Psalm the writer represents himself as a sheep enjoying the sure protection of a Divine Shepherd; but here he represents himself as a guest, receiving all the attentions of a kind and generous host.

That David considered himself as provided for and distinguished by God. All in prosperous circumstances should adopt the language of the text. Would that they did. Then they would recognise in all the good things they enjoy so many provisions of a feast prepared by His abounding love. But not alone will this thought reveal your privileges, it will impress your obligations. It was accounted, of old, an awful thing to violate the understood obligations of hospitality. The eating together bound together. “He who did eat of my bread hath lifted up the heel against me” was the pathetic complaint of the Psalmist. Does not this show, in a striking light, the conduct of those who receive good at the hand of God, to return evil? They are guests, entertained with bountiful kindness, and breaking all the laws of such entertainment; they dishonour the author of their weal and their welcome, and add treachery to transgression. But if the description of the text applies to the blessing of our outward and temporal estate, much more does it apply to the state of grace in which believers in Christ Jesus stand. The provisions and enjoyments of the Gospel excel all others. What table, however richly spread, is to be compared to that to which Christ unites us?

And all this was and is “in the presence of mine enemies.” David reached the throne of Israel through such opposition that it made him a type of Him who, before He sat down at the right hand of God, “endured the Cross and despised the shame.” The associations of things wonderfully augment and diminish their importance; and the association of witnesses is one of the most potent of all. Disgrace and punishment would lose the greatest part of their evil if they lost all their publicity; and honour and reward are rendered infinitely more sweet by being conferred before our fellows. It was not the confinement so much as the exposure of the pillory that made it terrible as a mode of chastisement; and where would be the heroes of this world if there were no despatches and no histories? The best of us live far more in other men than we are willing to acknowledge; we are the meek servants of social opinion. And as social opinion is a motive, so is it a recompense. The censure of the world may be a great chastisement, when there are no other pains and penalties; and its praise a sufficient guerdon, without riches and honours. In David’s case there was everything that could make the presence of spectators significant and important. He rose to dignity and plenty in spite of fierce opponents. Many beheld him thus exalted who would fain have kept him down; and the elevation was more delightful on this account. If we may so say, it cost God more to put him there than it would have done otherwise. To be on the throne, then, in spite of opposition, enemies numerous and strong, after many toils and tears, not only as a dignity but a triumph--this was a far greater and more blessed thing than if there had been little or no difficulty at all. Men do delight, and ever have delighted, in the overthrow of the wicked. There is no man, however good, who is not pleased that thieves and liars and murderers are found out and punished. Whatever commiseration we may have for their sufferings as men, we feel complacency in the fact that they do suffer. It is possible to cherish revenge, which is wrong; but it is also possible to rejoice without cherishing it, which is right. The sentiment is natural, whether the object on which it feeds be present or prospective. Let us not take a narrow view of this feeling. It is not rejoicing in suffering as such, but as suffering on particular accounts. Suffering in defence of right we honour. But suffering and shame brought on those who have trampled on all righteousness and goodness we rejoice in, and are right to do so. It is not a pitiful vengeance, but a right healthy moral sentiment. David’s feast in the presence of his enemies is a type of many feasts. But things worth having involve trouble and expense in the getting. You can attain to honour and joy only in “the presence of enemies.” “Faith” is “a good fight” and Christian enterprise is a “wrestling with spiritual wickedness.” Wherefore “anoint the shield,” “take the sword of the Spirit,” that ye “may be able to stand in the evil day, and having done all to stand.” (A. J. Morris.)

Feasting in presence of enemies

“Thou preparedest a table for me.” I notice that all our commentators teach that there is a break here. A sheep at a table; that will not do, although the idea of feeding will do. Well, the kaleidoscope seems to have taken a turn. “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” What does that mean? I somewhere met with an idea which has always stuck to me. I do not know what commentator it was in, for I cannot find it now; perhaps it was somebody whom I heard. In old warfare they had rather savage ways of retaliating upon their enemies. After the battle the victors had a feast, and, in order to enjoy the feast, they took their leading captives--the leading men of the opposing army whom they had vanquished, and bound them to pillars in the banqueting hall, and compelled them to look on while those whom they had meant to destroy sat and feasted royally and uproariously an their presence. It was a savage way of acting--to prepare a table and sit down and drink to the confusion of their enemies, and their princes and their captains chained to the pillars. It gave zest to the feast, did it not? Ah, there is a true idea in that. “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” (John MNeill.)

A table among enemies

First, there are temptations, commonly so called, which can be a trouble even when they have ceased to be a dread. Just when all is peace and glory there comes the ribald murmur of an evil thought, the haunting disquiet of some evil imagination. Or doubts, again, rise up at the most solemn moments, at some turning point in our path. “This steep road cannot be right. The higher path of duty is a mistake. The view of uninterrupted splendour which I have promised myself will never come! The path leads nowhither; it is but a sheep track, beaten by the tramp of unenquiring generations. I am the slave of an imposture, the victim of a cunningly devised fable.” Doubts are certainly among those that trouble us. And then there is the constant weakness, the weariness of the road, the faintness which makes us stumble, the distaste for prayer, the distractions which perplex us. He does not concern Himself with them; He is busying Himself about me. The way lies through obstacles more and even greater than these. It is not His care to remove temptation, but to strengthen the tempted. He never promised to remove trouble; but He has promised to make anxiety out of the question. He never promised to remove pain; but He has promised to elevate it into a bearing, supporting cross. “He prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”

And what is this table, so strange, so unexpected, prepared in the presence of enemies thirsting for my life? Preeminently it speaks to a Christian of the blessed Sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood. In a wider meaning it is our Holy Religion. It represents all those different ways and means of grace in which God strengthens us against temptation. If, then, we are to push our way through these obstacles, He would seem to say that above all things it is necessary that religion should preoccupy the soul; it is the empty soul that is so mercilessly tormented. A man that has no principle, no settled religious beliefs, no settled religious obligations, who depends on his surroundings and companions, it is he who is so mercilessly tormented. And no less in “the table” do we trace a provision of strength. Over and over again Holy Scripture appeals to us with warning voice, “Be strong.” God knows the strain which we have to undergo, the unhealthy atmosphere, the miasmatic plain, the poisonous swamps and jungles through which the path winds, and therefore He prepares a table of strength. What strength we might have if we made use of this table of religion! We should find ourselves a source of strength to all around us. And yet again, the table is a feast of good things. There is the intense interest of religious life and religions work. Worldly men cannot understand it, simply because they have not thrown themselves into it. It would seem to be a fact that our enjoyment of everything is in direct proportion to the interest which we bestow upon it, and to the extent in which we devote ourselves to it. Even the very games and recreations of life are insipid when we cannot play them, or neglect to enter into them. “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” See how joyful, how bright God is all around us in His marvellous works. Do not let us despise enthusiasms; they carry us on. They are a table of delight prepared in the presence of our enemies.

And as the angels came and ministered to Christ after His temptation, so the anointed head and the replenished cup speak of the joy and gladness which wait on those who overcome. There is the oil of joy and grace poured over our heads, which makes us prophets, priests, and kings of God to all those with whom we are brought into contact. And at the end there comes the full cup. Everything contributes to the store of wealth, and all things work together for good, because we love God. Life in all its changes, health, prosperity, affliction, all add to the great store of blessing, and God’s mercy fills the cup of happiness to overflowing. (W. C. E. Newbolt, M. A.)

Thou anointest my head with oil.--

The anointing

David had been anointed to kingship. All Christians are kings, even as all Christians are priests; but kings only anointed not crowned, as they are priests ordained, not yet admitted to celestial ministries; and though the ordination to priestly service be now the more prominent honour, it is not such as to distrust or overshadow the kingly name and destiny.

David had been anointed from on high. David’s crown was a sure one, and surer than that already worn by Saul; and so is every Christian’s. God’s purposes in providence and grace are sure as the seasons and the sun. The kingship of every believer rests not on his own might or wisdom, not on the counsels and plans of his fellow men, but on the irreversible and sovereign grace of God.

David had been anointed to present rule, as well as future honour. He had forthwith to rule himself as a preparation for ruling others.

David was anointed of the Spirit. With the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.

David was anointed in secret. The anointing of David was not a public act.

David was anointed with the oil of joy. Oil was a symbol of joy. “And oil to make his face to shine.” Of Messiah it is said, “Thy God hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows.” (John Stoughton, D. D.)

My cup runneth over.--

The wealth of life

The overflowing idea is everywhere.

Our cup of natural blessing is not simply sufficing but redundant. We see this--

1. In the beauty of creation as opposed to mere utility. The sad philosopher of antiquity confessed, “He hath made everything beautiful in his, time”: and the poet of today rejoices, “All things have more than barren use.’ Some modern cynics have roundly abused nature, and tried hard to show the seamy side of the rainbow; but the loveliness and grandeur of things are too much for them, and the poet’s vocation is not yet gone.

2. In the abundance of creation as opposed to mere sufficiency. “Thou preparest a table before me.” And how richly is that table furnished. We have a school of political economists tormented by the dread of population outstripping the means of subsistence, and which is ever warning society against the awful peril. But how foolish are such fears, seeing we dwell in a world so rich and elastic. Let man be wise and good, and however thronged “the habitable part of the earth, there shall be” no complaining. The legend tells us that in olden times the ear of wheat extended the whole length of the straw, and it was through the sin of man that the ears of corn spring as we see them now. Truly this legend reflects the truth at all times, that the exuberance of God has been marred by the folly of man.

The superabundance of our cup of social blessing. Think of home, and all that means; and friendship; and philanthropy. And art, science, literature. Commerce is a whole vine in itself, and we gaze at its embarrassing lavishment with amazed delight. Surely, when the nations return to wisdom and virtue they shall no more be an hungered, but find the world their Father’s house, with bread enough and to spare. And in those days, too, it shall no more be felt that the individual is impoverished by society. Now, we too often feel that the multitude is the enemy of the individual; that the increase of the number makes the struggle all the more bitter for each member. But really, society is the instrument of God for multiplying the world’s riches and joy, and in the day when the human brotherhood shall dwell together in knowledge and love each shall serve all, and all each, until in the sublime reciprocity the land overflows with milk and honey.

The munificence of God is revealed to the uttermost in the cup of spiritual blessing. The cup of salvation runs over. It was not the study of God just to save us, but to save us fully, overflowingly. We see this--

1. In the pardoning of sin. God does not forgive sin with measure and constraint, but graciously multiplies pardons. The overflowing cup is the sign of a grand welcome, of a cordial friendship, of a most hearty love.

2. In the sanctification of the soul. We are not merely saved by Christ from ruin, but into a surpassing perfection of life. The Psalmist prayed, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” What is whiter than snow? We have white clouds, flowers, foam, shells; but in the whole realm of nature know nothing whiter than snow. But the human spirit aspires to a truthfulness, purity, and beauty beyond that of the physical universe, it pants to be whiter than snow; and this sublimest aspiration of our being is destined to attainment in Jesus Christ. “They are without fault before the throne of God.” Here, at least, the actual reaches the ideal. How full and rich the Almighty grace! “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”

3. Our last illustration of the boundless love is the provision for the soul’s satisfaction in Christ Jesus. History tells that an ancient king granted pardon to some criminals under sentence of death, but when these discharged malefactors applied for relief at the palace gates the king refused them, protesting, “I granted you life, but did not promise you bread.” This is not the theory of the Gospel; Christ not only saves from destruction, but opens to the soul sources of rich strengthening and endless satisfaction. Annually when the ice breaks up in Russia the Czar goes in state to drink of the River Neva, and having drunk, it was long the custom for the Czar to return the cup to his attendants full of gold, but year by year the cup became so much larger that at length a stipulated sum was paid instead of the old largesse. But however large the vessel we bring to God, and however much it increases in capacity with the discipline of years, God shall still make it to overflow with that peace and love and joy which is better than rubies and much fine gold. (W. L. Watkinson.)

The overflowing cup

Every few years we have people critical of the thanksgiving proclamation. They say, “We have nothing to be thankful for. Commerce down; manufactures dull; commercial prospects blasted. Better have a day for fasting than a day for feasting.” Indeed, have you nothing to be thankful for? Does your heart beat? Do your eyes see? Do your ears hear? Did you sleep last night? Are the glorious heavens above your head? Is the solid earth beneath your feet? Have you a Bible, a Christ, a proffered heaven? Ay, those of us who are the worst off have more blessings than we appreciate, and “our cup runneth over.”

Thanksgiving in the house. I just want to look around and see what God has been doing for you in your home. “Oh,” you say, “our house is not so large now as the one we used to have.” I answer, what of that? It is a great deal of trouble to keep a large house clean. Besides that, a small house is so cosy. Besides that, it is a bad thing for children to have a luxuriant starting. But I step into your parlour, and I find there the evidences of refinement, and culture, and friendship. I go on to the next room and step into your nursery, and I am greeted with the shout and laughter of your children. They romp; they hide; they clap their hands. Busy all day, without fatigues, they fall asleep chattering and wake up singing. And the little baby has its realm, waving its sceptre over the parental heart, and you look down in its wondering eyes and see whole worlds of promise there, and think to yourself, “those little hands will smooth my locks when they get grey, and those little feet will run for me when I am sick, and those eyes will weep for me when I am gone.” Thank God today that upon your home has come the brightness of childhood, and drop a tear of grief for those who weep over a despoiled cradle and toys that never will be caught up again by little hands now still, alas! forever. And I go into the dining room, and I find you have bread enough and to spare; and into your library, and you have books to read, many of them, and of the best sort. Thank God for books--plenty of them--books to make you study, books to waft you into reverie, books to make you weep, books to make you laugh; books of travel, of anecdote, of memoir, of legend; books about insects, about birds, about shells, about everything. Books for the young, books for the old. “Oh,” says someone, “I have not all these luxuries; I have not all these comforts of the parlour, of the nursery, of the dining hall, of the library.” But certainly you know something of the height, and depth, and length, and breadth of that sweet, tender, joyous, triumphant word “home”! “Oh, give thanks unto the. Lord; for He is good; for. His mercy endureth forever”; and let each one clap his hands, and say for himself, My cup runneth over.

I pass on now to look at thanksgiving in the hovels of the poor. No banquet smoking on their table. Oh, it is hard to be hungry in a world with ripe orchards and luxuriant harvests and herds of cattle driven to the slaughter. You rich, remember these poor today, and help them to join in the thanksgiving of us all.

Thanksgiving in the Church. I know there are those who think the Church is a museum of antediluvian fossils. They think it did very well once, but it is behind the times. That is not your opinion. You love, first, your home, and next, your church. O ye descendants of the men who were hounded amid the Highlands of Scotland, and who fell at Bothwell Bridge; O ye sons and daughters of the men who came across wintry seas to build their log churches in the American wilderness; O ye sons and daughters of those who stood in the awful siege of Leyden, and shouted the martyrs’ triumph in the horrors of the Brussels marketplace; O ye descendants of the men whose garments were dyed in the wine press of Saint Bartholomew Massacre; ye sons and daughters of the fire, what do you think today of a quiet Church, and a free pulpit, and a Gospel winged with mercy and salvation? What imperial edict forbids our convocation? What sword thirsts for our blood? What fires are kindled for our torture? None. Defended by the law, invited by the Gospel, baptized by the Spirit, we are here today free men of the state, free men of God. Let us give thanks. And let there be--

Thanksgiving in the city--for good laws, just judges, quiet Sabbaths, noble churches, etc.

Thanksgiving in the nation--for peace and prosperity, etc. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

The overflowing cup

The Psalm culminates in this expression. It could only have been in reference to spiritual things that David could thus speak.

Some men’s cups never run over. Because taken to the wrong source. Such are the cups held beneath the drippings of the world’s leaky cisterns. Some cups are never filled, because the bearers of them suffer from the grievous disease of natural discontent. The heart is like the slough of despond, into which thousands of waggon loads of material were cast, and yet the slough did swallow up all, and was none the better. Some cups never run over, because their owners are envious. The green dragon is a very dangerous guest in any man’s home. And unbelief is sure to prevent a man’s cup running over.

Why does the cup run over? Because, being believers in Christ, we have in Him all things. Between here and heaven there is nothing we shall want but what God has supplied. Because the infinite God is ours. When do we feel this? In the answer of our prayers and expectations. The Lord has given you more than imagination pictured. When Henry the Eighth was proposing to marry Anne of Cleves, Holbein was sent to paint her picture, with which Henry was charmed. But when he saw the original his judgment was very different, and he expressed disgust instead of affection. The painter had deceived him. No such flatteries can ever be paid to the Lord Jesus Christ. So beyond all conception of mind and heart is He. Sometimes the text is true of the Christian’s joy. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Bounty should lead to charity

If God makes our cup to run over in His bounty we should make it to run over in our charity. And indeed, wherefore doth the Lord make our cup run over but that others should be refreshed by the droppings of the same. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

Outward blessings abused

The ways by which God’s outward blessings are abused, are principally two.

1. Iniquity.

2. Vanity. They are abused when they are made serviceable and occasional unto any iniquity. I will give you some special instances for this--

(1) When we make our plenty the ground of an idle and unprofitable life; to live without any calling and employment, as if Divine goodness in any kind were a discharge from all industry.

(2) When we consecrate, nay, that word is not fit, when we embezzle, God’s bounty and mercies to luxury and drunkenness.

3. A third sin is loftiness.

4. A fourth sin unto which God’s plenty may be and is abused is carnal confidence.

5. A fifth sin is covetousness and love of the world. But I proceed to the second way wherein men do abuse the plenty of God’s goodness to them, namely, to vanity; and that is two fold, either of--

1. Feasting.

2. Apparelling. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

Verse 6

Psalms 23:6

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me.

A good man’s thoughts in his old age

The Psalm itself consists of two pictures--what we call “the shepherd,” and what we should not err in calling “the king.” Both have to do with character, spiritual character, relation to God. They may apply to other things, national or ecclesiastical, but here is their chief intent. The poem supposes the man who speaks to have spiritual life in him, and the good man thus utters his confidence in the protection and in the care of that God under whose loving fatherhood he has been brought on his way. In the second part of the Psalm we have another figure--a different sort of allegory altogether. It refers, perhaps, to a more advanced stage of the Christian life. I call this parable “the king.” And it reminds us of the “certain king who made a marriage supper for his son.” It tells of man made a partaker of the Divine nature, and coming into intimate communion with God. And all tells of the richness, variety, and depth of the soul’s satisfactions in such communion. And then comes the good man’s utterance of his subjective feelings after taking this review of life. Reasoning from the past to the future, he says, “Because Thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice.” By just giving a little turn to the, last expression of the text I see three things--

1. Firm faith. “Shall follow me.” “Goodness and mercy.” These are just the two things into which God’s beneficence, generally considered, naturally divides itself. Goodness to creatures; mercy to sinful creatures. An angel is the object of one; man of both. The good man says, “I have needed both; I have had both all my days, and surely they shall follow me all my days.”

2. There is also the idea of settled purpose. “Shall follow me.” By daily habits of devotion, by the culture of a child-like faith, by holy familiarity with Divine things, I will seem to myself to be constantly engaged in God’s service.

3. Then comes the assurance of expectation and hope. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord.” We take the faith and feeling of the man to expand and enlarge, till they embrace the great and ultimate future of the life that is to be, and he says, “I feel that I have been led onwards to that. These capacities and affections of mine, the stirring of a spiritual life within me, were never made to find their perfection here. I carry within myself, in my own religious consciousness, a prophecy, an earnest of something greater than the life that now is.”

4. Observe the beautifulness and the blessedness of a Christian old age. Age is a thing that may be very beautiful. It is when “the hoary head is a crown of glory, being found in the way of righteousness”--when there are no marks upon the countenance of extinct volcanoes, dark shadows from wrought-out passions, impressions of darkness and crime, but when the life has been spent for God. It is, if I am not mistaken, Scougal--the author of that little book The Life of God in the Soul of Man--takes a review of life, looks back upon its prominent events, its afflictions and its trials, and upon his inward experience, and ends all by saying, “I am this day such and such an age, and I bless God that ever I was born.” Voltaire does just the same thing as to the review, but with a totally different result. In one of his books you may find a review of his life. The querulous old man puts together all that he had gone through, finds it dark and disappointing, and concludes by saying, “I am this day so and so, and I wish that I had never been born.” There is the difference! “I thank God,” says the one, “that ever I was born,” because he can take the 23rd Psalm, and in the 23rd Psalm he can read the history of his inward life. And the other man, though he had great ability and great genius, and had a long and wonderful life, which, however, nobody would say, or pretend to say, that he spent it in walking with God, he says, “I wish that I had never been born.” Poor man!--they smothered him with flowers and killed him with fame--and it came to this! And the last thought is, that the best way to be able to end life with an utterance like this is to begin it well. (Thomas Binney.)

The believer’s security and confidence

To David the events of life were displays of God’s goodness and mercy. To some, in view of David’s life, this seems an exaggeration. Such an opinion must, however, be founded upon either erroneous or defective views of the nature of God’s special providence, or on ignorance and misapprehension of the objects to which that providence is directed. God’s special providence implies that he exercises a controlling influence over all our actions, they being to a certain extent determined as being the necessary effects of man’s constitution and circumstances combined, and which God has formed, appointed, and arranged. He has always some definite object in view. If that object be to promote man’s happiness, then it will follow that all the events of his life will tend, directly or indirectly, to that end. It is necessary to settle what happiness consists in, or at least what is the test of its existence and degree. In the constitution of things the decree of God has established an immutable connection between happiness and holiness, and that consequently the degree of holiness furnishes a certain test of the degree of happiness. Man’s nature is in itself most unholy, entirely alienated from God, and devoted to sense and sin. How are they to be roused from lethargy and really impressed with Divine truths? Calamities and misfortunes are the means God uses. These are well fitted to make the truths of the existence and moral government of God, and a future state of rewards and punishments, really effective truths. No doubt affliction often fails to produce permanent good results, but this fact only aggravates the man’s condemnation. Even moral evils and sins may be made instrumental in the promotion of the same great objects. We do not palliate or excuse moral offences on the ground of the good account to which they may be turned, for this would be to act on the principle of “the end sanctifying the means.” For if a man whose ordinary conduct is respectable has, through the force of hidden corruption, been led into any open and unquestionable violation of morality, it may, by the blessing of God, be made the means of producing a useful and salutary result, by rousing into action natural conscience, by inspiring suspicion and alarm, and by leading to serious conviction. Even to unconverted persons moral transgressions may be of great use in leading them to God.

In what circumstances, or by what persons, this statement may be properly made. No one can expect goodness and mercy to follow him save in virtue of God’s promises. It is a fearful doctrine, but clearly stated in Scripture with regard to many individuals of the human race, that, so far from “goodness and mercy following them all the days of their life,” everything that He gives them seems only the more to estrange them from God and goodness. This is just a statement of a fact; and if such persons believe that the dispensations of God’s providence with reference to them are intended to cause “goodness and mercy to follow them all the days of their life,” or that they will in fact do so, they are labouring under a fatal delusion. Before, then, any person is entitled to assert, with reference to his own afflictions, that God does everything for the best, and to apply this as a ground of comfort and consolation to himself, he must not only love God, but know and be convinced that God loves him. It is really astonishing to see how very seldom, in a professing Christian country, this question is seriously entertained, and on what slight and trivial grounds men are contented to take it for granted that all is safe with them. No one loves God but a true Christian, because nothing will produce love to God but the belief of the Gospel; and of course, it is the belief of the Gospel that makes a man a Christian. (W. Cunningham, D. D.)

The evidence of things not seen

We cannot--no one can, not the profoundest philosopher tell what life is, but we know that it is fed from without. And the higher the form of existence the more of external help it requires in order to its proper development. See this in plant life, in animal life, in human life. And this last needs most of all. And abundant supply is forthcoming for it, real, wholesome, beautiful satisfaction. In this last verse of the Psalm David gives utterance to a grand assurance and anticipation concerning the life that now is. He should not want. Goodness and mercy would follow him all the days of his life. Hence what could he do but pour out his thankfulness unto the Lord, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the presence of all His people? He tells us that goodness and mercy are special marks of God’s dealings with men. Let us think of them.

Goodness. “Good” and “God” in Anglo-Saxon are the same word. Goodness or Goriness, an element of God’s nature. “There is none good but One,” said Jesus, “that is God.” It is simply impossible for Him ever to decree or wish to do anything evil. Ill will or bad purpose on His part is inconceivable.

Mercy. This also is characteristic of the Divine relation to man. In giving this emphatic testimony to the nobleness of mercy David does but voice the dearest assurances of the human heart concerning the omnipotence of love. God is good, and therefore He must be merciful. He could not else be good. He has bound Himself by His own promise to be merciful and forgiving. Hence it is said, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to,” etc. No wonder, then, that David felt so secure when thinking of the future. (George Bainton.)

Goodness and mercy

This text refers to the time when Absalom had risen in rebellion, and David had been driven to seek refuge in Mahanaim. Retribution had been following on his track with feet shod with wool, and he was now only reaping what he had sown in an alienated people and a rebellious son. But the light of heaven shone through the darkness in ntis soul, for at the same time he felt himself compassed about with a sense of deliverance. Goodness and mercy were following him to make reparation for his evil days. God gave him back the faith of his childhood. The idea is a beautiful one, the idea of God’s mercy outrunning our necessities; but in our deeper moods we feel we need it to follow us. We need God for our yesterdays as much as for our tomorrows, for our rereward as much as for our leader. Not as an American Indian pursuing his enemy to the death; not like an avenger of blood, in his awful vendetta, on the track of the manslayer: but as a healer of the wounds we have inflicted He comes, to neutralise the consequence of our folly, ignorance, and sin; to separate us from the debasing associations of sin, and to give us a sense of recovered freedom. The consequences of our sins may be transformed into sources of joy and fruitfulness by the precious alchemy of grace. The disappointments of earth may become the appointments of heaven. To us goodness and mercy are no abstract qualities; we have them personified in God’s Son. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)

The goodness of God following man

The blessings here anticipated. “Goodness and mercy.”

1. Goodness. The goodness of God is a most delightful and animating theme; it touches every chord of the Christian’s heart. “How great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for the children of men.”

2. Mercy. Pardoning mercy. “Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity,” etc. Protecting mercy. The good man has his difficulties and dangers. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him who is the health of my countenance,” etc. Sustaining mercy. Amid holy enterprises, spiritual conflicts, arduous duties, severe afflictions, trying bereavements, God has sustained His saints. Supplying mercy. “My God shall supply all your need out of His riches in glory by Jesus Christ.” But we are prone to look on the dark side of His providence, and to ask, with the murmuring Israelites, “Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?”

The manner of its conveyance. “Shall follow me.” As the mother’s eye and hand follow her little one as he makes his first wobbling attempt to toddle alone; as the needle follows the lodestone; as the water out of the rock followed the Israelites through the desert; as the pillar of glory went with them by night and by day: so goodness and mercy shall follow the faithful, in the closet, in the family, in the church, in the world. It shall follow incessantly, supply fully, solace richly, sustain powerfully, pass with him through the Jordan, and enter with him the bright portals of glory. Here we have--

1. The continuance of it. All the days of my life--that is, all my life long--even to the last.

2. The certainty of it. “Surely,” etc. “Hath He promised, and shall He not bring it to pass?” As sure as you need it, you shall have it; as sure as you require it, you shall realise it: It shall come seasonably at the best time, in the wisest manner, and from the most unexpected quarter. Its certainty is founded upon the Divine existence; its communication upon Divine veracity; its possession is the fruit of immutable, unwavering, undying love. Surely, etc.

The consummation of it. “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Conclusion--

1. Learn to be grateful. Beware of sinking into the vortex of selfishness, and burying your mercies in the grave of forgetfulness.

2. Learn to be trustful.

3. Learn to be active. If you have the pledge that “goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life,” should not those days be spent for the glory of Him--whose you are, and whom you serve? Work while it is day. (John Woodcock.)

Behind and before

The Psalmist is looking at his yesterdays. He is gazing at the panorama of his past life. You know how sometimes we come to a corner of the road in the journey of life which brings the whole of our past way vividly before us. Perhaps we are laid aside by sickness, and in the time of seclusion the memory wanders back and retreads the path of the years. Or maybe we are standing by the open grave of a comrade whose path has run close by our own; our memory tugs us backward, and our past life opens out before us in marvellous clearness and intensity. Or sometimes a little commonplace incident unlocks the doors of the past, and in vivid recollection we pass through all its rooms. Now, when we are compelled to look back at the past of our life, how does it look? Gazed at with unprejudiced vision, with nothing to make us morally colour blind, how does it all appear? To the Psalmist, as he recalled the way he had come, it appeared to be one long unbroken path of failure and sin. His path was marked as the path of a snail or a slug over some tender plant, which leaves behind it the slime of its own passage. The retrospect oppressed him--yesterday became the burden of today. And is not that so with all who seriously think, with all who solemnly estimate the tenour and quality of their days? The retrospect becomes oppressive; they cannot comfortably recount the detailed stories of their lives. There are some whose burden is tomorrow. Their fear and their anxiety centre on the morrow. They want an angel to go before them to prepare their way. But I think that where there is one soul burdened with the fear of tomorrow, there are many burdened with the fear of yesterday. The burden of conscience never comes from tomorrow; it is rolled up from our yesterdays. It is not prospect, but retrospect, that lays the heaviest weight on the heart. And now to a soul so oppressed there comes this beautiful thought of God contained in my text, “Goodness and mercy shall follow me.” Goodness and mercy shall follow me, shall come on after me and wipe away that slimy track. I think that is a very gracious and inspiring thought. A God in our rear. A Father coming up behind. Goodness and mercy following us. You have seen the sands at a popular watering place cut and dug by a thousand hands and feet, littered with paper and all kinds of refuse, and befouled in a hundred ways. Then rolls up the tide, and the refuse is buried in its bosom, and all the unevennesses are smoothed away. It is even so with those sands of time, the sands of past years, in which we have left the track of our sins; the tidal waves of Divine goodness and mercy roll up, and the, unseemly track may be smoothed away. “Goodness and mercy shall follow me.” Suppose it had been, “Justice shall follow me,” avenging justice, cold unsympathetic law. If justice were to follow even the best of us, our hearts would shake with fear. It is not even “Righteousness shall follow me,” but goodness. There is something rich in the very word. “Goodness shall follow me,” and mercy. Grapes with the bloom on. Goodness in surpassing sweetness and beauty. “Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Can you think of anything fitter in expression, anything that could more tenderly unfold the nature of the God who comes in the rear of our life? “I have blotted them out like a thick cloud.” Do you see the force of the figure? You are going along the dry and glaring road, and you stir up the dust, and it flies like a thick cloud in your rear. And God says that as we go along the way of life we stir up clouds of sin, and He blots them out. As John Bunyan says, He sprinkles upon it the water of grace, and the dust is laid. Is not this just what we all need? But there is something more than this. “Goodness and mercy shall follow me” not only to blot out our sins, but to gather up the fragments of our goodness. We want a God in our rear who will pick up the fragments--bits of good resolution, stray thoughts, stray prayers, beginnings of heroism, little kindnesses, all the broken bits of goodness, all the mites, the forgotten jewels--to gather all the fragments so that nothing be lost. “Goodness and mercy shall follow me,” and shall miss nothing; the God who follows us is “like unto a woman, who lost one piece of silver, and who lit a candle and swept the house and sought diligently till she found it.” It was this great conception of a good and merciful God in the rear which converted a gloomy retrospect into a glorious hone Our Father is behind us, goodness and mercy follow us; let us leave our yesterdays trustfully to Him. But now in the second part of my text the Psalmist turns himself round from retrospect to prospect. He turns from a contemplation of the past to a contemplation of the future. What is his idea of futurity? “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Well, you say, there is nothing peculiarly glorious or definite about the conception. Stay a little. Before you can estimate the quality of anyone’s heaven you must know their condition on earth. Our hopes about tomorrow are very largely shaped and coloured by our condition today. Look at the Psalmist’s position. When this Psalm was composed he was a wanderer, exiled from the peace and blessedness of his own home. All our conceptions of the future are formed in a similar way. No two of us have precisely the same conception. The special bliss we anticipate is shaped out of our special burden now. Go down to our coast and speak to some old fisherman’s wife,whose husband and sons have all been lost in the deep, and ask her what in her loneliness is her conception of heaven, and would you wonder if to her one of the preeminent glories of the place is this, “There shall be no more sea”? Go to some invalid who is held by some chronic disease, ask her what is her conception of heaven, and would you wonder if to her one of the great glories of the place is this, “There shall be no more pain”? And all the anticipations are true. Every man’s present need discovers one of the glories of the future. It takes all our different needs to discover the glory and sufficiency of the things prepared for us. We all need this tug of the future, the tug of the days that are to be. We can only get out of the deep ruts of today by the powerful tug of tomorrow. Life grows heavy and stagnant when tomorrow ceases to pull, when the “forever” has lost its power. Present burdens grow light in the strength of the “forever.” Present homelessness can be almost cheerfully endured when in its coldness the Psalmist can sing, “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (J. Jowett, M. A.)

Goodness and mercy behind us

The ugly things that are lying in wait for us sometimes, when we are wholly at rest and quiet, like ambuscades towards which, all blindly, gay troopers ride, carolling love ditties or exchanging jests, and are suddenly cut down. How, sometimes, ugly things have lurked in our path, big with sorrow for us, that could have been so easily avoided, and would have been had we only known. But we knew not, we suspected not, and were allowed to go forward lightly, as though we were going to receive a boon instead of a crushing blow. Occasionally, indeed, we are visited and disturbed before some tragic misfortune with an unaccountable anticipation of evil to which we refuse to listen, shaking it off determinedly, and thrusting it from us, and it has seemed to us afterwards as if a guardian angel had been trying to save us, and, striving in vain, had been obliged to leave us to our fate. But in the case of each of us, how close we have often been, doubtless, without perceiving it, to calamities which yet were spared us; that drew very nigh while we heard no sound of their footfall beside us, and all but touching us, passed harmlessly by. And may we not say that goodness and mercy are frequently following us to our salvation from threatening mischief in the truer thoughts, the better feelings, that start up behind our frequent false inclinings, and prevail against them, in the wiser mind that presently awakes to arrest and scatter the foolish; in the wohlesomer heart that rises to check the unhealthy. From what degradation we have been snatched once and again upon the brink of which we were tottering; as we lingered and leaned ready to slide, there was that from within which laid hold on and drew us back. Or suppose that in certain moods of ours, in certain moments of passion or soul relaxation, opportunity had occurred--as with some in like moods and moments it has occurred to their undoing, to their headlong plunge into baseness or crime--how different matters might have been with us today! How much of what would be termed our virtue seems to us, when we reflect, to have been but a providential hindering of our inclination towards, and our ripeness for, what would have been the very opposite of virtue! We have been guarded and hedged in to preservation from ourselves. Can you not say, on looking back, that here and there, in this and that crisis, it was as though God had been our rearward, warding off from us devastation and havoc that threatened? True, every day bears upon it the fruit of yesterday’s sowing, yet have we not felt, when enduring the judgment of some previous mistake or misdeed, that the judgment was tempered with mercy--that it is not so severe as it might have been expected to be? Yes, while the iniquities and inequities of the past are laid upon us, we are constrained to acknowledge often that they might well have burdened us more heavily than they do. They are not upon us to the uttermost; there are withholdings--there are abatements, as though a gracious power were keeping them back from us in part. (S. A. Tipple.)

God following His people

That God may follow His people with these many ways, either in respect of--

1. His intention and affection.

2. His assistance and preservation.

3. His concurrence and augmentation.

4. Evidence and manifestation. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

The pilgrim’s rearguard, goodness and mercy

John Condor, afterwards D.D., was born at Wimple, in Cambridgeshire, 3rd June 1714. His grandfather, Richard Condor, kissed him, and with tears in his eyes, said, “Who knows what sad days these little eyes are likely to see?” Dr. Condor remarked, upon mentioning the above circumstances, “These eyes have, for more than sixty years, seen nothing but goodness and mercy follow me and the Churches of Christ even to this day.”

Goodness and mercy following to repair

Goodness and mercy pursues to repair the ravages sin has wrought. Nature follows the footsteps of man, and strives to obliterate the ravages she causes. The blasted rocks that have been exposed on the hillside she soon plants with the serf-sown trees and shrubs and hides their deformity. The stone wall which in its newness and rawness looks such a discordant feature in the landscape she subdues by the grey colouring and soft tenderness of her lichens and mosses into beautiful harmony with surrounding scenery. Similarly do goodness and mercy work; but they are now no longer abstract qualities, for they have been personified in the Son of Man.

Goodness and mercy

At once these words “goodness and mercy” attract our attention. It was “goodness and mercy” that led us first out of the fold, with an aim and object in life. There was “goodness and mercy” in that shelter from the noontide heat. But low it is “goodness and mercy” all the days of my life. We owe a good deal to the grace that comes after; the grace that only gives us the wish to do what is right, not only the grace that starts us and helps us in what is right, but also the grace which helps us to finish. Here is that striking characteristic of the love of God Almighty which comes, out in all His dealings with us, namely, its completeness. “Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” Creative love, which placed man in the world, did not exhaust the goodness of God towards us: Redemptive love met him when he fell. And as if Redemptive love itself were not sufficient, Sanctifying love came in to fill up where Redemptive love seemed to lack. So it is with each single soul. God completes His work. And, indeed, we all need this following grace, this persistent love of God. Think how much misty and trouble come to us from past sins, attacking the heels of life. How many would faint and fail if God’s grace did not follow them! “The glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward” (Isaiah 58:8). “Lord, we pray Thee that Thy grace may always prevent and follow us.”

“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” It is your hops and desire, and, please God, it will be your privilege, to dwell much in the house of the Lord. You will have frequently to go there, to plead the great Sacrifice. Day by day you will have to go into the Holy Place to offer the incense. It will be yours to kindle the lamp of a never-ceasing devotion, to place the Eucharistic Shewbread before the Lord. Make your life all temple, all part of the τεμένος, the sacred enclosure. Enlarge it towards the east, where we look for our Saviour’s coming. Let it be a life of patient witness for God. Enlarge it towards the west, where the sun of our life is gently dipping towards the grave, in a life of preparedness. Enlarge it towards the north, on the frontier of Satan. Enlarge it towards the sunny south; take in many a piece of ground which is now covered by worldly occupations, business, or pleasure. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. This should be our aim, to attain to the realisation of the life hid with Christ in God; and to this God is separating us off, that our sojourn with Him may be eternal.

“The house of the Lord forever.” The days are coming when God Himself will measure the temple, His house, to see who are His, and who shall dwell in His tabernacle. It is the permanence of heaven that is one of its greatest joys in prospect. It is an abiding place, a mansion. There is no restoring there, no troubling there; no dark misty shade of death to chill the sunlight of the road. (W. C. E. Newbolt, M. A.)

I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.--

The Church as a home

This text simply means, “I will have a home in the house of the Lord forever.” Whatever temple or church or chapel stands to us for a centre or rallying place of our religions belief and life, we should cherish it as a sort of other home. Churches stand for the common brotherhood of all, and for kindness and helpfulness to all. What should be our relation to these Churches? A home that all value. We know what that means. We don’t sit there all our time, but from thence we go forth to toil and struggle in the world. Then we return for life’s innermost peace and friendliness, reposefulness, and renewal. Just so it is when we make the Church into a home--a “dwelling place,” to use the Psalmist’s words. Thither we go for the inspiration, fellowship, and renewal of that deeper life in us; thither we go as children gathering about the feet of the Great Father, to feel His presence and to feel it altogether, and thence we go forth to do our busiest and highest part in the world. That is the use of the Church. Not to be always in it. That was the old monkish idea. They desired to make it a permanent sacred enclosure, where God’s saints might live out of the common world and so keep pure amid never-ceasing worship, or as nearly so as might be. But Christ teaches us a nobler idea, the idea of home and of active life in the world, and doing its work and busy in its interests; and religion, with a constant spirit setting up this other home of prayer and worship where we feel together peace, rest, refreshment, a common fellowship to the infinite life, and brotherhood to each other. So we renew life at the best part of it. Is it not true that the busier one’s life and the more even its resting times are crowded with great interests, attractions, and engagements, the more is it necessary, in order to give the deeper, inner life a chance, to make a definite time and place for its development among life’s regular engagements and duties? That is what you do by setting yourselves to have a church home. Some people do not know what pleasure there is even in the mere joining with others in the church. It may not be much they may be able to do or to give, but their sympathy, their encouragement openly declared, towards those who are struggling to keep some little church home going, is in itself a help. Anyone who thus joins in that fellowship of religious life gives a certain added strength and cheer to the whole body. Everyone who thus says to some little group of worshippers, “I am not much, but such as I am I am with you,” helps them more than can be figured in any statistics. Himself!--That is the help I plead for, the help to oneself and the help to one’s fellow creatures. Life needs this closer cohesion in its great thoughts and aims, this quiet home coming, as it were, of the single worshipper, this sense of having an anchorage in the midst of the wide, rushing stream of life. (Brooke Herford.)

The Christian’s dwelling place

This “house of the Lord,” observe, is on the other side of “the valley of the shadow of death”; and therefore it is just a description of heaven; and if the character of a shepherd sets forth the conduct of God towards His people while in this world, the character of a monarch sets forth His character towards them in the world to come.

The scene referred to. “The house of the Lord.”

1. Because it is the scene of His familiar glory.

2. Because it is the temple of His worship.

3. As it is the palace of His kingdom.

4. As it is the abode of His family.

The assurance expressed by the Psalmist. “I will dwell in it.”

1. This language implies the assurance, on his part, of the existence of a state of future blessedness. Reason says there must be such a state; conscience says there is such a state. Hence men often lull their conscience; but there it is--they cannot destroy it, and ever and anon conscience speaks like thunder. Like some chemical characters, in certain temperatures they are illegible; but raise the temperature and they appear in all their reality. But apart from these considerations, let us come to the revelation of the Bible. Jesus taught immortality: no one taught it as He did; no one preached it as He preached it. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.”

2. The extent of the Psalmist’s assurance. He says, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” He only sojourned in it here. Man is never satisfied here. There is quite enough here for the satisfaction of the animal; and the mere animal lives here in contentment, and takes its fill of happiness for its little inch of time. But not so man: man is a rational being. If he were a mere intellectual being, and nothing more, then he might dwell here. But man is not a mere intellectual being; he is a moral being, a spiritual being, and therefore he cannot dwell here. “But in the house of the Lord,” says David, “I will dwell forever.” “I shall have enough there.”

3. The Psalmist’s strong confidence of dwelling there “forever.” This confidence rests in the promise of God, the finished work of the Redeemer and the sealing of the Holy Ghost. Let this prospect reconcile us in the midst of all affliction, if we be Christians, and let us prepare for that dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. (Joseph E. Beaumont, M. D.)

The earthly and the heavenly sanctuary

The Church below. This leads us to speak of the Sabbath, when the church is most resorted to. The solemn setting apart of places for divine worship is not of human device, but possesses all the sanctions which can be derived from the known will of our Creator. And thus when we assemble ourselves in the church we bring ourselves into the position in which God hath declared that by those who seek acquaintance with Himself He shall be found, and we are looking in the channels through which it is especially promised.

The Church in heaven. But St. John says there is no temple in heaven. But what does that show but that men will be so changed there that churches such as we have known here will not be needed? You could not draw a richer picture of a regenerated earth than by just supposing such an extension of its Sabbaths as alone would render safe the removal of its churches. (Henry Melvill, B. D.)

God’s house the home of our hearts

Is our Father’s house so unwelcome and dreary a place that there can be any cause for keeping outside as long as the winds are gentle and the skies bright, and only going in when the rain comes and the clouds of night hang heavily in the heavens? Thank God, He does not refuse to let us in when we come to Him as our refuge in time of trouble; but it would surely be a better thing that He should be our “dwelling place,” the home of our hearts, when our joy is perfect, and not merely the asylum of our wretchedness. (R. W. Dale.)


Psalms 24:1-10

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 23". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/psalms-23.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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