SERIES: Names of God
SERMON: My Shepherd
TEXT: Psalm 23:1-6 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Austin Wilson
Watch the sermon here
Take notes here
Good morning my friends. It’s a joy to be with you this morning.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Austin Wilson, and I’m one of our worship leaders and elders here at Gateway Church. My wife Jenna and our two daughters Juliana and Whitley usually attend our North Main Campus (so hello to my North Main friends! We’ll be back next week!). And admittedly, this feels a little strange to be up here without a guitar. What do I do with my hands?!
This week, we’ll be continuing our series on the names of God where many of us have been spending one week on a different name God is called by in scripture throughout the year. This week, the name we’ll be studying is Jehovah Raah, the Lord is my shepherd, from Psalm 23. If you open up your Bible directly in the middle, you’ll probably be pretty close.
Let’s pray before we get into God’s Word.
Father God, thank you for this day. Thank you for a place to gather as your people. Thank you for your Word. May your truth guide us and may your word encourage us to become more like you today. Be with us this morning. Open our hearts to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
It may not come as a huge surprise to many of you that church leaders have been corrupt and sinful throughout church history. From the Crusades to justification of slavery, racism and genocide to sex scandals and embezzlement, countless leaders in churches around the world for thousands of years have led their flocks astray for their own selfish and sinful reasons. This failure of leadership extends beyond the church though. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle have failed to live up to both moral and legal standards, some employers have put their own interests above those of their employees, husbands fail to lead their families, and so on. Human leaders fail.
But church, I would like to encourage you that there is great hope. And we’re going to be talking about our hope this morning.
Let’s open our Bibles and read our passage for the day:
Psalm 23 says, “1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
That first verse sounds awfully familiar, right? “The Lord is my shepherd” is actually what we can translate Jehovah Raah to. Jehovah, often written as Yahweh, comes from Exodus 3:13-14, “13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
So Jehovah, or Yahweh, is the name for God meaning I am. Going one step further, the Hebrew word for I am is “Hayah” which literally means “to be.” So God is saying that the people can just call him I am because there is no real need for a further name given that he is the one true God.
The next part of Jehovah Raah is Raah. Raah, more of a verb, means to feed, pasture or graze, regarding shepherding. Raah is the Hebrew root word for an alternative name used, Jehovah Rohi. Rohi, more of a noun, is an even more specific descriptor for our God which means shepherd, or keeper of sheep.
We see this first in Genesis 4:2 referring to Adam and Eve’s son Abel, “2 And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground.”
So, we see here that the one true God is our shepherd, the one who feeds, provides, and takes care of us.
Now, Psalm 23 is a psalm of David, meaning that David was the author. He may have known a little something about shepherding. If we recall when David was chosen by God through the prophet Samuel to be the true king of Israel in 1 Samuel 16. After all the big burly sons of Jesse were not chosen to be the true king because we see in verse 7 that, “7 The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Jesse said, well there is still the youngest, but he is tending the sheep, indicating that David was a shepherd, specifically of his father’s sheep.
This is very different to the way Israel’s first king, Saul, was introduced in 1 Samuel chapter 9 where Saul is introduced as someone who was sent to wrangle his father’s donkeys who have gone astray. Many scholars believe this symbolizes Saul and the rebellious Israelites who asked for a king.
Now Saul was a foolish leader, not keeping God’s commands, and God decided to pursue another king, one who loved God more than he would himself, not that he would be perfect (as we will discuss). In 1 Samuel 13, Saul was told by Samuel, “14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince, or leader over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”
David was a man after God’s own heart. What does that mean?
King David was called a man after God’s own heart firstly to draw a distinction between himself and King Saul. Samuel implied that Saul was not a man after God’s heart by calling David by that name. Saul was a man after his own heart. He sought to build his own name up, not God’s – to make Israel wealthy and prosperous not for the glory of the one giving over his enemies to him – but to himself. Additionally, and the straw that broke the camel’s back was the time that Saul offered up the sacrifice that Samuel was supposed to as he waited impatiently to attack the Philistines.
David was introduced as a shepherd caring for his father’s flock and later described as the shepherd of the Lord’s flock as it says at the end of 2 Samuel 5:2, “you will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.” And 7:8 where God through the prophet Samuel said “I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel.”
Psalm 78:70-72 says that God, “chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.”
This integrity of heart was not of his own but rather from the grace of God’s mercy on him – and David recognized that. Throughout the Psalms, he humbles himself repeatedly. Here are a couple examples:
- Following the testimony of trust in God in Psalm 130, David writes, “Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” Psalm 131:1
- When discussing the plans for God’s temple in 2 Samuel 7, we read: “18 Then King David went in and sat before the LORD and said, “Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?”
David, like the Crusaders and others we talked about earlier, was an imperfect shepherd. We see in scripture a number of times he sinned against God – from his weakness of the flesh when it came to women (he had multiple wives plus concubines), to that general sin continuing with his lust for Bathsheba that ultimately had him send her husband Uriah to the front lines to be killed (effectively murder). And the consequences of his sin were far reaching. So even David, the man after God’s own heart, was an imperfect shepherd.
And so are all of our earthly shepherds. Church leaders, pastors, elders - myself definitely included - we are all sinners who will shepherd imperfectly. We are called to be an example and to lead God’s people well, and we try, but we will fail.
But there was another shepherd from Bethlehem. And he was perfect.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd
As we just saw, David, and all God’s earthly shepherds are imperfect. As has been the plan all along, knowing we would fail, God planned to take matters into his own hands to provide leadership for his people. Turn to Ezekiel 34 starting in verse 11:
“11 For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.”
Here we see that God himself will be his people’s shepherd. He did this by sending his son Jesus to shepherd his most prized possession, his people.
This morning we’ve spent a lot of time in the Old Testament, but as we see time and time again whether that be in this series on the names of God, or our finding Jesus series, scripture is telling one story. And Jesus is at the center of it.
Let’s turn to John 10 and read the words of Jesus:
“1 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Let’s focus on verses 14-15, “14 I [Jesus] am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
These words are as sweet as it gets. Jesus is the good shepherd. He picks up where others have failed. Jesus - Not a man after God’s own heart, but the heart of God in the flesh.
And he knows us, intimately. With a deeper knowledge than we even have of ourselves, for we are his and he created us. And he knows the father, who knows him, for they are one.
My family has tasted that sweet goodness. Some of you may be familiar with our story, but as I mentioned earlier, we have two daughters, Juliana and Whitley. There’s actually a pretty large age gap between the two of them. Juliana just turned 6 and Whitley is 8 months old. The main reason for this is that we have had quite the journey with Juliana. We go into more detail on the Gateway Church Podcast so if you want to learn more, go check that out, but in short, Juliana had a rough go as a baby and we didn’t know what to do. Helpless, young, first-time parents. As it turned out, she had some pretty significant heart defects that needed surgically repaired. So we spent a lot of time at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus that year as she had one open heart surgery, and more the next. And all this time we thought, after this, we are in the clear. She is going to take off and catch up developmentally. Well she didn’t. And after some genetic testing, we found out that she has a very rare genetic deletion syndrome that has caused and continues to cause developmental delays. So all that sounds pretty dire, frustrating, depressing, sad, right? Wrong. There has been an undeniable peace through it all that we can only attribute to our great God.
God knew who to put in our lives to meet our needs. People he knew would comfort us before we could even ask for it - many of you. He knew what our baby girl needed through two open heart surgeries and he still does to this day as she develops and grows at her own pace, by his grace alone.
And you know what? We taste that sweetness more and more every day! Not that we deserve it, but because he knows the strength we need to get through each day - whether that be an extremely tough one or a mundane one.
Back to our passage - perhaps the most important line, and the real differentiator of Jesus being the good shepherd, as opposed to fallen man is the fact that he will and has laid his life down for his sheep. A sacrificial servant. A humble shepherd. God in the flesh sacrificed on our behalf.
Now that we’ve established who Jehovah Raah is, Jesus the good shepherd, let’s dig into each verse in this short Psalm.
Starting in verse 1 – “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
Notice the author’s use of the possessive adjective “my” (great, more grammar even without Josh!). This is perhaps the sweetest word in the whole Psalm. This word was chosen for a reason. It does not indicate that the Lord is the shepherd of the entire world. It does not even focus on the Lord being the shepherd of his people as a whole, though this is true. But David specifically refers to God as his personal shepherd.
In an issue of reformed theologian Charles Spurgeon’s magazine, The Sword and the Trowel from 1866, he writes this about verse 1, “If he be a Shepherd to no one else, he is a Shepherd to me; he cares for me, watches over me, and preserves me.”
Another interesting thing about verse one is David’s use of the present tense here. The Lord is my shepherd. We can rest assured that we are in the most caring, loving hands of Jehovah.
Maybe you are going through tough times. I’ve been there, my friend. The Lord is your Shepherd.
And how encouraging is it that even our earthly shepherds have an even greater shepherd in the one true God?!
And the second part of the verse, “I shall not want.”
Tense is carefully chosen here as well. I shall not meaning – not now and not in the future – shall I want. And the reason for not wanting is solely because God is my shepherd. Evil people, the world, our unsaved friends and family – they will want, but we who have been chosen by God, will have contentment beyond earthly explanation.
Verse 2 – “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.”
The Lord our shepherd gives us rest. This verse is filled with shepherding connections.
He makes me lie down – sometimes we are told we need to rest because we won’t do it on our own. Sheep aren’t the smartest, and David knew this while writing this Psalm. He could look at his experience as a literal shepherd and count many times where sheep needed guidance, encouragement for rest. He was also writing to himself, a sheep in God’s flock.
But where are we told we will rest? In green pastures. This is the opposite of bare ground. The opposite of rocky, dry soil. This is comfortable, lush, nourishing to the body of a sheep, Scott’s miracle grow grass. The good stuff. It is sweet and full and good for the soul, like God’s word is for us.
And all this beside still waters. God’s presence and shepherding hand can do so much, like water. It can cleanse, refresh, and sustain us. And it is still water, not rushing water, no raging waves, but peaceful streams.
Verse 3 – “He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
Jehovah Raah is a God of restoration. We can see restoration in our souls after we have been saved. When we call upon the name of Jesus and are saved, we receive a new heart, a restored heart bent towards his will, not our own, and when we are feeling weak, we can pray for the blessing of renewal any time!
Some restoration and renewal for us came out of left field. Another baby was not in the cards for us, or so we thought. We believed that Juliana needed us 100%. And two of my favorite words in scripture happened, “But God.” God knew that our family was not whole without another baby. Trust me, we didn’t know that. But he knew that more healing, peace, and comfort could come through him through our new baby girl Whitley. A second chance at raising a baby, hopefully without some of the heartache and challenges. And let me tell you, that little girl is already keeping us on our toes!
Back to the passage - God leads us in his ways, not the ways of this world. Not for our own gain, but for his and his alone. For his glory and our good. Left to our own, like wayward sheep to the shepherd, we will go astray but by God’s great mercy and grace, we are led in paths of righteousness instead.
Verse 4 – “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
This verse is undoubtedly one of the most familiar verses in scripture in the secular world. Many people who believe many different things look to the hope written in this verse often near the end of their time on this earth. But this verse is packed with so much more than just that!
First, as believers, we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We do not run with impatience or worry with anxiety about the end of our lives, but rather we walk calmly with the Lord our shepherd. God’s path before us is perfect and will fulfill God’s will and we can follow the path he has laid before us with joy and peace.
Next, we walk through the valley. We did not start in the valley, and our destination is not the valley, but rather the valley of the shadow of death is a mere season in our eternal timeline. We come from this life, through the valley when our time on earth is done and emerge into the glory of the eternal life we have dreamed of our entire life.
And let’s remind ourselves that we are not dealing with death itself, for Christ has defeated death. We are only dealing with the shadow of death. The eternal nature of death has been dealt with through Christ’s death and resurrection. As Charles Spurgeon said in that same commentary, “The shadow of a dog cannot bite; the shadow of a sword cannot kill; the shadow of death cannot destroy us.”
And if the shadow of death cannot destroy us, let us not be afraid! We are not assured that there will be no evil, or that Satan himself will not be present in the world, but rather that despite the presence of evil, we have no need to fear.
And why do we have no need to fear? Because God is with us! This is the joy, privilege, and peace we have as Christians! Like a young child that is scared of some turbulence on an airplane, yet sleeps peacefully in his mother’s arms, all the more we can have peace and comfort in the arms of God our shepherd.
The final part of this verse gets skipped a lot. Sometimes it makes people uncomfortable, people don’t understand it, or they just reject it. And this is certainly where it can be challenging…so what does it mean when “your rod and your staff, they comfort me?”
What are a rod and staff used for? A shepherd’s rod and staff were used for many things. Well, they were two different devices. The rod was a relatively short and heavy device similar to a club while the staff was longer and thinner with a hook at the end like we have often seen depicted with shepherds.
Both were used to protect sheep in different ways. The rod could be used to prod the sheep along during the day, directing them. It could have also been used to fight off wild animals or to count the sheep. The staff on the other hand was used to pull sheep back into the fold who go astray or pull them back away from harm, you see, sheep aren’t the brightest animals often aimlessly wandering and eating anything in sight, even things that may hurt them.
These devices are good for us. We are fallen, imperfect sheep…or humans rather. We often need some gentle prodding. Sometimes we need pulled back from something that is bad for us with some serious force. But through it all, the Lord our shepherd is doing it because he loves us. He is using these same tools to defend us and keep us safe and far from harm.
Verse 5 – “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
Despite the fact that our enemies are at the door, God prepares a table for us. He prepares what is needed to sustain us. And those enemies at the door, they are real. We will have enemies in this life, Jesus certainly did. The enemy is real and present, but this does not surprise, or rush God and he provides for us anyway with the peace that only he can provide.
And as we are instilled with the Holy Spirit when we become saved, we are anointed to fulfill our Biblical duties in our lives. But not just enough to get the job done, but David says our cup overflows with oil. There is more than enough, an abundance of God’s power and grace in us to live the lives he has called us to.
And finally verse 6 – “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
Spurgeon says this verse “is a fact as indisputable as it is encouraging.” Two things that are inseparable from those who love God are goodness and mercy. Throughout our entire lives. Through the days of much and the days of little. The bright days and the dark days. These are with us.
Goodness is bestowed upon us to meet our needs, far beyond the common grace given to all mankind, while mercy is a constant to blot out our sins. We need these things and God provides them in abundance.
And finally, we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. We are God’s chosen, beloved people. His family. And his family will reside in his house forever. We aren’t hired hands, or servants, though we do have responsibilities and are called to service. We are sons and daughters and have all the rights that come with those titles, including living with him forever.
Jehovah Raah, the Lord is my shepherd. Few names carry such weight to them. Few give such comfort, hope, and peace.
Maybe you came here today needing some encouragement that the Lord your God is there keeping you and guiding you. Well, Jehovah Raah is. Maybe you are walking a path that the Lord is showing you is not his way. Jehovah Raah is there too, bringing you back to him. Maybe you or a loved one are going through a season of loss. Jehovah Raah is there to carry you through it for this is not the end for those who are his!
And Jesus perfected the shepherd illustration from scripture. He was the picture of selfless leadership, of sacrifice, of fearless defense of the innocent, and tender care of his people. Let us take hope knowing that Jesus forever has been and will be our shepherd.
Father God may your word change us. May your guiding hand as our shepherd encourage and enable us to live lives worthy of your calling. Let our lives reflect your great grace and mercy that we have received through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In Jesus’ saving name, Amen.
May we go this week, trusting that Jehovah Raah, the Lord our Shepherd loves us more than we will ever know.
You are sent.