Do you have a happy place? A place where you go that just makes you feel happy even at the thought of it? Where is your happy place?
Some people have many such places or at least they have equated them as that.
I got an email on the day that I began writing today’s message and as soon as I saw it I knew that was the title for today. “Your happy place is calling! And it is on sale!”
My guess is they don’t fly where my happy place is but the truth of the matter is “your happy place is always calling” whether you know it or not. And you can go there almost anytime regardless of circumstances in life. At least that is what today’s portion of HIStory indicates.
Today we’re going to look at the most known Psalm in HIStory. Even people who have never set foot in a church seem to know parts of this one.
In fact, long before I got to know Jesus I had a tee shirt that quoted verse 5 as, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for I am the meanest … in the whole valley”. I remember laughing out loud at myself during a bible study when I read how it actually went after becoming a Christ follower. It made much better sense. Logically thinking, I guess I knew that someone out there had to be meaner than me. In fact, looking back now, I think wearing that shirt got me bullied more often than not proving for sure that I was not as it claimed.
The Psalm is of course number 23.
Those of you who have been with Grace for a long time know that, for at least 10 years, every year as spring gave way we would begin the “Summer in the Psalms” series. And we would dig into a different Psalm each week until Summer ended. It was great soul care. But in all those years somehow I missed preaching and teaching through the Twenty-Third Psalm.
So, today, your happy place is calling you and its number is 23.
Let’s read this one aloud together. We’ll actually be reading it in the version that I first got to know it…. Well the one after getting to know God that is. Let’s stand together for the reading of the Word.
Psalm 23:1-6 (KJV)
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”
This Psalm speaks of “the happiest place forever”. And unlike Penticton whose slogan is “the place to stay forever”, this Psalm speaks truth not just slogans that were made to attract you into buying a piece of happiness that truly doesn’t last.
Take for example, “The Lord is my shepherd”. I think even “city boys” have an idea of what a shepherd is. The basic premise is the person who watches over the sheep, is a shepherd. King David grew up in that role so he of course knew intimately what he was talking about. Being a shepherd was not considered the pinnacle of society. In fact, it was a lowly occupation and looked down upon by most people in Israel because it was such a dirty job. But once King David held the position the word shepherd took on new stature. Biblically it became a metaphor used to describe even the highest levels of leadership including the king himself.
Yet the shepherds job was still lonely and demanding.
Illustrated Bible Dictionary gave this job description: “The duties of a shepherd in an unenclosed country like Palestine were very onerous. “In early morning he led forth the flock from the fold, marching at its head to the spot where they were to be pastured. Here he watched them all day, taking care that none of the sheep strayed, and if any for a time eluded his watch and wandered away from the rest, seeking diligently till he found and brought it back. In those lands sheep require to be supplied regularly with water, and the shepherd for this purpose has to guide them either to some running stream or to wells dug in the wilderness and furnished with troughs. At night he brought the flock home to the fold, counting them as they passed under the rod at the door to assure himself that none were missing. Nor did his labours always end with sunset. Often he had to guard the fold through the dark hours from the attack of wild beasts, or the wily attempts of the prowling thief (see (1Sa 17:34)).”, Deane’s David.” (Illustrated Bible Dictionary: And Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature.)
King David said, “The Lord, (Yahweh) is my Shepherd” as though it is a good thing to be a shepherd. The emphasis here is of course on “my” in verse 1 as well as shepherd. “The Lord is my shepherd” not “our shepherd” but my shepherd. Though where two or three are gathered in His Name He is their Shepherd as well.
Yet David is making a statement here that is easily overlooked. This was quite a departure from the communal way that Israel viewed God. To them, God was our God, as a community but not often spoken of in such intimate terms as David used.
God did big picture things like creating the universe and sustaining it with changes in the weather patterns and solar flares and those, way to big for us to conceive, things that sustain life. He was also seen as the ultimate judge and jury but not so much as the trusted defender coming to the aid of even the guilty when they call.
David changed that view considerably with this Psalm. God was now intimately involved with his everyday life. God was seen as David’s provider, the one who from the moment he opened his eyes and greeted the new day, led David to where he would find everything he needed to sustain his life.
David sought to remind those who read the 23rd Psalm that because of that intimate relationship with God, “he would not be in want”. God not only knew what David needed but where David would find it. And God lead him to those places.
Those green pastures, those places of rest, where life giving water flowed. The very things that bring us peace when we cease to have need of striving for them because God has provided.
The shepherd’s job was to lead and look after the sheep. He knew the way to their happy place and always steered them down the right path. The shepherd would be the one who defended the sheep from things that they didn’t necessarily see but he saw. He saw the wolf gazing down upon them and sprung into action.
When you read the Psalms you may ask did David know that Good Shepherd as he penned these verses? After-all he said, “The Lord is my shepherd…”(1). Could he have walked so closely and intimately with the Shepherd to have knowledge of the Good Shepherd to come?
Jesus Christ seemed to indicate that David spoke prophetically at times and especially when he wrote, “(43) …”How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, (44) “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”‘ (45) If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” (Matthew 22:43-45 (NIV). Jesus spoke these words were to people who were looking for the son of David, the Messiah to come and couldn’t believe it when He stood before them (Cf. Matthew 22:42).
They were looking for the same son of David that proclaimed, “(11) “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (12) The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. (13) The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (14) “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me– (15) just as the Father knows me and I know the Father–and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11-15 (NIV).
Jesus said the good shepherd would lay down his life for the sheep. But surely a sheep wasn’t to be saved at all cost? Nor that greatest cost by a shepherd like David?
Just what was David getting at in verse 4? Profits trump the shepherds’ personal safety? If that dumb sheep can wander where it will likely die would the shepherd really rush in after it, and possibly die trying to save it? Is that what David was advocating by the confidence he felt in the LORD?
Sure David took on bears and lions but let’s face it, being confronted by such things brings about necessity. I don’t think David went off looking for the lions that might eventually find and kill his sheep, but heaven help them if they came looking for the sheep while he was on duty.
He had the tools to deal with that. And I’m not just talking about the rod and the staff either! The rod was a handy weapon but the wolf or the lion would have to be right on the sheep before a shepherd could clobber it. And the staff was more for keeping the sheep in line when going from point A to B than a weapon to take down the enemy.
No David had his sling and it was effective enough to take down a giant from some distance away if need be. And it was an effective deterrent to scare off or kill a predator before one hair was missing on the sheep. He had what it takes and wasn’t afraid to use it. Those were his sheep; he was their protector.
Clearly David and his far off son, Jesus knew what it takes to be a good shepherd.
The good shepherd is the law enforcer that you hope to never meet on bad terms. But He is also the protection you have watching your every step. David wrote, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4-5).
Have you ever wondered what that “shadow of death” metaphor was about? I mean we kind of use it to infer those who are in the final days of their lives. Those who have one foot in the grave and it’s getting darker by the moment. But I think David is still talking about shepherding his sheep in “paths of righteousness” (from verse 3). Sometimes those paths would lead through dark and deadly places where danger abounds.
The shadows hide the dangers but sometimes we sheep are kind of dumb and go where we ought not go. I think the saying is, “where angels fear to tread”. But it may not even be deliberate disobedience or foolishness as that saying implies. It could be just taking a left when clearly we should have gone right and soon enough we find ourselves in an unsafe place to be. By the time we realize we’ve gotten off the right path it’s getting dark and hard to see.
David says there is “no fear” (4) even here because he knows the Good Shepherd won’t abandon the sheep that went astray. Doesn’t matter if the wolf is upon them or the path they’ve taken leads off a cliff. That sheep is secure in the fact that the good shepherd will come to the rescue and he has nothing but the staff to worry about.
In fact, the Good Shepherd said He, “would never leave him nor forsake him” (cf. Heb. 13:5; Deut 31:6). But that doesn’t mean those sheep won’t feel some discipline along the path. The shepherds’ staff is employed to correct the sheep’s path so it will return safely to the fold. Safely to their happy place.
David wrote, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over”(5). It’s a secure place that as the sheep have found. A place of God’s favour and blessings.
With this metaphor, David reminds us that a good host would take olive oil and add perfume to it and then pour it on the head of his special guest as he showed up for the banquet. This gesture has both spiritual and practical applications. A practical one that comes to my mind is hygiene and or the lack there of in those days. We take showers these days before a party and arrive smelling good enough to be in mixed company. But back then water may have not been as plentiful and that perfume certainly would have been a welcomed addition to the meal.
Spiritually speaking the anointing may symbolize the Spirit of God preparing the repentant believer for the wedding supper of the Lamb. This is God’s happy place and it never stinks! And it isn’t a somber celebration either!
The cup that overflows is not an endless drink as some might suggest. Though it is a gracious helping. Break out the best wine, and don’t pour it in those little cups we use for communion either! Bring on the choice food, and let’s rejoice secure in the arms of the shepherd.
Isaiah speaks about the banquet in these terms: (6) On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine– the best of meats and the finest of wines. (7) On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; (8) he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. Isaiah 25:6-8 (NIV)
When the shepherd brings us all together to celebrate this meal it will be for His glory and it will be glorious! The book of Revelation puts it this way: (6) Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. (7) Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. (8) Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) (9) Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” Revelation 19:6-9 (NIV)
David ends this Psalm with a similar burst of praise for the Shepherd’s care. “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever” Psalm 23:6 (NLT).
I like that version because it puts the emphasis on the Lord’s pursuit not on the sheep’s entitlement. It looks forward expecting the ever watchful Good Shepherd to steer them through the pitfalls of life with His rod and His staff making sure they reach their happiest place forever.
Dig deeper in this part of HIStory: Psalm 23
- What causes you to worry or be afraid?
- When was the first time you heard the 23rd Psalm or parts of it?
- Describe your happy place. Where do you find peace and rest?
- Read Psalm 23 in several versions if possible.
- What do we know about the author of this Psalm? (1 Samuel 16:10, 19-21; 1 Samuel 17:33-36)
- Who does the Bible describe as shepherds in the following passages? ( Gen 4:2; Gen. 30:31; Gen 46:34; Gen. 48:15; Exodus 3:1; 2 Sam. 5:2, 7:8; Isaiah 40:11; Jer. 3:15, 17:16, 31:10; Ezekiel 34:15, 23, 37:24; Micah 5:4; Matt. 2:6, 25:32; John 10:11-16, 21:16, Acts 20:28, Heb. 13:20, 1 Pet. 2:25, 5:4; Rev. 7:17).
- What characteristics did you notice in the previous passages about shepherds?
- Who is the Good Shepherd according the verses you’ve just read?
- Who does David call his shepherd? (Psalm 23:1, Matthew 22:43-45)
- List ten things from this Psalm that David’s Shepherd does for him? (Psalm 23)
- Where does the Good Shepherd promise to be with His sheep? (Psalm 23:4,6; John 10:27-30; Romans 8:31-39)
- How can you help someone who is worried or has lost their hope this week?