Why is Psalm 23 such a comforting portion of Scripture? Why is it so often quoted? Why is it read at so many funerals? It tells us there is a God, we can belong to this God, and this God cares for His own. “The Lord is my shepherd…” This is truly comforting.
But beware of false comfort from this psalm. It is only if the Lord is your shepherd that there is comfort to be had in it. If He is not your shepherd, then all the rest of the psalm does not apply to you. Then it would read like this:
The Lord is not my shepherd, so I shall want. He doesn’t make me lie down in green pastures. He doesn’t lead me beside still waters. He doesn’t restore my soul. He doesn’t lead me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear evil, for He is not with me. His rod and His staff they do not comfort me. He doesn’t prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. He doesn’t anoint my head with oil. My cup does not overflow. Surely goodness and mercy shall not follow me all the days of my life. And I will not dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Clearly it is of utmost importance to have the Lord as your shepherd. Therefore we need to know how we can become one of His sheep, one of His flock.
Jesus says in John 10:7-9, “…I am the door of the sheep…If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” Jesus Himself is the way by which we can enter into God’s flock, God’s flock being His people – those who belong to Him, those who are in relationship with Him. He is the means of our being saved from being separated from God and kept from relationship with Him. Sin is the issue in this. God is holy, righteous, blameless. As such He can have nothing to do with that which is sinful. We are sinful. Romans 3:23 tells us, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We have done wrong, we have disobeyed God, we have failed to keep His commandments. We have done this from our corrupted hearts which are sinful by nature.
In Jesus saying He is the doorway to God, He is saying that He is the one who can take care of our sin problem. How does He do this? John 10:14 tells us that not only is He the door by which we enter into God’s fold, He Himself is the Good Shepherd, and it’s by what He does as the Good Shepherd that we can be saved and become one of God’s sheep. Jesus says in John 10:14,15, “I am the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” It’s in Jesus’ dying for us that He is the way to God, because it is in His dying that our sin is taken care of.
Jesus, the sinless Son of God, came to this earth as a man and died on a cross. Three days after His crucifixion He arose from the dead. In these events He accomplished what is necessary to save us. 1 Peter 2:24,25 tells us what was occurring in Jesus’ crucifixion. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” We were stray sheep, sinners separated from God. Jesus took all our sinfulness on Himself and died, paying the penalty our sins require. This is true for all who will believe in Jesus Christ, for all who know who He is, and what He did, and then trust in Him to save them. As John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become the children of God.” In faith what Jesus did on the cross is applied to us, so that in being identified with Him in that faith, His death becomes our death to sin, and His resurrection becomes our living to righteousness.
Do you believe in this truth? Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior? If so, then you have “returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul” (1 Peter 2:25). You have become one of the flock of God. The Lord is your shepherd.
And that means that all of Psalm 23 applies to you. He provides for you. You shall not want. He makes you lie down in green pastures. He leads you beside still waters. He restores your soul. He leads you, leading you in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. He protects you. Even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you will fear no evil, for He is with you, His rod and His staff they comfort you. He blesses you. He prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies. He anoints your head with oil. Your cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life. And He keeps you. You shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. This is true comfort.
Imagine what it would have been like to be in the shoes of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had conquered Jerusalem and, along with Daniel and others, these three Hebrew youth had been taken to Babylon where they ended up in service to this foreign king. He makes a golden image and requires all to worship before it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will not. They refuse to be unfaithful to the one true God.
The King’s Arrogance
King Nebuchadnezzar is furious over their refusal. He gives them another opportunity to worship the golden image that he had set up. This is what he tells them: “Now if you are ready…to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:15).
The arrogance of King Nebuchadnezzar is extreme. He thinks he is unstoppable, that no god could intervene and thwart his will.
The Hebrew’s Confidence
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answer the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).
The confidence of these young men is extreme. They know God can thwart Nebuchadnezzar, and they are confident God will. But even if God were to not deliver them from the fate of burning in the fiery furnace, it made no difference to what they were determined to do. They would not give in and sin by worshipping anything other than the one true God.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are thrown into the fiery furnace. Nebuchadnezzar sees them walking, unbound and unhurt, in the midst of the fire. And he sees another with them, the appearance of the fourth one being “like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25).
Nebuchadnezzar calls Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to come out from the fire. They do, and they are completely untouched by the fire. This leads Nebuchadnezzar to say, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants, who trusted in Him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God…there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way” (Daniel 3:28,29).
The deliverance of God is extreme. He intervenes, setting aside the laws of nature, and overruling what King Nebuchadnezzar had determined. None can deliver like this except Him, the one true God.
Arrogance, Confidence, Deliverance Today
For a Christian it is not hard to imagine being in the shoes of these three Hebrew men. A Christian’s situation is much the same as theirs.
We face an extremely arrogant enemy. Satan sought to make himself equal to the Son of God, and now he “…prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
But we have extreme confidence. We are sure “…that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38,39).
We have such extreme confidence because God is an extreme Deliverer. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 2:4-6).
There is an enemy who lifts himself up against God and seeks to have us be unfaithful to God. We should respond with unshakable confidence. By means of Jesus Christ bearing our sins and paying the penalty for them by His death on the cross we are delivered with a deliverance that is more sure than anything else we can know. Stand fast, believer! Whatever the consequences in this life may be, faithfulness to God is never faith misplaced. He has delivered you and He will deliver you! In this confidence, stand fast.
Maybe this confidence is not yours, because you haven’t entered into this deliverance. Be assured there is an enemy of your soul seeking to devour you, yet he need not succeed. By God’s grace, through faith in Jesus, extreme deliverance can be yours. Trust in Jesus Christ and join the ranks of the confident delivered ones!