The following remarkable little book, "The Shepherd Psalm," by William Evans was written in 1921, and later reissued in 1932 for the Moody Colportage Bible Series. If any has read his other book, "Great Doctrines of the Bible," you will have had a taste for his ability to explain some of the most difficult concepts in a freshly understandable fashion much as one might put the cookies on the bottom shelf so that anyone might grab some.
Here we are about to embark on a study of the twenty-third Psalm. Please sit back and enjoy learning just how much like sheep we really are, and how much the Great Shepherd of our souls is truly the owner of the rod and the staff that comforts us in all things.
This book is now out-of-print and just another of the many items in my treasure box given to me back in 1980 by Mrs. Henrietta Parr, the widow of a radio pastor, William Parr. He, along with another preacher, Floyd Hitchcock, launched the "Faith of Our Fathers" broadcast. We will be enjoying much of Mr. Hitchcock's writings soon, including his "March of the Empires: A verse-by-verse study of the Book of Daniel."
So by all means, pull up a chair, get comfortable, and let us embark upon this journey through one of the most loved Psalms in the Bible.
This production of the Shepherd Psalm is sent forth at the request of many hundreds of kind persons who have listened to the writer preach on it and who desire to see it in print, that it may be a blessing to many who cannot hear it.
It is a well-known Psalm. Untold numbers of sermons have been preached on it. Books without number have been printed in attempts to set forth its life, depth, richness, and beauty. Doubtless much more will be written and spoken concerning this charming pastoral symphony -- and, after that, much more will remain yet to be said, so full is the inspiration of the divine Word. May GOD make this Psalm to the reader all that it has been -- yea, and more -- to the writer!
-- William Evans
The world could afford to spare many a magnificent library better than it could dispense with this little Psalm of six verses. If the verses of this Psalm had tongues and could repeat the tale of their ministry down throughout the generations of the faithful, what marvels of experience they would reveal! Their biographies would be gathered from the four winds of Heaven and from the uttermost parts of the sea; from lonely chambers, from suffering sickbeds, from the banks of the valley of the shadow of death, from scaffolds and fiery piles; witnessing in sunlight from moors and mountains, beneath the stars and in high places of the field. What hosts of armies of aliens it has put to flight! If by some magic or divine touch, yea, some miraculous power, the saints' experience of this Psalm could shine out between its lines, what an illumination of the text there would be!
Luther was fond of comparing this Psalm to the nightingale, which is small among the birds and of homely plumage, but with what thrilling melody it pours out its beautiful notes! Into how many dungeons filled with gloom and doubt has this little Psalm sung its message of hope and faith! Into how many hearts, bruised and broken by grief, has it brought its hymn of comfort and healing! How many darkened prison cells it has lightened and cheered! Into what thousands of sickrooms has it brought its ministry of comfort and support! How many a time, in the hour of pain, has it brought sustaining faith and sung its song of eternal bliss in the valley of the shadow of death! It has charmed more griefs to rest than all the philosophies of the world. And I am persuaded that this little Psalm-bird will continue to sing its song of comfort and cheer to your children, to my children, and to our children's children, and will not cease its psalmody of love until the last weary pilgrim has placed his last climbing footstep upon the threshold of the Father's house to go out no more. Then, I think, this little bird will fold its golden pinions and fall back on the bosom of GOD, from whence it came.
It has been well said that this Psalm is the most perfect picture of happiness that ever was or ever can be drawn to represent that state of mind for which all alike sigh, and the want of which makes life a failure to most. It represents that Heaven which is everywhere, if we could but interpret it, and yet almost nowhere because not many of us do.
How familiar this Psalm is the world over! Go where you will; inquire in every nation, tongue and tribe under Heaven where the Bible is known, you will find this Psalm among the first Scriptures learned and lisped by the little child at its mother's knee, and the last bit of inspired Write uttered in dying breath by the saintly patriarch.
This Psalm is so universal, says one, because it is so individual; it is so individual because it is so universal. As we read it, we are aware not only of the fact that we are listening to the experience of an Old Testament saint, but also that a voice comes speaking to us through the long centuries past -- speaking to us in our own language, recounting our own experience, breathing out our own hopes.
The Davidic authorship of this Psalm has been questioned. We believe firmly that David is the writer; and yet a man feels as he reads the Psalm that it is so personal, so true to his own individual experience, that he could fain claim to have written it himself. It might seem as though the promises and precious things set forth in this Psalm lie beyond our reach; we have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep, but "one of like passions with ourselves has passed that way before and has left a cup to be let down, with His name and story written on the rim, and we may let that cup down into the well and draw a draught of the deep, refreshing water."
THE LOCATION OF THE PSALM
Have you ever noticed just where this Psalm is located? It lies between the Twenty-second and the Twenty-fourth Psalms. A very simple statement that -- but how deep and wondrous a lesson lies hidden therein!
The Twenty-second Psalm. What is it? It is "The Psalm of the Cross." It begins with the words uttered by CHRIST on the cross: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" It ends with the exclamation of the cross: "He hath done it," or, as it is seen in the New Testament, "It is finished!" The Twenty-second Psalm, then, is the Psalm of Mount Calvary -- the Psalm of the Cross.
What is the Twenty-fourth Psalm? It is the "Psalm of Mount Zion" -- a picture of the King entering into His own. How beautifully it reads: "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory." The Twenty-fourth Psalm, then, is the Psalm of the coming Kingdom of Glory.
There you have the two mountains; Mount Calvary and Mount Zion. What is it that lies between two mountains? A valley with its green grass, its quiet waters, its springing flowers, with shepherd and grazing sheep. Here, then, is the lesson we learn from the location of the Psalm: it is given to comfort, help, inspire and encourage GOD's people during this probationary period of our life, between the cross and the crown.
Is not this the reason that the tenses of the Psalm are present tense? "The LORD is my shepherd"; "He maketh me to lie down"; "He leadeth me." Even the last verse, "I will [not I shall] dwell in the house of the LORD forever," describes the present attitude of the soul of the Psalmist, who determines by no means to miss participation in the fellowship of the saints in Heaven.
We love the CHRIST of the Cross. We may not yet fully understand that cross; may not yet have found any particular theory of the atonement which completely satisfies our intellect. But we have learned to say that we believe in the atonement and in the vicarious death of our Redeemer. Somehow or other we have come, by faith, to throw our trembling arms around that bleeding body and cry out in the desperate determination of our sin-stricken souls to Him who hangs on that cross to save us by His death. We have come to express our faith in that divine sacrifice in the words of they hymn:
"Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee."
Let us never forget that we reach the Twenty-third Psalm by the way of the Twenty-second Psalm -- the Psalm of the cross. "The way of the cross leads home." We love the CHRIST of the Twenty-second Psalm, the CHRIST of Calvary, the CHRIST of the cross.
We also love the CHRIST of the throne and the glory. It may be that at times we have trembled and feared as we have thought of the coming judgment; but when we have remembered that He who sits upon the throne is our Elder Brother, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh; that He left His throne in the glory and took on Him the form of a servant, dying the ignominious death of the cross that He might redeem us and save us from the just wrath of GOD against sin; that some day, He who loved us and gave Himself for us will say: "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world"; then we take courage and look forward with joy to the time when, having washed the last sleep from our eyes in the river of life, we shall gaze with undimmed vision upon Him, whom having not seen, we have yet loved.
We love the CHRIST of the cross, the CHRIST of the past, the CHRIST of Mount Calvary. We love the CHRIST of the future, the CHRIST of the throne, the CHRIST of Mount Zion. But more precious to us, and we say it reverently, than the CHRIST of the past, or the CHRIST of the future, is the CHRIST of the present; He who lives with us now, dwells within us, walks by our side every moment and every hour of the day. We used to sing in our childhood days that beautiful hymn,
"I think, when I read that sweet story of old,
When JESUS was here among men,
How He called little children as lambs to His fold,
I should like to have been with Him then.
I wish that His hands had been placed on my head,
That His arms had been thrown around me;
And that I might have seen His kind look when He said,
"Let the little ones come unto me."
-- Mr. Jemima Luke
THE PRESENCE OF THE SHEPHERD
Many of us feel that we would have given anything to have walked by the side of the CHRIST in the days of His earthly pilgrimage, and we almost envy those who saw His face in the flesh. Some of us know the thrill of joy that came to our hearts when we trod the sands of Galilee that once were fresh with His footprints, trod the Temple's marble pavements that once echoed with His tread, and sailed the blue waters of Galilee that once were stilled by His wonderful word.
And yet, we should not forget that the enjoyment of the real presence of CHRIST is just as truly ours today as it was the possession of the disciples in the days of His flesh. As the old hymn so beautifully says,
"We may not climb the heavenly steeps
To bring the Lord CHRIST down;
In vain we search the lowest deeps,
For Him no depths can drown.
"But warm, sweet, tender, even yet
A present help is He;
And faith has still its Olivet,
And love its Galilee.
"The healing of His seamless dress
Is by our beds of pain;
We touch Him in life's throng and press,
And we are whole again."
-- John G. Whittier
The name give to our Lord in connection with His birth was Immanuel, which being interpreted is "God with us." One of the most beautiful doctrines of the Christian faith is the divine immanence, the continued presence of the ever-living CHRIST with His people; for
"For GOD is never so far off as even to be near, He is within"
-- F.W. Faber.
"Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands or feet."
-- Alfred Tennyson
"I know not where His islands lift
Their fronded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond His love and care."
-- John G. Whittier