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Shepherd geography

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.  (Psalm 23:1, NIV)

As 2015 arrives, none of us knows what to expect personally: what ups and downs will the new year bring? That makes it a great time to re-read this most famous Psalm, and King David’s testimony to the wonder of a personal friendship with the living God.

In his book Slogging Along in the Paths of Righteousness (a book which is much better than its title might suggest), Dale Ralph Davis gives Psalm 23 the title “Shepherd geography”, for David takes us on a journey through some of the different scenes of life.

Green pastures
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake

Here is the Great Shepherd’s regular care. He is providing for His sheep. And why? For his name’s sake. His reputation depends on it! If we would just pause to give thanks from time to time, we’d see much more of that care than we might realise.

Dark valleys
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me

The picture here is of a really scary, difficult place — a dark chasm. Yet even here the Great Shepherd is with His sheep. We are not spared life’s difficulties: 2015 may contain some very great challenges to many of us. But we are not alone. One walks with us through it. Note how David turns in this section from telling us about God to talking to God himself — yes, he really has this personal friendship with the Shepherd, and turns to Him when it’s tough.

The enviable table
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows

David does much better than his enemies! The Christian may suffer in various ways, but is always conscious of astounding privileges not known to those who do not know God.

The house of the LORD
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

God’s goodness and special, unique covenant love (known only to His people) are pictured as pursuing David, rather like a pair of dogs!  He will know them all the days of His life. And the future for God’s flock is to be in His presence for ever.

Does this sound at all smug? Is David gloating? No: he is simply rejoicing in his experience, and quite clearly wanting to commend it to others.

How can we find this? The psalm gives the answer. David doesn’t say “God is my shepherd”, as we might today, but is more specific. This is “the LORD”, the God of the Bible, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He shepherds all who trust in Him.

May He be our Shepherd through the year ahead.

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