(Make three columns on the board. Label them “First Person”, “Second Person”, and “Third Person”. List the singular, plural, and possessive pronouns below each one: 1st Person: I, we, me, my, mine, ours; 2nd Person: you, yours; 3rd Person: he, she, it, him, her, they, them, his, hers, theirs.)
Engage the class in the following discussion:
1. Which pronouns would you typically use in a conversation with a friend?
2. Which would you use providing eyewitness testimony? Writing a history paper? Singing a love song? Writing a letter to the editor? Recapping a game you watched on TV? Praising God? Praying to God?
Psalm 1, which we studied two weeks ago used third person pronouns. Psalm 78 gave the history of God’s faithfulness and Israel’s unfaithfulness. Almost every pronoun is third person. But Psalm 23 is different. Every single verse in the psalm has at least one first-person pronoun, and there are even a few second-person pronouns. There’s a reason Psalm 23 is one of the most beloved chapters in the entire Bible: it may be the most personal of all the Psalms! We hear it quoted and even used as a prayer at times.
Psalm 23 is a thanksgiving psalm, which means it was a response to something God had done for the psalmist—in this case David.
David knew about shepherding so he described God as his Shepherd. Let’s learn a little more about how God shepherds us!
(Read the first two paragraphs of Understanding the Context in the Personal Study Guide.)
Provides! Read Psalm 23:1-3
1. Who is the Shepherd? *(Yahweh, God the author; God the Son, our Savior, Creator of all that exists; God the Holy Spirit who lives in the believer.)
2. What is the relationship of the shepherd to his sheep? (Many times he was the owner, protector, guide, companion, and savior—he was everything to the sheep!)
3. What words or phrases from these verses are especially comforting to you right now?
4. What does the Shepherd provide for the sheep? (Everything they need!)
5. How often do you see sheep lying down in a field?
*Sheep do not just take care of themselves. They require, more than any other class of livestock, endless attention and meticulous care. It is almost impossible for sheep to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met. 1-They refuse to lie down unless they are free of all fear. 2-They must be free from friction with others of their kind. 3-They must be free from torment by flies or parasites and 4-They must not feel a need of finding food.
6. How does each of these conditions apply to us as God’s sheep?
Sheep are afraid of swift running water and will not drink. Also, it is dangerous for them because if they slipped in the running water, their wool would become soaked and they would likely drown. What a peaceful picture is painted here! They are led to still waters to satisfy their thirst.
6. What path does the shepherd lead them along?
Sometimes, sheep fall over on their backs, or “cast” and need someone to set them on their feet again. They can become “cast” by lying down on a really soft area of grass and just roll too far or perhaps the wool coat has become too heavy with briarsand such that they simply fall over. They must be helped to their feet or they will die. They have fallen by the wayside.
7. How can we as Christians become “cast” and need help getting back to where we need to be?
8. How specifically do you see God, as the Shepherd, give life to you daily?
9. What keeps people from recognizing God’s involvement in providing these things?
10. The shepherd metaphor was very understandable to the ancient Hebrews, but not many of us today have firsthand experience with sheep and shepherds. David drew metaphors from his life experiences. How would you convey the biblical truth in these verses using contemporary analogies from your own life experience?
Truths we find here is that it is important to rest at times—resting is not a sin—that is one way God renews us! Phillip Keller shares in his book “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” that when he was in the field with his sheep they were at ease and unafraid. That sounds a lot like John 10:14 “I am the good shepherd. I know My own sheep and they know Me.”
We are led in the right paths “for His name’s sake.”—for His glory!
Guards! Read Psalm 23:4
Notice that David had stopped talking about the Lord and now spoke directly to the Lord.
1. Who is there with the sheep in this dark valley?
2. How did the sheep get in this valley? (The indication is that the Shepherd led them through it. Perhaps they needed to pass that way to get to greener pastures across the way.)
3. Why is it important to have a personal relationship with God when we are going through dark valleys?
4. Why isn’t it enough during these times to simply “know about” the Lord?
5. How do sheep express trust in the shepherd? (They are calm, unafraid and obedient.)
6. In what ways is obedience a function of trust?
*The staff is essentially a symbol of the concern, the compassion that a shepherd has for his charges. No other single word can better describe its function on behalf of the flock that that it is for their comfort. Whereas the rod conveys the concept of authority, of power, of discipline, of defense against danger, the word “staff” speaks of all that is longsuffering and kind.
The rod and the staff are tools of both correction and guidance.
7. How has God walked with you and shown you what to do during a dark or dangerous time? (God not only goes with us, but He shows us what to do when we suffer or during quiet, rightness, wrongness, darkness, danger, plenty, and goodness.)
It is always important to wait until you hear from God!
8. How does God’s presence in the good and bad times bring comfort to us? (Sometimes we are in difficult situations because of bad choices. Often God’s guidance helps us completely avoid darkness or danger. Sometimes, however, following the right path leads us directly through the dark valleys. Following the wrong path always leads us toward unnecessary dark valleys.)
While we are in our darkest valleys, God is not only with us, but He also continues to provide for our needs!
Hosts! Read Psalm 23:5-6
Some scholars think the psalmist has shifted to a banquet metaphor in these verses and some believe he is still talking about shepherds and sheep. If the psalmist is talking about a banquet host, we see them eating while onlookers come into the room. We see this in Luke 7:36-50 where Jesus was invited to a Pharisees home for a meal and the sinful woman anointed His feet with oil.
To anoint the guest’s head with oil was to honor them.
Most likely, however, the entire psalm is comparing God as David’s shepherd. Phillip Keller was trained as an aerologist at the University of Toronto and spent many years in agricultural research, land management, and ranch development. He also owned and operated a sheep ranch for eight years. He has firsthand knowledge of sheep and how to take care of them. He says at certain times of the year good grazing land is hard to find, and the sheep have to be herded high in the mountains to flat pastures known as mesas or tablelands. Mesa means table. In the spring the shepherd begins to prepare these mesas for summer feeding. Then just before the sheep arrive he takes a supply of salt and minerals to be distributed over the range. He also looks for and gets rid of the poisonous weeds or plants to avoid grazing in those areas. In other words, he is preparing the table for the sheep. He also says that pests are a real problem in the summertime, especially nose flies. The shepherd will prepare an ointment to smear over the sheep’s nose and head as a protection against nose flies.
As David thought about all the things God did for him, he was overwhelmed; therefore he said “My cup overflows.”
1. What is indicated here by the Lord preparing a banquet feast for us in the presence of our enemies?
2. What characteristics of God give confidence in times of trouble and in times of prosperity?
3. How do these two verses encourage a person facing a time of trouble?
4. How do these verses bring perspective to those experiencing a time of prosperity? (David highlighted the place where divine provision and protection was constantly available: in the house of the Lord!)
What a great thought that goodness and mercy pursues us!
Summarize and Challenge!
Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). All the promises we see in Psalm 23 have their fulfillment in Christ (see Matt. 11:28; 28:20)
Let’s recite this beloved psalm in the King James Version as we close.
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 forever.
Close with prayer!
*”A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” by Phillip Keller © 1970 Zondervan Publishing House