The Shepherd's Plenty (Psalm 23:5, 6)
Passage: Psalm 23:5–23:6
God as Shepherd
I. Extraordinary Abundance
Consider Frane Selak, a Croatian music teacher.
In January, 1962, he was traveling on a train that suddenly derailed and plunged into an icy river, killing seventeen passengers. He escaped with only a broken arm and minor bruises.
The next year, a blown out cockpit door forced him out of a plane, in midair. Although nineteen others were killed in the accident, he suffered only minor injuries, landing in a haystack.
In 1966, he was riding on a bus that crashed and plunged into a river. Four others were killed, but Selak managed to escape unharmed. In 1970, he managed to escape before a faulty fuel pump engulfed his car into flames. In 1973, his car caught fire, forcing flames through the air vents. His only injury was hair loss. In 1995, he was hit by a city bus, but once again suffered minor injuries. In 1996 he survived when he drove off a cliff to escape an oncoming truck. He himself managed to land in a tree, and watched as his car exploded 300 feet below him.
And in 2003 he won $1,000,000 dollars in the Croatian lottery.
Or consider Joan Ginther.
In 1993, she won $5.4 million dollars in the Texas lottery. Then, in 2006 and 2008, she won again with two winning scratch off tickets that totaled $5 million dollars. Last year, she did it again. She scratched off another winning ticket worth $10 million, bringing here total lottery winnings to $20.4 million dollars.
The odds of winning four lottery jackpots? More than 200 million to 1.
Two individuals that have both been described as the "luckiest person in the world". Why did they receive that title? Because of the extent to which and the regularity with which they experienced abundance. It was extraordinary abundance! An abundance of protection! An abundance of provision! It just doesn't seem possible when you hear these stories for the first time. That's why people label it "luck".
II. The Passage: "My Cup Overflows" (23:5, 6)
Let's turn this morning back to Psalm 23. God has blessed us this month with the opportunity to unpack, to go deeper into this amazing Psalm. And this morning I want to wrap things up by focusing on the final two verses of this Psalm: verses 5 and 6. But let me read those two verses in the context of the entire Psalm. Let's begin in verse 1...
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
As we've talked about throughout this series, our goal in studying Psalm 23 has been to explore and embrace the shepherd metaphor that David uses so powerfully in this psalm.
We've also talked about the reality that if we embrace the fact that God is our divine Shepherd, it means we are also embracing our own 'sheep-ness'. According to the Bible we are not soaring eagles or lone wolves or teddy bears...no, we are stubborn and wayward sheep; we are sheep who desperately need a shepherd.
Understanding this fact about us, about himself, David wrote Psalm 23 in order to proclaim just how well God took care of him. And that's what he continues to do in verse 5. Take a look at verse 5 again.
A. Plenty for Today (23:5)
David writes, You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Now here is where a shift takes place in this psalm. But although it may seem like it at first, it isn't a drastic shift. In verse 5, the metaphor has changed. Do you see that? The imagery of the shepherd is no longer used. Instead, David switches to the imagery of a banquet. So David moves seamlessly from describing God as a Shepherd, to describing Him as the Host of a banquet.
But what I want you to see here is that the metaphors go hand in hand. In shifting from verses 1-4 to 5 and 6, David is not shifting from "first" into "reverse", or even "first" into "fifth". No, he is going smoothly from "first" gear into "second" gear.
That's clear because he is still talking about the abundance of God's provision and protection. Those are the very things David wanted to highlight using the image of a shepherd caring for his sheep.
But here the "green pastures" of verse 2 have become "a table". But not just any table. It is a "prepared" table; a table prepared with great love and great attention to detail; a table prepared for a great feast. And the wonderful hospitality of the host is demonstrated by the fact he has anointed the guest's head with a mixture of perfumes and olive oil. This was a way that a host would honor his guests in the ancient Near East.
You may remember in Luke 7 when Jesus was comparing the so-called hospitality of one "Simon the Pharisee" to the honor given him by a sinful woman, he said, "You [Simon] did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment." (Luke 7:46)
And notice that the "still waters" of verse 2 have now become a "cup". And not just a full cup, but a cup that is "overflowing"; a cup that we might describe today as having "unlimited refills".
So...a table full of the best food you could imagine. A cup full of endless refreshment. God does not skimp, does He? (I think if I keep talking about this food and drink long enough, as we get closer to lunchtime, this passage is going to seem better and better, right?)
What a picture of abundance David paints for us here. But it's also a picture of God's abundant protection. Did you notice that David has not left the "valley of the shadow of death" from verse 4? He is still passing through it, isn't he? How do we know? Because verse 5 tells us that this lavish feast, this amazing table has been prepared "in the presence of [David's] enemies".
What does that mean? It means that right there in that place, right there in the middle of those situations where fear and worry and doubt and uncertainty would usually leave us spiritually starving, God not only protects us from lasting harm, but He also feeds us with His loving and lavish provision. He takes care of us!
David knew what it was like to be on the run, far from home, in the valleys, with enemies hot on his heels, hiding in caves, with no clear end in sight. But right there, when we would expect David to feel most abandoned, he tells us here that he was enjoying a banquet of God's blessings: comfort, encouragement, hope, perspective, courage, joy, faith. David was well fed.
As he declared in verse 4: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Wouldn't you like to go through hard times with this perspective? In the midst of very difficult circumstances, wouldn't you like to eat at God's table, instead of hiding under the table of fear and frustration? Only God can take care of us like this. What a faithful shepherd! What an amazing host!
B. Plenty for the Days to Come (23:6a)
But look at where David goes in the first part of verse 6. He not only wants to stress that God gives us His plenty, His abundance, for today, but also for the days to come. David writes:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life...
In light of what God had done for Him, David speaks confidently here of what God will do for Him. David knows the way God takes care of him, and because God is faithful, and not fickle, that kind of care will continue.
I like what sheep rancher turned pastor, Phillip Keller wrote about this verse:
"Not only is this a bold statement, but it is somewhat of a boast, an exclamation of implicit confidence in the One who controls his career and destiny. How many Christians actually feel this way about Christ? How many of us are truly [convinced] that no matter what occurs in our lives we are being followed by goodness and mercy? Of course it is very simple to speak this way when things are going well...But what about when one's body breaks down? ...What is my reaction when my job folds up and there is no money to meet the bills? ...What do I say when suddenly, without good grounds, friends prove false and turn against me? These are the sort of times that test a person's confidence in the care of Christ....When my little world is falling apart and the dream castles of my ambitions and hopes crumble into ruins can I honestly declare, "Surely—yes—surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life"?"
The Hebrew word that David uses here, translated as "follow", is a word that is often translated as "pursue". David himself used this word when he questioned Saul in I Samuel 26:18, "Why does my lord pursue after his servant? For what have I done? What evil is on my hands?"
David knew what it felt like to be pursued by evil men; to be pursued by wickedness and wrath. But I have no doubt that David endured that kind of persecution by reminding himself that "goodness and mercy", that God's "goodness and mercy" would also pursue him all the days of his life. Do you have that same confidence?
C. Plenty for Ever and Ever (23:6b)
But look at how that confidence expresses itself in the last half of verse 6. Not only is David rejoicing in and confident in God's abundance, God's plenty today, AND God's plenty every day, but as we see here, he is confident that he will enjoy God's plenty forever. Verse 6...
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
What does David mean when he talks about "the house of the Lord"? Well, in most cases when that phrase is used in the Old Testament it simply refers to either the portable Israelite temple (called the Tent of Meeting), or it refers to the brick-and-mortar temple in Jerusalem. So since David lived before the Temple in Jerusalem was built, was he saying that he was going to take up residence in the Tent of Meeting for eternity...or maybe that he was going to be buried at the Tent of Meeting...maybe that's what he means by "dwell".
No, I don't think it means either of those things. Listen to two other passages from the book of Psalms:
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. 5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. (Ps. 27:4, 5)
The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. 13 They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. (Ps. 92)
In both of those passages, I believe David is using terms like "house of the Lord", and "temple" and "the courts of our God" to refer, not ultimately to a physical location, but to refer to fellowship with God in God's presence.
Under the Old Covenant, the temple was where God's special presence dwelt among His people. It's the place His people came to be forgiven and to worship. So David's confidence is that He will dwell in the fullness of what the Temple represents; that He will dwell in God's presence forever, in that place of forgiveness and worship.
In a sense, the way David ends this psalm adds a new fullness to the beginning of this psalm. Isn't he really saying: The Lord is my shepherd...forever. I shall not want...forever. He makes me lie down in green pastures...forever. He leads me beside still waters...forever.
Would David describe himself as blessed? Of course he would. On what grounds? Because of the extent to which and the regularity with which he experienced abundance.
III. Luck Has Nothing to Do with It
Luck has nothing to do with it. If it did, then this psalm would be a waste of our time...unless, of course, we were one of the lucky ones...like David must have been.
No, no, no...even Frane Selak, that Croatian music teacher, even he recognized his life had nothing to do with luck. In one interview, he said this: "I know God was watching over me all these years."
The most amazing thing about Psalm 23 is not its poetry or timeless quality. The most amazing thing is that anyone...anyone can know now the same kind of care that David experienced then. The most amazing thing is that Psalm 23 is an 'open door' into the fields of the divine Shepherd. We don't have to imagine how David felt. We can know this same blessing today, through faith. We can be a part of His flock.
In fact, the abundance that David experienced then was itself just a foretaste of what was to come. David enjoyed a sweet sip. But we have been given the whole cup.
So how do we access this kind of abundance? How do we enjoy God's plenty today, every day, and forever? Listen to these words:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10)
How do we access this Psalm 23 kind of abundance? There is only one door. It has nothing do with luck. It has everything to do with Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the Shepherd of Psalm 23 in human flesh. The same Shepherd David spoke about is the same Shepherd speaking these words in John 10.
And he's speaking to people like us. What is He saying? He's saying, number 1, "I am the door". The door to where? Number two, Jesus is the door to THE pasture, the pasture of abundant life.
This morning, you are either one of two places spiritually: you are either in God's pasture of abundant life, OR, you are in the wasteland of this world, the wasteland of sin. What is sin? Sin is trying to live a me-centered life in a God-centered universe. Sin is being a wayward and stubborn sheep. It is this "sin" that produces the kinds of "sins" we often think of.
You see, away from God's flock, we live in a barren land. Dry. Desolate. Rocky. The wasteland of sin is a place of spiritual hunger. A place of spiritual thirst. A place of fear and worry and selfishness and confusion and restlessness and despair; a place of danger; a place where ultimately, our waywardness; our stubbornness...leads us straight to the valley of God's justice. The wasteland of this world is a terrible place. Is that where you are this morning?
But Jesus came in order to open the door, or as some versions translate the word, He came to open the gate. In fact, as He himself said, He is the gate. And on the other side of that gate? "Green pastures". "Still waters." "A prepared table". A "cup overflowing". "Goodness". "Mercy". Abundant "life". Just listen to the abundance, to the PLENTY of God's pasture:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places... (Ephesians 1:3)
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (II Corinthians 9:8)
Friends, all of us are sheep. There's no escaping that fact. But where you are grazing is another question. Are you wandering aimlessly, or are you resting securely?
If are a follower of Jesus Christ this morning, if you have entered that gate through faith, then you need to remember God's plenty this morning. We need to walk with that confidence that goodness and mercy will folllow us all the days of our life. We need to live the well-fed live, and stop acting like we're starving, stop looking through the fence at the wasteland, thinking there is something better out there. Savor His blessings. Praise Him! Thank Him! Keep your eyes on the Shepherd.
If you are not a follower of Jesus Christ this morning, listen again to His words: I am the door [or the gate]. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out [that's freedom] and find pasture.
That "pasture" is only possible because the Good Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep. Jesus was nailed to a Roman cross for us. He took our place. He took God's judgment against our waywardness and stubbornness. He laid down His life. But He also rose again.
Where are you this morning? Which side of the fence? Who is your Shepherd? God wants you to know the extent to which and the regularity with which you can experience abundance, abundance that just doesn't seem possible. But it is. Come...the gate is open wide. Come.