Series: Guest Preachers

You Are With Me

May 19, 2024 | Ron Zeigler

Passage: Psalms 23:4-6



1 The LORD is my Shepherd;1 The LORD is my Shepherd;I shall not want.
2. He makes me lie down in green pastures.He leads me beside quiet 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, forYou are with me,Your rod and Your staff,They comfort me.
5. You prepare a table before meIn 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 will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
One of the most, if not the most terrifying situation to experience is to feel you are completely alone, that no one cares about you, that no one thinks about you, and that no one is with you. It can be a sinking feeling that can send us to places of desperation and darkness, places where we would not normally go, when we think that no one is there, no one cares, no one thinks about you. You feel completely alone. I know as a child and even at times as an adult, that walking in the dark or in unknown areas is always easier when someone is with me. Somehow, it feels better when in a difficult situation knowing that I am not alone.

Remember, David used the first three verses of this beautiful prayer to declare that the Great I AM is his shepherd and went on the describe all of the wonderful things that Yahweh, His Shepherd had done for him.  He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Now is verse four, David reveals to us that the center and heart of this beautiful Psalm is his core and treasured understanding of God, His beloved Shepherd.  He knows this truth is critical, it is the truth that makes up the foundation of his life. Therefore, he wants everyone else to also know this great truth. He wants us to know that Yahweh, his Shepherd, is with him. Yahweh is not distant from David, He is not far away simply observing, but He is right there with him as he sojourns through this temporal life and as he lives eternally in the next.
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.

David is using his shepherding experience to provide a personal understanding of his life with His Shepherd Who is God Almighty, the Great I AM.
In David’s day and in many areas around the world today, shepherds annually take their flocks from their winter-feeding areas to summer grazing places in the higher elevations.  It is a long trek through the mountain passes to reach the higher areas where food becomes more plentiful as the winter snows melt.

For some, this travel through the valley on the way to the mountain top can be treacherous since it is along this path that predators of the sheep will lie in wait for opportunities to attack the helpless sheep. Familiar with this experience, David describes how he feels about His Shepherd as he relates his shepherding to his life as a man seeking to follow His God in this fallen, and dangerous world.

David’s natural fear of difficult situations, circumstances and the evil that he encounters is real. David is not saying that he does not fear because the situations are not serious and dangerous. Rather he is proclaiming that despite how dangerous and evil this walk through the valley of the shadow of death is, he will not fear it because of one critical reason.

We are listening in as David is confessing to his Good Shepherd that he does not fear walking through this dangerous life because he is never alone, “You are with me and Your rod and Your staff they comfort me”. 
For a shepherd the rod is a type of club that is used to protect and defend the sheep and the shepherd from all manner of danger. Each shepherd makes his own rod and forms it to his own particular specifications. With much practice a shepherd can swing and throw the rod with exacting accuracy to kill, maim or correct.
God’s Word is used in much the same way as a shepherd’s rod to protect us from spiritual lies and deception while also enabling Christ’s followers to be deliberate in combating evil.
“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creation is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to Whom we must give an account.” (Heb. 4:12,13)
God’s Word, by the power of the Holy Spirit can cut each of us and our spiritual adversaries to the heart. It can take a persecutor of the Church such as Saul of Tarsus and show him that he is a sinner, no matter how great his religious devotion or intellectual power. 

Then God’s Word showed him his need of a savior and turned him into the apostle Paul. This new man named Paul became a champion for Christ who saw his life on earth as all for Christ and that his physical dying would be his gain unto eternal fellowship with God in Jesus.
Each shepherd also uses a staff, which, like the rod, is a very personalized tool of comfort for directing and assisting the sheep so they know the Shepherd’s will for them. Experienced shepherds can skillfully use the curved end of the staff to pick up and return a lost lamb to its mother without getting his scent on the lamb causing its mother to reject it. 
A shepherd also uses the staff to guide and direct the sheep where they need to travel, by skillfully applying the right amount of pressure on the side of the sheep to direct where it needs to go to be safe.

In a similar manner God’s word in the hands of a devoted and skillful under shepherd is used of God to guide the sheep in the right path they are to walk.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

Jesus’s disciples were fearful of Him leaving as He described things to come related to His death on the cross. They became reassured as Jesus explained how important it was for Him to leave so that another like Him would come, He Who is the promised Holy Spirit. The Holly Spirit continues to empower and strengthen God’s people in all they need to do, say, and think.
Jesus kept His promise to always be with His disciples, even to the end of the age. He sent the Holy Spirit, Who gave them and many others to ability to believe, trust in and obey God’s Word unto His glory.

God skillfully uses His rod and His staff to protect His sheep from eternal spiritual harm and to guide His sheep in the way that they should go so that they each know His peace and experience true fellowship with The Good Shepherd forever.
David continues his description of the sheep’s trek to the summer grasslands through the valley of the shadow of death where evil can be all around, by again telling His dear Shepherd what He is doing for him as we listen in on David’s conversation.

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

Many people, me included, and maybe you too, find it a special treat when invited to someone’s home to share a meal and upon arriving see the table is already set and prepared. In front of each seat is a lovely place setting with even a napkin neatly folded to be used during dinner. The luscious smell of what’s for dinner fills the air while everything else in the room creates a welcoming feeling that ignites the heart assuring you that you belong here and are dearly welcome. Much preparation has been made to be sure each detail is as it should be when you arrive.
David describes for us a table that His Shepherd provides. He speaks to His Shepherd LORD directly testifying that “You prepare a table before me and You, my dear Shepherd, do so in the presence of my enemies.”

David may be referring to a time as recorded in 2 Samuel 17:27-29 where David and his people were provided desperately needed food when they were being pursued by his son Absalom who was trying to capture and kill David in order to take his throne. Danger is near and threatening, and in the face of it, the LORD unhurriedly sustains His servant.

Another example, among so many, from history of the Good Shepherd’s provision for His sheep in the valley of the shadow of death is on October 6, 1536, an English linguist and biblical scholar, William Tyndale, who translated the word of God into English from the Greek and Hebrew so the common people could read it, was burned at the stake for making such a translation. As he was traveling through his valley of the shadow of death His Good Shepherd was guiding and protecting him. 

William Tyndale’s last words were not for his own comfort, God had already satisfied his eternal needs, but instead of thinking of himself, his concern was for the people of England who were without God’s Word in their own language. So, with his last breath before the flames consumed him, he prayed out loud to his heavenly Father, “Open the King of England’s eyes.”  God, in His mercy, answered this prayer in less than two years as the King of England, in September 1538, ordered a copy of the Bible in English be placed in every church in England for all to read.

Many similar examples can be recounted from history as well as contemporary ones from amongst us where God carries His beloved sheep through the valley of the shadow of death and we need fear no evil for He is with us. 

We can look at examples throughout the world today in many countries including the United States where Followers of Christ are being persecuted in numerous ways simply because they seek to be obedient to the Word of God.

Please consider these thoughts when you partake of the Lord’s Supper in a short time. No matter what challenges and difficulties you face now or still linger from days past, no matter what enemies are before you, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually, The Good Shepherd has prepared a table before you in the presence of all these enemies. He anoints your head with oil as He blesses you in Jesus with His body broken for you and His blood shed for you and your cup of life is filled to overflowing and will never ever run dry.
“As God leads His sheep where He will, they will regularly find a table has been prepared for them, their heads have been anointed with purest oil, and their cups have been filled to overflowing with the wine of true and everlasting joy.” Adapted from J.M. Boice, p. 212
In a dry and parched land, oil is a real and needed as physical blessing for many. Oil was applied to sheep to protect them from all types of bugs and flies that could get into their noses, eyes and ears and could drive a sheep mad and even cause death. Oil provides healing to dry and weary skin, comforting the sheep in their varied troubles. In Exodus 30:29 God directs the Israelites to use a special blend of oil to anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them so they may serve as priests, In each case, oil is used to bless its receiver. Oil is a sign of blessing and special care from God.

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For where the LORD bestows His blessing, even life forevermore.” (Psalm 133)
In each of these situations The Good Shepherd prepares a table for His beloved sheep in the presence of their enemies.He blesses His precious lambs with oil like that which shepherds do to protect their sheep from parasites, flies, and other troublesome critters.

And David celebrates the reality of God with us, that our cups are always filled to overflowing because God has provided for His beloved sheep an inexhaustible supply in Jesus Christ, through His Holy Spirit, of everything His cherished people need in this life and in the next. 

6. Surely goodness and Mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
David finishes this beautiful prayer with a conclusion to his journey with His Good Shepherd. One Hebrew scholar highlights that the English word “Surely” can also be translated as “Only” because of the certainty which the Hebrew word conveys. Goodness and mercy can be coupled together to mean “Steadfast love”.And the English word “Follow” is the Hebrew word used in Exodus 14:8,9, and in Judges 7:23-25 to describe Pharaoh pursuing the Israelites as well as the Israelites pursuing the Midianites.

In light of these thoughts, we can consider this verse as :“Only goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life and I will forever dwell in the house of my faithful Shepherd, Yahweh – Jesus.”
So, we look at what David is saying as he brings this beautiful prayer to a close. He is confident to the fullest degree that Yahweh’s steadfast love for him will pursue him all the days of his life and his travels will undoubtedly end in the House of Yahweh forever and ever.
Maybe David is reflecting on Psalm 139 as He wrote Psalm 23, or it could be vice versa. None the less we hear a common theme that is a great comfort and support for all weary sheep.
“O LORD, You have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O LORD.

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me.”

David, in Psalm 139, goes on to say more about the Good Shepherd being with him, no matter where he may go, but let it satisfy us that he is eternally confident Yahweh will always be with him and he will never be in want because it is beautifully expressed in this last verse, David will dwell in the house of His Good Shepherd forever. “Now, one can look back over the journey. The grassy pastures may be the normal place, the valley of the shadows the fearful place, in front of the enemies the dangerous place, and the house of Yahweh the abiding place. And Christ leads us in, through and to them all. What position have you taken? Only when Yahweh-Jesus is your Shepherd can you say, ‘I will never lack anything, in ordinary times, in fearful times, in dangerous times, or at the last time.” (DRD, p. 173)

One pastor in his commentary on Psalm 23 used these seven headings to guide one’s understanding of this beautiful Psalm.  I am using them here as a part of the conclusion to help us always remember that Yahweh is ever with His beloved people providing all that we need in Jesus Christ through the loving power of the Holy Spirit. I Shall Not Be In Want I Shall Not Lack Rest I Shall Not Lack Life I Shall Not Lack Guidance I Shall Not Lack Safety I Shall Not Lack Provision I Shall Not Lack a Heavenly Home Like David, those who are in Christ have everything we need, not necessarily everything we want. Through the magnificent work of Jesus Christ applied to each of His precious sheep, we have good seed to share with a desperate world starving of truth, hope, and righteousness.

In the security of the Good Shepherd, Who is always with you, each of us is in the position to, regardless of our station in life, to be a useful instrument in His hands. God in His mercy has given us His eternal Word as a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. He has given the Holy Spirit to each of His beloved children to guide us on our way in this broken world.
May I encourage you to ask God for anything you see you or your mission field lacks, as you expect great things from Him and attempt great things for Him. 

Can you go to His Word more often to read it and study it? Are you willing to fast from unnecessary things that too easily attract your time and attention away from His word and prayer.
Are you willing to pray more and complain less as you engage daily with others in the wonderful world of life in our homes, our churches, our workplaces, our communities and beyond?

Would you consider joining me in regularly praying for those who serve in our civil government, and seeing how God may use you to interact with these civil servants? 

We can attempt the unusual, seemingly impossible, or unlikely, because God is always at work in ordering His world as He sees fits and invites you to join in this glorious labor of the Kingdom of Jesus to share the good seed of His love and His truth to whomever we can, wherever we can and whenever we can.

Lord’s Day 10 of the Heidelberg Catechism expresses it well so we can regularly meditate on it.

27. What do you understand by the providence of God? Providence is the Almighty and ever present power of God by which He upholds, as with His hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty-all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from this fatherly hand.
28. How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from His love. All creatures are so completely in His hand that without His will they can neither move nor be moved.

This is not easy, however it is clear and simple. The pressures and temptations of this world and our own sin nature are waring against us. They are daily sources of distraction to our focus on God in Jesus through His word and prayer.

Consider this alliteration to assist you in navigating through this life with the assurance that your Good Shepherd is with you, wherever He takes you.

Pray – Ask God to guide you through His Word and by His Spirit on how you are to live for His kingdom glory.
Prepare – Consider how God desires for you to get ready to be involved in that to which He is calling you.
Participate – Go and do that which is your calling for God’s glory and the blessing of others and leave the results in God’s providential care. 

In faith expect great things from God and then, in the power of the Holy Spirit, attempt great things for God.
In closing, I am using the seven headings listed earlier, but now turn them from the negative to the positive as we remember the rejoicing David did in His Good Shepherd, described for us throughout Psalm 23. Yahweh – Jesus is my Shepherd. He gives me everything I need. He gives me His perfect rest in Jesus’ righteousness. He gives me all life and breath. He guides me in the way I should go, by the power of the Holy Spirit. He fully protects me along the way. He provides for my every need. He takes me all the way to my eternal life in His home.

Now, let us be strengthened and encouraged as we close this message with these blessed words which the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write in his letter to the dear saints at Philippi, it is taken from Philippians 4:4-9.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is with you. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, dear followers of Jesus, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice. 

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