“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters…” Psalm 23:2.
One Psalmist in turmoil begs of his interior, “Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you” (Psalm 116:7). I consider what is this rest the Psalmist mentions? What is my own rest for my soul? To answer a question concerning rest we have to first look to the unrest. What is it that causes me this need? We can gather our understanding from Israel when we look at the word for rest and find it in several places, one in particular describes un-rest: “After affliction and harsh labor, Judah has gone into exile. She dwells among the nations; she finds no resting place. All who pursue her have overtaken her in the midst of her distress” (Lamentations 1:3). Exile, at least in a spiritual sense, is the place away from God’s presence and the time spent away from His revelation. Exile is being away from rest.
Psalm 23:2 explains what it is to be in the presence of the Shepherd. We first see that the Lord is our Shepherd (which makes us his sheep, note the allegory) and He provides for His sheep all that is in His power (Colossians 1:11ff). The Shepherd is first described as having all provisions and is then immediately shown to act on behalf of His sheep. He makes the sheep lay in the place of grand sustenance and leads the sheep to streams of living water. This picture is painted in stark comparison to the journey of the Exodus where Israelites complained the whole time of parched unfertile ground and water that was only miraculously supplied from rocks or an occasional bitter oasis.
The English Puritan Obadiah Sedgwick emphasizes the way the poet describes each of the elements in the verse; these are still waters and green pastures. “These are not mere pastures, they are green pastures” and again, these are not waters that may swell with violence or turbulence, with mud and swamp, but still and tranquil waters that are good for the sheep. God’s grace upon the land, as well as upon the sheep, is restorative meaning that it brings out what was originally meant for the creation. Not only does God restore His flock to himself, but He restores the place wherein His sheep dwell forever with Him.
The omissions in these two descriptions are fascinating to think about. No voice mentions the spring that brings about the waters, no voice explains the type of meadowland, no voice tells us of the season, no voice tells us of our proximity to predators, no voice reveals too much about the rest of the landscape. The poet’s voice makes the object of our examination the benefactor of the gracious gifts. It is He who leads, He who makes, He who restores. Not the grass or the water, but always He. Ask then “why is the water stilled?” or “why is the grass green?” is it not because the Shepherd restores all things? We are living in the gracious hands of a Good Shepherd. This reminds me of the prophet Isaiah’s words that “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (Isa 11:6). What could make such animals lie down together in peace, but He that leads them?
We live in a lot of unrest. It is easy to point to things that cause turbulence, things that take us away from meditating on the Word of God. There are times when it is especially hard to imagine what a resting place could even look like. The beauty of a passage like Psalm 23:2 is that the description of rest only comes after the sheep recognizes the Shepherd. Allow for the Shepherd to be your focus this week. His Word tells of how he leads. His Word allows us to focus on the promise that the Comforter has come and will guide us into rest. We need only focus on Him. Read Psalm 23 this week and let the God of grace rest you in His love. As you rest in your Shepherd, pray that you would be able to direct others to His supernatural rest.
Pastor Chris Osterbrock
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com.
Obadiah Sedgwick. The Shepherd of Israel (London, 1658), 45.