He does not force us, and He does it, “for His own namesake.” I find that interesting. I would have thought David would have said, “He leads us for our sake.” But David said, “He leads us for His own namesake,” because God’s reputation as God is at stake. Does God really care? Does God really love? Does God really provide? Does God really want to save us? Every experience of the sheep is “yes.” The name of God still stands. He is trustworthy. Who of us would want to entrust a sheep to a person who did not know the way, who would not provide food, who would not risk his own life to save the very last one?
God is the Good Shepherd, and “He leads us through the valley of the shadow of death.” Notice, it is through the valley, not into it, but through it. He has been there before. He has passed through and is saying, “Follow me.” He leads us through to a land on the other side that is more beautiful than we have ever seen, or known, or dreamed of, or imagined. My consolation, as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, is He will use His crook to pull around my neck when I am wandering off, to keep me on the straight and narrow that ultimately leads to life. “His rod and His staff” are a comfort to me, not a source of fear.
Now, the scene changes. The one who has been Shepherd becomes the “Gracious Host.” Have you ever been up in the mountains and walked through a wilderness where it really is like a valley of the shadow of death? The valley is all the high trees and the brush and shrubs that are gathered around you. There may be a bear in it, a criminal there who is waiting to rob you. There may be an asp that is going to sting you and kill you. Finally, you walk out of that wilderness onto a tableland, out on top of the mountain that is so beautiful you have never seen anything like it before with all its greenery and flowers. He prepared the table for me.” That is what the Shepherd is talking about.
If you have never had the experience, then think of this … There is a banquet prepared for you in the house so secure that all who have been your enemies, seeking your death, can do nothing but look in the window and see the celebration that is going on for those who have been loved of God. “He prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies,” and there is not one point of divine hospitality which has been overlooked. “He anoints our heads with oil,” and when we have been walking in the sun, we know what it means to put a little oil on our head to keep it soft and supple. This was an expression of hospitality. You have been in the heat. Now, you can relax and be comfortable. And “my cup overflows” – not just filled so it will quench my thirst; It overflows so I cannot drink it all.
Then, in the last verse, David sings, combining the imagery of the Shepherd on one hand and the Gracious Host on the other. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” with my Good Shepherd, “and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” with my Gracious Host.
Is there a word we need more to hear in this anxiety-ridden culture in which we live than this word? “I had fainted,” said the psalmist, and I would have, too, “had I not believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” But because I have, I dare also believe what Jesus said, “… believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I pare a place for you, I will come again and will take the banquet. There is room for us in His house – far from being an old, old song about a land and a time so long ago, this is a contemporary song of faith.
If David’s understanding of God is true, as our faith encourages us to believe it is, there is not a more relevant, pertinent, helpful, and hopeful word for our time than this: “The Lord is my Shepherd.” The Twenty-third Psalm was never intended just to be read at funerals. It is the most confident statement for life that was ever spoken.
Jesus said, “I know my sheep, and my sheep know me. They hear my voice, and they follow me, and I lead them to eternal life.”
Are you listening? He knows you! Do you know Him as your Shepherd? Trust Him and you can stay alive as long as you live.