“He makes me to lie down in green pastures: He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul: He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” – Psalm 23:2-3.
In the marvellous Song of Songs which, in my view, has been poorly represented by preachers and commentators throughout the ages, there is an incident where the Shulamite is asked where her lover can be found. She replies, “My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies. I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine: he feeds among the lilies” – SS 6:2-3. In another part of the Song we are effectively told that the way to discover the “beloved” is to follow the flocks which feed where he leads – “Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you feed, where you make your flock to rest at noon”. The response should be predictable to all true followers of Christ – “…go your way by the footsteps of the flock, and feed your kids beside the shepherds’ tents” – SS 1:7-8.
The lily is the flower that represents purity. Because Christ is pure those who follow Him will seek to make and keep themselves pure. They will NOT ingest impurities:
“Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as he is. Every man who has this hope in him purifies himself, even as He is pure” – 1st John 3:1-3.
There are three aspects described by the psalmist in this first stage of the Journey of the Sheep, all of them ordered by the Shepherd whom the sheep is following:
As a boy, brought up on a farm, I have observed sheep many times. Some three or four years before we left UK for New Zealand our father and mother purchased a “small holding” in the Forest of Dean, where we enjoyed grazing rights for our animals on what was known as “common land”. There the small flock owned by our family would forage for food. I observed that a healthy sheep never lies down to graze. It always stands on its four legs to eat and will lie down to chew the cud and peacefully enjoy the spoils of its foraging. So the psalmist is not describing the place of verdant pasture as a “dining table” so to speak but as a place of refuge, enjoyment, peace and plenty, and it is the Good Shepherd who leads His flock there. In human terms we may refer to the place of “the still waters” as somewhere “far from the madding crowd”. The Treasury of David so aptly states of these two verses – “The Christian life has two elements in it, the contemplative and the active, and both of these are richly provided for. First, the contemplative, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures.” What are these “green pastures” but the Scriptures of truth – always fresh, always rich, and never exhausted?” CHS goes on to say, “The second part of a vigorous Christian’s life consists in gracious activity. We not only think, but we act. We are not always lying down to feed, but are journeying onward toward perfection; hence we read, “He leads me beside the still waters.”
Far be it for me to suggest any major correction to so great a Bible teacher as Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I venture only a minor change based on the fact that CHS living, preaching and writing as he did in a major city, was not aware of the fact that sheep do not lie down to feed, at least not unless they are sick or ageing, when they will try to nibble at nearby fodder. The picture here is not so much reading and studying the scriptures but rather of meditating upon the scriptures. Personally now in my 77th year and with a sickness that could well be terminal, I cannot engage so much in reading as I once did. Even in these blogs I largely rely on what I have previously digested from the Bible and I meditate therein. As Psalm 1 reminds us:
“… his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law he meditates day and night – Psalm 1:2 cf. Ps 104:34 – “My meditation of Him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the LORD.”
As CHS rightly asserts it is the contemplative that the Psalmist first describes and he refers to that again in the second consideration of walking beside “still waters”, which results in the restoration of the soul. Interestingly sheep will not drink from turbulent or rapidly moving water. It must be “still”. CHS comments:
“What are these “still waters” but the influences and graces of His blessed Spirit? His Spirit attends us in various operations, like waters – in the plural to cleanse, to refresh to fertilise, to cherish. They are “still waters,” for the Holy Ghost loves peace, and sounds no trumpet of ostentation in His operations. He may flow into our soul, but not into our neighbour’s, and therefore our neighbour may not perceive the divine presence; and though the blessed Spirit may be pouring his floods into one heart, yet he who sits next to the favoured one may know nothing of it.”
“In sacred silence of the mind – My heaven, and there my God I find.”
He leads me in the paths that are RIGHT for His name’s sake.
Later in his life my dear old dad, when I asked him what I should do in a particular circumstance would always respond: “Do what is right.” As I have gotten older I have understood what he was saying and why. Firstly because age renders it more difficult to get our minds around issues; and secondly because the lesson and instruction of a parent as a mentor should have been passed to the next generation. My dad thought I had learned what is right.
Abraham in his great discourse with God asked a rhetorical question – “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? – Genesis 18:25. What the Great Shepherd does is always RIGHT, which is a lesson that I have increasingly learned, especially now in my present circumstances, which affects not only me but my wife and family and the CWM-Fellowship that I lead, albeit to an ever diminishing extent. Can my sickness be RIGHT? I am not saying it is the best and at times I desire it to be otherwise, but I have come to realise that it is RIGHT. It is par of the course as I a “sheep of His pasture” continue to follow the Chief Shepherd:
1 Thou Shepherd of Israel, and mine,The joy, and desire of my heart;For closer communion I pine,I long to reside where thou art:The pasture I languish to find,Where all, who their Shepherd obey,Are fed, on thy boson reclined,Are screened from the heat of the day.
2 Ah! show me that happiest place,That place of thy people’s abode;Where saints in an ecstasy gaze,And hang on a crucified God:Thy love for a sinner declare,Thy passion and death on the tree;My spirit to Calvary bear,To suffer, and triumph with thee.
3 ‘Tis there with the lambs of thy flock,There only I covet to rest:To lie at the foot of the rock,Or rise to be hid in thy breast;‘Tis there I would always abide,And never a moment depart,Concealed in the cleft of thy side,Eternally held in thine heart.
By Philip Powell