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The Shepherd Psalms

The Shepherd Psalms poster

It has often been pointed out that our blessed Lord is referred to in the New Testament as the Shepherd under three different aspects. In John 10 He says, “I am the good Shepherd.” In Hebrews 13 He is called “the Chief Shepherd” as “brought again from the dead,” and in 1 Peter 5, looking on to His second coming when the under shepherds will give an account to Him, He is spoken of as “the Great Shepherd.” Some one long ago suggested that in Psalm 22 we have the Good Shepherd giving His life for the sheep, in Psalm 23, the Chief Shepherd in resurrection life guiding His people through the wilderness of this world, and in Psalm 24, the Great Shepherd coming again in power and glory to bring in everlasting blessing.

In the early part of the book of Leviticus we have five different offerings. Four of these involved the sacrifice of life, the other one did not. The one in which there was no sacrifice of life is called the meal or the meat offering, the word “meat” being used there for food, the food offering. We have already seen that in Psalm 16 we have the blessed Lord Jesus presented as the meal offering, and this speaks of the perfection of His life. Every act of that holy life of His went up to God as something in which He could delight. The other offerings are the burnt offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering. Psalm 40 is the psalm of the burnt offering, Psalm 85 is that of the peace offering, Psalm 69 that of the trespass offering, and Psalm 22 is the psalm of the sin offering.

In the sin offering we have the Lord Jesus Christ made sin for us “that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” The New Testament does not tell us a great deal of what went on in the heart and mind of our blessed Lord when He was undergoing the awful judgment of God against sin but we have something that guides us and helps us to understand in the fact that just as the three hours of darkness were coming to an end the Lord Jesus cried in the agony of His soul, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). That immediately carries our minds back to this 22nd Psalm, and when we turn to consider it, we find that it gives us the thoughts of the heart of our blessed Lord during those hours of darkness when He was taking our place, when He was made sin for us.

This Psalm begins with what some one has called “Immanuel’s orphaned cry,” “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And in the Hebrew text it ends with His cry of triumph, “It is finished!” You will not find this in our authorized version but will find the words, “They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.” You will observe that the word “this” is in italics which means that there is nothing in the original answering to it. It is supplied by the editor. In the Hebrew the neuter and the masculine pronouns are exactly the same and this is in the middle voice so that actually it could be translated, “They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that it is finished.” So it beings with the cry that speaks of Him as the great sin offering and it ends with the cry that tells that His work is finished.

The psalm divides into two parts, the first twenty-one verses stand together and then from verse 22 to 31 we have the second division. In the first twenty-one verses the holy Sufferer is alone—

“Alone He bare the cross,
Alone its grief sustained.”

There is no one associated with Him. There are enemies reproaching Him but He is alone as He bears our sins before God. But in the last part, from verse 22 on, He has brethren who are associated with Him, and so in verse 22 we enter into His resurrection life, the work of the cross all in the past.

Think of Him hanging there, and may I again remind you that before He entered into these experiences He had already been three hours upon the cross. The Lord Jesus was nailed to the cross at about 9 o’clock in the morning. He was taken down a little after 3 o’clock in the afternoon. From 9 o’clock until noon He was suffering at the hands of man, the sun was shining down upon the scene, and man was visiting upon Him every fiendish agony that a wicked heart, energized by Satan, could devise. But in those three hours you do not find the blessed Lord uttering one word that indicated the least self-pity, that would even suggest that He has any concern for Himself. In those three hours He prays, He speaks but always has others in view, He looks down at the foot of the cross and sees His blessed mother, Mary, and John standing near and He says to John, “Behold thy son.” And John led her away from the scene of the Saviour’s dying agony. Then He looks at the multitude all about Him, their mouths filled with blasphemy and their minds with hatred, and looks heavenward and cries, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He opens the door of a city of refuge for them that they may enter in as having slain a man without knowing what they were doing, so that there may be forgiveness. And then he turns to the thief hanging by His side who has recognized in that thorn-crowned man Israel’s true Messiah and who owned his own sin and cried, “Lord remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom” (Luke 23:42). And the Saviour said, as it were, “You won’t have to wait until I come in My kingdom—today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” And he was, for that day ended at 6 o’clock at night, at sunset, but before 6 o’clock the Saviour had died and the thief had died and the two were together in paradise.

At high noon the sun is blotted out from the heaven. Darkness spreads over all the scene, darkness so sense that one cannot see another, and that was a picture, a symbol of the deeper darkness that had wrapped the soul of the Son of God. Now God began to deal with Him about our sins. Remember, it was not the physical suffering of Jesus that put away sin, it was what He endured in His innermost being. Isaiah says, “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin” (Isaiah 53:10). What He suffered from the hands of man could not atone for sin but what He suffered from the hands of God during those three hours of darkness settled the sin question. All that our sins deserved fell on the sacred Son of God and He was absolutely silent, like a lamb dumb before her shearers, until just as the three hours were coming to an end, it seemed as though His great heart burst with the agony of it all and then came the cry with which this psalm begins, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Do you know the answer to that question? Well, I am the answer to it and so are you. Why was He forsaken? In order that I might not be forsaken. In order that you might not be forsaken. It was because He was bearing our sins, taking our place, because He was made sin for us.

Listen to His cry now, and understand, these are the thoughts of His heart. He is looking up to God in those hours of darkness and He says, “Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.” But there is no complaint, He accepts it all from God and says, “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” And it was because of the holiness of God that He could not interfere to spare His own Son. When He was taking the sinner’s place, judgment had to fall on Him.

Listen to Him again as He addresses God, He looked back over all the history of the chosen people and said, “Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded. But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of man, and despised of the people.” Here He, the holy One, is in contrast to every good man in all past ages. It was never known that God forsook a righteous man. There He is on that cross, the absolutely righteous One, dying forsaken of God. Oh, He says, I have gone down lower than any man ever went before, “I am a worm, and no man.” The word He used for worm is the word “tola,” and the tola of the orient is a little worm something like the cochineal of Mexico which feeds on a certain kind of cactus. The people beat these plants until the cochineal fall into a basin and then they crush those little insects and the blood is that brilliant crimson dye that makes those bright Mexican garments. In Palestine and Syria they use the tola in the same way and it makes the beautiful permanent scarlet dye of the orient. It was very expensive and was worn only by the great and the rich and the noble. It is referred to again and again in Scripture. Solomon is said to have clothed the maidens of Israel in scarlet. Daniel was to be clothed in scarlet by Belshazzar. And that word “scarlet” is literally “the splendor of a worm.” “They shall be clothed in the splendor of a worm.” Now the Lord Jesus Christ says, “I am a worm; I am the tola,” and He had to be crushed in death that you and I might be clothed in glory. The glorious garments of our salvation are the garments that have been procured as a result of His death and His suffering. What a wicked thing to refuse the garment of salvation, to think of spurning it and turning away from it when Christ had to go through so much in order to prepare it for us.

Imagine the effrontery of the man who went into the marriage-feast without having a wedding garment when the king had provided one for him. He spurned the king’s bounty. When the king exclaimed, “Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?” (Matthew 22:12) he was speechless. If you are unsaved, what will you say when you stand before God in the day of doom and He says, “Friend, what are you doing here without the garment of salvation that was purchased for you by the death of My Son? Why do you not have that garment of salvation? Why are you not dressed in that robe of righteousness?” What can you say when it was offered you so freely, when you might have had it? I think the most awful thought that will ever come to a lost soul in the pit of woe is this, “Jesus died, yet I am in hell. He died to purchase salvation for me, and fool that I am I spurned it and I am lost forever.” Can you imagine anything worse than that? Think of the grace of our Lord Jesus, who “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). He became the tola, crushed in death that we might be robed in glory.

And then as He hangs on the cross He can hear the muttering of the crowd in the dark, and says, “All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, he trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from the body of my mother.” Do you see what is involved in this remarkable Scripture? Even as that little babe came into the world He had full consciousness of His relationship to the Father. But He was both God and man in one person. And now He cries, “Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.” Then He sees the leaders in Israel gathered against Him and says, “Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and roaring lion.” See the bulls of Bashan. They were clean beasts that could be offered in sacrifice and are used here to signify the great and mighty leaders in Israel who should have been His friends but they are there arrayed against Him.

And now note the description of Him hanging upon the cross, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.” As He hangs there upon the cross it seems as though every joint will be torn in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd.” Think of His thirst as He hung there during all the morning of that hot spring day. He cries, “My tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.” And then He looks at the Gentiles round about joining with the Jews, and says, “For dogs have compassed me.” Dogs are the unclean Gentiles. “The assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierce my hands and my feet.” What a perfect description! And it was written a thousand years before Jesus died and it is all fulfilled as He hangs upon that cross for you and for me.

He who was so pure, He who was so perfectly holy, He whose mind never had an evil or an unclean thought hung there before that assembled crowd practically naked, put to shame before them all, and He says, “I may tell all my bones; they look and stare upon me.” And at the foot of the cross the soldiers, calloused, hard, indifferent, parted His garments. “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” They gamble for His clothes as the Son of God hangs naked on the cross, put to shame for sinners.

But He looks to the Father, as Satan now comes against him, “But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling (my only one)—it is His own soul He is speaking of here—from the power of the dog”—the dog of the pit is Satan. “Save me from the lion’s mouth.” It is the lion of hell, Satan, waiting and saying, now in a moment I will have His soul, I will have Him where I want Him, and He will never come out of death again.” “Save me from the lion’s mouth,” and then the next moment all the suffering is over, the darkness is gone. In the New Testament, we hear Him say, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

“Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.” There is no such thing as a unicorn. Our translators put that word in because they did not understand the exact meaning but every Hebrew scholar now knows that it is the aurochs, a wild ox with great branching horns, sharp almost as needles at the ends. The executioners used to lay hold of poor, wretched, condemned victims, bind them by the feet and the shoulders upon those sharp horns and then set the wild ox loose in the desert to run about until the man died.” That is the picture that is used here. Crucifixion was like putting one upon the horns of the wild ox. “Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.”

The suffering is over now, the darkness disappears, He commits His spirit to the Father, and then we pass into the next verse and He who was alone is no longer alone. He who bore the cross alone now has company. Who are His companions? Those who owe everything for eternity to the work He did upon that cross. This is Jesus in resurrection now. “I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.” In the epistle to the Hebrews it is translated, “In the midst of the church will I sing praises unto thee.” Here is the blessed Lord brought up from death and now He takes His place in the midst of the company of the redeemed and leads out their hearts in praise. Here is the Chief Musician.
“Join the singing that He leadeth,
Now to God your voices raise,
Every path that we have trodden
Is a triumph of His grace.”

He is going to lead the singing forever. He will lead out our hearts in praise to God for all eternity.

Then the Spirit of Christ, speaking through the psalmist, turns to Israel, “Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted one.” It is the singular there. While God as Judge had to turn away His face yet God as Father never forsook Jesus. He was never dearer to the heart of the Father than at the time that the Judge could not interfere.

Suppose such a case as a young man very much loved of his father committing some grievous crime and brought into court and when he comes into the court room, sitting on the judge’s bench is his own father. The evidence is brought in, the young man is proven guilty, and that judge has to pronounce sentence on him.

The son says, “Father, Father, you are surely not going to do that to me!”

“Young man, in this room I am dealing with you, not as your father but as your judge.”

And yet his father’s heart may be breaking over the plight in which his son is found. And so God as Judge had to deal with His Son about our sins at the very moment that God as Father was yearning over Jesus and how gladly He received Him when He came forth in triumph from the tomb. And so He says, “My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied.” Because of the great banquet that love has spread those lowly enough to come as confessed sinners may be satisfied. “They shall praise the Lord that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.” And see the wide extent of the benefits of His work. “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.” This has not been fulfilled yet, but when the Lord shall come in power and great glory, it will. “For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and he is the governor among the nations. All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: even him who did not keep alive his own soul.” That is Dr. Young’s striking translation. The whole world bowing down before that blessed Man who did not keep alive His own soul but went into death for us.

But in the meantime while waiting for the full day of the King, “A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that it is finished.”

“It is finished, yes indeed,
Finished every jot.
Sinner, this is all you need,”
Tell me, is it not?”

It is the Good Shepherd now. Have you trusted the Good Shepherd? Well, where is He now? He is not on the cross any more. God has raised Him from the dead and taken Him to highest glory and He is there as the Great Shepherd guiding His people through the world, providing for their need.

Psalm 23

I do not need to comment very much on Psalm 23. Some one has said, “I believe Psalm 23 is the most loved psalm of them all and it is the one least believed.” Do you believe it? You love it, do you not? And you like to say, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” But the next time that you are thrown out of a job are you going to say, “Oh dear, I don’t know what on earth I am going to do.” What was that about the Shepherd? “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” And when sickness and bereavement come, do you say, “Oh my, it is all up with me?” Is He no longer your Shepherd? Do you say these words over and yet not believe them? “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” I like the way the little girl put it when she got up to recite in Sunday School. She said, “The Lord is my shepherd; I should worry,” and ran down to her seat. She meant, I shouldn’t worry. Oh yes, He who died for me lives for me and has promised to undertake.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” I shall not want rest for, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” You would think that people would have sense enough to lie down when tired. The trouble with a lot of people is that they keep running until they have nervous breakdowns. Jesus says, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). I shall not want refreshment for “He leadeth me beside the still waters.” I shall not want restoration, “He restoreth my soul.” I shall not want guidance for “he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” I shall not want companionship in the hour of trial, in the time when the dark, dark shadows of death fall athwart my path for, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” I shall not want comfort for, “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” I shall not want provision,”Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” I shall not want unction for, “Thou anointest my head with oil.” I shall not want satisfaction, “My cup runneth over.” I shall not want goodness or mercy for, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” And I shall not want a home at last for “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” Do you believe it? Then do not ever go around with your head hanging down any more. If all these things are true, why should our hearts be bowed down like a bulrush? The Great Shepherd has undertaken to see us through.

Psalm 24

Now Psalm 24 carries us on to the day of the kingdom, that kingdom intimated in verse 28 of Psalm 22. The day of the kingdom is the day of the Lord’s return and it is when He comes again that He comes as the Chief Shepherd, and so now you have a description of this world when Jesus comes to reign. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.” Who has title to it? “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?” There is only One. Whatever title you and I have we get in association with Him for there is only One to whom these words fully apply. “He that hath clean hands.” The hands of Jesus were never stained with sin. “And a pure heart.” The heart of Jesus was never unclean. “Who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity.” The soul of Jesus was never proud. “Now sworn deceitfully.” There was no guile found in His mouth.

“He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” And He receives it for us and we are made “accepted in the beloved.” “This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob.” For in the day of the kingdom of Israel, Jacob will be restored to the Lord and will become a means of blessing to the whole world. And now we have the antiphonal song that we have often heard. The King is coming; see, He is entering in to take possession of His royal palace, and His outriders lead the way and draw near the royal palace, they shout aloud, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors (really, doors of eternity); and the King of glory shall come in.” And from within there comes the cry, “Who is this King of glory?” And the retainers of the King cry, “Jehovah strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle,” for the Son of man is Jehovah incarnate. “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye doors of eternity; and the King of glory shall come in.” And again from within comes the inquiry, “Who is this King of glory?” And the answer, “Jehovah of hosts, he is the King of glory.” And Jesus takes the kingdom, the Crucified sits on the throne of David and reigns in power and glory. What a wonderful trilogy we have here in these three psalms. The psalm of the cross, 22; the psalm of the crook, the Shepherd’s crook, 23; the psalm of the crown, 24. And they tell the whole wonderful story of His humiliation and His glory.