Psalm 23:3b-4

Great Commission Church
Psalm 23:3b-4
Intro: The most famous chapter in the Bible outlines for Christians the reasons we lack nothing when God is our Shepherd. In the first part of the Psalm, those reasons were – He Settles Me Down, He Refreshes Me, He Brings Me Back…Today’s text adds two more.

Psalm 23:3b He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Psalm 23:4 Yea, 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.


“He leads me in the paths of righteousness”

What David clearly assumes is that while he was a wandering sheep, straying in the pathways of unrighteousness, the shepherd brings him back to the right paths, leading him again. “paths of righteousness” = “right tracks” (lit. wagon tracks)

The open wilderness of Israel often exhibits a maze of faint trails worn by numerous flocks of sheep.

Only the shepherd knows which of them leads out of the valley. Many of the subsidiary trails abruptly terminate in some dead end or at the edge of a cliff.

Because he loves the sheep, the shepherd is cautious about the pathways he chooses. He would do anything to prevent attacks from predators or accidents along the way. 

He must maintain his reputation as a competent, trustworthy shepherd. If he lost the sheep or could not find the way home in a timely manner, he would gain a poor reputation. He acts out of his own integrity, which he will not violate.

“for His name’s sake”

He is a good shepherd, and a good shepherd does not lose sheep.

John 6:39 NIV And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.

God is for God.

Ezekiel 36:22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. 
Ezekiel 36:23 And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD,” says the Lord GOD, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. 

Archbishop Nerses of Armenia – “And why did He take such providential care? Not for any bribe, not because He needed to add me to His flock, but only for His name’s glory.”

Look upward: we cannot lack righteousness when He shed His blood for us. 
Look outward: we cannot lack supply when He gives Himself to us. 
Look forward: we cannot lack help when He is by our side. 
Look inward: we cannot lack comfort when He leaves His peace with us!

Psalm 20:1 May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble; may the name of the God of Jacob defend you.


“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”

What is the valley of the shadow of death? It can also be translated “the valley of deepest darkness.”
illus: In numerous places in the holy land, at the bottom of a valley, winter streams have forged long, deep crevices in the rock. One such valley is the entrance to the ancient city of Petra in southern Jordan. In 1957 a flash flood thundered without warning through the long, narrow, thirty-feet high canyon that makes up the entrance to the city. The wall of water killed nearly 50 French tourists who were walking through the pass at the time. The first responders were severely traumatized at what they witnessed and the recovery mission that followed. They pointed out where two women who were walking ahead of the group heard the screams of their friends and managed to climb up into the protection of an elevated fissure in the rocks. Seconds later they saw the crashing boulders being swept downstream along with the mangled bodies of their fellow travelers. It was indeed a “valley of death.” Jordan’s King Hussein visited the site the following day to show his solidarity with the living and his compassion for the dead.

One former Israeli shepherd confirms that there is a famous valley of the shadow of death just south of the Jerusalem-Jericho road.

It is about five miles long and remarkably narrow – it is not more than 12-feet at the widest section of its base. The actual path gets so narrow that sheep can hardly turn around in case of danger.

Travelers march slowly and silently through these valleys to avoid being seen or heard by bandits or predators. The fear of death is constantly on their minds, and they tremble as they pass through.

The valley of death/deep darkness is a section of the trail that cannot be avoided. There is no bypass. There is no magical escape. 

But David does not write, “This valley is where the trail ends, get used to it!” Instead, he concedes that it is sometimes a necessary part of the journey.

We must not be those who suffer loss and allow ourselves to imagine that we are stuck in the dark valley without hope.

The worst thing about the valley of the shadow of death is the fear it generates in the heart. And that fear often arises long before the traveler enters the valley. 

The journey itself does not hinder joy as much as the anticipated fear of the valley. It’s like a child who hears that he/she must go to see the doctor. “Will I get a shot today?”

Psalm 130:1 Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD

Someone has aptly said, “Christians may fear dying, but they cannot fear death.”

David contemplates the LORD and says, “I will fear no evil.” How can he be so sure?

At this point in the Psalm, God dramatically walks on stage. David addresses the LORD directly.

“for You are with me”

Sheep have a special handicap. They have no defense. Cats have claws and quickness. Dogs have teeth and speed. Horses can kick and run. Bears can claw, crush & bite. But sheep have no claws, no bite, and they cannot outrun anything. 

The sheep’s only security is the shepherd. Indeed, “you are with me.”

Israel was proud of God’s constant presence.

Deut 4:7 “For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? 

Other nations had fashioned gods out of material and set them up in temples to visit for worship. But the psalmist asks Israel’s God,

Psalm 139:7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?
Psalm 139:8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
Psalm 139:9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Psalm 139:10 Even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.
The special statement, “you are with me,” means that the LORD intervenes in David’s life to protect him and provide for him. It is one of the most encouraging themes of the Bible. 

God first introduced it to Jacob at Bethel – “I will be with you” (Gen 28:15). It was expanded by the LORD to Moses – “I am with you” (Ex 3:12). It found its full force in the prophecy of Immanuel – “God with us” (Isa 7:14).

We have the same promise repeated in the NT. Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).

In the same way that the shepherd abides always with his sheep, so the LORD is with His people, even in dangerous places.

“I will be with you” is a better word than “I love you,” because someone can love you from a distance. 

But presence is greater than a loving wish. Any child of divorce knows that hearing a parent express love from miles away does not take away the ache of their absence.

How does the presence of the shepherd deliver the sheep from fear?

“Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me”

These two instruments must be understood precisely. 

The “rod” addresses the evil from the outside

It is the shepherd’s primary offensive weapon to protect the flock from enemies. It is typically about two feet long with a mace-like end into which heavy pieces of iron are often embedded. It becomes a vicious weapon in the hands of a motivated shepherd!

One fierce blow from the rod will kill or cripple nearly any animal and any unprepared human. This same instrument continued in use by shepherds in Israel and surrounding nations well into the 20th century. 

The “staff” addresses the evil on the inside

It is lighter and longer than the rod, and it has a crook on the end.

The shepherd leans on his staff as he observes the flock throughout the day. He climbs with it when necessary. But the main purpose of the staff is to direct the sheep with it to return to the path. 

It is long enough that he can reach some distance to guide the edges of the flock in the right direction. He is never without it.

Sheep often wander from the pathway, and the shepherd gently brings them back with the firm but gentle nudge from his staff.

Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.

Alfred Edersheim – “O weak and foolish heart, you know not what you ask, nor what you refuse, what you hope nor what your dread; you have all too little faith in Him, and all too much trust in yourself; you are bold where you should tremble, and tremble when you should be of good courage!”

Application: “Measure not your hopes by your feelings, but by His merits and by His grace.”

•    I need specific prayer for the Sheperd to guide me.

•    I need specific prayer for the Shepherd to calm my fears.