The Sheperd's Crucible

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Psalm 23
Lesson Number: 

Lesson 1

The Shepherd’s Crucible

(Psalm 23)

Copr. 2022, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. If you normally receive this lesson by e-mail, but it is lost one week, you can find it by clicking on this link: Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as you study.

Introduction: There is tension in the Bible when it comes to the issue of suffering. On the one hand God calls us to obey to limit our suffering and give us success. On the other hand, we see that Jesus and His immediate disciples suffered terribly. Plus, we see suffering among those we know who good people are. Our lessons this quarter bring us face to face with this tension. Let’s begin this journey of contemplation and learning by studying Psalms 23!

  1. Not Lacking
  1. Read Psalms 23:1. The conclusion is that we do not want. What does it mean to “not want?”
  1. If you heard someone described as “not wanting for anything,” what would you conclude about that person’s wealth?
  1. Is this text about wealth?
  1. Have you met people who are not wealthy and they do not want? (There is a personality type which always seems to want something that they do not have. Other personalities are content with what they possess.)
  1. Many years ago, Daniel Pink wrote a best-selling book named “Drive.” In it he assessed what motivates employees to become better workers. He concluded that beyond a certain (modest) level of income, employees are not particularly motivated by money to work harder. Instead, their motivation is tied to the nature of their job. Is this consistent with what the Bible says about “not wanting?”
  1. Let’s examine the first part of Psalms 23:1. What is the necessary ingredient for “not wanting?” (Having the Lord as our shepherd.)
  1. What do you think it means for God to be our Shepherd?
  1. What does it require of us? (Following Him. Letting Him guide.)
  1. Read Psalms 23:2. Is this a picture of calm?
  1. Let’s take a deeper dive into this picture:
  1. What would a “green pasture” mean to you? (At least two commentaries reveal that the Hebrew word translated “pastures” usually means a dwelling, a house where a person lives.)
  2. What should you conclude about having a “green pasture” home? (You have a pleasant home and plenty of good food to eat.)
  3. What would a green pasture mean to a sheep? (It had plenty of good food to eat.)
  1. Let’s examine the first part of the first half of Psalms 23:2. What does it mean to “make me” lay down? Is God forcing something? (Shepherds lead. Sometimes they coerce.)
  1. Do you need to be forced to lay down? (This has always been an issue with me. I have a hard time just resting. I’ve refused to fully retire because I don’t think I can handle all that rest, and some rest is absolutely less attractive to me than some of my work.)
  1. Read 1 Peter 5:2-3. What does this suggest about compulsion?
  1. What should we conclude from being “made” to “lie down in green pastures?” (Part of this has to be changing our hearts to accept rest and peace.)
  1. Look now at the last part of Psalms 23:2. What do you think “still waters” means to a sheep? What does it mean to you?
  1. I like “white water.” If you also like it, why? (It is a challenge. It is a fight to survive wild water.)
  2. What, then, is God’s promise here? (That we will be able to become fully refreshed without a fight. The water of life will be easy to obtain and drink.)
  1. Restoration
  1. Read Psalms 23:3. If I offered to “restore your soul” what benefit would you expect?
  1. Is the last part of verse 3 helpful in understanding what restoration of the soul means? (I think going down the path of righteousness has to be a big part of it.)
  2. Both this text and Psalms 23:2 refer to God leading us. What does that suggest about our current situation? (We are not yet where God wants us to be. We need to make progress by following God.)
  1. The last part of Psalms 23:3 is particularly interesting. Why is God making this offer of restoration? (It reflects well on Him.)
  1. What, exactly, reflects well on God? (How many times do you hear pagans blame God for all sorts of bad events? God wants us to be a living example of what it means to have God lead in our life. God wants others to see that He brings blessings, not evil.)
  2. Let’s consider this with the background of the first two verses of Psalms 23. Do all of these blessings serve to bring glory to God?
  3. If you are blessed, and you are not bringing glory to God, what does that suggest you should do?
  1. Fear
  1. Read Psalms 23:4. What does it mean to walk through the “valley of the shadow of death?”
  1. Why does it say “walk” and not “run?”
  2. Friend, we are not in green pastures anymore! What do you think the word “valley” means when applied to your life? (A low point.)
  3. We know what death means, what is the “shadow” of death? (We cast shadows in the right light. I think the “shadow” of death is getting close to the real thing - death.)
  1. Psalms 23:4 says that we fear no evil. The biggest challenge in my professional life is my litigation work. It naturally creates fear - especially, I’m generally dealing with a court, a judge, and lawyers that I do not know. What does this text say is the way in which we banish fear? (Knowing that God is with us. I cannot adequately express how that has been a comfort to me in litigation situations which created incredible pressure. Just knowing that God is with me is a source of great comfort!)
  1. This text says that God’s “rod and staff” give comfort. How is that? (First, I think these are offensive weapons against the people who would do me harm. Second, I think they give me guidance when I have a pressing problem.)
  1. Read Psalms 23:5. Is this saying that our enemies get to watch us eat? (Not exactly. It means that our enemies get to see our triumph. Last quarter we discussed Joseph. His brothers got to see his triumph. They saw the way he ate in the middle of a famine.)
  1. Read Psalms 45:7. What does this tell us about our head being anointed with oil? (We are glad!)
  2. Our cup overflows means what? (We have more than enough drink. There is a strong strand in this chapter telling us that God gives us more than we need.)
  1. Read Psalms 23:6. For what part of your life does God promise to show you goodness and mercy? (“All the days of my life.”)
  1. When you read of the “house of the Lord,” do you think of heaven?
  1. If you do, how do you explain the prior reference to all the days of life? (I think the Psalmist is telling us that we can have a “house of the Lord” experience right now. Right here on earth.)
  2. What about the saying that we are strangers here, and the earth is not our home? (The earth is certainly our home here and hereafter. See Revelation 21:1-3.)
  1. Does Psalm 23 seem an odd way to begin a study about suffering? (I think it is a perfect way. Not only does it encourage us in general, suffering resides in the valley of the shadow of death.)
  2. Friend, will you turn back to this chapter when you face difficult times? God has given it to us to encourage us and to make us glad!
  1. Next week: The Crucibles That Come.