2. The Shepherd as Provider"God has not spun creation into motion and then walked away."
As we continue to explore Psalm 23 and more specifically its depiction of the Lord as Shepherd, it is essential to grasp what David is conveying in this wonderful metaphor. Those who have studied the psalm extensively have suggested that, of the many rich descriptions pertaining to the Lord’s nature, three consistently overlap. They point to the Lord as being Israel’s Provider, Protector and Physician. Over the next three issues, we will give particular focus to each of these characteristics, which describe the Lord’s relationship to humanity.
There is a tremendous amount of pressure on those who undertake the responsibility of a provider. Perhaps you have some familiarity with that pressure as a parent, spouse or someone who is responsible for extended family. To realize that there is another life that is dependent on you is a sobering and unsettling reality. It carries a heavy responsibility. And the higher the stakes, the more responsibility and pressure is on the provider. This is not to say that being a provider is not also richly rewarding. There is a good feeling that comes with knowing that you are able to care for someone else.
The image of Yahweh as Provider for all of creation resonates throughout the Psalter. Some have suggested that the overarching theme of Psalm 23 is one of the Lord’s provision for Israel. Craig C. Boyles says that “most commentators perceive two images in this psalm: Yahweh as shepherd and as host at the temple. In both roles, Yahweh provides nourishment and safe passage.”1 One might argue that the Psalter as a whole is an elongated dithyramb [passionate hymn or writing] celebrating the Lord’s provision and greatness.
The Lord’s capacity to provide is marvelously limitless. Sheep are utterly and completely dependent on the Shepherd for daily sustenance—water, protection, grooming and migrations. In calling the Lord his shepherd, David recognizes God as the primary source for provision.
The Lord provides for mankind in incredibly extensive ways. I will point out two very distinct ways. The first is overt and related to the Lord’s miraculous provision for His people and its impact on their faith. The second is more subtle and is related to the Lord’s ongoing provision for mankind and for the whole of creation.
The Way of Faith
As David’s faith in the Lord was established, he would have drawn inspiration from stories of God’s provision for the patriarchs. God’s provision for Abraham would have been a central part of the teaching curriculum.
Abraham’s life serves as a continual testimony of God’s provision. One of the most striking episodes took place at the summit of Mount Moriah. God had made an impossible request of Abraham. When Abraham was very old, he and his wife Sarah were blessed to have their son Isaac, who was to become the father of a nation. However, this blessing was about to be cut short when God asked Abraham to do the unthinkable. “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you” (Genesis 22:2). As Abraham’s old and tired legs carried him up the mountain, he comforted his inquisitive son, and perhaps more so himself, with faith and assurance that God will provide for the day’s sacrifice.
These three words became Abraham’s mantra during the climb to the summit. It was Abraham’s faith in the Lord’s provision that enabled him to journey to the altar with his son in one hand and a dagger in the other. It was his desperation that kept his ears open to listen for the Lord’s voice of intervention. In one nail-biting instant, God made good on His provision with a heavenly voice and a well-placed ram.
A Constant Provider
There are those moments that the Lord’s provision is displayed in miraculous ways, like at Mount Moriah. There is also a provision that is less overt but constant. David declares God to be the ever-watchful Shepherd. As he says in Psalm 121, “Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Like curling up under your favorite blanket, the Lord’s ongoing provision is remarkably comforting. We have a Shepherd who never sleeps on the job. In Psalm 29, David exhorts Israel to rejoice because the Lord “sits enthroned as king forever.” God is the constant, eternal and perfect Provider. We can fully rely on the Lord as our provider, knowing that He is always active, engaged and purposeful.
This confidence is captured in the second doctrine of The Salvation Army: “We believe that there is only one God, who is infinitely perfect, the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of all things, and who is the only proper object of religious worship.” God has not spun creation into motion and then walked away to let its momentum carry it as far as it can. As Salvationists, we believe that God continues to preserve and govern His creation.
For Israel, there was no part of their daily existence that they did not attribute to God’s holy provision. The feast of unleavened bread celebrated the Lord’s provision for Israel during its liberation from their captors on Egypt. The feast of weeks recognized the fall harvest as well as the provision of the law. The feast of trumpets thanked the Lord in advance for the provision to come in the new year. Each celebration affirmed that Israel had a watchful Shepherd fully capable of caring for their needs, in ways both miraculous and subtle.
The Lord is our Shepherd, our good and perfect Provider. Keep this helpful thought in mind. The shepherd is in charge of providing for his sheep. Sheep participate in the provision as they lie in the green pastures and drink from still waters.
As the Apostle Paul writes, “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from His glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). This does not mean that sheep will have lives free from hardship and seasons in the wilderness. What it does mean is that we have a shepherd who knows our need, cares for us and is our good provider.
1C., “Psalms,” in “Understanding the Bible” commentary series, Barker Publishing Group.