John N Darby
The Lord takes here the place of the Shepherd who leads His sheep out and goes before them; but He has passed through the experiences of the sheep for us under the leading of Jehovah, His Shepherd. And in this character, if the Lord has been able to speak as He does in this Psalm, if He has been able to show a heart which nothing could trouble, it was not because His way had no pain or difficulty, or because He had no enemies. Rather the opposite, Jesus was straitened until He was baptised in death and the wrath of God. His soul was anguished; His spirit troubled; all His enemies were before Him; He suffered the contradiction of sinners against Himself. He experienced tribulation and distress; and said to those who were called to follow Him: “In the world you will have tribulation”, John 16: 33. Yes, we also must pass where He has gone; and He shows us the way for He has found the same circumstances there, the same relief and the same graces as ourselves.
Jesus had not, like us, the difficulty of evil in Him, being without sin. How much more sensitive than us He was to the suffering of evil which surrounded Him! Where we are often hardened by evil, He felt it perfectly. Christ sympathises with us; nobody sympathised with Him; nobody could say to Him, “be of good courage, I have overcome the world”. Having sin in us, we therefore suffer much less than Him; but, apart from that, He placed Himself in the same circumstances as us. He employed in them the same means as those which we are called to use, dependence and prayer, with the same assurance of being answered.
While putting us under His own safe keeping as our Shepherd, He also places Himself, as Man, under the safe keeping of God. He confides Himself to Jehovah, leaning Himself on Him. God says of Him, “Behold my servant whom I uphold”, Isa 42: 1.
It is sweet for the sheep to see Him walking before them, and tracing the way for them, in outward weakness, although He were God supreme; but with this difference that, for Him, all was still to be accomplished, whereas for us all is accomplished.
The Jews confided in their institutions, but this was not faith. In this Psalm, when all the institutions fail, when unrighteousness abounds, the faithful one makes the blessed discovery that Jehovah is his Shepherd. It is when everything is done by Satan to weaken faith, that this one finds an unshakeable support in God. Jesus teaches this to our hearts by His example and in contemplating His path we learn what is our confidence; in a difficult position, we know that Jesus was also found there and God could not but show His faithfulness to His Son. In seeing the bond between God and Jesus, I learn to know the bond between God and myself; for Jesus humbled Himself to take our position and to put Himself in our place.
Verse 1 - No matter what the circumstances, it is a settled thing: I shall have no want. It is not through lack of difficulties, for it says, in another Psalm, that it is in “a dry and weary land without water”, Ps 63: 1. He knows that Jehovah provides for all that and He feels safe. The cares of the Shepherd reassure the child of God and he goes freely, in the liberty of grace, everywhere the Shepherd leads him.
Verse 2 - Jehovah is my Shepherd and I rest; all the power of demons cannot hinder me from being in the green places. It is faith that gives this assurance; one is in the midst of enemies without fear. The good Shepherd watches over us and He leads us by still waters, where we find refreshment for our souls. There is liberty; one goes in and out and finds pasture. Nothing can separate us from this love which concerns itself with us. He who has given His life for His sheep, shows us love so much the more as the difficulties increase in number; and, taken up to the Father, He looks after His sheep, as the Father looked after Him when He was on the earth. “The eyes of Jehovah run to and fro through the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of those whose heart is perfect toward him”, 2 Chron 16: 9. As we see in this passage, it is in the difficulties that He allows to this end, and when there is nothing in the circumstances that can encourage the soul, that God shows Himself strong. To seek God alone, to have no other support than Him: that is where perfection shows and integrity of heart.
Verse 3 - It is not that there is no fear: Paul had fears within and combats without, 2 Cor 7: 5. Jesus offered prayers and supplications, “with strong crying and tears”, Heb 5: 7. All this can happen to a true heart. The Lord then comes to restore the soul and to console those who are cast down. It is said of Jesus that “the waters are come in unto my soul”, Ps 69: 1. “My soul”, He says, “is cast down within me”, Ps 42: 6. And in the final count, He was divinely restored. The flesh avoids a way where it will find itself cast down, but in doing so it avoids having to do with God and loses the opportunity to know Him. Sooner or later, the restored soul which has found the Lord, rejoices in the comfort and the light, and receives the conviction that it is Himself who has led it in the way of blessing.
In verse 5, one finds the consequence of the fact that one leans on the Shepherd. The enemies are there, but God prepares the table and one rejoices, even in their presence. What joys they prove who have the consciousness that the Lord who knows our way blesses and leads us. Our conflict is a real conflict; to avoid it is to avoid the blessing. From the moment one steps forward for the service of the Lord, one is necessarily in the view of the enemies. If one wishes to show who the people of God are, it must be shown in the presence of Satan. Satan can reproach, and this is what he wants, but we must combat and mortify the flesh, while relying on the faithfulness of God. Those who do not have a true heart and count on other things than Him never find that God shows Himself strong.
Faith is the rule by which God leads us. When He is the object of our hearts and of our faith, all becomes simple and easy. With a single eye, the body is full of light, Matt 6: 22. It is a pathway of conflicts, of being cast down, of discouragement sometimes, but a pathway where God is found. There are not always still waters, but the soul acquires the certainty of the way where Christ leads it and the certainty that we pass where Christ has passed.
If, by God’s grace, I see you again, I am fully convicted that the Lord is our Shepherd, that He will lead each of us; and I hope, if it pleases God, that we shall see each other again more united and more blessed than ever!
23rd July 1843
Translated from Le Messager Evangélique