My honey sent this quote (below) to me. We are apart for a few days, but it’s nice to know I’m not far from his thoughts <heart al> Psalm 23 would have to be the best known psalm of all time. These thoughts ponder where it fits in the context of the bible and causes me to question why I’ve never thought of it like this before…and of how applicable/unapplicable it is as a highly quoted funeral psalm. Is this where non-believers get the idea that their loved one has gone “to a better place”, and what do we do to counter this deceit?

From: J Douglas MacMillan, The ‘Shepherd’ Theme, in The Lord our Shepherd, Bryntirion, 2004, Pp 46-49

We have been asking the question, Who is the Shepherd of Psalm 23? The Old Testament tells us that it was Jehovah, and the New Testament tells us that it was Jehovah-Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd of the flock of God. In answering that question we have been setting Psalm 23 against a wider background, and specifically against the clear teaching of the New Testament. And I think we need that background.

What is the setting of Psalm 23?

But now I want to come closer still to the psalm and ask another question: What is the setting of Psalm 23? What do I mean by that? Well, where in your Bible do you find Psalm 23? You say, ‘Well, preacher, that’s very easy. Psalm 23 comes after Psalm 22.’ That is absolutely right. But now I want to ask you another question: What is Psalm 22? Well, listen to it! Listen to its opening words: ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ Where are we when we enter into Psalm 22? We are at a place called Calvary.

Go through this psalm, and you are closer to Calvary than any of the Gospels can take you, because you are not merely looking at the one who is offering his life, but you are in his mind and you are in his heart. You are sharing and seeing his suffering, in a way that the history of the Gospels cannot allow you to see and share his suffering. You are listening to his heartbeat as he says, they … laugh me to scorn . . . saying, He trusted on the lord … let him deliver him … strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round [Bashan was famous for its breeding bulls – strong, terrifying animals] … I am poured out like water … they pierced my hands and my feet.

Where are we? We are at a place called Calvary, and we are seeing the Good Shepherd laying down his life for the sheep. We are seeing what it cost for Jesus to suffer and to offer. We are see­ing what it cost this Shepherd (if I can put it like that) to get into Psalm 23. There was only one gateway for the Son of God to become the Shepherd of the sheep, and that was by the gateway of Psalm 22 and his suffering on the cross.

Let me say this – I say it with all reverence, but I make absolutely no apology for saying it. Even God could never have written Psalm 23 and its opening words, until there had first of all been the divine purpose to bring about the events of which Psalm 22 speaks. He will deal with sinners only on the basis of blood and only on the basis of sacrifice. We have to say this, you see, that even for God to get into Psalm 23 there had to come Psalm 22 in the experience of the Son of God.

The cross

Much more so, my friend, before you and I can get into Psalm 23, we have to go by the pathway of Psalm 22. There is only one gateway into the flock of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that gateway stands by the cross. That is why this psalm does not belong to any but those who come by way of the cross. It is only when you have been broken and humbled at the feet of Jesus the Good Shepherd, who has laid down his life for you, that you really become one of his sheep. There is no other way.

Knowing your Bible, that is good, but it will not save your soul. Going to church or chapel, that is good, but it is not salvation. Saying “The lord is my shepherd”, that is good too, but it can be nothing but a lie unless you come through Psalm 22 and have seen your God in Christ crucified for your sin.

The throne

Let me ask you the question again: Where is Psalm 23? You say, ‘Well, it’s after Psalm 22, and it’s just before Psalm 24.’ And you are absolutely right. What is Psalm 24? Well, just listen to it: ‘Who shall ascend into the hill of the lord? … He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart’.

There was only one pair of clean hands in this world, and men took them and drove nails through their palms. ‘He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart’—he shall ascend. And has he? Yes! Just listen!

Ye gates, lift up your heads on high,

Ye doors that last for aye,

Be lifted up . . .

Why? Because the Shepherd who laid down his life and who took it again is entering into a throne. Where is the Shepherd of God and the Shepherd of God’s people today? He has ascended on high, and he has led captivity captive, says the psalmist (Psalm 68). He has made a mockery of the triumph of his enemies, and he is exalted in the midst of the throne.

You see, the three psalms are linked together. In Psalm 22 you find a depiction of the Good Shepherd laying down his life for the sheep. In Psalm 23 you find the Great Shepherd who has taken his life again, and who lovingly will shepherd and pasture every one of his sheep and lead them from a knowledge of him­self, or in a knowledge of himself, to the Father’s house for ever­more. And then in Psalm 24 you have the glory of the Chief Shepherd, the one who is ascended into glory in order to give glory to his sheep, to make them like himself.

I once heard Professor Finlayson preaching on Psalm 23, and he linked Psalms 22 to 24 like this: ‘One is the psalm of the cross, the next is the psalm of the crook, and the third is the psalm of the crown.’ They stand together, and each of them sheds its own particular light upon the Shepherd who is our Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ. And these lights blend, and they light up his glory, and they show him to be a Great Shepherd.

‘The lord is my shepherd.’ Is this Lord your Shepherd? My friend, let me say this. If this Lord is your Shepherd, you have not yet begun to know how blessed you are, how God has blessed you. And if this Lord is not your Shepherd, you have not yet begun to know how poor and how miserable and how blind and how naked you really are before your God and your Creator.