Thurston Howell III was a character played by Jim Backus on the wonderfully awkward and charming TV Sitcom known as Gilligan’s Island. He was the head of Howell Industries, and he was a billionaire. Over the course of the tv show, where 7 stranded castaways were stuck on a deserted island – we learn that he is one of the world’s wealthiest men, He owns oil wells, a movie studio, a battery company, is part of 2 yacht clubs, a Harvard graduate, and is a proud registered republican. He also owns homes in all 50 states, and also in Paris and Monaco.
But despite all these possessions – where he claims to find comfort – he finds real comfort at night when he curls up beside his teddy bear, named Teddy.
At first, he’s a little ashamed of it, but eventually, he even carries it around during the day with him, and allows others to use it as a source of security.
Perhaps even more famous is a Teddy Bear that was featured rather prominently on an even more popular television sitcom – MASH. It was on tv from 1972 until 1983.
MASH was about doctors in the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital – located just a few miles from the front lines of the Korean War.
One of the characters in the show was Walter O’Reilly – but most of you who have ever seen the show know him as Radar. Radar was a fun and quirky guy that got his nickname because of his incredible hearing as he always heard the medical helicopters before anyone else.
In the series, Radar is often seen with his Teddy Bear. This teddy bear was a prominent fixture on the tv series – and when Radar finally is called back home when his uncle passes away – he leaves the Teddy bear on his bunk for those he’s leaving behind.
But perhaps the most famous of all security vices in the entertainment world belongs to a young boy named Linus in a comic strip known as Peanuts.
Linus always has his security blanket with him. While providing comfort is its main use – throughout the series his blanket is also used as a scarf, fly swatter, a kite, a parachute, a hammock, a slingshot, second base in a baseball game, and a Shepherd’s cloak in the famous Charlie Brown Christmas story.
Throughout the comic strip series, If you follow the story of Linus, you see that there are many people who try to convince Linus to get rid of his security blanket.
- Lucy, his sister, hates it. Lucy tries to bury it, makes a kite out of it and loses it, and in one series, she tries to throw it in a trash burner and the blanket comes to life.
- Rerun, his little brother, is embarrassed that his older brother is dependent on the blanket
- Sally, Charlie Brown’s sister, who has a crush on Linus, starts out being okay with it, but finally tells him that she would like him better if he didn’t carry it. She is known to yank it away from him saying no future husband of hers would carry a blanket.
- Snoopy just is always trying to take the blanket from Linus
I would imagine most all of us in this room either have, or have sought out security in the form of a teddy bear, a doll, a blanket, a toy, or some other item. It’s a pretty normal thing to do, and while most of us eventually grow out of it – we all continue to seek comfort in various ways.
As Christians, we can turn to the Bible to find ultimate comfort, and a chapter we can come back to time and time again for that comfort is Psalm 23.
This is a passage that has stood the test of time, in all situations, providing comfort to so many.
Listen to the Word of the Lord from the King James Version:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
I imagine that when most people read this psalm, they picture a young man, perhaps even an older shepherd boy – who after a long day of shepherding, reclines on the hillside and prepares a meal at sunset – and maybe even enjoys a tranquil view overlooking the Sea of Galilee while his sheep are grazing on the grass nearby.
In reality, this was written after he had become King, and was far removed from his shepherding career.
After a normal childhood, and then being called by Samuel to take the place of King Saul – David had a lot of tumultuous and challenging times he had to deal with. He was in need of comfort.
He was often going off to battle, fighting giants, running a kingdom, giving into temptation – but all the while trying to be the best example he could be for God, and I imagine this played quite a toll on David.
I like to imagine one night, David sat down to write these words as life was doling out struggle after struggle, and he decided to reminisce about all he had gone through. And by the time he had thought about things – he came to the realization it was not his status as King, nor his possessions, nor his army that provided him with the most comfort – NO – it was God.
David turns to something that likens God to a childhood experience that offered him sweet comfort and memories: the time he spent as a Shepherd.
David, who spent so much time as a shepherd himself, now refers to God as HIS Shepherd, and in turn, he becomes the sheep.
He puts his experience as a shepherd – all the protecting, herding, providing comfort and nourishment for the flock – all onto God – and he steps into the place of a sheep.
He knows what great lengths he would go to in order to take care of the sheep that were entrusted to his care – and by putting himself into the position of the sheep, he is able to find comfort in a way he could find nowhere else.
What’s fascinating about this chapter to me is all the ways that God is spoken of – basically all of the OT names and descriptions for God are found right here in this chapter:
To start with, David tells of God’s intimacy by saying simply “The LORD is MY Shepherd.” OR – Jehovah Roi/Raah/Rohi – which means “The Lord is My Shepherd.” But David doesn’t just stop there.
God’s character is revealed in many ways in this chapter. As we begin this chapter – David states “The Lord is my Shepherd – I shall not want” and then goes on to say He brings him to green pastures and still waters. Here we see David referring to the name of God as “Jehovah-Jireh,” the Lord will provide” (Gen. 22:14)
In a land where green pastures were not the most abundant, David knew that as a Shepherd, he had to help the sheep find where the grasses were plentiful.
Talk to most anyone who has ever dealt with sheep, they will tell you that sheep much prefer still waters over running waters. Not only are sheep skittish, but they also have a giant wool coat. Imagine falling into or being swept up in running water with a giant wool coat. There’s not a great chance they come out of that alive. So sheep prefer still waters. It’s just safer for them.
A well fed and hydrated sheep loves to rest, just like us right? Ever try to put a hungry baby to sleep? It’s pretty much impossible right? So when we see God as someone who provides these things for His sheep, it gives us peace. God is “Jehovah Shalom” when David refers to the still waters and provision of nourishment, because he also provides peace. “Jehovah-Shalom” means “the Lord our peace” (Judg. 6:24).
Maybe today you need to find peace in other ways than just being well fed and hydrated. Perhaps you need peace from the busyness of the world, the noise all around, the stress of life, the never ending political strife, the list goes on and on right? I don’t know what your green pastures and still waters are today – but God can get you there.
This could also be found later in verse 3, after we see that God can be a God who provides and a God who instills peace – we read that God restored David’s soul (restores my soul – vs 3) This is the name “Jehovah-Rapha,” which means “the Lord who heals or restores” (Ex. 15:26).
All throughout the Old Testament, we see the word “restore” over and over again. That’s because God’s chosen people, the Israelites, chose to wander away time and time again, and God had to continuously find them and carry them back to the fold, just like a Shepherd does for his sheep when they wander away.
Restoration for us happens through repentance and forgiveness. When we read this idea of restoring my soul in Psalm 23, it’s easy to think that this is an idea of emotional refreshing or renewal. But that’s not really what David’s getting at. What he’s really getting at is that David continuously wants to be following God, or as we see in verse 3, stay on the path of righteousness. Here we see the name “Jehovah-Tsidkenu,” “the Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 33:16)
Yes – we need times of emotional and spiritual renewal, where we need to be strengthened, where we need to find answers, where we need to be uplifted. But here David is painting God as a Shepherd who keeps us on the right paths. David knows completely that sometimes, those paths of righteousness can be painful to get back to because sometimes God has to free us from the clutches of something we shouldn’t have gotten ourselves into – such as addiction, inappropriate relationships, and so on.
In verse 4, we see a shift from how David is speaking. Notice: “When I walk through the darkest of valleys, I will not be afraid for you are close beside me, your rod and your staff protect me and comfort me.”
He no longer refers to God as HE but now he talks to God as someone who is walking beside him instead of leading him through something. He’s with him.
When we think of a valley today – we often think of an area surrounded by beautiful hillsides, and is a flat area filled with meadows and grassy fields. But for Shepherds in the Old Testament, a valley was a narrow, dark steep wall with sharp edges, which would be very difficult to escape if you fell and a challenge to navigate.
Valleys here symbolize dark and difficult times in life. And here we hear David say that even though he’s going through the valley of the shadow of death – he says “you are with me” and even goes on to say “I won’t be afraid of any evil, because You are with me” and “God’s staff and rod will protect me and comfort me.” Here we see the name of — “Jehovah-Shammah,” “the Lord is here” or “The Lord is Present” (Ezek. 48:35)
We all go through these Valleys in our life. They can be triggered by illness, a serious accident, a violent storm like a tornado, difficulties in a relationship, war, times of low income and struggling to pay bills, loneliness, a death in the family – the list goes on right?
But David wasn’t afraid. He knew he wasn’t alone. David knew that God was with Him. Whatever struggles David was facing, or his nation was facing, David was not afraid. After all, this is the same man who faced a giant with nothing but a stone and a sling because he knew God was with Him.
As this verse continues – David says “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” and refers to the name of God “Jehovah-Nissi,” which means “the Lord is our banner” (Ex. 17:15)
This portion of Psalm 23 has always confused me because we simply don’t talk like this very often.
What does it mean when it refers to God as “The Lord is our banner” – this goes back to Exodus 17:15 after an intense battle that Israel fights with the Amalekites. At this time Israel would have been the underdog – a smaller army, inexperienced, with very few battle leaders. They are a traveling people at the time, no home, no base, and they had all their women, children, herds, and possessions with them.
But they also traveled with God, who surpassed any general, who surpassed any army, who surpassed any weapon, and they defeated the Amalekites. Moses built an altar after the victory and gave all glory to God saying Jehovah Nissi, or the Lord is my banner, or this is who we fight behind – Jehovah God.
Another thought about this idea of God preparing a table before our enemies that I’d like to touch on before we move on:
David says God’s table is prepared in front of our enemies. This tells us that in this life that is still not completely what God wants for us, there are enemies out there, and we need to realize those enemies can be quite strong.
We need to acknowledge to ourselves and to others that being in Christ does NOT mean that the troubles, cares, pains, and dangers of this world are simply removed from us. We remain in the presence of our enemies. But day by day, God prepares a table for us before them. He will protect us if we so choose to sit down at this table.
This passage in Psalm 23 resonates with us all – because as we are reminded in Isaiah 53:6 – We all, just like sheep, have gone astray. We’ve all turned to our own way.
There’s a song we sing from time to time called “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” – and right there in the words of this hymn – we sing the phrase “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.”
We are, aren’t we? We are prone to wander – wander from the green pastures, wander away from the still waters, wander away from the paths of righteousness He has laid out before us. We are prone to wander away from the table he has prepared for us in front of our enemies – and we try to fight our battles completely on our own, or with the help of someone else instead.
When Jesus came to the earth, He takes on this role as Shepherd – and he talks about it in John 10. He says, starting in verse 11:
John 10:11-15 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep.
Just as David had God to turn to for comfort in times of pain, in times of peace, in times of struggle, in times of happiness – we too have God, and specifically we have Christ Jesus to turn to for comfort from this world. Christ is our Shepherd. And only in Christ can we find true comfort and peace.
As David looked back on all the events of his life, he could see the faithfulness of his Shepherd. The Lord’s constant care filled him with great assurance and hope for the future.
Back In Psalm 23:6 – David says “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
The word “surely” is not referring to a probability but a certainty. In other words, David could face the rest of life boldly, with great confidence about his future.
Just as certain as David could say these words, we too can say them. We know that “Surely” goodness and mercy follow us as well, because Jesus promised us that He will never forsake us, He will always be here for us.
There’s one other name for God we see in Psalm 23:5 – where David says “you anoint my head with oil” (vs 5) —this is the name of God “Jehovah-M’Kaddesh,” which is “the Lord who sanctifies” (Lev. 20:8).
Today God still anoints our heads and sanctifies us in a different way – He sets us apart by the blood of His only begotten that we read about in John 3:16. The Son of God, Jesus, came to the earth to live that perfect life and offer himself up as a sacrifice for all the sins we have and continue to struggle with.
And in the end – for those of us who obey Christ, who follow Him, who put His name over ours in baptism – for those of us who live our lives as sheep for Christ our Shepherd – Revelation 7:16-17 tells us what our reward will be:
Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
– Revelation 7:16-17
The only thing better than still waters is living waters. That’s what Christ offers us today.