|Christian Life and Doctrine||January 1983|
“I Shall Not Want”
THE Apostle Paul wrote: “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19) Thus does the New Testament verify David’s testimony, “I shall not want,” that is, be in want, or be lacking that which is needful. In David’s expression of confidence he used the word Jehovah, and Paul also asserts that it is God, our Heavenly Father, who supplies our needs, and that he does so “by Christ Jesus.” Jehovah is indeed the Great Shepherd, and Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Thus is borne out the principle stated by Paul that all things are of the Father, and by, or through, the Son.—I Cor. 8:6
How good our Heavenly Father has been to give us so many assurances of his love and watchcare! The many straightforward statements of this fact as we find them in the divine promises are comforting and satisfying. But in order that we might understand his promises better and appreciate their significance more fully, he has presented them against various backgrounds of illustration, one of the most beautiful and meaningful being the shepherd caring for his sheep.
“The Lord is my shepherd.” How wonderfully this helps us to grasp the reality of the Heavenly Father’s love. David, the man after God’s own heart, drew this wonderful lesson of divine interest and care from his own background of experience as a shepherd. True, the psalmist wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; nevertheless, the Lord, in his loving providence, permitted his beloved David to reflect his own personal experiences in penning this comforting assurance of Jehovah’s care for his people.
“I shall not want.” In the Jewish Age, God promised to supply the material needs of his people, to bless them in basket and in store; and he made good these promises in proportion to their faithfulness. However, this, like so many other promises of the Old Testament, was written primarily for the benefit of the Lord’s sheep of the Gospel Age; hence its fulfillment is to be looked for along spiritual lines. To us, his disciples, Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” and concerning material necessities he added that his Heavenly Father knew we have need of these. (Matt. 6:33) Thus Jesus places the material needs of the Christian in a position of secondary importance.
While the Lord knows that his consecrated people of this age do need food and clothing, he has not promised to supply these in the abundance that we might at times suppose to be necessary. The great Apostle Paul, in a reference to material things, testified that he had learned how to abound, and how to suffer want. (Phil. 4:12) At times the Lord in his wisdom may discern that our greatest need as new creatures is to experience meager supplies of what may be considered necessary for our physical well-being, that the inner, spiritual man can best grow rich in grace and knowledge as the outward man, to some extent, feels the pinch of need.
In any event, every consecrated follower of the Master can rejoice in the assurance of the psalmist, and with him declare in his heart, “I shall not want,” for we know that no good thing will the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly. (Ps. 84:11) But in order to have this assurance, it is essential to exercise full faith in the Lord’s wisdom as to just what is best for us as new creatures. From his standpoint one of the good things might be a scanty supply of material food or clothing, or a home in which to live that is below the general average, in comfort and elegance, of those enjoyed by others of the Lord’s people. Whatever our circumstances in life, if our faith is strong we will be able to take comfort in the fact that:
He knows and loves and cares—
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice with Him.
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” While we might properly think of the green pastures as suggesting an abundant supply of luscious food—spiritual food, that is—the thought seems more particularly to be rest. The psalmist did not write that the Lord made him to eat in the green pastures, but to lie down, to rest. True, to lie down in green pastures also suggests the thought of being satisfied, of no longer being hungry. And is it not true that it is the satisfying portion of present truth today which, by increasing our confidence in the Lord, based upon an understanding of his plan, is enabling so many of the Lord’s people to enjoy that blessed rest of faith which belongs to those who are faithfully following the voice of the Good Shepherd?
To thus lie down, or rest as new creatures, does not imply inactivity, but rather a blessed contentment based upon the assurance that in following the Good Shepherd we have nothing to fear. It is a symbol of that glorious rest of faith into which it is the privilege of all the consecrated to enter and in which they may abide if they continue to put their trust in the Good Shepherd and follow his leadings.
Surely it is a wonderful manifestation of God’s goodness to be blessed by a knowledge of present truth in these dark days of world distress and chaos. One of the great blessings of the truth, especially in this time of trouble, is the confidence it gives us, the great peace of heart and mind. Yes, we can say with the psalmist that because the Lord is our “refuge and strength … we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.”—Ps. 46:1,2
“I Shall Not Want” Refreshment
“He leadeth me beside the still waters.” Here is clearly the thought of refreshment, and for new creatures in Christ Jesus it is the refreshment of the pure waters of the truth. These refreshing waters of truth are only for those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” and concerning these Jesus said, “They shall be filled.”—Matt. 5:6
In another psalm David wrote: “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Ps. 42:1,2) And again, “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is.” (Ps. 63:1) In these two beautifully phrased longings of the soul, David indicates his thirst for God, and in the Shepherd Psalm he exults in the fact that the Chief Shepherd does lead him beside the still waters of truth whereby he is refreshed by a knowledge of God. All the glorious attributes of God’s character are revealed to us through present truth. And how satisfying are these still waters of refreshing knowledge!
There is special significance in the assurance that the symbolic waters of knowledge are represented as being still—not a fast-running stream that dashes headlong over the rocks in uncertain spurts and whirls, as does the ordinary mountain stream. In contrast, the Good Shepherd leads his sheep to the still waters where they can drink, and where their thirsting souls are refreshed and satisfied. Yes, the pure truth is still, it is settled. It was the truth yesterday, it is the truth today, and it will be the truth tomorrow and forever.
But the waters of present truth are not stagnant. The illustration gives the proper thought, for the water is still merely in contrast with the rushing torrent which tumbles down over the mountainside. These still waters are deep, and they are continually renewed and kept fresh. So is the Word of God. It is new every morning, and fresh every night. Just so, there is a progress in the truth—a wholesome, refreshing progress—but it is the same pool from which we drink; and the waters from that pool ever remain the pure doctrines of the divine plan. If we follow the Good Shepherd to the waters which he provides, we will not find ourselves drinking the muddy waters of tradition.
“I Shall Not Want” Restoration
“He restoreth my soul.” ‘He saves my life’, is the literal meaning of this expression. The soul is the living being. In the case of the Christian, it is the new, spiritual life, the “new creature.” (II Cor. 5:17) Before we became new creatures we were under condemnation to death on account of original sin. But a provision was made for that condemnation to be lifted for those who heard and accepted the invitation to become followers of the Good Shepherd. This restoration of life, upon the basis of faith in the atoning blood of Christ, was necessary before we could become sheep in the Gospel Age “little flock.”—Luke 12:32
However, we can properly think of the restoration of soul which David mentions as applying to the blessings we enjoy of daily experiencing grace to help when we fail to meet the divine requirements of the narrow way in which we walk. Apart from the loving provision made for us through the Good Shepherd, these shortcomings would lead ultimately to the loss of life itself.
Shepherds in ancient times were constantly on the alert to rescue their sheep from prowling enemies and from pitfalls and other dangers with which they were surrounded. Except for his vigilance in restoring the sheep which were threatened by one danger or another, the flock would soon have become seriously depleted. How thankful we should be that our Good Shepherd is equally on the alert to rescue us from danger!
Chief among our enemies is the Devil himself, who goes about as a “roaring lion … seeking whom he may devour.” (I Pet. 5:8) He operates in conjunction with our fallen flesh, and with the world. We are not wise enough to avoid the traps and snares, the pitfalls and allurements, by which our great adversary endeavors to destroy us as new creatures. He may plant a root of bitterness in our hearts, or a discouraging thought. Or he may engender in us a selfish ambition, or allure us with a feeling of false pride. A spirit of listlessness may creep over us, leading to weariness in well-doing. (Gal. 6:9) We may be allured by the world and become overcharged with the cares of this life.
To the extent that we follow the leadings of the Good Shepherd, we will not be overcome by these dangers. But how reassuring the promise that when it is necessary, when we have strayed temporarily from the pathway in which the Good Shepherd is leading us, he will restore us to safety! “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation,” wrote David in another psalm. (Ps. 51:12) If perchance some earthborn cloud has hidden us from the view of our shepherd, we should be quick to cry out to him for the restoration of his favor.
To be assured that soul restoration is available for erring ones among the Lord’s sheep, enhances our appreciation of God’s love and mercy, but does not justify us in becoming lax in our own efforts to follow the Good Shepherd faithfully. The more we know of his love, the greater will be our incentive to please him. But despite our best efforts, we will daily come short of the perfect standard he has set. We are in daily need of soul restoration, and thus continually are we reminded of our Good Shepherd’s care.
“I Shall Not Want” Guidance
“He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” In that rugged country where the shepherd boy, David, tended his father’s sheep, it was doubtless essential, in leading the flock from one feeding ground to another, to follow paths which had been previously used or determined upon. These might wind their way through mountain passes, or ravines, or over the barren wilderness of the desert. It was the shepherd’s business to be acquainted with these paths, to know the safe from the unsafe ones. And it was essential to the well-being of the sheep that they follow the leading of the shepherd, whether to new pastures or to a place of safety for the night.
How beautifully this illustrates our dependence upon the Lord, our Good Shepherd; for surely, as new creatures we are surrounded by a wilderness beset with pitfalls and dangers of many sorts. There is a pathway of sure progress out of this wilderness, but we cannot walk in it except as we follow the leadership of the Good Shepherd. But it is not an easy matter to follow him, for the paths of righteousness which he chooses for us are seldom wide and smooth; instead, they are narrow and rugged, and uphill. It is possible to walk in these only if we keep our eyes fixed on the Good Shepherd, and depend upon him for strength in our every time of need.
The psalmist’s use of the term ‘paths’, in the plural, suggests divine leadings in all the individual ways of our lives. The entire life course of a Christian is spoken of by Jesus as a ‘way’, and is described as being narrow. We walk in this narrow way from the time we give ourselves to the Lord until we finish our earthly course in death. All of the Lord’s people—his sheep of this Gospel fold—are walking in the same narrow way; but within its boundaries, the Lord leads his individual sheep through one experience after another, overruling each one for his eternal good.
While the Good Shepherd may be permitting some of his sheep to traverse the stony paths of affliction, others may be finding the way comparatively smooth. But whether the way is smooth or rough, it is a path of righteousness; and if we continue to follow the leadings of our shepherd, eventually we will enter into glory, honor, and immortality. David prayed, “Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.” (Ps. 15:5) Ah yes, we need the Lord’s strength to hold us up, otherwise we may become weary, and, not watching our step carefully, slip, and possibly stumble and fall. But how sweet the promise that the Lord will indeed lead us, that we shall not want for guidance, if we but hearken to the voice of the Good Shepherd!
“I Shall Not Want” Peace
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” Peace, as a quality of heart and mind, is the opposite of fear, and it is the Christian’s privilege to enjoy not only peace with God, but the peace of God, and this is a peace which “passeth all understanding.” (Phil. 4:6,7) The peace of God is not based on the fact that he sees, or knows of no trouble, no disturbing influences, to disrupt his serenity, but upon his consciousness that he has the ability to meet every emergency, and that no evil can extend beyond the limit which his wisdom decrees. With God there is no doubt concerning the outcome of any circumstance, no matter how threatening it may appear to be.
So it should be with us, and so it will be, in proportion to our faith in the promises of God. “I will fear no evil: for thou art with me,” wrote David. If God is with us, then we can be sure that no evil can befall us. This does not mean that we will not be surrounded with evil. Indeed, we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, which means that almost constantly we are threatened with harm. But the Lord is more powerful than all our enemies; so if we keep close to him, close to our Good Shepherd, we will fear no evil, but will enjoy peace of mind and heart, a peace which the world can neither give nor take away.
We might think of the conditions of sorrow and death in the world as the valley of the shadow of death. From the human standpoint, it appears as though the Christian experiences the same sorrows and dangers in this valley as do others; but from the Lord’s standpoint, this is not so. True, we may be dying as do others, but we are dying with Christ, sacrificially being planted together in the likeness of his death. While thus laying down our lives with the Master, divine protection is manifested over us, particularly as new creatures. As new creatures, nothing can harm us if we follow “that which is good.”—I Pet. 3:13
This promise was true of Jesus, our exemplar, for he was a follower of that which is good. Jesus, in fact, laid down his life doing good. However, he was persecuted. He was tried and falsely accused. He was spat upon and beaten. A crown of thorns was thrust upon his head. He was cruelly nailed to a cross, jeered at, and mocked. Upon that cross he died—killed by his enemies. Yet Jesus was not harmed as a new creature. The worst that his enemies did was to afford him the opportunity of having his cross exchanged for a crown. We, too, are walking through the valley of the shadow of death; but because we know that the Lord is with us, we can enjoy the same peace that Jesus did, the peace which he promised to his faithful disciples—that great peace which belongs to those who love his law.—Ps. 119:165
“I Shall Not Want” Comfort
“Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Here David expresses a more intimate relationship with the divine shepherd than is apparent in the opening verses of this beautiful song of praise to the Lord. Instead of telling merely about the goodness of the Lord, he speaks to the shepherd. Thus the psalm changes from a testimony to a prayer. Seemingly, as David thought of the shepherd’s loving care, there came a sense of nearness to him which prompted a pouring out of his heart directly to him in a prayer of thanksgiving and praise—“Thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
Happy are we if, like David, we can see in our Good Shepherd’s rod and staff evidences of the Lord’s special presence, a nearness which prompts us to go to him in prayer and thanksgiving for the wonderful manner in which he is supplying all our needs. The symbolism of the rod and staff seems to have reference particularly to the chastening of the Lord; and these chastenings, the apostle tells us, are a special evidence of his love. (Heb. 12:6,7) We are not to think of them as punishments which the Good Shepherd administers because he is angry with us, but rather as disciplinary measures designed to direct us in the right way.
It certainly would not be very pleasant for a sheep to feel the crook of the shepherd’s rod hooked around its neck, for it was unyielding and severe. To the onlooker, such treatment of the sheep would probably seem harsh. But when David put himself in the position of a sheep, knowing the viewpoint of the shepherd, he realized that what seemed an unyielding attitude on the part of his God was in reality an evidence of his love. So it is with us. God loves us, and will not permit us to stray far from the path of righteousness if we keep our hearts pure before him. There is no greater evidence of his love than to be chastened by him for our correction; and in this great truth we take comfort as we continue on in the narrow way.
“I Shall Not Want” Spiritual Food
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” While the green pastures in which we are made to lie down imply an abundance of sustenance, the supply of our spiritual food seems particularly emphasized by the table which the Good Shepherd prepares for his sheep in the midst of their enemies. By this promise we are assured that we shall not want for that meat in due season which the Lord has specially provided for his people at this end of the age.
In that wild country where David attended his father’s flocks, the sheep were probably never entirely safe from attack, but often in and around the choicest feeding grounds deadly enemies of the sheep lurked in greater numbers than elsewhere. If the sheep were to benefit from these especially green pastures, extra precaution and watchfulness had to be maintained by the shepherd. What a true illustration this is of the manner in which God has cared for all his sheep of the Gospel Age, and especially those of us who are living at this end of the age! Rich and nourishing has been the spiritual food which our Good Shepherd has provided for us; and even though we are surrounded by enemies, his protecting care has enabled us to continue feeding in peace and quietness.
The table provided by our Good Shepherd consists of all the precious truths of God’s Word: his promises, his instructions, and the opportunity thus afforded of understanding his plans and purposes. Yes, we live “by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4) In a very special way, and in fulfillment of his own promise, the Good Shepherd has, at this end of the age, prepared a table for his sheep, and they have been feasting at this table throughout the entire harvest period.—Luke 12:37
The Lord’s sheep have enemies within as well as enemies without. One of our most formidable enemies is our own fallen flesh. Our flesh is often in rebellion against the truth because the truth, the meat in due season, induces those who feed upon it to offer themselves in sacrifice to God, and the flesh shrinks from sacrifice. Satan knows this, and works through our flesh in his efforts to draw us away from the Lord’s table. He endeavors to cast doubts in our minds as to the wholesomeness of the truth upon which we are feeding, knowing that a doubting Christian is not a sacrificing Christian. But, thank God, if we continue to look to the Good Shepherd, and obediently follow where he leads, he will keep all enemies from harming us as new creatures, while daily we feed at the table provided by him, and thereby grow strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.
“I Shall Not Want” Joy
“Thou anointest my head with oil.” Pouring oil on the head seems a far cry from shepherding sheep, but this was the common custom of oriental shepherds, particularly at the close of the day, or when the sheep were weary from travel. To the sheep it was a refreshing and welcome service. In this custom we find another beautiful illustration of our Good Shepherd’s care and the blessings he bestows upon us. The Apostle Paul says of Jesus that he was “anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows.” (Heb. 1:9) Oil is used in the Scriptures to symbolize the Holy Spirit. It came first upon our Head, Christ Jesus, and we receive it from him. It is one of the blessings we receive from the Heavenly Father through our Good Shepherd.—Acts 2:33
The Holy Spirit is referred to as the oil of gladness because it is the medium of so much joy in the Christian life. Through the Word of truth we are enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and thus we participate in the joys of the truth. By the Holy Spirit we are anointed, and this signifies authority to serve as ambassadors of Christ; and what joy there is in witnessing for Jesus and for the Word of God! By the Holy Spirit we are begotten to a new hope of life, and how we rejoice in that hope! When we are weary, and perhaps a little discouraged, how refreshing it is to recall one or more of the joys which the Holy Spirit has brought into our lives, the unspeakable blessings which are ours as members of the body of Christ, because our head has been anointed with the oil of gladness. Surely, we shall not want for joy!
“I Shall Not Want” Anything
“My cup runneth over.” While the Scriptures use the cup in various symbolic senses—although all related—the special thought here seems to be the provisions of divine grace in whatsoever ways the Good Shepherd may manifest his love and care. The provisions of the cup may vary according to individual needs. This thought seems to be borne out in the psalm. Those who are acquainted with the customs of Eastern shepherds tell us that they did use what they called a cup in connection with their care of the sheep. Ordinarily this was at the close of the day. When, as frequently would be the case, the shepherd found a sheep that had become over-wearied and needed special attention, it would be given a refreshing drink from the shepherd’s cup.
What a precious thought is thus illustrated! We know of the general and abundant provisions the Lord has made for all his sheep. In these provisions we do indeed rejoice. But in the cup symbolism there is a touch of intimacy, of personal and individual care, suggesting a tenderness and warmth of love which is almost beyond our ability to grasp. And how wonderful the assurance that he knows all our individual needs and is providing for them—not meagerly, not stintingly, but abundantly—“My cup runneth over.”
The cup of experience which overflows for each individual sheep of the Lord’s pasture may be one of either joy or sorrow, or it may be an intermingling of both. He knoweth the way that we take, and he knows the needs of that way, and has promised to supply them according to the abundance of his grace. We have the assurance that “no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.”—Ps. 84:11
“I Shall Not Want” Constant Love and Care
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” We need not fear that any of the loving and abundant provisions outlined by the psalmist are merely of a temporary nature, for here we are told that they will continue to follow us. The Hebrew text indicates that the goodness and mercy pursue us. This suggests that divine care is energetically manifested toward the Lord’s sheep, that the Good Shepherd anticipates our needs, and is ready to provide for them before we ask. When we think of how aggressive are the various forces of evil in their opposition to the Lord’s sheep, how they are pursued by evil, it is indeed comforting to realize that we are also being pursued by the goodness and mercy of the Lord. Surely we can with confidence entrust ourselves to the care of the Good Shepherd all the days of our lives!
Both the goodness and mercy of the Lord manifest his love toward us. While these two principles are closely related, their operation is along different lines. In the use of the two expressions, David evidently had in mind the many ways in which the Great Shepherd was caring for him, as illustrated by the green pastures, the still waters, the restoration of his soul, his being led in paths of righteousness, God’s presence in the valley of the shadow of death, the table, the rod and the staff, and the anointing of his head. All of these bespoke the goodness and mercy of the Lord, and all of them said to David that he would not suffer want, that he would experience no need; and he had confidence that this would be true all the days of his life. For our own comfort and joy we need but to remember that this comprehensive portrayal of divine care was written especially for us upon whom the ends of the ages have come. (I Cor. 10:11, Emphatic Diaglott) We can say with David, and with equal confidence, “I shall not want.”
“I Shall Not Want” a Future Home
“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” When possible, oriental shepherds lead their flocks into a fold where they may dwell safely for the night. To us this lesson is that as we experience the various vicissitudes of life, the ups and downs of Christian experience, we can ever look forward to the end of the way, encouraged by the hope of an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Jesus said to his disciples, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: … I go to prepare a place for you. … I will come again, and receive you unto myself.” (John 14:2,3) There is a special sweetness in this promise. It is as though Jesus were saying that while there were already many mansions in the vast expanse of his Father’s house, none of them was good enough for his sheep, so a special place was to be prepared for them. It is impossible for us to grasp with any degree of clarity what conditions will be like in that place which Jesus has prepared, but we can have some idea as to what it will mean to be with Jesus, to dwell where he dwells, to share his home—to dwell with him in his Father’s house forever.
What a glorious ending this will be to all the experiences of the narrow way! His goodness and mercy have pursued us all the way, but the crowning manifestation of his love will be when he exalts us to be with him and with the Father. Nor pen nor tongue can describe the joys of that blest day! All our labors and trials will then be over—no more sorrow, no more sighing, no more tears. But there will be work to do—that glorious kingdom work of blessing all the families of the earth, when, together with him who is now our Good Shepherd, we will have the glorious privilege of shepherding those other sheep—the restitution sheep of the next age, leading them to their fold, the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.—Matt. 25:34