Some passages of Scripture are familiar to us because the truths they express strike responsive chords in our hearts again and again. On the other hand, they sometimes cease to do so because they are so familiar that we presume we know all the truths they contain or that we have exhausted their blessing through familiarity. But old truths yield fresh blessings if we will allow the Spirit of God to apply them to our hearts and lives. Psalm Twenty-Three is such a chapter, including the second verse, the first part of which we will briefly consider in this space. It reads: “He makes me lie down in green pastures.”
Whatever the position of lying down is and whatever it means to do so in green pastures, our text indicates that it is the shepherd’s work to bring us to that position in that place. This promised blessing is God’s work, evidently because it is contrary to the nature of the sheep. Believers are commanded to do many things—for example, to love the Lord, to obey His commandments, to serve others, to pray, and to give. But there are some things in a believer’s life that, evidently, only God can do. And while it is true that God can and does use force in some cases in order to accomplish His will, the construction, “makes me lie down” (a single word in the Hebrew), does not imply force, so much as gentle persuasion. Though restive and skittish by nature, the sheep is persuaded to lie down because experience has proven to him that the shepherd will watch over and protect him. It is the self-appointed task of the shepherd to cause his sheep to lie down.
And lie down he does. This short clause provides a snapshot of pastoral rest: a sheep having eaten to the full, lies down in the middle of a rich, verdant pasture and contentedly chews the cud. Danger may lurk, as it always does, but he is resting because the shepherd is watching. And how can he rest? He rests in the knowledge and assurance that the shepherd will provide and will protect. His confidence is not in his ability to take care of himself but in the assurance that the shepherd can and will do so. And so it is with believers, who must place supreme confidence in the Lord both to provide and to protect them. He is ever faithful to watch over His own.
And what of the “green pastures”? It would be a mistake to suggest that those grassy meadows are not a picture of natural provision. For some six thousand years—the entire extent of man’s existence—God has been providing for the natural needs of His people—whether a lush garden in Eden, manna in the wilderness, ravens at the brook Cherith, a cruse of oil in Zarephath, or a luxurious palace in Jerusalem. He has never once failed to provide for His own. But He must make us rest in His natural provision or we will try to make it on our own or “improve” on His provision via our own efforts. Then, the “green pastures” also suggest the spiritual food that God provides, namely, the Word of God. Only through the strength of His grace can believers find sustenance there. He makes believers lie down in those green pastures. Words that mean nothing to those who are not His sheep, feed, strengthen, encourage, cheer, and direct those who are His sheep, those He brings into His green pastures. It is through His enabling power alone that believers can feed on His Word and then quietly and contentedly, “chew the cud,” meditating on the truths that have been consumed, and gaining rich and fresh nourishment from them.
God does not intend believers to strike out on their own. Absolute, implicit dependence on the shepherd is the only salvation for a sheep; it is the only salvation for a child of God as well. Many have foolishly believed that “God helps those who help themselves” is a quotation from the Bible. It is not. God helps those who depend on Him. That is not the description of a life of presumption or complacency, but one of holy trust and confidence in a Shepherd who promises that we will not lack anything needful if we rest in Him. A green pasture awaits all who know the Lord, who knows how to make us rest there in Him.
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