The picture worth a thousand words
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It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. If that is so, how then are we to picture God, especially since the second of the Ten Commandments expressly forbids representing God in any visible form? The answer, of course, is that God himself presents himself to us using word pictures - metaphors. These word pictures open to us aspects of God which otherwise would not be available to us.
One of the most sublime, captivating and comprehensive pictures we have of God in the Bible is that of Shepherd. The most famous part of Scripture which portrays God in this way is the 23rd Psalm, where David, the shepherd boy-king, joyfully declares, ‘The LORD is my shepherd’. Without doubt it is a religious masterpiece. One writer describes it in these terms: ‘The lovely series of vivid pictures, each but a clause long, but clear cut in that small compass, like the fine work incised on a gem, combines with the depth and simplicity of the religious emotion expressed, to lay this sweet psalm on all our hearts’.
Over the next few days we are going to fix our thoughts on this psalm in order to discover what it teaches us about our God and how we benefit being his people.
When David says, ‘The LORD’ is my shepherd’, he is using the personal divine name. The word rendered LORD is ‘YHWH’. It is linked to the verb ‘to be’. It is the name which embodies everything that God is and stands for.We may think of it like this: If I see a man get out of a red van coming to our house with a pile of letters in his hand and I wanted to be long winded about it I could say: ‘This is the man who delivers post to our home’ or on seeing him I could say more briefly - ‘ Ah, the postman’. So instead of saying ‘this is the God who will be whatever he needs to be for you, who is present with you, who cares for you, who rescues you, who makes promises to you and keeps them’, you simply say, ‘YHWH’ ‘LORD’.
For David, the personal name underscores a personal relationship, for he is ‘my shepherd’.
A good shepherd doesn’t push the sheep from behind but will be out ahead of the sheep taking them to waters, so they will not be thirsty. When this picture is applied to God and his people then it is lifted to a much higher plane. Do you wonder what the days ahead have in store for you? This picture intimates that the LORD knows, in fact he is way ahead of you, he is there in the future already for the future is actually present to him. Do you worry whether you will be able to cope, whether you will have the strength to keep on going when you feel weary already? The LORD, says David, will feed you from the green pastures of his Word, if you will stop and take time to graze on it with the rest of his flock. He is not going to leave you in want or need. Furthermore when you take a tumble, spiritually speaking, and you are struggling to get up, the Shepherd will be right beside you to set you straight - ‘He restores my soul, he guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake’.
Dear Lord Jesus, you are my shepherd, my Good Shepherd. You give me everything I need and more than I want. All I need in life is you, plus what you choose to give me. Even the most difficult places in life are like green meadows as long as you are there; and in the desert seasons of my journey and the drought like conditions of my heart, you quench my thirst with living water and give me a peace that passes all understanding. There is no one like you, continue to lead me and I will follow.