There is no inspired title to this psalm, and none is needed, for it records no special event, and needs no other key than that which every Christian may find in his own bosom. It is David’s Heavenly Pastoral; a surpassing ode, which none of the daughters of music can excel. The clarion of war here gives place to the pipe of peace, and he who so lately bewailed the woes of the Shepherd tunefully rehearses the joys of the flock. Sitting under a spreading tree, with his flock around him, like Bunyan’s shepherd boy in the Valley of Humiliation, we picture David singing this unrivalled pastoral with a heart as full of gladness as it could hold; or, if the psalm be the product of his after years, we are sure that his soul returned in contemplation to the lonely water brooks which rippled among the pastures of the wilderness, where in early days she had been wont to dwell. This is the pearl of psalms whose soft and pure radiance delights every eye; a pearl of which Helicon need not be ashamed, though Jordan claims it. Of this delightful song it may be affirmed that its piety and its poetry are equal, its sweetness and its spirituality are unsurpassed.
The position of this psalm is worthy of notice. It follows the twenty-second, which is peculiarly the Psalm of the Cross. There are no green pastures, no still waters on the other side of the twenty-second psalm. It is only after we have read, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” that we come to “The Lord is my Shepherd.” We must by experience know the value of blood shedding, and see the sword awakened against the Shepherd, before we shall be able truly to know the Sweetness of the good Shepherd’s care.
It has been said that what the nightingale is among birds, that is this divine ode among the psalms, for it has sung sweetly in the ear of many a mourner in his night of weeping, and has bidden him hope for a morning of joy. I will venture to compare it also to the lark, which sings as it mounts, and mounts as it sings, until it is out of sight, and even then is not out of hearing. Note the last words of the psalm—”I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever; “these are celestial notes, more fitted for the eternal mansions than for these dwelling places below the clouds. Oh that we may enter into the spirit of the psalm as we read it, and then we shall experience the days of heaven upon the earth!
The Treasury of David.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. The Christian life has two elements in it, the contemplative and the active, and both of these are richly provided for. First, the contemplative.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. What are these “green pastures” but the Scriptures of truth—always fresh, always rich, and never exhausted? There is no fear of biting the bare ground where the grass is long enough for the flock to lie down in it. Sweet and full are the doctrines of the gospel; fit food for souls, as tender grass is natural nutriment for sheep. When by faith we are enabled to find rest in the promises, we are like the sheep that lie down in the midst of the pasture; we find at the same moment both provender and peace, rest and refreshment, serenity and satisfaction. But observe: “He maketh me to lie down.” It is the Lord who graciously enables us to perceive the preciousness of his truth, and to feed upon it. How grateful ought we to be for the power to appropriate the promises! There are some distracted souls who would give worlds if they could but do this. They know the blessedness of it, but they cannot say that this blessedness is theirs. They know the “green pastures”, but they are not made to “lie down” in them. Those believers who have for years enjoyed a “full assurance of faith” should greatly bless their gracious God.
The second part of a vigorous Christian’s life consists in gracious activity. We not only think, but we act. We are not always lying down to feed, but are journeying onward toward perfection; hence we read, he leadeth me beside the still waters. What are these “still waters” but the influences and graces of his blessed Spirit? His Spirit attends us in various operations, like waters—in the plural—to cleanse, to refresh, to fertilise, to cherish. They are “still waters”, for the Holy Ghost loves peace, and sounds no trumpet of ostentation in his operations. He may flow into our soul, but not into our neighbour’s, and therefore our neighbour may not perceive the divine presence; and though the blessed Spirit may be pouring his floods into one heart, yet he that sitteth next to the favoured one may know nothing of it.
“In sacred silence of the mind My heaven, and there my God I find.”
Still waters run deep. Nothing more noisy than an empty drum. That silence is golden indeed in which the Holy Spirit meets with the souls of his saints. Not to raging waves of strife, but to peaceful streams of holy love does the Spirit of God conduct the chosen sheep. He is a dove, not an eagle; the dew, not the hurricane. Our Lord leads us beside these “still waters;” we could not go there of ourselves, we need his guidance, therefore it is said, “he leadeth me.” He does not drive us. Moses drives us by the law, but Jesus leads us by his example, and the gentle drawing of his love.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, etc. Not only he hath green pastures to lead me into, which shows his ability, but he leads me into them, which shows his goodness. He leads me not into pastures that are withered and dry, that would distaste me before I taste them; but he leads me into “green pastures”, as well to please my eye with the verdure as my stomach with the herbage; and inviting me, as it were, to eat by setting out the meat in the best colour. A meat though never so good, yet if it look not handsomely, it dulls the appetite; but when besides the goodness, it hath also a good look, this gives the appetite another edge, and makes a joy before enjoying. But yet the goodness is not altogether in the greenness. Alas! green is but a colour, and colours are but deceitful things; they might be green leaves, or they might be green flags or rushes; and what good were to me in such a greenness? No, my soul; the goodness is in being “green pastures“, for now they perform as much as they promise; and as in being green they were a comfort to me as soon as I saw them, so in being green “pastures” they are a refreshing to me now as soon as I taste them. As they are pleasant to look on, so they are wholesome to feed on: as they are sweet to be tasted, so they are easy to be digested; that I am now, I think, in a kind of paradise and seem not to want anything, unless perhaps a little water with which now and then to wash my mouth, at most to take sometimes a sip: for though sheep be not great drinkers, and though their pastures being green, and full of sap, make drink the less needful; yet some drink they must have besides. And now see the great goodness of this Shepherd, and what just cause there is to depend upon his providence; for he lets not his sheep want this neither, but “he leadeth them besides still waters”, not waters that roar and make a noise, enough to fright a fearful sheep, but waters “still” and quiet; that though they drink but little, yet they may drink that little without fear. And may I not justly say now, The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want? And yet perhaps there will be want for all this; for is it enough that he lead them into green pastures and beside still waters? May he not lead them in, and presently take them out again before their bellies be half full; and so instead of making them happy, make them more miserable? set them in a longing with the sight, and then frustrate them of their expectation? No, my soul; the measure of this Shepherd’s goodness is more than so. He not only leadeth them into green pastures, but “he makes them to lie down” in them—he leads them not in to post over their meat as if they were to eat a passover, and to take it in transita, as dogs drink Nylus; but, “he makes them to lie down in green pastures”, that they may eat their fill and feed at leisure; and when they have done, “lie down” and take their ease, that their after reckoning may be as pleasing as their repast. Sir Richard Baker.
He leadeth me. Our guiding must be mild and gentle, else it is not duxisti, but traxisti—drawing and driving, and no leading. Leni spiritu non dura manu—rather by an inward sweet influence to be led, than by and outward extreme violence to be forced forward…Touching what kind of cattle, to very good purpose, Jacob, a skilful shepherd, answereth Esau (who would have had Jacob and his flocks have kept company with him in his hunting pace), Nay, not so, sir, said Jacob, it is a tender cattle that is under my hands, and must be softly driven, as they may endure: if one “should over drive them but one day”, they would all die or be laid up for many days after. Genesis 33:13. Lancelot Andrewes.
He leadeth me, etc. In ordinary circumstances the shepherd does not feed his flock, except by leading and guiding them where they may gather for themselves; but there are times when it is otherwise. Late in autumn, when the pastures are dried up, and in winter, in places covered with snow, he must furnish them food or they die. In the vast oak woods along the eastern sides of Lebanon, between Baalbek and the cedars, there are there gathered innumerable flocks, and the shepherds are all day long in the bushy trees, cutting down the branches, upon whose green leaves and tender twigs the sheep and goats are entirely supported. The same is true in all mountain districts, and large forests are preserved on purpose.—W. M. Thomson.
Lie down—leadeth. Sitting Mary and stirring Martha are emblems of contemplation and action, and as they dwell in one house, so must these in one heart. Nathanael Hardy.
This short but touching epitaph is frequently seen in the catacombs at Rome, “In Christo, in pace”—(In Christ, in peace). Realise the constant presence of the Shepherd of peace. “He maketh me to lie down!” “He leadeth me.” J. R. Macduff, D.D.
(last clause). Easily leads, or comfortably guides me: it notes a soft and gentle leading, with sustaining of infirmity. H. Ainsworth.
Green pastures. Here are many pastures, and every pasture rich so that it can never be eaten bare; here are many streams, and every stream so deep and wide that it can never be drawn dry. The sheep have been eating in these pastures ever since Christ had a church on earth, and yet they are as full of grass as ever. The sheep have been drinking at these streams ever since Adam, and yet they are brim full to this very day, and they will so continue till the sheep are above the use of them in heaven! Ralph Robinson, 1656.
Green pastures… beside the still waters. From the top of the mound (of Arban on the Khabour) the eye ranged over a level country bright with flowers, and spotted with black tents, and innumerable flocks of sheep and camels. During our stay at Arban, the colour of these great plains was undergoing a continual change. After being for some days of a golden yellow, a new family of flowers would spring up, and it would turn almost in a night to a bright scarlet, which would again as suddenly give way to the deepest blue. Then the meadows would be mottled with various hues, or would put on the emerald green of the most luxuriant of pastures. The glowing descriptions I had so frequently received from the Bedouins of the beauty and fertility of the banks of the Khabour were more than realised. The Arabs boast that its meadows bear three distinct crops of grass during the year, and the wandering tribes look upon its wooded banks and constant greensward as a paradise during the summer months, where man can enjoy a cool shade, and beast can find fresh and tender herbs, whilst all around is yellow, parched, and sapless. Austin H. Layard, 1853.
With guidance to green pastures, the psalmist has, with good reason, associated guardianship beside still waters: for as we can only appropriate the word through the Spirit, so we shall ordinarily receive the Spirit through the Word; not indeed only by hearing it, not only by reading it, not only by reflecting upon it. The Spirit of God, who is a most free agent, and who is himself the source of liberty, will come into the heart of the believer when he will, and how he will, and as he will. But the effect of his coming will ever be the realisation of some promise, the recognition of some principle, the attainment of some grace, the understanding of some mystery, which is already in the word, and which we shall thus find, with a deeper impression, and with a fuller development, brought home with power to the heart. Thomas Dale, M.A., in “The Good Shepherd”, 1847.
Still waters; which are opposed to great rivers, which both affright the sheep with their noise, and expose them to the danger of being carried away by their swift and violent streams, whilst they are drinking at them. Matthew Poole.
Still waters; Hebrew, “Waters of rests”, ex quibus diligunt oves bibere, saith Kimchi, such as sheep love to drink of, because void of danger, and yielding a refreshing air. Popish clergymen are called the “inhabitants of the sea”, Revelation 12:12, because they set abroach gross, troubled, brackish, and sourish doctrine, which rather bring barrenness to their hearers, and gnaw the entrails than quench their thirst, or cool their heat. The doctrine of the gospel, like the waters of Siloe (Isaiah 8:8), run gently, but taste pleasantly. John Trapp.
(first clause). Believing rest.
The contemplative and the active element provided for.
The freshness and richness of Holy Scripture.
(second clause). Onward. The Leader, the way, the comforts of the road, and the traveller in it.
The Treasury of David.
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