Text: Isaac Watts (1674-1748) Tune: W. Walker's Southern Harmony, 1835
PsALM XXIII. Common Metre.
(Watts' original text)
I. My Shepherd will Supply my Need,
Jehovah is his Name;
In Pastures fresh he makes me feed
Beside the living Stream.
2. He brings my wandring Spirit back
When I forsake his Ways;
And leads me for his Mercy's sake
In Paths of Truth and Grace.
3. When I walk thro' the shades of Death
Thy Presence is my stay;
A Word of thy supporting Breath
Drives all my Fears away.
4. Thy Hand in sight of all my Foes
Doth still my Table spread;
My Cup with Blessings overflows,
Thine Oil anoints my Head.
5. The sure Provisions of my God.
Attend me all my Days;
O may thy House be mine Abode
And all my Work be Praise!
6. There would I find a settled Rest,
(While others go and come)
No more a Stranger or a Guest,
But like a Child at Home.
Good Shepherd Sunday. One of the oldest images of Christ. He has just said to his hearers, I AM the Good Shepherd. With his I AM, he is saying, as they all can hear, that he is Yahweh. They hear him speak, but don’t seem to hear his voice. And so they ask again? Tell us plainly: Are you the Christ? Even if he says yes, they can’t hear because they do not believe, they are not his sheep.
Shepherds tell us that sheep respond to the voice of their shepherd and no other. So no matter how much you yell at other sheep, they won’t follow you. Believers when they hear their shepherd’s voice, follow it and trust that all will be well. I will never perish, and no one will snatch me out of his hand. It is his promise.
That promise gives the Christian a supreme sense of peace. And courage. I don’t always seem to claim that peace nor that courage. I am not very confident I will act on these words at crunch time.Then I remember the words of Jesus when he tells us “when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak.” Watts says it, "My shepherd will supply my need."
Sheep may get frightened, but do they worry? When they are frightened, they trust their shepherd to take care of them so they will not perish. We walk by faith, we say, and not by sight. Which means not thinking about the steps a mile away, but taking comfort in where we are now, and that our Shepherd is right here with us. Cowering in a corner because of something that might happen tomorrow or next year keeps us from living. Jesus promises us always to be here in the present. Those who trust that can step into the darkness without fear because they know he is with them. “Thy presence is my stay.”
But sheep are always sheep and always in need of their shepherd. We don’t grow into lions, able to be away from our shepherd. Americans celebrate Mother’s Day today. Good mothers want their children to grow up and not need them anymore. They know their children grow by facing difficulties on their own and as they mother them, they have to let them grow by suffering the consequences of their decisions. This is often more difficult for the parents than the child. Helicopter parents, as we have called them, do their children no favors by keeping them from difficulties.
On the other hand, Christ does not want us to grow so we think we no longer need him. Christians are always in need of their shepherd. We never grow out of that need. Jesus makes that clear. Unless we become as little children in our faith, he says, we will not inherit the kingdom. As the hymn puts it, we are always "like a child at home."
Our growth in faith is counter intuitive, if you like. The more we understand how utterly dependent we are on our Savior, the wiser we become and the deeper our faith. Our character is shaped by suffering, as Paul says in Romans 5. We grow up in wisdom as we face life and the consequences of the choices we make and take responsibility for them. Great dramas are stories of how a character grows by facing life and not retreating from it. As Christians we believe Christ is there as we pass through those dark valleys and shadows. But we never grow out of needing our shepherd. As we mature, we become more aware of how much we need him.
As I think of the saints I have known over my long life, I think of those who quietly wait upon the Lord, their Shepherd. They trust him to be with them through everything. They rest in him. They do not fret about what might be coming. That is the unknown.They, like the little lambs, stay near him, joyful to see their "cup with blessings overflow" as they flourish where they are and where they are going.
Here would I find a settled rest, (While others go and come) No more a stranger, nor a guest, But like a child at home
Isaac Watts is the father of English hymnody. He broke away from the Calvinist tradition of paraphrasing the psalms exactly and used them in a much looser way. Here we have his version of the Good Shepherd Psalm 23, first published in Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. (1719) All of the images come from the psalm. The poetry is wonderful. (I have used Watt's original instead of the many revisions.) There is nothing forced in the rhymes. It is as one critic says, "among the most lovely and most tender"use of Psalm 23.
Watts was from a family of English dissenters and was thus not able to attend the great universities of England, but got his education in dissenter schools He did very well. A sickly young man, he became a pastor in 1702. He found refuge in the home of Sir Thomas Abney, at his residence in Abney Park. At their request he lived with them until his death. During his time, he was a prolific writer of hymns, textbooks, poetry and other works of an edifying nature.
The tune is from the Southern Hamony, by anonymous, who usually writes great tunes!.
MORMON TABERNACLE CHOIR https://youtu.be/yzARLyXJjec
Baylor Chorus https://youtu.be/KPcBRJpF-Vw