Psalm 23 is surely among the best known, best loved of Bible passages. I would like to invite you now to take a fresh look at this well-loved psalm, possibly from a new perspective, for within it is hidden a prophetic picture of the Bride of Christ. The Psalm reveals the Bride’s beautiful journey in three parts as she follows her beloved Shepherd from the Wells of Salvation, through the Valley of Shadow, to His Bountiful Table.
The Wells of Salvation
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake (v1-3).
The young, newly born again Bride rejoices in her Shepherd as she begins to discover the delights of His salvation. He is like a deep well to her from which she can draw every need. She is learning He is more than her Saviour. He is also healer, provider, and nourisher. She feeds on the abundant pasture of His living word; she drinks freely from the living waters of His Spirit and finds in Him the deep satisfaction her hungry soul has been searching for. Not yet understanding all the glorious facets of the One she is now following, she would be happy to rest in this tranquil place with her Shepherd forever. Indeed, many do remain in this place of immaturity, but the Shepherd desires to move on. He begins to lead the Bride onto His ancient paths. Here she will be invited to discard her old flesh nature and explore new paths of truth, mercy, justice, love and peace that He loves so well. Jesus the Shepherd is guiding His Bride out of the world and into His righteousness. This can be a time of striving in the young Bride’s life as she determines in her own strength to live up to the righteousness she sees in Him, yet frequently fails. She is yet to learn even her righteousness is to be provided by the Shepherd Himself.
The Valley of Shadow
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me, Your rod and Your staff they comfort me (v4).
The Bride has entered discipleship. The Shepherd draws her on by way of His Cross, allowing her to pass through trials of brokenness and suffering, all the while guiding and reassuring her with His rod and staff, which are His Word and Spirit. The rod is symbolic of authority – a shepherd carried a rod to guide and protect his sheep and would also make his sheep “pass under the rod” individually, where they were inspected for wounds and defects (Ezek. 20:37). A staff was used for support, to be leant upon when standing or walking, and is symbolic of strength and comfort. Though deep darkness may be all around she senses the Shepherd’s presence and knows He has promised never to forsake her.
The revelation awaiting the Bride in this valley is her Shepherd’s victory over death. He alone can lead her through this dark valley, for He is the one who holds its keys (Rev 1:18). Her faith in her Shepherd is sorely tested. Will she willingly follow Him even here? Fear and uncertainty taunt her, but she presses in to the Shepherd. She learns this shadow land of death and darkness is exactly that: all shadow with no substance (1 Cor. 15:55). It was necessary for the Shepherd to lead His Bride through this valley in order to reveal the power of His Cross to save her from eternal death and provide her eternal righteousness. As she looks past the shadows to the victory of His Cross she is emerging from the valley as an overcomer. The relationship with her Shepherd has greatly deepened. Her beautiful journey continues.
The Bountiful Table
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (v.5-6)
The Bride has followed the Shepherd onto the paths of righteousness. She has met with Him at His Cross. She is now resting in His grace and allowing the Spirit to bring forth abundant fruit in her soul. Now, the Shepherd leads her to a table set in the midst of all her spiritual enemies. The table speaks of His Kingdom:
And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:29-30)
We will return to consider the table in a moment, but first let’s take a look at two other things the Shepherd presents to His Bride.
The Shepherd pours anointing oil over her head. In Biblical times, only kings, priests and honoured guests were anointed on the head with oil. The Shepherd is affirming His Bride as being chosen by Him to represent Him in authority, honour and priesthood (1 Peter 2:9; Rev. 1:6), The oil poured on her head is symbolic of the living Anointing, the Holy Spirit. She is set apart to the holiness of priesthood and endowed with the royal authority of the Shepherd/King. Priesthood is the place of worship and intercession; authority is the place of ruling.
The Shepherd also presents the Bride with an overflowing cup which I believe is the Cup of the Kingdom. In Jewish tradition there are four cups shared at the Passover table. They represent God’s four promises to Israel when He led them out of Egypt as recorded in Exodus 6:6-7:
I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians (the cup of sanctification);
I will rescue you from their bondage (the cup of deliverance),
I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments (the cup of redemption);
I will take you as my people and I will be your God (the cup of the kingdom, also known as the cup of completion)
It is this last cup, the cup of the Kingdom, that Jesus said He would not drink again until the Kingdom of God comes in fullness (Luke 22:17-18)
In the presence of her enemies, the Shepherd is entrusting the Bride with all the treasures of His Kingdom. All that His Kingdom holds will now flow freely through her hand.
Now let’s consider the table. This table has been prepared personally by the Shepherd, and He has taken care to invite her to His table in full view of all her (and His) enemies. So this table is in the midst of warfare but her enemies have no further power over her.
There are several things we can learn about tables in scripture. Firstly, in Old Testament times to sit at a king’s table demonstrated to everyone, friend and foe alike, that you were under the personal protection of that king. The enemies of anyone who sat at a king’s table would know that if they messed with you they messed with the king. For example, King David summoned Mephibosheth to his table to protect him (2 Sam. 9:3-11). The prophets of Baal also sat at Jezebel’s table (1 Kings18:19)
In Song of Songs 2:3 & 4, the Bride sings “I sat down in his shade with great delight and his fruit was sweet to my taste, He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” To be under the protection of a king was said to be “in his shade” or “under his shadow.”
The table was also traditionally the place where covenants were confirmed. Jesus chose to announce the New Covenant at a table (Luke 22:14-20).
Finally, the table is a place of intercession and intimacy. “While the king is at his table, my spikenard sends forth its fragrance” (SOS 1:12) (spikenard is symbolic of intercession). It was as Jesus sat at a table that Mary, symbolizing the Bride, anointed His feet (John 12:2,3). And it was after feasting at Abraham’s table the Lord revealed His plan for the destruction of Sodom. It was also then that Abraham interceded before the Lord on behalf of Sodom’s righteous (Genesis 18).
Why then has the Shepherd chosen to display His Bride here in the very face of His enemies?
It is because the Bride has a very specific, unique role. She is called as witness of His resurrection. Every moment, every day, each true follower of Christ, whether they are aware of it or not, is living testimony to the truth that Jesus Christ has defeated death and lives. The Bride is the living, breathing proof of Christ’s resurrection and God long ago ordained that she is the sole means by which His ageless wisdom will be displayed to the principalities and powers in Heavenly places. This is how the apostle Paul said it:
….to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places… (Eph. 3:10)
The apostle John had a few things to say about the Bride’s role of witness as well:
He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself;….and this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son (1 John 5:9-11)
Did you catch that? He who believes in the Son of God has the witness IN himself. This isn’t talking about door knocking, handing out Christian tracts or preaching on street corners. You may or may not ever do any of those things, but regardless, as a disciple of Christ you still bear witness in yourself.
Imagine a Heavenly courtroom in which the greatest trial of all the ages is being heard. The matter being disputed is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. All creation is watching and holding its breath in anticipation of the verdict. God the Father has just given testimony “that He has granted man eternal life, and this life is in His Son“. The prosecutor, Satan, marches up and down the courtroom railing against God and calling Him a liar. Then God calls out to a few of His angels: “Bring in the evidence!”. And guess who marches into court? You, and you, and you: the corporate Bride of Christ! And, by the same power that raised Christ from the dead, the Bride stands. The prosecutor throws everything he can at her – accusation, tribulation, persecution, even death for some. But by the resurrected life of Christ in her she remains standing. God’s wisdom is justified and His Son’s resurrection proven! Satan slinks away in shameful defeat.
The Bride of Christ is both the witness AND the evidence. Witnessing is not something the Bride does – it is something she IS!
One of the names for the tabernacle the Israelites carried through the wilderness was the “tabernacle of witness” (Numbers 17:7-8; Acts 7:44). It was a mere shadow, an earthly forerunner to the temple made without hands of the New Testament. The Bride is the Shepherd’s perfect tabernacle of witness.
Peter declared it on the day of Pentecost:
“This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are ALL witnesses.” ( Acts 2:32)
What a statement into the heavenlies! Such words had never before been heard on the earth! How the principalities and powers must have trembled to hear that proclamation from human lips. Who is this Bride on this beautiful journey? The corporate Bride of Christ is a mystery hidden by God from the beginning of ages to bear witness to His Son’s resurrection to the principalities and powers in heavenly places.
Don’t think it strange that your Shepherd calls you to the intimacy of His banqueting table in the midst of rising darkness. Don’t think it strange that Your Father demonstrates His matchless wisdom through you. You are part of a great mystery, hidden from the beginning of the ages, now to be revealed.
So live the Kingdom in the presence of your enemies. Walk with the stature of a king; worship with the heart of a priest; follow with the abandonment of a bride on her beautiful journey.