“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Thus begins Psalm 23 in the old King James Version. In an age of ever-decreasing biblical literacy, Psalm 23 remains one of the most well-known passages in Scripture. One gets the sense that, besides being a favorite of believers, many unbelievers also know Psalm 23:1 (alongside John 3:16 and lately, Matthew 7:1). Personally, I am reminded of someone I loved who went to his Maker and Savior a few months back—Psalm 23 was on his lips and mind throughout his life, and his pastor preached this psalm at his funeral. When hard times come, when suffering rears its ugly head, few words are more comforting to God’s people than the assurance that he is our Shepherd.
That is one reason I am thankful for David Gibson’s new book, The Lord of Psalm 23: Jesus Our Shepherd, Companion, and Host. Gibson pastors Trinity Church, a congregation of the International Presbyterian Church in Aberdeen, Scotland. This book was originally a three-sermon miniseries on the famous psalm (xvii), and Gibson’s pastoral instincts are obvious throughout. Even a glance at the table of contents reveals a pastor’s heart: there are three parts, each comprising three chapters. Clearly, these were originally three sermons with three points each. Gibson’s aim is clear: “To show you in the images, poetic beauty, and themes of Psalm 23 just how the Lord Jesus takes complete and absolute responsibility for those who are in his care” (5). I can testify that Gibson succeeds in his goal—this was one of the most comforting and edifying books I read in 2023.
Like a faithful preacher, Gibson shows his readers the glories of our God and Savior. Even on the first page of the first chapter, he reminds us that, “Our eye and our spiritual sensibilities, it seems, are trained to be drawn more to the pastoral image of what God does in shepherding us than to the simple truth of who is doing the shepherding” (11). For the rest of the book, Gibson explains in greater and greater detail exactly who this Shepherd is for his people. Indeed, a glance at the chapter titles shows that this is a God-centered book: “Who He Is,” “How He Leads,” “Where He Invites,” etc. The Lord of Psalm 23 is a fitting title. Gibson uses the three parts to show us three aspects of who the LORD is to those in his care: God is our Shepherd, Companion, and Host. Each part builds on the last—again, you can tell this was originally a sermon series.
Gibson pastorally leads the reader through Psalm 23, pointing out many things along the way that have died the death of familiarity. He also does a good job bringing in other parts of Scripture—it is difficult to finish a page without finding an explicit reference to another portion of Scripture, or at least a biblical allusion. Gibson clearly knows the Scriptures well, and they are in his mind as he expounds the twenty-third psalm. Sometimes Gibson uses deep theology to explain the text. For example, he identifies covenant as the foundation for God’s shepherding relationship to us (21). Or consider his discussion of God’s simplicity: goodness and mercy are attributes of God, and since God is his attributes, we can conclude that God himself pursues us all the days of our lives (125). Some of Gibson’s insights are quite profound, such as his assertion that the entire story of the Bible can be encapsulated in the middle words of Psalm 23: “You are with me” (83).
Like an experienced preacher, Gibson knows to raise and answer the objections or questions arising in the mind of his audience. For example: “Can it really be true that there is ‘only’ goodness and steadfast love following me. Really?” (129). Gibson’s answer to this objection is particularly sensitive, since he remains mindful of the biblical text while also acknowledging the reality of pain and suffering in the Christian life. This theme of suffering even while Christ shepherds his people is one of the most helpful parts of the book (especially chapter 4). Gibson’s pastoral application is both truthful and sensitive to the various sufferings surely experienced by his audience. Let us face it: this life can be hard. Gibson knows this from experience, as do we all. Reading this book, you also get the sense that he knows it from being a pastor. After reading chapter 4, there was no doubt in my mind that this man has dealt with many hard cases in his congregation, and he knows that the only answer he can give is the grace of God in Jesus Christ. This honesty and God-focus in the face of hardship is alone worth the price of the book.
Even the front matter is beneficial. The foreword is by Sinclair Ferguson, who refers to Gibson as “my minister” (xiii) and shows heartfelt appreciation for his under-shepherd, as well as giving a beautiful account of how Psalm 23 came to be one of Ferguson’s favorite passages (and songs). There is also “A Note on Singing the Twenty-Third Psalm” (xvii)—speaking as a Reformed minister, the more familiar we are with singing psalms, the better!
If I had a (mild) criticism of the book, it would be this: sometimes there is too much content to keep it all straight, particularly in the first half of the book. Or at least, that is how it seemed to me. Gibson is able to draw on so many riches from Psalm 23 itself, from its Ancient Near East context, and from the rest of Scripture that at times I felt like I was drinking from a firehose. To be fair, this may have been the result of me reading all 145 pages in two sittings—it is a very edifying book, and I did not want to stop. Therefore, my criticism may simply amount to the fact that the book is so good it spurred me to read it at a pace too quick to pick up all the goodness along the way.
David Gibson has written a compelling look at Psalm 23 that is deep enough to stretch your imagination, devotional enough to reinforce your confidence in and praise for your God, and short enough to avoid intimidating those who are not used to reading theology books. My suggestion? Get it. Read it. Let Gibson lead you to a clearer view of your Shepherd, Companion, and Host. Bask in the knowledge that this God is yours in Christ. After all, our Redeemer is The Lord of Psalm 23.
©Christopher Smith. All Rights Reserved.
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