The Supreme Father Figure

Bible Book: Psalms  23
Subject: Father


If I were a pagan trying to create a new religion, or trying to persuade people to worship a new god, I might look around for a person, or even a relationship, and form the new god around that person or relationship. Try to picture a group of people in ancient times, possibly a tribe or nation. Law and order depend upon some primitive organization composed of a group of respected fathers or respected men. In such a society the safety of women and children was the responsibility of husbands and fathers. Warring tribes raided villages in order to kill men, take what ever they found of value, and commit atrocities against women and children we do not even want to consider. The protection of the home was the responsibility of the father. Provisions for the family were also the responsibility of the father. Relationships in the family as well as the community were often determined by the father.

If I were a pagan living in such a community, and wanted to start a new religion, I might do what Mohamed did, or what Joseph Smith did. I would announce that I had been visited by an angel who gave me some sacred tablets, in a language that I alone could read and understand. This god would command me to require all men to worship and serve him. What, they might ask, is this new god like? “Well.....well, he is like a father. He provides for his people, he protects them, and he gives the privilege a personal relationship with him. That is what this new god is like. He is like a powerful, faithful and courageous father.

Needless to say, the true God reveals Himself as our heavenly Father. He is powerful; He created all that exists, hanging billions upon billions of heavenly bodies in space, many moving in orbits from which they never stray. The true God, our heavenly Father holds Himself up to the human race as the perfect model for all earthly fathers. That’s the way God did it. That is exactly what one would expect of the true heavenly Father.

To better understand the role fathers in this world, we need a better understanding of our heavenly Father. This morning, I would like for your to turn to an unusual passage in your Bible to learn a little more about our heavenly Father, and possibly just a little more about what He expects of the earthly father. Please turn with me to the Twenty-Third Psalm.


A. David Introduces Our Heavenly Father to Us as Our Shepherd, Ps. 23:1.

1. David wrote, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

2. When God provides for us we shall not want [Provisions].

3. Jesus taught that He is the Good Shepherd (John 10).

B. Our Heavenly Father Provides for Our Physical Needs.

1. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures” (2a).
David knew the responsibilities of a good shepherd. They knew the territory and they planned ahead so they could always lead their sheep to green pastures. It was a poor shepherd who led his sheep to dry, barren fields to graze.

2. “He leadeth me beside the still waters” (2b).

The provisions are specified here: He provides good food and water. The good shepherd led his sheep to a safe well or stream where they might drink clean, clear water, and drink it in a safe place.

I Grew up on a Mississippi Delta farm. My father provided for his family. When he was a very young man he went to see Barney Sigler and asked him about a 40 acre farm seven miles west of Sledge in the Green River community. Mr. Sigler told him that he did own that property and my father said, “I don’t have enough money to buy the land, but if you will give me the opportunity I will pay you for it.” He not only gave him the opportunity, when he had other land in the community he sent word to my Dad. Sometimes he could buy it and sometimes he either couldn’t, or wouldn’t buy it. My father worked long hours to pay for our land, and we understood that it was ours, not just his. He worked long hours to provide for his family. That, however, was not the whole story. We understood that when we were working our land it was for the family. While he was providing for his family he was teaching his children how to work, how to assume responsibility for ourselves and others. He taught us the difference between just marking time and doing productive work. He taught us help others. We had a family on our place who needed wood for a wood cook stove and for their wood heater. We were using propane at the time, but when we laid by our crops we went to the woods and cut fire wood for that family. I discovered that it was not the custom of the time, but my father never charged a dime for the use of a tractor, for fuel, or labor when he broke their land, planted their cotton, or plowed their cotton.

One day, we drove from our home in Bastrop, Louisiana to visit Becky’s parents in town and my parents on the farm. Daddy had stopped farming and rented out his farm. I knew he had sold his tractors and implements, so I was surprised when I approached our long driveway to my left, and looking to the right I saw his 730 John Deere tractor parked in the short driveway that led to Garfield Ellis’ barn and shop. Garfield had died, but his wife and daughter still lived in the house across the road from our house.

When we got out of the car and went into the house, I spoke to my parents, and to my younger brother and sister. Then, I asked my father, “What happened to the 730? I saw at Garfield’s. Did it break down?” He shook his head and said, “No.” I asked if he had run our of fuel. He said, “No.” I asked why it was out there and he said, “Little Garfield moved back from Chicago and he wants to try to farm their land.” I asked, “Did you sell it to him?” Another quiet, “No.” I then asked, “Did you rent it to him?” “No.”

Finally, he said, “He just has that little ‘50' John Deere and it is too light to disk and break that buckshot, so I let him use mine.” No one could have had better neighbors that the Garfield Ellis family. They were African Americans. The father and my father were good friends who often did favors for each other. I finally realized that no one was going to buy that tractor as long as Daddy thought Little Garfield needed it.

C. Our Heavenly Father’s Blesses Us with Spiritual Provisions.

1. “He restoreth my soul” [He saves us].

2. “He leads us in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”

Our heavenly Father offers us salvation and then He leads us in the paths of righteousness. He sanctifies us! He saves all who place their trust in His Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16), and all whom He saves, He would sanctify - but He would no more sanctify an individual against his or her will than He would save a person against his or her will. “For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son...” (Rom. 8:29, HCSB). That is a good definition of sanctification. He would like to see all believers conformed to the image of His son.

My father once saved me from drowning in a mill pond in Calhoun County, Mississippi. He was home on furlough from the Army before shipping out for Germany near the end of World War II. I was living with my Great Aunt Effie and going to school at Pitsboro, the county seat of Calhoun County. My father picked me up so I could visit with the family. Mother and James were staying with her sister and her family at Big Creek. My father and my Uncle Labern took his son and daughter, along with James and me to a mill pond. My uncle showed us how far we could wade out into the pond, and then cautioned, “There is an 18 foot drop -off right out there, and if you drop off into the deep water you could drown.”

I was seven or eight years old and had no idea what a “drop off” was. I decided to see or myself, so I told the others to stay where they were and then I began to inch my way out until I could feel that drop-off. I didn’t feel anything unusual with my feet, so I kept going. Suddenly, I took one step too far and realized that the drop-off was not a sharp 90 degree wall, but a slippery bottom that led to the drop-off.

I kept fighting to get to the surface. I never panicked. I still thought I could get back to shallow water. On the opposite side of the pond, my father was standing in waist deep water, talking to my uncle and a couple of his brothers. One of them saw my head break through the surface of the water and yelled a warning. They dived in over my father, but he beat them to me. He found be under the water and pushed me to the surface and swam the few strokes to shallow water, where they all began working with me. They were surprised that I had not inhaled any water. I did not understand why they were so concerned about me. I was breathing normally and I was not frightened. My father had reached me and found me just in time. The thing that had the adults so worried was that, according to Uncle Labern, “The last time he came up he only got the top of his head out of the water.” I might not have made it if they had been any later reaching me.

My earthly father saved my life when it seemed to them that I was about to drown. A few years later, my heavenly Father save my soul and gave me eternal life. My father put his life on the line for me. My heavenly Father gave His Son to die for my sins. That Son said, “I am the good Shepherd.” My earthly father gave me an opportunity to live for a number of years on this earth. My heavenly Father has given me assurance of an eternity with Him in heaven.


A. He Leads Us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (23:4).

David wrote that the good shepherd leads us, not “to”, not “into”, and not “in” the valley of the shadow of death. He leads us “through” the valley of the shadow of death. He has never lost anyone in the valley of the shadow of death. He always brings true believers through even the most trying of times and circumstances. The Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one” (John 10:28-30, HCSB).

B. With His Rod He Protects Us.

The rod was a strong club, something like a baseball bat in length and weight. The Holman Bible Dictionary notes that the rod, in this passage, denotes a club-like stick. David is here thinking of the shepherd who might used a rod to fight off thieves, or wild animals.

C. With His Staff He Guides and Protects His Sheep.

The shepherd would use his staff, a walking stick, but at times he would use it for other purposes. The Holman Bible Dictionary notes that the staff was used as walking stick (Gen. 32:10), for defense (Ps. 23:4), for punishment (Ex. 21:20; Num. 22:27; Prov. 13:24; 1 Cor. 4:21).” The shepherd, by gently tapping a sheep on the side, could guide it to the right path. There were times when the shepherd might use crook at the end of a staff to lift a lamb from a crevice or a ledge to which it had fallen. Our Heavenly Father guides, directs, and rescues us when we have fallen and call on Him.


A. The Good Shepherd Welcomed the Traveler into His Tent.

1. The Shepherd provided temporary shelter in a time of trouble.

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies [protection]: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over [abundant life].” I have read that when one was fleeing from an enemy, or enemies, who might be trying to kill him over some offence, if he came to a shepherd’s tent he could seek asylum for a given period of time. The enemy, according to what in another day might be called the law of the plains, would have to remain some distance from the shepherd’s tent for a given period of time. The man fleeing from the enemy might find food, water, and rest in the shepherd’s tent - but only for a limited time. He would then be forced to leave, but he would be rested and refreshed, and he would have a head start on those pursuing him.

2. A gracious shepherd would offer more than shelter for the traveler.

It was expected that the shepherd would provide shelter for a friend, or even a stranger, but the shepherd who loved others might go beyond that. He might also offer the traveler food: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” The good shepherd did not offer shelter begrudgingly. He also provided food and fellowship to the traveler. In our day we might say to a visitor, “Make yourself at home.” We will offer both food and friendship to our guests.

3. The truly gracious, caring shepherd would anoint the guest’s head with oil.

David, who had been a shepherd in his youth, wrote: “thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” The anointing of the visitor’s head with oil speaks not only of his provisions, but also of receiving a visitor as one receives a close relative, a good friend, or a well known dignitary. When one is received in this manner he knew he was welcome. When he wrote, “my cup runneth over he was thinking of the abundance of the Lord’s blessings. Our heavenly Father’s provisions are limitless and His protection has never been challenged, except by Satan and those who serve him.

B. Our Heavenly Father Offers Blessings that Are Limitless and Abundant.

1. God takes the initiative in finding us.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” Isn’t this amazing? We do not pursue God, He pursues us! Goodness and mercy might translate grace and mercy in the New Testament. A traveler in David’s day might walk for hours, looking for a shepherd’s tent where he might rest. The one who was being pursued by an enemy might search frantically for a shepherd’s tent where he might rest as well as protection from his enemies. God’s mercy and grace pursues each traveler on life’s highway. No one “finds God.” God takes the initiative in revealing Himself to us. Jesus came to seek and save the lost.

Someone years ago said that the words, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” reminded him of two hound dogs that would never give up a hot trail. Hunters know that a well trained beagle might follow a deer “clean out of the country.” The Holy Spirit pursues us relentlessly. Even when people have rejected Him over and over, He continues to knock on the door to their heart. God reveals Himself within us, before us, above us, behind us, and beside us. We can never take credit for “finding God.” We must praise Him because He finds us.

2. Our heavenly Father’s blessings are everlasting.

Look at the words again: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” God provides eternal life to all who believe in His Son, who makes the claim, “I am the good Shepherd.” The life He offers is eternal, everlasting, never ending. While a friend might visit a shepherd for a given period of time, and while one fleeing from an enemy might be safe and secure for a brief period of time, those who come to the Lord in simple faith will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


My heavenly Father is the model for all earthly fathers. My earthly father taught me how to work, how to box, how to fish, how to hunt. He even taught me to swim! He taught by word and example to be honest with my word as well as with money, time, and property. My father taught all his children to be honest, and I trust my brothers and my sister. My brother Mike, senior partner in a well known law firm, told me that he was in a trial before a judge for whom he has a lot of respect. The lawyer on the other side was from New Orleans and didn’t know Mike. When he discovered that Mike had some information he had not seen, so he protested to the judge. He said, “Your Honor, he didn’t give me that information!” Mike assured him that it was in the brief he had filed, “But,” he added, “I will have a copy made and bring it to him in the morning.”

The New Orleans attorney began to object again. Both the judge and the other attorney were African Americans. The Judge looked to the New Orleans attorney and said, “Mr. Smith, if Mr. Sanders tells you something you can take it to the bank.” The other attorney began to protest again, but the judge said, “I told you that if Mr. Sanders tells you anything, take it to the bank.” My father probably would not have shown his pride in his youngest son, but he would have been intensely proud of him. His older brother is!

Let us listen to the words of Psalm 23 one more time:

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want [Provisions]. (2) He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters [provisions specified]. (3) He restoreth my soul [salvation]: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake [Sanctification]. (4) Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me [spiritual provisions, protection]. (5) Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies [protection]: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over [abundant life]. (6) Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever” [eternal security and blessings without end].