An Invitation to Rest and Refreshment – Bible Study Outline


An Invitation to Rest and Refreshment
by Leif Hetland – (visit for info about Leif's ministry)

Psalm 23 is one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. Countless times this Psalm has been read in times of grief and sorrow to bring comfort to the listeners. If you read this Psalm carefully you will discover that it is "A day in the life of a sheep." It is spoken from the point of view of a well cared for and well-loved sheep.

There are countless golden nuggets to be mined from this Psalm. Let's look at two:

Golden nugget #1 is an invitation to Rest.

"The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want." As one little child said in Sunday school when asked to quote verse one, "The Lord is my shepherd, that's all I need!" He may have missed the quote but he spoke truth. When you know the person (the Shepherd) you find rest.

In Psalm 22 He Is the Good Shepherd who dies for his sheep. (John 10:11)

In Psalm 23 He is the Great Shepherd who cares for his sheep. (Hebrews 13:20 – 21)

In Psalm 24 He is the Chief Shepherd who comes for his sheep. (1 Peter 5:4)

One of the definitions given for the word "rest" is – peace, ease, or refreshment resulting from sleep or the cessation of an activity.”

Listen to the words of our Shepherd when he said:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

In commenting on this text, William Barclay wrote:

‘He says, "My yoke is easy." The word easy is in Greek chrestos, which can mean well-fitting. In Palestine ox-yokes were made of wood; the ox was brought, and the measurements were taken. The yoke was then roughed out, and the ox was brought back to have the yoke tried on. The yoke was then carefully adjusted, so that it would fit well, and would not gall the neck of the patient beast. The yolk was tailor-made to fit the ox.’ (The Gospel of Matthew, The Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Page 19).

David was persuaded of God’s ability to satisfy the need of his soul when he said in Psalm 62:1-2: "My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I shall never be shaken."

He also knew how to encourage his own soul: "Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I shall not be shaken." (Psalm 62:5-6)

Jesus’ yoke (his words, teachings, and commandments) fits us well. The life that He has given us to live is not bitter or heavy burdened, but rather a life-style that is made to measure, to fit us. It is not a “one size fits all” life. Many times we choose to lay our burdens at His feet, only to pick them up again when we leave!

The yoke was a wooden frame used to harness together a pair of oxen at their necks so that they could pull a plow or some other load. It was a balancing device. Sometimes a younger ox needed to be taught to work and thus was paired with an animal of more experience. This beautifully illustrates our relationship with Christ. As we walk by His side, sharing the yoke and burden, the load does not disappear but is made lighter. We can try to carry our load by ourselves, or we can walk with Him, listening to His voice, and thereby find rest for our souls.

Golden nugget #2 is an invitation to Refreshment.

"He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters."

Sheep can be very unstable and must be closely watched and cared for. Someone said that when people are compared to sheep in the Bible, it is not a compliment. So when Isaiah says, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray" (Isaiah 53:6), he is not saying, "That’s good”. He’s saying, "That’s bad” because we’re just about on the same level with sheep. When Jesus looked out on the people with compassion, the Gospel writers say that He saw them "like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36). That’s not a compliment, either, but a concern.

Philip Keller was a sheep rancher and in his book A Shepherd Looks at the Twenty third Psalm, he says sheep require more attention than any other livestock. They just can’t take care of themselves.

Sheep (and people) can be "dumb" and make bad decisions. Jesus is our wisdom and will lead us to make wise decisions about our life.

Sheep (and people) are "defenseless" and need protection. The Good Shepherd is always on the lookout for the predator who will try to steal and devour His sheep. The Shepherd of our soul is on constant vigilance to protect us, even "when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death."

Sheep (and people) have no sense of direction and need to be led. A dog, horse, cat, or a bird can find its way home. When a sheep gets lost, it’s lost forever unless someone rescues it.

The Good Shepherd leads his sheep to a lush pasture where they have plenty to eat and their stomachs are soon full. Here, then, is a picture of a sheep so completely satisfied that there isn’t the least desire for anything more. He’s so content he lies down in green pastures.

The Lord has provided us with plenty, too. There are few of us who will ever go hungry. In fact, we have so much to eat that dieting is a constant discipline, or maybe more accurately, a constant discussion.

While all of that may be true, it is comforting to know that we have a good Shepherd who will make sure that we are watched and cared for and not left to our own devices.

Did you notice the wording? David said, "He makes me lie down." Sheep sometimes have to be forced to lie down. They can be very stubborn.

Keller said in his book that in order for sheep to lie down, 4 things are required:

1. They have to be full. Hungry sheep stay on their feet searching for another mouthful of food.

2. Secondly, they must be unafraid. They will not lie down if they’re fearful. The least suspicion of wolves or bears and they stand ready to flee.

3. Thirdly, they must be content. If flies or fleas are bothering them they will not lie down.

4. Finally, sheep will not lie down unless there is harmony in the flock. If there is friction over the butting order among them, then they simply cannot relax and lie down.

David then says, "He leads me beside quiet waters." (see vs. 2) Sheep are frightened of swiftly moving water. They are easily upset. They’re poor swimmers, and get bogged down with their heavy wool. When they get wet, it’s easy for them to get “cast” down or turned on their back. When that happens, they must be helped or the lion, bear or wolf will come and kill them.

David used the same picture in Psalm 42:5 when describing his depressed state. “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.”

David, in his distress, had “turned” or was “cast down” and needed God to lift him up. As a shepherd himself, he knew if he stayed in that spiritual condition for very long the enemy would come and destroy him.

So when the shepherd comes to a flowing stream, he doesn’t try to force the sheep to drink. Instead, a good shepherd builds a dam and makes a quiet little pool where his sheep can drink from still waters.

"Dr. Andrew Bonar told me how, in the Highlands of Scotland, a sheep would often wander off into the rocks and get into places that they couldn't get out of. The grass on these mountains is very sweet and the sheep like it, and they will jump down ten or twelve feet, and then they can't jump back again, and the shepherd hears them bleating in distress. They may be there for days, until they have eaten all the grass. The shepherd will wait until they are so faint they cannot stand, and then they will put a rope around him, and he will go over and pull that sheep up out of the jaws of death. "Why don't they go down there when the sheep first gets there?" I asked. "Ah!" He said, "they are so very foolish they would dash right over the precipice and be killed if they did!" And that is the way with men; they won't go back to God till they have no friends and have lost everything. If you are a wanderer I tell you that the Good Shepherd will bring you back the moment you have given up trying to save yourself and are willing to let Him save you His own way.” Moody's Anecdotes, pp. 70-71

Are you stressed to the max? Is it hard to focus on daily tasks? Your load is so heavy you think you will collapse under the weight? “Casting all your care on Him, for He cares for you!” (1 Peter 5:7)

Much Love,
Leif Hetland

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  1. Friede Taylor says:

    Brother Eddie,
    Thank you for your continued study outlines on "Sermon Seedbed". I thoroughly enjoy 'feeding' on them.
    By any change – do you have the rest of Psalm 23 from Leif – verses 3-6?
    Praying that you and Mikki are doing well. With much love to both of you…

  2. cynthia says:


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