Reviewed by: Matthew Holst
Our Heavenly Shepherd: Comfort and Strength from Psalm 23, by Ian Hamilton. Reformation Heritage, 2022. Paperback, 112 pages, $7.50 Reviewed by OP pastor Matthew Holst.
Many will know Ian Hamilton through his work at the Banner of Truth Trust. I know Ian through being his intern in Cambridge, England, for a year back in 2009. That year has left lasting impact on my life and ministry. To read Our Heavenly Shepherd: Comfort and Strength from Psalm 23 is to be refreshed by his theologically keen but kind pastoral heart.
Hamilton recounts his first pastorate in Scotland where he presided over seven hundred funerals, at least half of which included the singing of Psalm 23. Why its popularity? Psalm 23 speaks of a “heavenly Shepherd [who] watches over, leads, provides for and protects His sheep with a personalized, individual care and compassion” (3). This thesis statement is the outline of the book.
Hamilton quickly sets Psalm 23 in its historical and redemptive historical contexts: it is a psalm of and about David and it is a psalm about Jesus Christ:
When Jesus said “I am the good shepherd” . . . He was identifying Himself as the long-promised Shepherd who would personally seek the lost, bind up the broken, strengthen the sick and destroy the fat and the strong. . . . Psalm 23 points beyond its immediate circumstance to the incarnate Lord of glory, who would do what no other shepherd could do: He would lay down his life as a sin atoning sacrifice for His sheep, thereby securing their everlasting good. (6–7)
Seeing Psalm 23’s relevance in Christ allows us to see how it is a “Psalm of Experiential Realism” (7) and a psalm for “Living and Dying.” Hamilton rightly ties the christological significance to the experiential, thus rooting the reader not in a subjective experience of the Christian life, but the objective life, work, ministry, and experience of Christ himself. Here is the payoff for the reader: given that Jesus is both the Good Shepherd and for a time was also a lamb led to slaughter, the Christian is caught up in his life, both in suffering and in glory.
Hamilton, guided by these perspectives, works through Psalm 23: chapter 1, “The Lord Loves His Sheep.” The ensuing chapters reveal the Lord’s provision for, his restoration of, his leading of, his presence with, and his protection of his sheep. The closing chapter describes the heavenly Shepherd who leads his sheep safely home. Hamilton concludes that Psalm 23 “wonderfully captures the essence of the believing life, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd.’ David is confessing the fundamental truth that shaped and directed his life” (93).
Herein is the great profit of this short devotional: Hamilton’s treatment of Psalm 23 brings home the objective realities of God as our Shepherd, which then shape our faith, understanding, and attitude to the numerous trials Christians face, including death itself. The book is to be highly commended on this matter. The book also has study questions at the end of each chapter, suitable for small-group study or discipleship of older children.
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