Psalm 23 is one of the most recognized in all of scripture. David shares a vivid memory of his time as a shepherd boy. He was likely a king when he wrote it, but he certainly hasn’t forgotten his roots. God was like a shepherd to David, and David was like a sheep to God. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”. The relationship between shepherd and sheep is a powerful one, and was precious to David and early Christians alike. The idea of Jesus the Good Shepherd caring for His sheep is a great thing to visualize and describe our relationship with Him.
Notice that David makes this very personal – he says ‘my shepherd’ – not the shepherd or a shepherd. Our walk with Christ is real and personal, and while Christ is Lord and Shepherd of all mankind, He also fills the role of our personal shepherd through a very personal relationship with Him. David knew he needed a personal shepherd. And he also makes it clear that all his needs were supplied by his shepherd – there were no needs beyond that which the shepherd gives.
The Psalm goes on to describe how the shepherd leads and is in control. “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even 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”. Notice the ‘he’ and ‘you’ statements as David describes their relationship. Jesus is an active shepherd in our lives. He is in control. Philip Keller (in A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23) writes that sheep do not lie down easily, and will not unless four conditions are met:
- Because they are timid they will not lie down if they are afraid
- Because they are social animals they will not lie down if there is friction among the sheep
- If flies or parasites trouble them they will not lie down
- Finally, if sheep are anxious about food or hungry they will not lie down.
Rest comes because the shepherd has dealt with fear, friction, flies, and famine. Jesus deals with all this and more in our lives as our personal Shepherd.
David makes it clear that he is never alone. Even in the face of death, his Shepherd is with him and comforts him. And he never leaves. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever”. There is assurance that the Shepherd will not leave us. He will provide goodness and mercy forever. This isn’t a short term of temporary relationship. The Shepherd will care for His sheep – you and me – for eternity!