“The LORD is my Shepherd” – Psalm 23:1
Ever feel lost, vulnerable, or unprotected? Ever feel spiritually dry, directionless, or malnourished? It’s not uncommon to feel that way in our dark, skeptical, and fallen world. But there is help. The solution to these issues can be found in Psalm 23. The 23rd Psalm is one of, if not the best known Psalm of the Bible. There’s good reason for that. It is well known because it is a psalm of great comfort. It is a psalm that speaks of intimacy with God. Psalm 23 begins with the words, “The LORD is my Shepherd . . .” Is it worth it to have the LORD as my Shepherd? Who is this Shepherd? What does it mean to have the LORD as my Shepherd? Is the LORD your Shepherd?
Is it worth having the LORD as your Shepherd? I would think so. Look at the promises connected with having the LORD as our Shepherd. If the LORD is my Shepherd, “I shall not want” (23:1b). If we have the Shepherd, we have all we need. Our Shepherd promises to meet and fulfill all our needs. With Him we will want for nothing. This is a broad comforting promise.
“He makes me to lie down in green pastures” (23:2a). Green pastures are hard to find in the often barren Middle East. Sheep need a Shepherd who knows where the green pastures are. And the pastures He leads to are not crab grass and weedy; they are fertile and filling. Sheep need a Shepherd who will lead them. The Shepherd will guide us to a place where we can find nourishment. And as we “lie down” in these pastures with the Shepherd, no doubt we will get to know Him. It’s not always about serving the Shepherd. Sometimes we just have to sit at His feet and worship and take in (cf. Luke 10:40-41).
“He leads me beside the still waters” (23:2b). Still waters run deep. Any deep experience with the Shepherd requires we spend time with Him. Water is a symbol of God’s word (Eph. 5:26). Notice, “He leads me beside still waters.” This Shepherd leads us with the refreshing water of His words. Laying down in green pastures and being led beside still waters speaks of serenity, peace, security. “He restores my soul” (23:3a). The Shepherd brings spiritual restoration to the soul that sorrows or is weak. This Shepherd is the source of revival, refreshment and spiritual awakening.
“He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (23:3b). “Paths” here (Heb. Ma’gal) refer to ways clearly marked by wheeled traffic. The Shepherd leads in a clear path; He’s been through before; He leads us on a path He Himself has trod. He is holy. His path is a righteous holy path. Why will He lead you? “For His name’s sake” (23:3c). His reputation is on the line as He leads you. He will only lead you in a righteous way. That’s why it’s so important to follow Him. But even more than that, this Shepherd will lead you in the right way purely by grace, because He loves you.
There are dangers in the valleys of life. That’s when you really need a Shepherd. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For you are with me;” (23:4a). “Yea,” yes, you can be sure, there are valleys and the shadow of death in life. The shepherd travelling home from the fields with their flock sometimes went through dark ravines and valleys where predators might lay in wait. There are dangers in the world. The presence of the strong shepherd comforted the sheep and should comfort you and me. There is a Shepherd who has promised to never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). This Shepherd has conquered death (1 Cor. 15:53-58).
“Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (23:4b). The “rod” (Heb. shebat) was a shepherding tool used to guide with a tap and a nudge. The “staff” (Heb. Mish’enet) was an instrument used to protect against enemies. This Shepherd loves you enough to guide and correct you. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;” (23:5a). No need to worry or scurry when the Shepherd is with you, even if there are enemies around. You can eat in peace. Your Shepherd has your back.
“You anoint my head with oil;” (23:5b). Shepherds used oil to rub into scratches on the sheep to help heal them. “Oil” is a type of the Spirit (Zech. 4). Oil speaks of the filling of the Holy Spirit at one’s spiritual birth or second birth (John. 3; 4:14; 14:16; 1 John 2:20). It also speaks of the Spirit’s anointing for service (Acts 1:4-5, 8; 2:17-18, 32-33). It says, “my cup runs over” (23:5c). The Shepherd isn’t stingy. He will give an abundant outpouring of the Spirit (John 7:37-39; 10:10).
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;” (23:6a). “Surely” means NO DOUBT ABOUT IT! “Follow” (Heb. redap) means “to actively pursue.” Goodness and mercy will actively pursue those who have this Shepherd. The psalm ends with the words, “And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (23:6b). This speaks to the personal and intimate communion between the sheep and their Shepherd. These are all incredible blessings for the one who can say, “The LORD is my Shepherd.” But just who is this Shepherd? There have been some clues. Let’s answer this question.
Who is this Shepherd? “The LORD” here refers to the Tetragrammaton or YHWH which means “I am that I am” (Ex. 3-4). The sense of this name of God is that God is whatever He needs to be, according to His nature, without limit. In the New Testament Jesus identifies Himself as the Shepherd. He says, “I am the good Shepherd” (John 10:11, 14). Jesus is the One who fulfills Psalm 23!
What does it mean to have the LORD as your Shepherd? The words, “is my” are very personal. This is a very personal psalm. In fact 17 times personal pronouns are used to refer to the psalmist (“my, me, I”) and 10 times personal pronouns are used to refer to God (“He, His, You, Your”). But outside this psalm God has revealed a very personal problem – sin. Sin separates us from God our Shepherd (Isaiah 59:1-2; Psalm 66:18). Sin cannot be worked off or worked away. Sin can only be washed away with the blood of a sacrifice (Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9:22). The blood of Old Testament sacrifices served two purposes. First, they were an instrument for people to put their faith in God through obedience. Second, the Old Testament sacrifices pointed to the greater sacrifice, Jesus. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). God passed over sins (Rom. 3:25). But it wasn’t until Jesus shed His own blood on the cross that a viable, sufficient, and justly acceptable to God atonement for sin was made. “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:12).
What does it mean to have Jesus as your Shepherd? It means you have sought and received by faith forgiveness for your sins based on the shed blood of Jesus and not any work of your own. It means having done this that you are in a personal saving relationship with Jesus.
Is the LORD my Shepherd? How do we know if Jesus is our Shepherd? Jesus calls and knows His sheep by name (John 10:3). He knows them and they know Him (John 10:14). His sheep hear His voice, know His voice, and follow Him (John 10:4). They by no means follow strangers (John 10:5). Others seek to destroy and abuse the sheep. Jesus comes to give the sheep abundant life (John 10:10). Jesus is the Good Shepherd; He laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one” (John 10:27-30). Is Jesus your Shepherd? Do you hear His voice? Are you following Him? If you’re unsure perhaps you haven’t dealt sufficiently with sin in your life. Have you turned from your sin? Have you asked God to forgive your sin based on Jesus shed blood on the cross and not your own works? Have you received the forgiveness God offers through faith in Jesus? If not, do so. Then follow your Shepherd. He promises it will be an abundant life!