Psalm 23 (Psalm 23:1-6) begins with a breathtaking metaphor: “The LORD is my shepherd” (v.1a).
In Hebrew, LORD is the personal name for God, which literally means “I am who I am.” It denotes God’s timelessness and self-sufficiency. He is eternally existing and all-powerful. The great I AM is above all (Ex. 3:14).
Yet, David says the Lord is a shepherd. Shepherding was a dirty profession that required round-the-clock attention—day or night, hot or cold, dry or wet, the shepherd must tend his flock.
Why? Because sheep, left to their own devices, would starve or wander into the wild where dangerous enemies lie in wait.
In describing the Lord as his shepherd, David describes himself (and us) as the sheep. Without a shepherd, we too go astray and wander into danger.
Thankfully, the great God of the universe has lowered himself to care for his people, a fact that became manifest in the Lord Jesus Christ, who took the divine I AM name for himself (John 8:58) and later added the metaphor “good shepherd” (John 10:11,14).
Jesus Christ is the Christian’s all-powerful, eternally-existing shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd, able to meet every need. In fact, when he died on the cross and rose to life again, Jesus defeated our greatest enemies: Sin, Satan and death.
Therefore, all who trust in the Lord shall not want (v.1b). They are well supplied and protected, lacking nothing, as the rest of the Psalm describes.
The Lord gives us rest (v.2)
The Lord guides his sheep to lie down in green pastures and beside still waters. Sheep are fearful animals who do not find it easy to rest, unless they are calm and content.
When you are fearful, frenzied, and tired due to the pressures of life, remember that Jesus said “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28).
The Lord restores us (v.3a)
Sometimes sheep become trapped and cannot regain their footing or freedom—putting their lives at risk. That’s when the shepherd comes along and restores their life by putting them on their feet again or setting them free.
We are sometimes like this—lying spiritually helpless on our back or stuck in the mud after veering off course. Like a good shepherd, Jesus is there to restore us to the fold and to new life.
The Lord gives us guidance (v.3b)
Sheep need a good shepherd who will lead them on the right path if they are to go from one pasture to the next without going astray.
Christ guides us through his Word and Spirit, for his name’s sake. Do you delight in his Word (Psalm 1:1)? Are you on his path of righteousness? Do you find security and guidance in the Bible?
The Lord protects us (v.4)
The Christian life is not always a mountain top experience. We still suffer trials and tribulations and the shadow of death is always near. Sometimes life is more like a valley than a mountain top.
But these experiences should draw us closer to the Lord and as we draw nearer to him we become aware of his presence. The awareness that he is with us alleviates all fear, for his presence is a comfort.
Do you spend time in the presence of the Lord each day, feeling his presence and drawing near to him for comfort?
The Lord provides for us (v.5)
Before sheep would be allowed to graze, a good shepherd would clear the land of enemies: physical hazards, poisonous plants and predators. Shepherds were also known to use oil and spices to heal the wounds of their sheep.
When we let Christ lead us, we are assured of his provision and care for us. He is leading us to place where our cup will overflow with joy.
The Lord assures us of a heavenly home (v.6)
Sheep have no permanent home, just like us sojourners today, for this is not our home—our true citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).
It is there that our Good Shepherd has prepared a place for us in the house of the Lord forever (John 14:2-3).