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Psalms 23 - The Shepherd Psalm

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Looking at God's love and provision for his people through the eyes of David's Shepherd Psalm.

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Psalm 23 ESV
A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The Lord is my Shepherd, he meets all my need

The Shepherd psalm is the most recognized and remembered passage in the old testament. It is used in many services from Weddings to Funterals and everthing in between. Christians and non-Christians alike find solice in it tone and strength.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.


The first verse begins with the idea of a shepherd. Shepherding may not be a part of our everyday life the idea is still very vivid in our minds. Sadly, the further we get away from the agrarian culture, the less we connect with the shepherd motif.
Think for a moment about the picture of a Shepherd. Throughout the Old Testament God has been refered to as a Shepherd, especially in the book of Psalms and in .
The imagery continues to the New Testament when Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd” (). He even demonstrates that anyone who enters not through him is nothing but a thief.


Sheep are mentioned around 750 times in the Bible and are referenced more frequently than any other animal in the Bible (Nelsons manners and Customs pg 217). Sheep are seen by many as ignorant animals because they are helpless. Without someone to lead them, sheep will die.
In , Jesus says that his sheep hear and recognize his voice. It is a very interesting part of the Shepherding process.
Many years ago Dr. and Mrs. Leo Eddleman were missionaries in Palestine. He told about seeing many flocks mingled at a watering place. When one shepherd was ready to leave he simply walked away, making a certain sound. Immediately, his sheep separated themselves from the others and followed him. His sheep followed him because they knew his voice. (My Favorite Illustrations pg 158)
An American, traveling in Syria, saw three native shepherds bring their flocks to the same brook, and the flocks drank there together. At length one shepherd arose and called out, “Men-ah! men-ah!,” the Arabic for “follow me.” His sheep came out of the common herd and followed him up the hillside. The next shepherd did the same, and his sheep went away with him, and the man did not even stop to count them.
The traveler said to the remaining shepherd, “Give me your turban and crook, and see if they will not follow me as well as you.” So he put on the shepherd’s dress and called out, “Men-ah! men-ah!” Not a sheep moved. They know not a voice of a stranger. “Will your flock never follow anybody but you?” inquired the gentleman. The Syrian shepherd replied, “Oh, yes; sometimes a sheep gets sick, and then he will follow any one.” (7700 Illustrations pg 499)
As Christian’s we too hear God’s voice and can listen to him. We know his voice. Sadly, if we allow our hearts to grow hard and turn away from God, we can easily be conned by others. We can be drawn away from God. It may be the enemy trying to bring fear, anguish, and dispair. It may be friends and family members speaking distruction into our lives. It could even be the natural flesh pulling us away from the will that God has set before us. In any case, seeking God first allows us to continue to grow spiritually, and we can hear his voice more clearly.

I shall not want

In some cultures, sheperds were typically younger individuals or those who were incompentant and could not be trusted with more important tasks (UBS Handbook: Psalms pg232). To some extent we see this in the life of David. He was the youngest and was left out in the field to tend the sheep while his brother’s did more meaningful jobs.
Nevertheless, the role of a shepherd is very important to the survival of the sheep. With their seemingly helpless nature, sheep need someone to lead them and guide them.
We have mentioned need a few times over the past few weeks. Since God knows our need even before we ask, he begins the process of answering our prayer before it is prayed. In the same way the Shepherd know his sheep and he knows what they need when they need it. He knows when they need to be taken to pasture and to drink. He knows when they are tired and when they need to get excericise.
Both and use the imagery of a sheep going astray to allude to the
Much the same way, God knows our individual needs and he takes care of them when we need them. As we said previously, his timing is not our
In Matthew
Matthew 6:25–34 ESV
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Christians faulter when they focus so much on the spiritual aspects of life and miss that God will also take care of our physical needs as well. God will take care of every need, not just that of our spiritual being. He wants to insure that we are protected and cared for. He works to provide every aspect of our lives.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

Speaking of provision, sheep cannot take care of themselves. The will remain in the same place and eat all the sustainable vegitation and can ultimately die of starvation due to lack of initiative. On the other hand, sheep that are given free reign will actually eat themselves to death.
In the March 1991 the Los Angeles times ran a story of 83 sheep who died of bloat. The animals pushed over a fence to an Alfalfa field and they gorged themselves to death. They don’t know when to stop.
Sometimes, I suffer from the same problem. Eyes bigger than stomach, and I feel like I have to finish everything. With an abundance of food, Sheep will keep eating until they die.
With these two problems in mind, the shepherd has to be aware of the needs of the sheep and will lead them to green pastures. He or she has to know when they need food and also know when they need to quit eating.
In the same way, God knows how to bring us rest in the coolness of the green pastures. He knows when we need sustinence and he keeps us from overendulgences. God cares for his people just like the shepherd has to care for his flock.

He leads me beside still waters.

Have you ever worn as wet sweater? They are not the easiest thing to manuveur in. The wool collects the water and becomes very heavy. Sheep also have this trouble. If they wade out into water, the weight from the wool can easily drag them down.
Furthermore, if the water is moving, the sheep can easily be carried down stream. They will drown due to the weight of their wet wool. The Shepherd leads the sheep to safe waters. The sheep can drink and enjoy the cool refreshing rest without the likelihood of being carried down stream by the rushing water.
It can easily seem that we will be carried down stream by the ravages of the waters of life, but God knows how to lead us to places of peace and tranquility. He knows how to take us to a place of refuge so that we can rest and relax in the quietness of refreshing streams.

He restores my soul.

Literally, this is translated from “He causes my refresh to return.” UBS Psalms pg 232.
He revives and invigorates the exhausted and weary. (Pulpit Commentary pg 163)
Matthew 11:28–30 ESV
Come to me, all 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.”
Jesus’ picture in this passage of Matthew can be easily misinterpreted. He says take my yoke upon you for my burden is light.
How is the burden of Christ light?
The imagery here is that of an ox attempting to pull a cart, but it is weighed down too heavily with produce to take to market. However, if a second animal is put alongside it the weight of the card is now spread in half. The animals are not pulling the whole weight individually, but each is now able to share the load.
Same way it is with Christ. When we come to him we are not taking on his burden, butu he is taking on ours. He is sharing the weight of our needs and helping us to move in his power. We are able to move and walk under his strength because we are not relying on our own power but his.
Phillip Keller explains this by the situation known to shepherds as a “cast (or cast down) sheep.” What happens is this. “A heavy, fat or long-fleeced sheep will lie down comfortably in some little hollow or depression in the ground. It may roll on its side slightly to stretch out or relax. Suddenly the center of gravity in the body shifts so that it turns on its back far enough that the feet no longer touch the ground. It may feel a sense of panic and start to paw frantically. Frequently this only makes things worse. It rolls over even further. Now it is quite impossible for it to regain its feet.” In this position gases build up in the body, cutting off circulation to the legs, and often it is only a matter of a few hours before the sheep dies. The only one who can restore the sheep to health is the shepherd. (Boice pg 210)
If we are not careful we can be like this poo sheep. Laying down in our own comfort and not realizing the predicament. Then when we try to right ourselves we are unable to do so. Only through the strength of the shepherd can we truly be uprighted again.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Speaking of upright, righteousness can be easily definded as uprightness before God. We do not stand upright before God through our own volition. We can do nothing to gain and maintain a right standing.
Even looking at the life of David. He was not a good person many times in his life. Nevertheless, he is still referred to as a man after God’s own heart. Righteousness does not come from us. It does not come from how good we live or how well we do, it comes through the power and authority of Jesus Christ and the cross.
Abraham was not deemed righteous because of what he did, but because of his faith in God. He acted out of faith and God honored that faith.
Each person from Abel through the apostles was not righteous by any feat that he or she did. The Pharisees and Sadducees worked to be righteous. By all standards of human kind they were righteous. They would stand on the street corner wearing their religiousity like a badge. Jesus reminded them time and time again that righteousness never comes from what we do, but from the justification that Christ did.
A shepherds name and reputation is only as good as he is able to keep the sheep. If he is a poor shepherd and does not take care of his livestock then the sheep will die. He will then be known of as a bad shepherd and no one will trust him to take care of their flocks.
Toombs says that God takes care of us “because that is the kind of God he is” (UBS Psalms pg 233). His work and love for us demonstrates how good of a shepherd he is. He brings glory to himself because he sets us in righteousness. He keeps us walking on the path with him. If we go astray he is quick to bring us back to to him.
Toombs says, “because that is the kind of God he is” (UBS Psalms pg 233).

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.

They need someone who will take time to work with them and train them to follow.
Both and use the imagery of a sheep going astray to allude to humanity wondering away from God. Even Jesus tells the story of the lost sheep in . He speaks of one sheep wondering away, and the shepherd leaving the other 99 and seeking out the one sheep that was lost.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

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