Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
This is a Psalm of comfort and of promise. The image of God as the the protector and provider prefigures Jesus’ image of Himself as the same in John 10. It reads, 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12 But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. 13 The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.”
The shepherd we are told prepares good pastures, and leads near still waters. He provides food (and even anoints with oil). He is prepared to lay down His life for His flock, and knows each individual. What could be more comforting?
This Psalm was one of my earliest religious/spiritual encounters. Its promise of safety, and care was and is reassuring. The passage was recurrent in my youth as a scripture regularly in interfaith contact between Christians and Jews. The same God, the same promise.
Too often today we gloss the promises of God. The Psalm passes us by, and in the words of John 10, we start to put our trust into the hirelings. Those individuals who seem to have authority (political, social, and yes even religious) and yet do not have the same fervour for our well-being as the “True Shepherd.” No wonder we are so often left feeling let down by failed political promises, social one-up-man-ship, and at times barely veiled indifference.
Let us therefore turn back to the Shepherd today. Remember, He is known by His own!