The Psalm of David (Psalm 23) often noted for its opening line “The Lord is my shepherd,” is one of the most quoted passages of the Bible. It is used at funerals, and in times of trial, and it reassures us of God’s loving kindness. It reads,
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths 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 your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Life is not always easy. We face trials and dangers. The imagery of the psalm draws upon David’s own experience as a shepherd, caring for the flocks of his father, Jesse. He had himself had to take up the rod and the staff to defend the sheep. In fact, 1 Samuel 17:36 tells us he killed a lion and a bear in his role as shepherd.
Yet here he trusts not in his own power or skill, but places himself in the role of sheep. Totally defenseless, and dependent of the care of his keep and preserver. But not just protection in times of trial are alluded to. David acknowledges that his Shepherd provides all good things to those He cares for. Note green pastures and still waters are there.
David then strays (as sheep do) from the metaphor to note anointing and tables prepared even in the midst of enemies. In fact that goodness and love are there for us, no matter what the surrounding circumstances might suggest. And better still, there is a promise for a place for us in the Lord and Shepherd’s house forever.
How encouraging is that?
The Gospels pick up David’s theme when Jesus said,
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father (John 10: 11-18).”
Jesus the Good Shepherd offers all of the comforts of Psalm 23. He was willing to, and did lay down His life for the sheep. And when He had done this, He as in the Psalm, went to prepare a place in the house of the Lord forever,
“My Father’s house has many rooms. If that were not true, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again. Then I will bring you into my presence so that you will be where I am (John 14: 2-3).” Beside still waters, and so much more!
A Hebrew version:
A wonderful English version: