Psalm Twenty-Three: The LORD is My Shepherd
It is not without reason that Psalm Twenty-Three is one of the best known and best loved psalms in the bible. How many saints have taken courage and comfort from these blessed lines, when passing through some dark valley of despair? How many overwhelmed and fearful christians have clung to the promise that God’s goodness and mercy would pursue them and bring them home to the Lord, no matter where they should find themselves in this cruel life? What a tender and comforting image: the almighty God of the universe, come down to be a pitiful Shepherd, to gather up his lambs in his bosom and gently lead those who are with young (Isaiah 40:10-12). When the cup that we should have drunk down was filled with the foaming wrath of God, he gave us instead a cup of mercy and salvation, full to the brim, and spread out a feast for us in the presence of all our enemies. What amazing love!
David, of course, knew well what it was to be a shepherd. How strong was he in defense of his sheep, who braved the raging bear and ravening lion, to pluck his poor lambs out of their jaws (1 Sam. 17:34-36)! How tender and compassionate, to play for them his sweet psalms, and to call them by name, and lead them to green pastures and still waters! He was truly a good shepherd, willing to give up his life for the good of the sheep.
But his shepherding did not end at the pasture; for God called him from the sheepfold, and made him to shepherd his own people instead (Psalm 78:70-72). And what lions did he battle against then, such fierce wolves as Goliath and the Philistines, tens of thousands (1 Sam. 18:7) slain by his mighty sword in defense of his people! What precious psalms did he compose for their comfort, sweet beyond all compare! What a shepherd was this man after God’s own heart!
But where did he learn so to shepherd, and where did he find the strength to press on in that difficult task of caring for so great a people? It was only because he knew this further truth; that even as he was shepherding God’s people, God was shepherding him. The Lord knew him by name, and would provide the guidance and nourishment and comfort and every other thing that he needed.
How like we are to sheep! How frail and foolish and weak, how desperately in need of a good shepherd to care for us! David soon died, and there arose after him false and cruel shepherds, who ravaged the sheep – and how great was their need for another David! And oh, how sweet that promise must have sounded to them, from the pen of Ezekiel, “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one Shepherd, and he will feed them, even my servant David; he will feed them and he will be their shepherd. And I, Yahweh, will be their God, and my servant, David, will be a prince among them. I, Yahweh, have spoken” (Ezek. 34:22-24).
How precious a promise was that! And sweeter yet, beyond all expectation, was its fulfillment, when the greater David came down from heaven to become the Great Shepherd of the sheep (1 Pet. 5:4)! David was a good shepherd indeed, but how much greater was the Son of David, who willingly gave up his life for the sheep, and called them all by name to his fold, and recused them from the mouth of the devil, who had them all in bondage! This is our Shepherd, O sheep of his pasture! He is the Lord of all creation, and yet he put on our frail human flesh to this end alone, that he might fulfill his promise to be our Shepherd, and lead us through every valley of death that we must walk, and bring us at last to his marriage feast, which he is preparing for all who love his name.
What trial are you going through, Christian? It is not so great that it cannot find a perfect answer in that sweetest of all lines, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”. Cling to that promise, and when the dark valley is past, when the Lord himself shall have brought you safely through with his rod and staff to comfort and guide, you will sit down to his feast with an overflowing cup, and dwell in his house for all eternity.