Psalm 23: My Good Shepherd
Psalm 23 A psalm of David. (1) The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. (2) He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, (3) he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name's sake. (4) Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (5) You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (6) 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.
We all know these words; we have heard these words. Maybe we even have these words memorized. Psalm 23 is familiar, but did you read Psalm 22?
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Psalm 22:1-2
The position of this psalm is worthy of notice. It follows the twenty-second, which is peculiarly the Psalm of the Cross. There are no green pastures, no still waters on the other side of the twenty-second psalm. It is only after we have read, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” that we come to “The LORD is my Shepherd.” We must by experience know the value of blood-shedding, and see the sword awakened against the Shepherd, before we shall be able truly to know the sweetness of the Good Shepherd’s care.Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892
At the beginning of Psalm 22, David cries out in fear of abandonment, but by the end, once again, he remembers God’s faithfulness to him. We also remember that Jesus spoke David’s words from Psalm 22 to the Father as He hung on the cross.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forasken me?" Matthew 27:46
Jesus cried David’s words from Psalm 22.
Psalm 22 is the “Psalm of the Cross,” and Psalm 23 is very clearly the “Psalm of the Good Shepherd.”
We have all seen pictures of Jesus depicted as a Shepherd carrying a lamb or reaching for one that has fallen just over the edge of a cliff. We all have heard of Jesus as the Savior of the lost, the One we run to when we’re afraid, the One who can shield and protect us . . . our Good Shepherd.
And Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross was the ultimate act of a Good Shepherd.
To know Psalm 22 just prior adds to our understand of Psalm 23. Doesn’t it? David crying out in fear of being abandoned, only to then acknowledge the faithfulness of the Good Shepherd. The One who never leaves nor abandons His sheep.
Psalm 23 is probably the most well-known set of verses in the Bible.
Psalm 23 brings words of comfort in the midst of suffering and death. The last words that many have heard in this life. In fear and pain, these are the words that believers say. These are the words that pastors or priests or chaplains have said over the dead or the dying, over disaster sites and battles, in great fear and pain. These are the words that we cry out to our God even when other words fail us. Especially when other words fail us.
What does it mean to call God, the Creator of the universe, a Good Shepherd? And not only the Good Shepherd, but my Good Shepherd?
In ancient civilizations, the shepherd was a lowly job. In fact, there’s a reason it was given to the youngest son, like David. Being a shepherd was long, lonely work. Dirty work. Constant, 24-hour work.
Yet our God, the great God who created the universe, became the Good Shepherd to care for you and for me.
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. Psalm 23:2-3
Translation: God is all that I need. He knows when I need rest and peace, and He gives it to me. He set my feet on the best path for me, and He cares for my soul.
A Good Shepherd.
Does your soul long for those “green pastures” and “quiet waters” sometimes? Right now? Are they elusive? Never here or around long enough for any refreshing to happen?
Don’t go looking for the “green pastures” and “quiet waters.” Stop trying to find your peace in things around you.
My friends, if you can’t find the green pastures and quiet waters, you are looking for the wrong thing. Look for the Good Shepherd, and He will take you there, and He will refresh your soul.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Psalm 23:4 ESV
The “valley of the shadow of death” or some translations say the “valley of deep darkness” or the “darkest valley.” Whatever the words used, the point is the Shepherd will lead His sheep THROUGH the valley. The verse does not say “as I sit and wait for help in the valley” or “as I’m alone and afraid and stuck in the valley of death.”
No, the statement is clear that we will walk through the valley with the Shepherd. Such a beautiful, refreshing, reassuring thought. There is a valley that we will walk through, but when we walk with the Sheperd, He knows the way and will lead us to the other side.
Interestingly, the psalm switches from the Good Shepherd as “He” in third person to “You” in second person. David no longer speaks of the Shepherd to others, but now speaks to the Shepherd Himself.
You are with me; your rod and 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. Psalm 23:4b-6
David cannot help himself but switch to an overwhelming thankfulness for God’s constant faithfulness in his life, and for his people. He felt the Lord’s presence and felt safe there, and he knew the Lord blessed his future and the future of those who love him. That is what this psalm is all about, and what the psalms of David constantly remind us.
God is faithful. When you feel lost and afraid or that He is not listening or present, remember God’s faithfulness. Rest in the promise that He was, is, and always will be faithful.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. Deuteronomy 7:9 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:21-23
Father in heaven, thank you for being faithful. Thank you that when all else fails in the world around us that you keep your promises, and you are faithful to a thousand generations of those who love you. Please lead us through the good times and the bad in our lives. As we walk through dark times in our world right now, thank you for never leaving us. Help us to see you when we cannot find those green pastures and cool streams on our own. You will lead us there. You will calm our hearts and give our souls peace. Thank you for this promise. We love you. Amen.