Psalm 23: The Lord is My Shepherd
King David wrote Psalm 23 over 3000 years ago. However, it is still powerful, relevant, and extremely personal in the year 2020. So much so that it’s the chapter in the Bible that millions of people turn to in times of stress, concern, and even despair. It seems fitting that we take some time to break this amazing passage down while we are in the midst of this Covid-19 crisis. My wife, Candy, and I will share our thoughts along the way as we study deeper into this scriptural gold mine.
I’m a California city-boy through and through. I grew up with traffic, some smog, fast drivers, over-inflated home values, and lots of concrete. This is what I know. I do not know much about livestock, crops, fruit, or wildlife as I didn’t see much of that in San Jose. But on one trip to Tulare, CA to visit my Aunty Lou, my mother noticed a calf was being born as we were passing a farm on the way to my great aunt’s house. My mom stopped the car and told all of us kids to get out because we were going to see something amazing. After the calf came out and was still wet, slimy, and still trying to gain its balance my emotional mother said, “Isn’t that beautiful?” I thought to myself, “No it isn’t. It’s actually gross! Can we leave now?” I was so mature.
Because of this background, it was a bit hard for me to understand and grasp the magnificence and beauty of the most famous Psalm in the Bible. What greatly helped me was reading A Shepherd’s Look at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller. He is a former sheep owner who brings this psalm to life like no other.
What we will see from Psalm 23 is a descriptive picture of God and his incredible love for us in how he provides, protects, defends, and disciplines us like a shepherd would his sheep.
Psalm 23 is part of a trilogy of Messianic Psalms. That is psalms that prophecy the coming Messiah. Psalm 22 is described in the past tense as it predicts the traumas Christ will suffer as our Savior. It talks about him being forsaken, despised, mocked, having insults hurled at him, having his hands and feet pierced while his garments were gambled for. It’s amazing how the prophecies in this psalm are fulfilled in real-time during the crucifixion of Christ, recorded in the Gospels.
Psalm 23 – As you take a closer look at all the verbs given, most of them are in the present tense. It is a description of being loved and taken care of in the moment, each day, and even today.
Psalm 24 is written in the future tense and describes the joy of seeing Jesus as a King in all of his glory. This is exactly how Christ will rule and reign in his future kingdom.
The Lord is my shepherd…
David was once a shepherd who took great care of his fathers’ sheep. In fact, David left his sheep to go on an errand for his father to check on his brothers at the battlefront. This is when David saw and then faced his life-altering foe called Goliath. Now, David is a king. He is the ruler of the nation of Israel. But he also recognized that he is still outranked by someone higher than he. David humbly viewed himself as a sheep who has and needs a shepherd over him. The word David used to describe God is called Lord in our English language. But the original language of Hebrew referred to the Lord as Yahweh; which means the self-existent, eternal I AM who I AM God.
Of all the names of God, and there are many in order to describe his nature and character, this particular name is the most personal and holy of all His names. It’s a name that draws us into a deeper relationship with God. It would be like going into the Oval Office, seeing the President of the United States, and referring to him as Mr. President; which would be accurate and appropriate. But imagine him coming around the Resolute Desk and coming up and saying to you, “Please, just call me Donald.” By giving you his personal name he is inviting you into a deeper relationship. This is what David is describing: the LORD… is my shepherd. And he desires a deeper, more personal relationship with us. Hello!
The Lord is my shepherd…
This little phrase indicates a personal relationship with the shepherd. Many people around the world believe God is a distant being who is not interested or involved in our lives. But that is not the God of the Bible. Scripture informs us that God knows when we sleep, knows the number of individual hairs we have, hears our every prayer, has a plan for our life, and even catches every one of our tears in a bottle. Wow! That is personal.
Because of this, I can substitute the word my and replace it with my own name: the Lord is Candy’s shepherd. And so can you, if you have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Several years ago, after being surprised with a scary diagnosis of cancer, it was Psalm 23 that helped me get to sleep that night. It was a psalm I had memorized as a child but that night became precious to me. All throughout this little psalm are personal pronouns that I personalized in the midst of fear and tears. But this gave great comfort to know that I have a personal shepherd who loves me.
The Lord is my shepherd…
All throughout scripture, God refers to his believers and followers as sheep. Before you sigh, “Aww!” let me inform you that this animal choice of God’s is NOT a compliment. It is simply and acutely descriptive of who we are as human beings. Here’s how:
Sheep get easily distracted, are easily frightened, can get stressed quickly, will get lost consistently, and are often stubborn and stupid animals. Doesn’t this sound just like us? So instead of sighing, “Aww” it is better to say, “Ouch!” Because it’s true!
Another interesting fact: dogs can run in packs and horses can run wild in herds to survive, but sheep are the one creature that needs a shepherd for their own good and survival! They are defenseless animals that will die if left alone. David knows. His experience as a shepherd boy told him that we are sheep in need of a shepherd. I love the passage in the gospel of John 10 where Jesus says,
“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.” (John 10:14-15)
All shepherds are not good. Some shepherds don’t love their sheep but are cruel and beat their sheep or starve them due to their laziness or negligence. Jesus, however, is the good Shepherd. In fact, the best shepherd. Ever!
In early March, Barry and I visited our daughter Holly and her husband, Luke, in Colorado. It was when we were given the exciting news that Holly was expecting their first child. We were excited! When we were waiting in the airport to return home, I found myself getting anxious inside for Holly and all that comes with being a new mom. But God soon directed me to my Instagram app and I came across a wonderful passage from Isaiah that reminded me of the love of our Good Shepherd. Here is the verse God sent me:
“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:11
What a tender, loving, and gentle picture of God as our shepherd. It was as if God told me, “Candy, I am Holly’s Shepherd. You don’t have to worry. I will gently lead her and her young one growing inside of her. You don’t have to worry.”
So, the Lord is MY shepherd. He is Candy’s shepherd. Is he your shepherd? If not, surrender your heart to Him and trust in Jesus as your Savior and Good Shepherd today!
Part 2 of this devotional Bible study will pick up where we left off. You can also watch this on YouTube by searching for my Barry Bandara channel. Look for Good Morning GracePoint – Day 18.