I have been giving thought to the best known of all the Psalms: Psalm 23 — The Lord is my Shepherd. Not only have I been thinking about it, but I have been bombarded with devotionals* on it and even a friend talking about shepherds!
I did not know there were shepherds in existence today! In speaking of Psalm 23 to a friend, I said, “There are no shepherds around any more.” She told me there are shepherds today — she has seen them in her native Ireland. So I googled shepherds. They are in the U.S. as well. They are mainly in Colorado where a shepherd is usually a migrant who works a solitary life among the sheep. It is a lowly and lonely existence, but it is an important job to keep the sheep away from harm. Sheep are incapable of doing anything for themselves. They are totally reliant upon the shepherd. The pay is $750 per month.
David was very much aware of what a shepherd had to do. He had insight into choosing that metaphor to describe God and what God does for us–the way that David cared for his sheep reminded him of the way God cares for us. David alludes to his words coming from the Lord (Psalm 18 and 22). Then in the New Testament, Jesus refers to himself as “the good shepherd” in John 10:11-18.
Sheep are sweet, cute, fuzzy animals. But Liz Curtis Higgs says, when David wrote Psalm 100:3, and referred to us being “the sheep of His pasture,” David wasn’t thinking about cuteness. David was referring to our neediness. They will eat the grass right down to the roots, so they have to be moved from pasture to pasture to allow the grass to grow again. Liz relates that quality to us as consumers. Too many of us buy and buy beyond our ability to pay. If we only allowed God to guide us in all things, we would avoid pitfalls.
David begins Psalm 23 with writing in essence: “The Lord is my shepherd, and I am his sheep.” He is admitting that he is helpless without God’s guidance. Then he goes on to say:
He makes me to lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
When I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil, for you, God, are with me!!!
Your rod and your staff they comfort me! — Obviously, the rod is not for punishment, but for direction. A shepherd uses a rod to guide the sheep, not to hit them.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup is full and running over.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
No wonder this is the most famous of the Psalms. What a beautiful picture of God’s care for us. We all have trials, troubles, tribulations, turmoil, testing. God is always there as our shepherd to guide us through the paths of life.