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A Good Shepherd for Needy Sheep

Editors’ note: 

For more on the Psalms, be sure to check out Shane & Shane’s new album, Psalms II. You can find it on Amazon or iTunes. Courtesy of Shane & Shane, we’ve provided audio of their song on Psalm 23 for you to stream.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:1–3)

Much of the Bible will not make sense until we feel the brevity, fragility, and gravity of life. Even after it’s been translated into our language, the warnings and promises will feel nice, but foreign and peripheral to the proud and comfortable—more suited for coffee mugs and calligraphy than for life and death.

King David lived in danger almost every day, facing enemies all around him and even within his own army. He feared for his life, and so he depended on the words of God like we depend on oxygen. In the psalm immediately before Psalm 23 (just a few verses earlier), he writes, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me?” (Ps. 22:1). Everywhere I look people are trying to kill me (Ps. 22:12–13).

And then he paints this beautiful, even serene picture: a shepherd walking sheep beside a calm stream, then leading them to green grass where they eat and sleep. Sheep are soft, unintelligent, defenseless animals. It’s probably not the inspiring metaphor we would reach for with ISIS banging down our door. We want a God with a sword, not a staff.

A Good Shepherd for Weak Sheep 

But David saw everything he needed, even when he was most vulnerable and most afraid, in a good shepherd of defenseless sheep. When today may be my last day and everything I have gives way, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1). Not only will I survive this threat or sickness or loss, but I will have all I need and more. The world looks and thinks I am weak, poor, and helpless, but with God I have real but secret strength—and wealth of a kind the world cannot now grasp, and of an amount they cannot ever count.

The hope of all who look to heaven for help sings, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Ps. 23:6). Beyond everything I can see right now, and lasting forever, is a gift that can satisfy and protect me long after all my enemies are dead and gone. That gift is God himself. He is the goodness better than any good we’ve seen or heard or tasted here (Ps. 16:11), and he is the shelter safer than any government or laws or armies in any nation on earth. The promises of our Shepherd flood every valley in this life with light, and reveal the path to never-ending, never-waning, never-in-danger-again peace and happiness.

Hope in the face of terror and peace in the face of danger say a great deal about the trust we have in God and about the God in whom we trust. God loves to work in ways that reveal his strength and beauty, and so David says, “He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3). God has written opposition and danger into the world, and into our stories, at least in part to tell the world about himself—his holiness, his justice, his love, his power to save.

A Good Shepherd from Bethlehem

Who is this shepherd?

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:9–11)

Jesus, born in Bethlehem and crucified in Jerusalem, is the good shepherd of Psalm 23. He leads us into safe pastures (Ps. 23:2). He walks us besides living waters (Ps. 23:2; John 4:10). He restores the frightened, the broken, and the wounded (Ps. 23:3). He comforts and guides us through the valley (Ps. 23:4). And he gives us the victory over our enemies (Ps. 23:5).

Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:54–55, 57)

A Good Shepherd for All Time

But why does David find hope, comfort, and strength in God the shepherd rather than in God the righteous judge or warrior king? Because the caring, gentle companion of weak and defenseless sheep is also the all-powerful, undefeated veteran of history’s greatest war. The shepherd of Psalm 23 is the conquering hero of the future.

He who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Rev. 7:15–17)

In that day, God will finally defeat and destroy every threat and every fear. He will be a terrifying and overwhelming adversary for all who oppose him and all who abuse his children. And the peace and comfort we’ve tasted only in brief moments in this life will bloom into full and uninterrupted realities for all the redeemed.

Therefore, we—the weak and defenseless sheep—do not want, shall not want, and shall be delivered from every dark valley we meet.

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