Introduction: Psalm 23 is amongst the most famous Psalms. Most people know at least parts of this psalm from either sermons or funerals. Yet, most hear the words of this psalm without understanding its full meaning. This is partly due to the fact the psalm assumes that the reader understands a shepherd’s pastoral life, when most people have no connection to raising sheep. Many also fail to understand that every word that David wrote in this psalm foreshadowed Jesus. Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” who fulfilled this psalm (Jo. 10:11). Through this psalm, Jesus reveals seven things that He offers as the Good Shepherd to His flock. These include His: (1) love, (2) provision, (3) peace, (3) restoration, (4) protection, (5) joy, and (7) eternal life.
First, as a former shepherd, David loved his flock. David also professed that God was his loving Shepherd. This foreshadowed Jesus. As our Good Shepherd, Jesus died because He loves and seeks to reclaim His flock. Second, as a good shepherd, David once provided for every need of his flock. David also trusted in his Shepherd to provide for all his needs. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, also provides for His flock. Third, as a good shepherd, David also ensured that his flock enjoyed peaceful lives. In the same way, he trusted in his Shepherd to bring him peace. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, also offers His flock peace. Fourth, as a good shepherd, David further ensured that his flock had the opportunity to restore themselves when needed. In a similar way, David trusted his Shepherd to provide restoration for his soul when he needed it. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, also offers His flock spiritual and physical restoration. Fifth, as a good shepherd, David also ensured that his flocks had his protection. In the same way, he trusted his Shepherd to protect him. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, also offers His flock protection. Sixth, David professed that he was anointed with oil and enjoyed an overflowing cup because of his Shepherd. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, also offers members of His flock an abundant life of joy through the Spirit. Finally, because of his Shepherd, David professed faith that he would dwell with Him forever. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, also offers members of His flock eternal life.
David proclaimed that God was his Shepherd. To demonstrate both God’s loving nature and his desire to obey Him, David referred to God with endearment as his Shepherd: “The Lord, the Psalmist’s Shepherd. A Psalm of David. 1The Lord is my shepherd . . .” (Ps. 23:1a). A shepherd’s love for his or her sheep is not an image that is well known to most people in modern times. But the image of God loving His flock the same way a shepherd loves his or her flock is captured through imagery in the Book of Isaiah: “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in the fold of His robe; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.” (Is. 40:11).
The Good Shepherd loved His flock enough to sacrifice His life for His lost sheep. Moses was the first to call God the “Shepherd” of Israel (Gen. 49:24). Jesus later revealed that He is the “Good Shepherd”: “11a I am the good shepherd; . . .” (Jo. 10:11a). The author of Hebrews also calls Him the “great Shepherd”: “Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, that is, Jesus our Lord,” (Heb. 13:20). Peter also called Jesus the “Chief Shepherd”: “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Pet. 5:4). A good shepherd is willing to risk his life to save his sheep. As our Good Shepherd, Jesus loved His flock enough to die to save them: “11b the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (Jo. 10:11b). He died for everyone at the cross so that all who believe can be members of His flock (Jo. 3:16).
“1 The Lord is my shepherd . . .” (Ps. 23:1)1
The Good Shepherd seeks to reclaim all His lost sheep. Without a shepherd, sheep will wander off. Sin also makes us behave like aimless sheep. Our Good Shepherd has come to reclaim His lost sheep: “All of us, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the wrongdoing of us all to fall on Him.” (Is. 53:6). “As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.” (Ezek. 34:12). “But He answered and said, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’” (Matt. 15:24). Like sheep, we must also respond to our Shepherd’s call: “For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” (1 Pet. 2:25). “For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you will hear His voice, (Ps. 95:5). “He again sets a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, ‘Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.”’ (Heb. 4:7). Have you responded to His call?
The Good Shepherd seeks to reclaim His lost sheep2
The Good Shepherd paid a terrible price to purchase His flock. Our Good Shepherd also purchased His flock at the cost of a brutal death at the cross: “For you have been bought for a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23). Thus, Jesus is not like a “hired hand” or false shepherds who care about themselves and will abandon the flock at the first sign of danger: “12 He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.” (Jo. 11:12-13). Unlike a hired hand or a false shepherd, Jesus will never leave nor forsake His flock: “14 I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” (Jo. 10:14-15). Thus, He loves and cares for His flock.
The Good Shepherd was despised and rejected. In the Middle East, many despise shepherds. When the Hebrews lived in Egypt, they had to live in a separate community because their primary profession as shepherds was “loathsome” to the Egyptians: “you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ that you may live in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians.” (Gen. 46:34). Even within Jewish culture, there is evidence that the obligation to tend to the sheep frequently passed to the lowest levels of society. For example, when the prophet Samuel came to Jesse’s house to find the next anointed King of Israel, Jesse sent David as the youngest of the boys to watch over the sheep while his seven older brothers met with Samuel (1 Sam. 16:11; 17:14). Our Good Shepherd was also despised and given a lowly status: “He was despised and abandoned by men, a man of great pain and familiar with sickness; and like one from whom people hide their faces, He was despised, and we had no regard for Him.” (Is. 53:3). Our Good Shepherd was also rejected. The scattering of His disciples at the time of His death even fulfilled a prophecy: ‘“Awake, sword, against My Shepherd, and against the Man, My Associate,’ Declares the LORD of armies. ‘Strike the Shepherd and the sheep will be scattered; and I will turn My hand against the little ones.”’ (Zech. 13:7). “Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, and the flock will be scatterd.”’ (Matt. 26:31). Like the Egyptians, many find the Good Shepherd’s teachings in the Bible to be out of date for life in the modern world. Thus, many people are not interested in joining His flock.
For Jesus to be your Good Shepherd, you must accept that He is also your master. To some, it offends their pride to be called “sheep”. But Jesus wants you to accept that He is your Shepherd the same way that David called Yahweh “my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1a). This means praising Jesus because He is your loving Master: “So we Your people and the sheep of Your pasture will give thanks to You forever; to all generations we will tell of Your praise.” (Ps. 79:13). “Know that the LORD Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” (Ps. 100:3). The famous British preacher Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) once spelled out in stark terms what it means for God to refer to His people as His sheep: “A sheep is an object of property, not a wild animal; its owner sets great store by it, and frequently it is bought with a great price. It is well to know, as certainly as David did, that we belong to the Lord. There is a noble tone of confidence about this sentence. There is no ‘if’ nor ‘but,’ nor even ‘I hope so;’ but he says, ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’ . . . ‘The sweetest word of the whole is that monosyllable, ‘My’ He does not say, ‘The Lord is the shepherd of the world at large, and leadeth forth the multitude as his flock,’ but ‘The Lord is my shepherd;’ if he be a Shepherd to no one else, he is a Shepherd to me; he cares for me, watches over me, and preserves me” (Charles Spurgeon on Ps. 23).3
For Jesus to be your Good Shepherd, you must also submit and obey Him. Many sheep will not willingly submit to their shepherds. Likewise, not everyone who hears Jesus’ calling accepts Him as their Lord and Savior. Many sadly prefer the darkness and sin that are found off the narrow path that He offers His flock: “And this is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the Light; for their deeds were evil.” (Jo. 3:19). If Jesus is to be your Shepherd, you must submit to Him: “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” (Jo. 10:16). “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” (Matt. 7:21). “Now why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk. 6:46).
David professed that he would never be in need because of his Shepherd. Just as he once provided for the needs of his flock as a good shepherd, David claimed that his Shepherd would provide for all his needs as well: “1 . . . I will not be in need.” (Ps. 23:1b). Jesus, our Good Shepherd, also provides for every physical and spiritual need of His flock.
Sheep cannot typically care for themselves. A former shepherd turned pastor named Philip Keller explains that “Sheep do not ‘just take care of themselves’ as some might suppose. They require, more than any other class of livestock, endless attention and meticulous care. It is no accident that God has chosen to call us sheep. The behavior of sheep and human beings is similar . . . Our mass mind (or mob instincts), our fears and timidity, our stubbornness and stupidity, our perverse habits are all parallels of profound importance.” (Philip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 (Zondervan 2007) p. 22).
The Good Shepherd provides for the physical needs of His flock. Because of his faith in God, David proclaimed “I will not be in need.” (Ps. 23:1). While in the wilderness for 40 years, the Jews’ Shepherd provided for all of their needs (Dt. 2:7). Jesus also provides the physical needs of His flock. He directs believers to find their provision by seeking first the Kingdom of God: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided to you.” (Matt. 6:33). “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19). “The LORD will not allow the righteous to hunger, but He will reject the craving of the wicked.” (Prov. 10:3). “Fear the LORD, you His saints; for to those who fear Him there is no lack of anything.” (Ps. 34:9). But there are exceptions to every rule. God may sometimes withhold a blessing or allow the righteous to suffer as part of His greater plan (Ro. 8:28). With true faith, you should simply be thankful for any blessing that you receive as an undeserved gift (Jam. 1:17). Are you giving thanks for His provision in your life?
“1 . . . I will not be in need.” (Ps. 23:1b)4
The Good Shepherd provides light for His flock. When you feel trapped in darkness, the Good Shepherd also provides light to guide you back to Him: “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” (Jo. 1:4). “Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; the one who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”’ (Jo. 8:12). ‘“While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.”’ (Jo. 9:5). ‘“I have come as Light into the world, so that no one who believes in Me will remain in darkness.”’ (Jo. 12:46). When you feel trapped in darkness, turn to Jesus.
Jesus provides for His flock (Is. 40:11)5
The Good Shepherd also provides for His flock with shepherds like David. God also promised to provide shepherds for His people: ‘“Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you knowledge and understanding.”’ (Jer. 3:15). ‘“I will also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing,’ declares the LORD.” (Jer. 23:4). All of the great patriarchs were shepherds before they became leaders. This included Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and also Moses: “Then His people remembered the days of old, of Moses. Where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of His flock? Where is He who put His Holy Spirit in the midst of them,” (Is. 63:11). David’s training as a shepherd gave him all of the skills that he would need to be a great future king. “He also chose David His servant and took him from the sheepfolds;” (Ps. 78:70). “Then I will appoint over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd.” (Ezek. 34:23). David ensured that his flock stayed fed, even when predators were around them: “The young lions do without and suffer hunger; but they who seek the LORD will not lack any good thing.” (Ps. 34:10).
The Good Shepherd also calls upon you to help protect and feed His flock. Being a “pastor” is an appointed gift: “And He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers,” (Eph. 4:11). But the protection of God’s flock is a duty that extends to all believers: “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28). Everyone also has a duty to help feed Jesus’ flock with the knowledge and wisdom that comes from His Word. Jesus’ second to last command to Peter was to: ‘“Shepherd My sheep.”’ (Jo. 21:16). His final command was to ‘“Feed My Sheep.”’ (Jo. 21:17) (NKJ). Do you have a heart for Jesus’ lost sheep? Are you sharing His Word to feed His flock?
The Good Shepherd does not select His shepherds based upon their appearance or merit. You might immediately think of yourself as unqualified to be one of God’s shepherds. But feeling that you don’t deserve to be a shepherd is exactly what makes you qualified. When Moses prophesied the day when Israel would demand a king, he warned that God, as the King of Kings, should select their kings (Dt. 17:17). Moses gave this counsel so that no king would boast that he became king based upon his own looks or abilities. Yet, the people ignored these warnings and selected Saul based upon his height and good looks (1 Sam. 9:2; 10:23-24). The people wanted a king “like all the nations” (1 Sam. 8:5). But Saul was not the shepherd God wanted for His people. With David, God picked a lowly but faithful shepherd, not an idolatrous, self-absorbed leader like the other nations. When God selected him, David was also a very young boy (1 Sam. 16:11; 17:15, 28). By Jewish tradition, he was only 10 years of age. David later showed that he was a man after God’s heart by giving God all the credit for selecting him to be the next king. “Yet, the LORD, the God of Israel, chose me from all the house of my father to be king over Israel forever. For He has chosen Judah to be a leader; and in the house of Judah, my father’s house, and among the sons of my father He took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel.” (1 Chron. 28:4). Like David, Jesus was not esteemed based upon His appearance or his background (Is. 53:1-3; Phil. 2:8). Jesus does not care about your looks or your skills. He is instead looking for humble servants who will faithfully serve Him. Will you help Jesus in returning His lost sheep (Matt. 28:16-20)?
David professed that his Shepherd led him to peace. As a shepherd, David tried to ensure that his flocks enjoyed peaceful lives in green pastures with water. In the same way, he trusted in his Shepherd to offer him peace in his turbulent world: “2 He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.” (Ps. 23:2). “Here the placid waters could wash the wounds and cleanse the soiled spots. Throughout the Old Testament, tempestuous waters speak of distress (cf. Isa. 43:2, 28:2; and 2 Sam. 5:20), but calm waters for washing represent spiritual cleansing (cf. Lev. 11:32; 16:4; 17:15; Num. 19:7; and Exod. 30:18). The point is that the LORD cleanses people from sin and provides spiritual refreshment and renewal from the chaos of life.” (Allen Ross, A Commentary of the Psalms: Volume 1 (1-41), Kregel Academic (2011) p. 562). But this also implied that David could not find peace on his own. He had to trust God to bring him to that place.
“2 He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.” (Ps. 23:2)6
The Good Shepherd leads you to the green pastures and living water. The Good Shepherd brings His flock to the “quiet” or tranquil life-giving “pastures” and “waters” (Ps. 23:2): This symbolizes a perfect future life without struggle: “[F]or the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; . . .” (Rev. 7:17a). “I will feed them in a good pasture, and their grazing place will be on the mountain heights of Israel. There they will lie down in a good grazing place and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.” (Ezek. 34:14). “They will not hunger or thirst, nor will the scorching heat or sun strike them down; for He who has compassion on them will lead them, and He will guide them to springs of water.” (Is. 49:10). “They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house; and You allow them to drink from the river of Your delights.” (Ps. 36:8). “There is a river whose streams make the city of God happy, the holy dwelling places of the Most High.” (Ps. 46:4).
The Good Shepherd also offers you peace during your struggles. A life without struggle is something promised only in heaven. Jesus nevertheless offers peace during your struggles. He offers a peace that is not like the peace that the world offers: “Peace I leave you, My peace I give you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, nor fearful.” (Jo. 14:27). He instead promises something better. He promises the peace that surpasses worldly understanding: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:7). He helps you to find inner peace, even during the worst of trials: “These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (Jo. 16:33). Is your happiness tied to your wealth and status? If so, your peace is only temporary. It will likely disappear in the next crisis. The Good Shepherd places you under His loving protection (Is. 40:11). When you experience turbulence, He can be your peace (Eph. 2:14; Col. 3:15).
The Good Shepherd knows better than you how to find peace. Many assume that sheep can rest on their own. But former shepherd Philip Keller explains that sheep cannot rest until four conditions are met, most of which they cannot provide on their own. First, they must be “free of all fear.” Second, they must be “free from friction with others of their kind.” Third, “[i]f tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down.” Fourth, “[t]hey must be free from hunger.” He points out that “it is only the sheepman himself who can provide release from these anxieties.” “A flock that is restless, discontented, always agitated and disturbed never does well. And the same is true of people.” (Philip Keller pgs. 41-42). Like sheep, you need the Good Shepherd to help you find true peace.
David professed that his Shepherd offered him restoration. As a good shepherd, David ensured that the flock had the opportunity to restore themselves when needed. In a similar way, David trusted his Shepherd to restore his soul when he needed it. “3 He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for the sake of His name.” (Ps. 23:3). Because sheep cannot rest on their own, they also cannot restore themselves on their own. Like us, they need to turn to their shepherd for restoration. Like us, they must also turn to their shepherd and follow him to remain on the right path.
The Good Shepherd restores your soul when you repent and return to Him. David stated that his Shepherd “restores my soul.” (Ps. 23:3). In Hebrew, the words restore “lahazur” (לשחזר) and repent “lahazur tshuva” (לחזור בתשובה) are related. Thus, for the Good Shepherd to “restore” your soul you must “repent” and turn back to Him. “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”’ (Matt. 4:17). “God, You have rejected us . . . You have been angry; restore us!” (Ps. 60:1). “Return, Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your wrongdoing.” (Hos. 14:1). ‘“Yet even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping, and mourning;”’ (Joel 2:12). When you repent and turn back to Him, He will “guide” you on the “paths of righteousness.” (Ps. 23:3).
The Good Shepherd restores your soul through His death and frees you from sorrow. When you repent and accept the Good Shepherd as your Lord and Savior, He also makes you “righteous” and “restores your soul” to be in fellowship with Him: “For if by the offense of the one, death reigned through the one, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” (Ro. 5:17). As part of your restoration, the Good Shepherd will also remove your all your sins (1 Jo. 1:9) and even your tears and sorrows: “for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 7:17; Is. 25:8).
“He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for the sake of His name.” (Ps. 23:3)7
The Good Shepherd offers His Law and Word as paths to restoration and righteousness. What are the Shepherd’s “paths of righteousness” (Ps. 23:3) after you accept Him and seek to live according to His direction? According to David, it comes from obedience to God’s Law. If you follow His standards of morality, it sets you on a path where you break with your sinful desires and delight in what God defines as righteous conduct: “The Law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.” (Ps. 19:7). His Word will also light your path: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105). “LORD, lead me in Your righteousness because of my enemies; make Your way straight before me.” (Ps. 5:8). “And see if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Ps. 139:24). If you turn to His Word and His Law, you will find a path to peaceful living.
The Good Shepherd also offers restoration when you delight in the things of God. If you find delight in the things of God as opposed to money and worldly rewards, God also promises to give you the desires of your heart: “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps. 37:4). Thus, living according to God’s standards of morality is not a burden or sacrifice. It instead restores your happiness.
David professed that his Shepherd offered him protection. As a good shepherd, David ensured that his flocks had his protection. He also trusted his Shepherd to protect him. “4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” (Ps. 23:4). As one commentator explains: “Valleys are dangerous places because enemies can ambush from the high ground above them. The reference to the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ calls up an image of a path through a low place, overshadowed by a high place from which the wicked could waylay travelers. Even in extreme danger the presence of Yahweh drives away fear. The shepherd’s rod and staff were his implements for disciplining, rescuing, and protecting sheep. They could be used to dissuade a sheep from going to a dangerous place or to break the skull of the serpent.” (James M. Hamilton Jr., Evangelical Bible Theology Commentary Psalms (Vol. I: Psalms 1-72) (Lexham Academic 2021) p. 297).
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil,” (Ps. 23:4)8
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, died for His flock9
With faith in the Good Shepherd, you no longer need to fear evil or death. Because we live in a fallen world, evil and death are unavoidable. Yet, because the Good Shepherd died for His flock, you don’t need to fear either: “David recognized that under the shepherd’s leading he may walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It isn’t his destination or dwelling place. Like the Preacher in Ecclesiastes, David might say that all of life is lived under the shadow of death, and it is the conscious presence of the LORD as shepherd that makes it bearable. This line is especially suggestive when we read this Psalm with an eye towards Jesus, the Great Shepherd. We understand that a shadow is not tangible, but is cast by something that is. One can rightly say that we face only shadow of death because Jesus took the full reality of death in our place. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death: This line from the Psalm - and the Psalm as a whole - has proven itself precious to many a dying saint through the ages. They have been comforted, strengthened, and warmed by the thought that the LORD would shepherd them through the valley of the shadow of death. Near death, the saint still calmly walks - he does not need to quicken his pace in alarm or panic. Near death, the saint does not walk in the valley, but through the valley.” (David Guzik on Ps. 23) (italics original).10 These words are found at many funerals to give comfort to those who mourn. But they only comfort the deceased if they are members of the Shepherd’s flock.
The Good Shepherd also offers you His rod of protection. David trusted in his Shepherd’s “rod” and “staff”, for “comfort.” (Ps. 23:4). When you are under attack, Jesus will also protect you if you take refuge in Him. “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.” (Prov. 30:5). “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my savior, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Ps. 18:2). “As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the LORD is refined; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.” (2 Sam. 22:31). When you are under attack, take refuge in Jesus’ Word.
Because He loves His flock, the Good Shepherd also responds when you cry out for help. As our example to follow, the psalms contain many cries for the Shepherd to intervene for the people: “Save Your people and bless Your inheritance; be their shepherd also, and carry them forever.” (Ps. 28:9). “A Psalm of Asaph. Listen, Shepherd of Israel, who leads Joseph like a flock; You who are enthroned above the cherubim, shine forth!” (Ps. 80:1). “Shepherd Your people with Your scepter, the flock of Your possession which lives by itself in the woodland, in the midst of a fruitful field.” (Micah 7:14a). When you are in need, Jesus also wants you to cry out to Him for His deliverance.
Faith allows you to trust in the Good Shepherd for protection. You never need to fear evil people when you are doing Jesus’ will: “A Psalm of David. The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; whom should I dread?” (Ps. 27:1). “The LORD is for me; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Ps. 118:6). “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Ro. 8:31). “Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call; this I know, that God is for me.” (Ps. 56:9). If you are feeling fear when you are serving Jesus, that is not from Him. Pray for Jesus’ protection and rebuke Satan in Jesus’ name.
Jesus offers deliverance from your enemies. When the Jews were faithful and obedient, God promised the Jews victory over their enemies: “7 But you will chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword; 8 five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.” (Lev. 26:7-8; Ex. 23:22; Nu 10:9, 35; Is. 54:17; Gen. 22:17). “The Lord shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways.” (Dt. 28:7). Thus, with His help, you never need to fear your enemies.
Also accept the Good Shepherd’s rod of discipline. Like sheep, we frequently make poor choices. Thus, also like sheep, we must sometimes accept the Shepherd’s discipline: “God, why have You rejected us forever? Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?” (Ps. 74:1). “Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking down the people, and said, ‘Behold, it is I who have sinned, and it is I who have done wrong; but these sheep, what have they done? Please let Your hand be against me and against my father’s house!”’ (2 Sam. 24:17; 1 Chr. 21:17).
God will also use His staff against the false shepherds who prey upon His people. God sent the prophet Ezekiel to warn all leaders who misuse their power and influence to prey upon God’s people: “2 ‘Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not shepherds feed the flock? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the choice animals, but you do not feed the sheep! . . . I will rescue my sheep from their mouth, so that they will no longer be food for them.”’ (Ezek. 34:2-10).
David professed that his Shepherd offered him abundant joy. David also claimed that he was anointed with oil and enjoyed an overflowing cup because of his good Shepherd. “5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Ps. 23:5). The table before his enemies suggested that God delivered David. “The ‘cup’ in the Bible is a symbol of one’s portion or lot in life. It may be bad, such as a ‘cup of his fury’ that would forewarn judgment (Isa. 51:17), or of fire and brimstone (Ps. 11:6). The judgment motif is also present in such uses. The Father gave Jesus such a cup to drink, the crucifixion, from which he prayed to be delivered (Matt. 26:39). But the cup may also be good, as here in Psalm 23 (and in Ps. 16:5; 116:13). In the banquet hall the cup would be filled with choice wine, so David is saying that the LORD has filled his life with good things.” (Ross at p. 568).
“You prepare a table before me” (Ps. 23:5)11
The Good Shepherd offers you the joy of the Holy Spirit. David also proclaimed that God “anointed my head with oil;” (Ps. 23:5). “. . . I have been anointed with fresh oil.” (Ps. 92:10). In the Old Testament, anointing oil symbolized the Holy Spirit (1 Sam. 16:13). The oil of the Holy Spirit brings God’s joy: “Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of joy above Your companions.” (Ps. 45:7b; Heb. 1:9). “To grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness . . .” (Is. 61:3a). “Joy” is further part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit that Jesus offers all His believers: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,” (Gal. 5:22). “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Ro. 14:17). “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Ro. 15:13). The Psalms can help you to find joy by turning your focus away from yourself and back to God where it belongs. When Saul was trying to kill David, David wrote in one of his many psalms that he would always praise God (Ps. 34:1). Moreover, David and other psalmists were joyful in their praises: “I will rejoice and be jubilant in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.” (Ps. 9:2). “But rejoice, all who take refuge in You, sing for joy forever! And may You shelter them, that those who love Your name may rejoice in You.” (Ps. 5:11). “My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to You; and my soul, which You have redeemed.” (Ps. 71:23). “I rejoice at Your word, like one who finds great plunder.” (Ps. 119:162). Thus, if you are lacking joy, turn to Jesus and find joy through the Holy Spirit.
The Good Shepherd offers you an abundant life in Him. David further proclaimed that his “cup overflows.” (Ps. 23:5). The Good Shepherd does not offer a life that is free from moments of tragedy, sorrow, loss, or trials. Nevertheless, Jesus offers you “abundant” life: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came so that they would have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jo. 10:10). “You have crowned the year with Your goodness, and Your paths drip with fatness.” (Ps. 65:11).
The Good Shepherd offers you a path to keep your joy. Jesus came to free all imprisoned by sin (Lk. 4:18). Through the Spirit, you are no longer under any obligation to obey the cravings of the flesh. The Spirit gives you the power to be freed from the wages of sin and death: “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, . . . So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh-- for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Ro. 8:6, 12-13). “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Gal. 6:8). Have you set your mind on the things of the Spirit to stay free from bondage?
David professed that his Shepherd faithfully offered him life “forever”. Because of his Shepherd, David had the faith to know that he would dwell forever with God in heaven. “6 Certainly goodness and faithfulness will follow me all the days of my life, and my dwelling will be in the house of the Lord forever.” (Ps. 23:6). David repeated this desire many times: “Let me dwell in Your tent forever; let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings. Selah” (Ps. 61:4). “One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD and to meditate in His temple.” (Ps. 27:4).
The Good Shepherd will bless you with goodness by making you a new creation. God promised David: “goodness and faithfulness” all the days of his life (Ps. 23:6). As a sign of God’s love, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within you to offer you His “goodness and faithfulness” (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). If you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, He has made you a new creation to enjoy the same “goodness and faithfulness” all the days of your life as well: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor. 5:17; Ro. 6:4). Yet, you must work to make sure that you do not corrupt what that Jesus has created: “and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Eph. 4:24). Are you living as a new creation in Jesus?
Out of love, the Good Shepherd died on the cross so that everyone might find eternal life. David had the faith to know that he could live with God “forever” (Ps. 23:6). Out of love, God sent Jesus to die on the cross to allow all who believe to have eternal life: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,’” (Jo. 11:25-26; 14:19). You cannot earn eternal life through your works. What Jesus offers is a “free” gift: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ro. 6:23). Your faith alone can bring you the blessing of Jesus’ fellowship: “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:9). Yet, merely accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior is not enough to be in fellowship with Him. There are plenty of people who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior but then make no effort to walk with Him. Your faith should be accompanied by a willingness to accept Jesus’ invitation for a deeper relationship: (Rev. 3:20). Are you accepting Jesus’ invitation for His full fellowship?
The Good Shepherd offers you hope when you face death and sorrow. When this psalm is offered at a funeral, you can offer the hope of Jesus to a believer. He promises that the deceased believer is only “asleep” until He returns: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” (1 Thess. 4:13-14). “who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.” (1 Thess. 5:10). “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” (Ro. 14:9). “It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him;” (2 Tim. 2:11). Knowing that your loved one is in a better place that you cannot see is the kind of faith that God expects from you: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1). “while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18). “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?” (Ro. 8:24). “for we walk by faith, not by sight-- we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:7-8). If someone is grieving the loss of a believer, let them grieve. But also encourage them that the believer is merely “asleep” until Jesus returns.