Summary: The Lord is our Shepherd who provides for us and protects us.
Psalm 23:1-6 “Cared For”
Flocks of sheep were abundant in the countryside of Israel; they were an everyday encounter. People had seen sheep in action and they knew that sheep were somewhat helpless against predators and a little on the stubborn side. People were also well aware of what made the difference between a good shepherd and a bad shepherd. For this reason, many of the Bible’s analogies and several of Jesus’ parables involve sheep and shepherds.
Unfortunately shepherds and flocks are items that are not a part of our daily lives. We are removed from the reference point of the Biblical analogies and Jesus’ parables. Consequently, their meaning and message often elude us.
FOCUS ON THE SHEPHERD
The focus of this Psalm is the shepherd and not the sheep. It is about God and not necessarily about you and me. In Old Testament times, the king was frequently referred to as “The Shepherd.” The image was to reflect the king’s benevolent rule and his love for the people. This may not be a useful image for us given the current political atmosphere and the feeling that politicians are determined to serve themselves rather than the people.
A more useful image for us might be the role of a mentor. A mentor is someone who takes us under his or her wing. The mentor guides and instructs. He or she seeks to help the protégé to develop gifts and talents and to be successful in his or her job. The mentor sees the potential of the protégé, accepts the protégé for where he or she is at, but is not satisfied until the person is all that he or she can be.
This is the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Like a mentor, the Spirit guides us, instructs us and grants us knowledge, understanding and wisdom. The Spirit whispers to our hearts and reminds us of God’s love. She floods us with the peace that passes all understanding in the middle of life’s storms. The Holy Spirit strengthens our faith, deepens our commitment and expands our love so that we see all people as God’s children. We are changed—never the same—by the power of the Holy Spirit who is our Shepherd and mentor.
The Psalmist writes that God has enabled him to lie down in green pastures and has led him beside still waters. There is a sense of abundant provision. Green pastures and water were in short supply in Israel. Yet, the shepherd led the Psalmist to them.
Christians frequently pray the Lord’s Prayer which contains the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We live our lives from the perspective that God provides us with food, clothing, shelter, family and everything we need from day to day. God provides for us and does so abundantly. Still, there are few among us who have not complained to God that God has not given us enough and we need more.
It is interesting that in the great land of abundance and opportunity that we constantly complain that we do not have enough. We look at our checkbook balances at the end of the month and declare that we don’t have enough. We drive our five year old cars and complain that we don’t have that new car aroma any longer. Perhaps we are paying too much attention to all of the advertising that tries to convince us that we need more. Instead we might want to seek the contentment that comes from resting in God’s embrace and giving thanks for the abundant blessings that we have received.
Shepherds protect their sheep. The Psalmist is thankful for the shepherd’s rod that comforts him and reminds him that God is watching over the Psalmist. The fact that the Shepherd has walked through the valley of the shadow of death and no misfortune has come upon the Psalmist.
We gather to acknowledge that God has traveled with us through some pretty bad stuff. We have lost love ones, faced failure, been the targets of rumors, innuendos and gossip, lost hope and been abandoned and betrayed. Through it all God has been by our sides. Nothing has been able to separate us from God’s love, and nothing ever will. We all have scars, but we have also experienced healing, wholeness and life.
We celebrate not only the fact that like a good shepherd God comes to our rescue in our times of need, but also that God is constantly present in our lives. God is at work changing us, providing for us and protecting us. For this we give God thanks and praise.