Summary: Psalm 23 is probably the best known passage in all the Bible.
Psalm 23 is undoubtedly one of the best-known passages in all the Bible. Most of us learned it as children and it continues to be a comfort to those who are dying, or those who have lost loved ones. Maybe it’s so well-loved because it is so personal and individual. When we read it, we don’t think of David shepherding his sheep 3,000 years ago. It applies to us. "The Lord is my shepherd".
Unfortunately, we live in a society where tending sheep is not your ordinary occupation. In fact, I dare say that none of you even know a shepherd, much less are familiar with what a shepherd’s life is really like. And so I think we have a tendency to lose a little bit of the meaning that David intended when he wrote these words.
This morning, some of what I will be sharing with you concerning the life of a shepherd has come from a book by Philip Keller. Philip grew up and lived in East Africa where he was surrounded by sheep herders similar to those in the Middle East. As a young man he spent eight years of his own life as a sheep owner and sheep rancher. So the insights that he is able to bring into the subject will, I think, help us to understand what David probably felt as he wrote these words, "The Lord is my shepherd."
1. The Lord is My Shepherd, I Shall Not Want
As you know, David was himself a shepherd. He was known as the "Shepherd King" of Israel. But he saw Jehovah, the Lord God of Israel, as his shepherd. He speaks in this psalm as if he was one of the flock, one of the sheep. And it is as though he literally boasted aloud, "Look who my shepherd is -- my owner -- my manager! The Lord is!"
Because after all, he knew from firsthand experience that the lot of any particular sheep depends on the type of man who owns it. Under one man, sheep might struggle, starve and suffer endless hardships. But under another shepherd, they might flourish and thrive contentedly. As it is with pride that he says, “The Lord is my shepherd.” He chose us, he bought us, he calls us by name, he makes us his own and he delights in taking care of us.
That last aspect is really what this psalm is all about. How the Lord takes care of us. So David continues by saying, "I shall not want." The idea here is that the Lord supplies our every need. The NIV says, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not lack anything."
In his book, I Shall Not Want, Robert Ketchum tells about a Sunday school teacher who asked her group of children if any of them could quote the entire twenty-third psalm. A little four-and-a-half-year-old girl was among those who raised their hands. A bit skeptical, the teacher asked if she could really quote the entire psalm. The little girl came to the podium, faced the class, made a little bow, and said: "The Lord is my shepherd, that’s all I want." She then bowed again and sat down. She may have overlooked a few verses, but I think that little girl captured David’s heart in Psalm 23. The idea throughout the psalm is that we are utterly contented in the shepherd’s care and there is nothing else that we desire.
Notice that our Lord supplies our every need, not our every want. As Paul told the Philippians, "And my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus..." (Philippians 4:19). The same one who sustained the children of Israel, the one who fed Elijah by the brook, the one who provided the needs of the disciples sent out without staff or shoes, has promised to provide our needs both physical and spiritual.
Let me tell you what a good shepherd is like. He loves his sheep. For him there is no greater reward, no deeper satisfaction, than that of seeing his sheep contented, well fed, safe and flourishing in his care. That’s what his life is all about, and he gives everything he has to it.
He goes to a great deal of trouble to provide them with the finest grazing, ample winter feed and clean water. He provides shelter from the storms, protection from the enemies and the diseases and parasites to which sheep are susceptible.
From early dawn till late at night the good shepherd is alert to the welfare of his flock. He gets up early in the morning and goes out first thing to look over his flock. He examines the sheep to see if they are fit and content and able to be on their feet. He can tell if they have been molested during the night, whether they are ill or require some special attention.