Summary: Following the leading of the ever-present LORD God.
1. THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD
When King David was a boy, he used to look after his father’s sheep - so he knew what he was talking about when he spoke of the LORD as his shepherd. As we all know, a “shepherd” looks after sheep. David led the sheep, but the LORD led David.
Yet one day the LORD called David away from that life of looking after sheep, and after many adventures David became king of Israel (Psalm 78:70-71). Instead of leading sheep, he was to lead God’s people. Now, more than ever, King David needed to follow the leading of the LORD God.
King David could look back on his life as a shepherd boy, and remember the times when God had helped him. One time a lion tried to steal a lamb. Another time a bear tried to steal a lamb. Both times the LORD helped King David rescue the lamb (1 Samuel 17:34-35).
Psalm 23:1. “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not lack anything.”
Another Psalm tells us that there is ‘no good thing that the LORD will withhold’ from the people who walk in His righteous way (Psalm 84:11).
Jesus said that when we seek God’s kingdom, and His righteousness, He will provide for us all that we need (Matthew 6:33).
Psalm 23:2. “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” For a sheep, this means delicious green grass.
“He leads me beside still waters” – rather than scary noisy fast-running water in which the sheep might drown.
Sheep sometimes do silly things. I can remember seeing a sheep that had wandered onto the shore because it saw a nice piece of grass in the shallow water. When the tide started to come in, that silly sheep nearly got drowned.
God does not give us permission to go into silly places.
Psalm 23:3. “He restores my soul.” The shepherd rescues the sheep from dangerous and forbidden places. The LORD restores the life of His people.
“He leads me in the paths of righteousness” – the shepherd knows where the right paths are, and leads the sheep there. The LORD has given us His Word, the Bible, to guide us and to teach us in His ways.
“For His name’s sake.” The shepherd looks after his sheep properly so that people do not think that the shepherd is silly. When we disobey God, we dishonour His name.
Jesus is the good shepherd, who gives His life for the sheep (John 10:11). The shepherd calls His own sheep by name, and He leads them out. Those who hear the voice of Jesus will follow Him, and He leads us beside the still waters, and into the paths of righteousness (Psalm 23:2-3).
Jesus is the Shepherd of Israel (Psalm 80:1): but His flock (His people) includes those out of every nation, throughout all of time, who follow Him.
2. A SHEEP’S RESPONSE TO THE GOOD SHEPHERD
‘All we like sheep have gone astray’ (Isaiah 53:6). Yet when we know Jesus as our Good Shepherd (John 10:14), we have full bragging rights (Psalm 23:1-3). One of the distinguishing marks of the Good Shepherd is His compassion towards an otherwise leaderless people (Mark 6:34).
Having told the other sheep about the Good Shepherd, the sheep now addresses Him in person. “You” are with me; “your” rod, and “your” staff comfort me (Psalm 23:4). “You” prepare a table before me; “you” anoint my head with oil (Psalm 23:5).
Finally, just in case the sheep still has fears in the dark valley (Psalm 23:4), the Psalm ends with the reassurance of a personal reflection (Psalm 23:6). The Lord is our Shepherd (Psalm 23:1), we might say, and His compassions they fail not (Lamentations 3:22-24). ‘Thus far the LORD has helped us’ (1 Samuel 7:12).
In the valley, death is only a shadow (Psalm 23:4). Since I am walking in the paths in which the Good Shepherd is leading me (Psalm 23:2-3), I need not yield to fear, for He is with me; His rod, and His staff they comfort me (Psalm 23:4). Countless times in the Bible we hear the LORD, His angel, and Jesus saying ‘Fear not’ (e.g. Isaiah 41:10; Luke 2:10; John 16:33).
The “comfort” of the rod and staff is that they ward off enemies, but also keep me on the right path (Psalm 23:4). We have the ‘comfort’ of the Holy Ghost (John 14:26). This includes both direction and discipline.
The “table” is a place of feasting (Psalm 23:5). For the sheep, this is a plateau, previously prepared by the good shepherd. Cleared of noxious weeds, it is lush with the best grass.
There are both literal and spiritual applications of this concept for the believer. Just as the LORD provided manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16:31), so He provides our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). Yet in the Bible He also feeds us with His words, and they are a delight to us (Psalm 119:103); ‘the words that I speak,’ says Jesus, ‘they are spirit and they are life’ (John 6:63).