'The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside the quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.' (Psalm 23, NIV)
'"Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all his own, he goes ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice."' (John 10:1-4, NIV)
'"I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me---just as the Father knows me and I know the Father---and I lay down my life for the sheep."' (John 10:14-15, NIV)
'"There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God."' (Luke 13:28-29, NIV)
'Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but who ever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life."' (John 4:13-14, NIV)
Perhaps the most recited, beloved and well-known passage of Old Testament Scripture is found in King David's Twenty-third Psalm. The inspirational words of Psalm 23 have been used in posters, calendars, and song lyrics, as well as in church bulletins and memorial services. The passage is filled with symbolism, meaning, and imagery in a profound word picture that describes a trusting relationship of faith in God in a very powerful way. And while I recognize there may be a multitude of reasons folks keep coming back to this particular Psalm, it remains one of my favorite Bible passages because it is a beautiful word picture of God, painted by an admirer who was known as a man after God's own heart: A shepherd king named David.
God appears as first priority in the Psalm and is referred to by two names: LORD---which in all capital letters is the Hebrew reference for Almighty God---a designation of power and authority, and shepherd, one who tends and leads a flock of sheep. And while it is difficult to imagine (from a human perspective) what it must be like to be the all-powerful Creator God of the universe, God's designation as shepherd gives us a simpler understanding of our relationship to God. We are sheep and God is our shepherd. This link about sheep (written by a University of Maryland sheep and goat specialist) details the nature of sheep and the amount of care required to raise them properly (http://www.sheep101.info/index.html.)
In the designation of God as a shepherd, there are important aspects, which might be easily overlooked by anyone unfamiliar with the job of shepherding. First, a shepherd is a leader. A shepherd leads and the sheep follow; however, sheep tend to stray off course and from the safety of the flock, and the shepherd has to manage both the flock and each individual sheep. A shepherd is also a protector, who must be alert to dangers along the path and fend off predators endangering the flock. In leading the sheep to pasture, the shepherd is a provider, offering grazing and watering areas for the sheep to survive upon. Once the flock has been fed and watered, the shepherd is responsible as an inspector, checking for injuries and monitoring for illness and disease. Finally, the shepherd, not being a sheep, must gain trust among the sheep as a manager, so that the sheep will follow directions and accept offered help. So in the simple imagery of a shepherd, King David describes God as a leader, protector, provider, inspector, and manager. Then David declares, "I lack nothing," inferring that God is not only a good shepherd, but faithful one as well.
Throughout the rest of the psalm, David describes what God actively does in his life. God leads him, provides for his needs, offers rest, and shows him the right paths to walk. Even in times of trouble, David credits God for protecting him from death and leading him out of harm's way in the imagery of the staff and the rod. David finds comfort in God's strength. In fact, even in the midst of his enemies, David credits God with providing him security and provision and blessings in abundance, in the picture of the prepared table, being anointed with oil, and having a cup that overflows. Notice that David attributes nothing to himself; no deeds, no talents, nothing earned, nothing gained. David acknowledges that God does all these good and loving things for him because of the nature of who God is and for the sake of the name of God, which is deserving of credit and adoration. It is as if David announces in his word picture, "I Psalm-ly swear, this is what God looks like! Come see for yourself!"
Every time I read Psalm 23, I see the word picture of God---the Good Shepherd---the image of God I can truly see! The image that describes my relationship to God and the Son He sent as a good shepherd to save the flock. Jesus gave His life to protect all of us from the destructive paths and predators of this world. And He did it in the name of His Father, who gave us the gift of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Jesus rose again in resurrection, in victory over death, so we would fear no evil, and lack nothing. Will you place your trust and faith in the Good Shepherd?
Get the picture?
(copyright 2012, Gregory Allen Doyle)