Only seconds after being thrown from a bicycle and landing in a deep ditch, I realized I was unable to move and paralyzed from my shoulders down. All kinds of doubts and threats invaded my consciousness. Along with this uncertainty came a calming assurance. I remember thinking, “God is my strength and refuge, an ever present help in time of trouble.” In the months that followed, and through more difficulties as I recovered, I had many opportunities to recall portions of Scripture I had once memorized. Many of these were Psalms, especially Psalm 23.
I have learned from personal experience why Psalm 23 has become precious to so many Christians throughout the ages. It has also become a very close personal friend; I recite it, ponder it and meditate on it most mornings and evenings. God always encourages me and reminds me of his care for me as I contemplate him through its words. So the next few posts will have to do with this Psalm.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1, ESV)
- The Lord – when you see the word Lord printed in all capital letters as it is here, it signifies the name of God – Jehovah or also Yahweh.
The Jews of the Old Testament revered the name of the Lord so highly that they substituted some lesser word for God whenever his name appeared in the public reading of Scripture. Only once a year and on the Day of Atonement by the High Priest in the Most Holy Place was the divine name spoken. The name of the Lord, Yahweh (or Jehovah), means the living One or the self-existent One – the great I AM. He is the independent One, who depends on no one or no thing and upon whom all else depends. He is the one who created all things and who sustains all things. He is the one who is absolutely sovereign and “does whatever he pleases.” He has all power and authority; he is the sovereign Lord of all!
- Shepherd – when this word is used in the Bible it may refer to literal shepherds, those who care for sheep or it may be used figuratively referring to those who care for people.
A shepherd in ancient Israel was one who cared for or watched over sheep. His responsibilities would include leading his sheep to pasture and water, protecting them from danger and retrieving them when they strayed from the flock. The shepherd developed a very close relationship with his sheep, often calling them by name and knowing them quite well. The sheep also responded to the Shepherd by hearing and obeying him. Thus, it is not surprising to learn that the term Shepherd came to denote the leaders of people. The Old Testament refers to the Lord as the shepherd of Israel. In the New Testament shepherds announced the birth of our Lord Jesus.
Jesus used the term Shepherd to describe himself and his relationship to his people, especially his atonement. For instance, in John 10.11, 14: I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me… He goes on to speak of giving his life for his own sheep. Peter mentions him as the Chief Shepherd. While Hebrews 13 speaks of him as the Great Shepherd. The book of Revelation sees him as the Lamb and Shepherd.
- My shepherd – the emphasis here is on the personal relationship of the shepherd to the sheep. Although the Lord has many sheep and there are a great many passages which refer to his flock corporately, this word is a singular personal pronoun – it encourages individuals who are Christ’s sheep – it speaks to me (and to you) personally.
So when I read or think of Psalm 23.1 “The Lord is my shepherd…” I am reminded that the Lord Jesus Christ is my Shepherd, who laid down his life for me, making atonement for my sin (and redeeming all of his people). I am reminded that Jesus, who gave his life for me and who promises to never leave me or forsake me, will also attend to all of my needs. I am reminded that he is Almighty as well as being compassionate. As a shepherd cares for his own sheep, the Lord Jesus will attend to each and every need that I have.
I once heard of a man who was asked to recite his favorite verse of Scripture. His response: “The Lord is my Shepherd – that’s all I want.” Although the restitution is inaccurate, his testimony rings true. I concur. When I recognize that is from me the Lord is my Shepherd I don’t need anything else!