1 The Lord is my shepherd.
I lack nothing.
2 He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
he leads me to restful waters;
3 he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
for the sake of his good name.
King David, who had been a shepherd (cf. 1 Samuel 17:34-36), likely wrote Psalm 23. (If the familiar phrases are “worn smooth” for you, you read the poem in one or more other versions here.) The psalm said poetically that God is the Shepherd of our souls who guides us through life’s ups and downs. This beloved psalm never looked at what anyone else had. It rejoiced in the abundance that came from God’s presence with the psalmist—a reality each of us can experience.
Dear God, because you are my shepherd, I have all I need. I am eternally safe in your arms. Help me more fully find the inner peace that comes from that reality. Amen.
This Psalm, likely the most popular Psalm written by
King David, has truly stood the test of time and is a testament to the wisdom
of the one whom God had called to be a king. In contrast to King Saul, who was
picked as King based on his appearance (see this past Monday’s GPS Insights by
Chris Abel), King David was picked because God looks on the inside, not on the
outside. God saw in him a wise shepherd. Before I delve into what it means to
be a shepherd, I want to share a couple different versions of this text.
The first is the version that likely most of us are familiar
with. This version is read often at funerals, in pastoral visits, at our
monthly SilverLink service for those with Alzheimers and Dementia, and
many other times. This is how the New Revised Standard Version (closely related
to the King James Version) reads:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths [or, in paths of righteousness]
for his name’s sake.
If this version resonates with you, take a moment to reread
it. Let the words sink in; take some time to really understand the meaning of
these familiar words and how they speak to you. Think of this from the
perspective of a sheep who relies completely on his or her master to provide
everything they need.
The second version is found in “The Beginner’s Bible,” a
picture Bible I read to my young kids where many of the Biblical stories are
simplified to be more fitting for children. This version reads similarly to the
Common English Bible:
The Lord is my shepherd. He gives me everything I need.
He lets me lie down in fields of grass. He leads me beside quiet waters. He
gives me new strength. He guides me in the right paths for the honor of his
Trying to think from the perspective of a sheep helps
me understand the meaning of this Psalm. A shepherd is in charge of the
safety and wellbeing of his flock. The shepherd is the one who gives
the sheep everything it needs. He guides them to green pastures and fields of
grass, where food can be found (remember in the Lord’s Prayer: “Give
us this day our daily bread”). A shepherd leads his sheep to water where
they may quench their thirst. By doing these things, the
shepherd gives his sheep the strength they need to continue on a long journey.
He takes them on a safe road, on a path where they will be protected from
the enemies in the wilderness.
And finally, the shepherd does all this “for his name’s sake.” Another way to read this is, the shepherd does all this “in the full character of the shepherd.” This is a stark contrast to the time of the Judges, where Israel had completely forgotten the character of God to the point that they didn’t know how to worship Him and kept making idols. Psalm 23 would have been written to offer a sense of the gentle, caring character of God. It would have provided a sense of peace and hope then, just as it does today. It shows that God is not angry, but deeply loves each one of us, going out of His way to provide for us our daily bread.
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