You can read Psalms 23 in thirty seconds. David’s masterpiece is only six verses long, yet it contains a treasure trove of spiritual truth. Sadly, we usually only hear it read at funerals or quoted as a crutch in a crisis. Many Scriptures allude to the shepherd/sheep analogy to describe God’s relationship with His people. Prominent shepherds in the Bible include Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jacob’s twelve sons, Laban, Moses, Jethro, and David. Oh, and there’s one more we can’t forget—JESUS! “The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep . . . I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own” (Jn. 10:11, 14, NKJV).
Psalms 23 starts with a name of God, “The LORD is my Shepherd.” Notice LORD is in all caps. In Hebrew, it’s YHWH (yeh-ho-vaw’). In English, we say Jehovah or Yahweh. This is rendered LORD thousands of times in the Old Testament. The Jews believed the name of God was too sacred to be spoken, so they put it in a form that can’t be pronounced. When they wrote it, they removed the vowels like this YHWH (this forms the tetragrammaton or the name of “four letters”). Jehovah or Yahweh means “the self-existent, eternal One.” It implies a personal God who dwells among His people and is ready to intervene for them.
There’s a big difference between a lord and a savior. Most people want a savior to rescue them from hell (fire insurance), but few want a lord to change their lifestyle. A lord is “a person who has authority, control, or power over others, a master, chief, or ruler.” Many people resist yielding control of their will to Christ; they want to be saved and keep doing their own thing. However, if the Lord is truly our Shepherd, then we must yield to His Lordship to stay under the canopy of His blessing and favor.
Here we find another name of God in Hebrew—Jehovah/Yahweh-Rohi—the Lord my Shepherd. By nature, sheep are helpless creatures. They are totally reliant on a shepherd to lead them to clean water, green pastures, and protect them from predators. They don’t have claws or fangs to defend themselves plus they run slowly and clumsily. Sheep are mentioned more frequently in the Bible than any other animal (about 750 times) and provide the perfect analogy of how much we need God. “We are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (Ps. 100:3). Consider seven benefits we as sheep receive from our heavenly Shepherd:
1. Provision—I shall not want (lack). This reveals another name of God—Jehovah-Jireh—the Lord my Provider. He won’t finance all our wants, but He did promise to supply all our needs. “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). He is a God of vision and provision who uses supernatural ways and unexpected sources to meet our needs.
2. Direction—He leads me beside the still waters . . . He leads me in paths of righteousness. Sheep must be led, or they will wander into trouble, fall off a cliff, or eat poisonous plants. Sheep need to drink from still waters. Swift currents are dangerous because, when their fleece absorbs water, sheep become top heavy and can capsize and drown. God gives us clear direction—“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord” (Ps. 37:23). Plus, the Holy Spirit is our personal navigator who guides us into all truth (Jn. 16:13).
3. Restoration—He restores my soul. The Hebrew word translated “restores” here is shub (shoob). It means “to turn back, to retreat, withdraw, refresh, or recover.” The Message renders it, “He lets me catch my breath.” We are not designed to go wide open and full speed all the time. Sometimes, we need to step back, rest, and be refreshed in His presence. “Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). Restoration results from spending time with the Shepherd.
4. Protection—I will fear no evil: for You are with me. This describes a hedge of divine protection. Psalm 5:12 declares, “For You, O Lord, will bless the righteous; with favor You will surround him as with a shield.” A shield is a protective barrier between you and the enemy. Jesus declared, “I am the door” (Jn. 10:9). In Bible times, a sheepfold was often just a simple stone enclosure with an opening for a door. At night, after every sheep was counted, the shepherd laid down in the opening and served as a human gate. No wolf could get in without climbing over him and no sheep could get out unless it climbed over him. Jesus is our Shepherd/Door who keeps us safely in His fold.
5. Correction—Your rod and Your staff they comfort me. The staff was a walking stick with a crook that was used to retrieve wayward lambs. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way” (Is. 53:6). The rod was a club used to fend off predators. If a sheep strayed habitually, the club might be used to break its leg for its own good. Too many dangers lurk outside the safety of the flock. Then the shepherd would carry that sheep and nurse it back to health. A problem in the church and in society is few people accept correction without getting offended. Correction is an unpleasant but vital part of spiritual growth (Heb. 12:5-11). Like surgery, God’s discipline is short-term pain in exchange for long-term gain.
6. Prevention—You anoint my head with oil. Shepherds anointed sheep’s heads with oil for two reasons: 1. to prevent sunstroke (sunscreen) 2. to prevent parasites (pesticide). The oil ran into the crevices around the sheep’s ears, eyes, and nose to repel flies, fleas, and other harmful parasites that could make it sick and even die. The Holy Spirit’s anointing oil keeps us from being scorched by the heat of tribulation and repels negative and demonic influences that try to attack us. No wonder the Psalmist wrote, “I have been anointed with fresh oil” (Ps. 92:10).
7. Abundance—My cup runs over. If we stay close the Shepherd, He will bless us abundantly! “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32). He is El Shaddi—“the all-sufficient one.” He’s not the God of barely enough; He’s the God who is more than enough! “No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11). The Shepherd can turn your shortage into a surplus overnight.
So, take time to re-read the 23rd Psalm and listen to the Shepherd speak to you for Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice” and “He calls his own sheep by name” (Jn. 10:27, 3).