Theme: “The LORD Is My Shepherd”
In this week’s lessons we see how Jesus, as our shepherd, gives us everything we need in this world as well as in the world to come.
Scripture: Psalm 23:1-6
The twenty-third psalm is the most beloved of the 150 psalms in the psalter, and possibly the best loved (and best known) chapter in the entire Bible. The great Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon called it “the pearl of psalms.”1 J. J. Stewart Perowne, the nineteenth century preacher and commentator, observed that “there is no psalm in which the absence of all doubt, misgiving, fear and anxiety is so remarkable.”2 Alexander Maclaren said that “the world could spare many a large book better than this sunny little psalm. It has dried many tears and supplied the mold into which many hearts have poured their peaceful faith.”3
Millions of people have memorized this psalm, even those who have learned few other Scripture portions. Ministers have used it to comfort people who have been going through severe personal trials, suffering illness or dying. For some the words of this psalm have been the last they have uttered in life.
The psalm is a masterpiece throughout. But if ever a psalm could stand almost on a single line, it is this one, and the line it can stand on is the first. In fact, it can stand on only part of a line, the part which says: “The Lord is my shepherd.”
What an amazing juxtaposition of ideas! The word “LORD” is the English translation of the great Old Testament personal name for God, first disclosed to Moses at the burning bush, as told in Exodus 3, and then repeated more than 4,000 times in the pages of the Old Testament. The name literally means “I am who I am.” It is an inexhaustible name, like its bearer. But chiefly it refers to God’s timelessness, on the one hand, and to his self-sufficiency, on the other. Self-sufficiency means that God needs nothing. He needs no wisdom from anyone else; he has all wisdom in himself. He needs no power; he is all-powerful. He does not need to be worshipped or helped or served. Nor is he accountable to anyone. He answers only to himself.
Timelessness means that God is always the same in these eternal traits or attributes. He was like this yesterday; he will be like this tomorrow. He will be unchanged and unchangeable forever. He is the great “I am.”
On the other side of this amazing combination of ideas is the word “shepherd.” In Israel, as in other ancient societies, a shepherd’s work was considered the lowest of all works. If a family needed a shepherd, it was always the youngest son, like David, who got this unpleasant assignment. Shepherds had to live with the sheep twenty-four hours a day, and the task of caring for them was unending. Day and night, summer and winter, in fair weather and foul they labored to nourish, guide and protect the sheep. Who in his right mind would choose to be a shepherd? Yet Jehovah has chosen to be our shepherd, David says. The great God of the universe has stooped to take just such care of you and me.
This is an Old Testament statement, of course. But Christians can hardly forget that the metaphor was also taken up by Jesus and applied to himself, thus identifying himself with Jehovah, on the one hand, and assuming the task of being the shepherd of his people, on the other.
What does the name “LORD” mean? Why is this significant?
What does the study teach us about Middle Eastern shepherds? Why does God liken himself to them?
Reflection: How has Psalm 23 been a blessing to you or to someone you know?
1C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1 a, Psalms 1-26 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 353.2J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 248. Original edition 1878-1879.3Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 1, Psalms 1-38 (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1893), p. 226.