The Shepherd’s PsalmPsalm 23Theme: Our Provider.This week’s lessons remind us that Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd. LessonThe Twenty-third Psalm is possibly the best-loved chapter in the entire Bible. Millions of people have memorized this Psalm. The Psalm is a masterpiece throughout, but it can stand almost on this single line: “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. 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 worshiped 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 attributes. He was like this yesterday; he will be like this tomorrow. He is the great “I Am.”
On the other side of this amazing combination of ideas is the word shepherd. In Israel 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. 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 Jesus also applied this metaphor 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.
In Luke 15 Jesus defended mingling with tax collectors and “sinners,” by saying, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:4-7).
Even more remarkable is Jesus’ teaching about himself as a shepherd in John 10. “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The watchman 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 out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice…. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it…. 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. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:2-4, 11-12, 14-16).
We are part of that “one flock,” composed of believing Jews and Gentiles. So we are not stretching the Twenty-third Psalm to see Jesus as our shepherd and to apply the lines of the Psalm carefully and in detail to ourselves.
The second half of the first line of this Psalm says, “I shall not be in want.” This statement goes with the first half. Left to themselves, sheep lack everything. They are the most helpless animals. But if we belong to the One who is self-sufficient, inexhaustible, and utterly unchanged by time, we will lack nothing since he is sufficient for all things and will provide for us.
Further StudyFrom Luke 15:4-7 and John 10:2-4, 11-12, 14-16, make a list of all the ways Jesus shepherds his people.