GEMS FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT
(Read Psalm 23)
Before David was the king of Israel, he was a shepherd who tended the flocks of his father Jesse, and as such, he clearly understood the importance of leading sheep to green pastures and quiet waters, keeping them on the right paths, protecting them from enemies, and bringing them safely home.
Yet, as meaningful as these activities were to David as a shepherd, they were even more meaningful to David as one of the sheep—a man who had been shepherded by the Lord through every step and stage of his life: youth and age, health and sickness, peaks and valleys.
However, Psalm 23 isn’t just about David’s life; it is also about the way in which the Lord shepherds us through life. David wrote the words, but we too can claim the promises: “My shepherd.” “I shall not want.” “He leads me.” “He restores my soul.” “Though I walk through the valley, I will near no evil.” “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
And it’s this personal nature of Psalm 23 that leads us to cherish it so. A personal psalm. A personalized message. And most of all, a Savior Who personally shepherds us through life. Indeed, of all the images of Jesus in Christian art, what image is more endearing than that of the Good Shepherd with a lost sheep in His arms, close to His heart? Centuries before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah wrote of Him, “He tends His flock like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart.” (Isaiah 40:11 NIV84)
The beautiful images in Psalm 23 reflect many of the blessings that are ours in Jesus Christ: rest, restoration, safety, endurance, salvation, and eternal life. Yet, the first verse of the psalm is the most important verse, because every other verse and blessing in this psalm flow from its promise. Only when the Lord is our shepherd can we truly say “I shall not want.” Only when the Lord leads the way are goodness and mercy certain to follow. Everything depends on having the right shepherd, and that right shepherd is Jesus Christ.
Scripture contains many names for God. Each name describes some aspect of His divine nature. The name for God in Psalm 23 is YAVEH in Hebrew—or as it came to be pronounced, Jehovah. YAVEH is related to a verb that means “I AM.” This is the one name of God that, perhaps more than any other, describes the lasting nature of His love, grace, mercy, and promises. He is the only Shepherd Who will never forsake us. He is the only Shepherd Who will always lead us to green pastures and quiet waters, through peaks and valleys, until we dwell at last in the house of the Lord forever. We have His Word on it: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5 NIV84)
I can think of no better summary of Psalm 23 than the precious hymn verse many of us learned as children:
I am Jesus’ little lamb, Ever glad at heart I am;
For my Shepherd gently guides me,
Knows my need and well provides me,
Loves me every day the same, Even calls me by my name. (TLH 648:1)
Though we teach these words to children, never think of them as childish. To say “I am Jesus’ little lamb” is the essence of childlike faith.
Mark Weis is professor and Dean of Students at Immanuel Lutheran College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.