Psalm 23 is one of the most well beloved and well known scriptures in the whole Bible. It is in this Psalm that we meet Jehovah-Rohi, the Lord my shepherd.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name sake;
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
It was David who wrote Psalm 23. He knew all the ins and outs of the life of both the shepherd and the sheep because it was his profession. Before his encounter with Goliath, King Saul counseled David that he was too young to go out against this giant Philistine but David said to Saul:
"Your servant used to keep his father's sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it." (I Samuel 17:34-35)
As the shepherd was out with his flocks he was completely responsible for their EVERYTHING - good pasture, still water (sheep are afraid of running noisy streams), care, discipline, and protection from every type of danger and wild animal attack. When David speaks of the Lord as his shepherd he is saying that he fully understands and calls upon the Lord to be his EVERYTHING.
If the shepherd is a good one, the sheep are totally safe. Free from worry, they can graze from one tasty nibble to the next. They can rest and sleep without thought of being picked off. If they wander a bit too far from the flock, they can count on the shepherd's staff to reign them back in. He is keeping watch continuously and he knows each of them by name.
Jesus said of himself: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep" (John 10:11) and "I am the good shepherd; and I know my sheep, and am known by my own." (John 10:14)
Why is Psalm 23 and Jesus' words from the gospel of John so comforting, so reassuring?
Because we each have a deep need in our heart to feel safe. Most of us can remember a feeling of safety as small children but as we grew we lost that sense of innocence. Things happened and we gradually realized the precariousness of life. A more cynical or some would say realistic view of life took the place of our naiveté. Is there any way to go back to that place?
The Lord knows what we long for because he created us and understands our nature better than we understand ourselves. Recognizing our deep need, he calls us to see him as the
Good Shepherd, Jehovah-Rohi.
As we trust him more and more, Psalm 23 becomes the realistic view of life and our pasture lands are rich and safe indeed.
To read a related article that will further develop your relationship with the Good Shepherd, see The Place of Safekeeping