This is probably the most famous psalm in the book. Probably because of the intimacy it displays between God and us. In other psalms, we see God as king. As judge. As avenger. As warrior. But in this passage, we seem him as a shepherd.
It has been pointed out that being called sheep is not exactly a compliment. Sheep are among the stupidest animals in the world. They are completely lost without their shepherd.
And that’s what we are. We’d like to think of ourselves as smart and better than others. That we don’t need God. But without God, our lives will go to pieces. We are hopelessly lost without him.
David starts by saying, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Not just “our shepherd.” But, “my shepherd.” In other words, though we may be one of many sheep, God cares intimately for us. And as in the story of the lost sheep, when one of us strays from him, he cares enough to pursue us and rescue us. (Luke 15:3-7)
And because he cares for us, David says we shall lack nothing we need. Jesus reiterates this saying that if our Father takes care of the birds of the air and clothes the flowers of the field, how much more will he take care of us? (Matthew 6:25-30)
Not only that, he gives us peace and rest. Sheep will not lie down unless if they are anxious or afraid. But a good shepherd soothes their fears and anxieties, and allows them to lie down in peace.
And when we’re tired and exhausted, when we’re feeling burdened by life’s problems, David writes that he restores our soul. He gives us what we need not to just make it through the day, but to be totally refreshed as we face the new day and its challenges.
As our shepherd, he also leads us. He shows us the right path to walk upon, a path that leads us where we need to go in life. This is not to say that the path will always be pleasant. The interesting thing here is that David says that the path sometimes leads us right into the valley of the shadow of death. Through times when things seem dark. Through times when there seems to be no hope.
But David says, “Even though I go through these dark places, even as I face death itself, I will not fear.”
“Because you are with me.”
“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me (4).”
Shepherds often used their rods to protect the sheep from predators that would attack them, and he would use the staff to guide the sheep. And so even as David went through the dark times (and he had many), he says, “I see your protection and your guidance even then.”
And though God may not take all adversity from us, David says that even so, he provides all we need and more. He sings in verse 5,
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Because of all these things, David sings with confidence and joy,
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (6)
How about you? Have you made God your shepherd? Only in him, will you find the peace, joy, and contentment that we all seek.