A Psalm of David.
1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
3He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4Even 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.
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Entire books have been written about these six short verses of Scripture. The words are filled with depth of understanding and significant meaning for our lives as God’s people. And who better to pen these phrases than the king who spent the first years of his life shepherding his father’s sheep. Before David became King he knew one thing very well and that was how to care for sheep. We don’t know exactly when David wrote these words. Perhaps it was even as young shepherd that he saw the correlations between how he took are of his father’s sheep and how God the Father cares for us. Or maybe he wrote them later in life as he reflected back on what how the life of a shepherd mirrors that of his relationship with God. We’ll have to ask him when we join him in heaven.
When I was a child learning this psalm by memory (because we did that back then) I remember being confused by the very first verse. I didn’t know about semicolons then and so I would string that first verse all together. Why wouldn’t I want the Lord? That was my question every time I heard the Psalm. Fortunately, my father explained it to me one day and I was good to go from then on. The beauty of this psalm lies in its simplicity. The phrases are simple enough for the young child and deep enough for the spiritually mature. In all likelihood, you too are able to recite some or all of it from memory. I would recommend you do so often!
The themes in this psalm are repeated throughout the Old Testament as the imagery plucked at the heartstrings of God’s people who were intimately familiar with raising and tending sheep. The prophet Isaiah follows this theme in several different passages, with Isaiah 40:11 being the most oft quoted.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
Most of us are fairly far removed from caring for something as needy as a sheep, but we all know what the need feels like if we’re willing to be honest with ourselves. The idea of leaving all of our concerns in the hands of God is comforting, just as it is supposed to be.
When my daughter, Bethany, was very small we began singing the old hymn that captures the ideas found in this psalm to her every night before she went to bed. She now sings it to her daughter (and her daughter sings it to her stuffed animals!) Those enduring traditions are what life it about sometimes. I’ve included the words for that hymn and a link to hear it sung in a modern rendition below. No matter how old you are, this hymn says it all, just like Psalm 23.
I Am Jesus' Little Lamb
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 ev'ry day the same
Even calls me by my name
Day by day, at home, away
Jesus is my staff and stay
When I hunger, Jesus feeds me
Into pleasant pastures leads me
When I thirst, he bids me go
Where the quiet waters flow
Who so happy as I am
Even now the Shepherd's lamb
And when my short life is ended
By his angel host attended
He shall fold me to his breast
There within his arms to rest