Sheep get a bad rap. They tend to be followers. If one jumped off a bridge, there’s a good chance the others would too. Without the shepherd, the sheep are helpless. Sheep know the sound of their shepherd calling, and they respond because they are dependent on the shepherd to give them guidance and keep them safe. They have a devotion to their shepherd. When the shepherd calls, they respond.
David, the author of much of the Book of Psalms, was a shepherd. He knew the intimate relationship he had with his sheep. He knew they depended on him. In the imagery of Psalm 23, we’re compared with the helpless, dependent animals, and God is our shepherd. In this psalm, we discover what our relationship with God should be like.
The LORD is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He Gives Peace :: Psalm 23:1-2
In Psalm 23 David wrote about the peace that comes from an intimate relationship with God. Life is peaceful and simple. We, the sheep, are able to rest because our every need is being met by our Shepherd. How wonderful would it be to not have a care in the world? Consider this: You’re lying in an open green meadow. The grass feels cool below you, and the sky is bright blue above. Nearby a stream quietly flows. Sounds like an awesome day, right? This is how the Bible describes the peace we find in our relationship with Christ. The Shepherd meets our needs, and we don’t have a care in the world.
He renews my life;
He leads me along the right paths
for His name’s sake.
Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff — they comfort me.
He Provides Direction :: Psalm 23:3-4
At first glimpse, the third and fourth verses don’t seem to blend. Verse 3 describes renewal and a God who gives us direction, while verse 4 addresses life’s dark paths. Regardless of how much David’s situation changed, the One leading him didn’t change at all. God is consistent in His leading.
Why the change in tone? While God promises perfect peace found only in Him, life is still hard. Are we promised lives lived frolicking in the meadow? Of course not. But we are promised that God meets us even in the darkest of all possible places.
The biblical imagery of a rod and staff may not immediately provide you comfort, especially in this age of independence. But notice the purpose: The shepherd uses these tools to provide guidance and protection. The rod and staff remind the sheep of his constant and consistent presence. The sheep are still on the journey.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
as long as I live.
He Bestows Protection :: Psalm 23:5-6
God anointed David’s head as a sign of blessing. Notice that even the enemies were present at the anointment. For David, God’s presence didn’t promise a lack of enemies or hardship, but rather an assurance of blessing, even in the face of adversity.
The same goes for you. This psalm provides promise that your life is under the ultimate protection of God. You are in the eternal grasp of your Creator, and He is watching out for you. No matter what your current circumstances are, God is there to guide you, give you peace of mind, and protect your steps. And one day, you will live forever in “the house of the LORD” (v. 6). Isn’t that a freeing thought? An eternal perspective can make the things that you’re going through not seem quite as important. Take a lesson from the sheep. Follow after the Shepherd and respond when you hear Him call.