Shepherding is the heart of ministry. It is our response to the charge of every sermon, the truth of every verse of Scripture, and the labor of every prayer. Whether we are shepherding others or are being shepherded ourselves, we all are among the flock of the Chief Shepherd, and as He leads, we follow. 

Psalm 23, so familiar to believers and non-believers alike, teaches us how to live, where to place our trust, what to hope in, and ultimately, in whom we find our comfort and rest. Yet, there can be a danger to these familiar biblical passages. Do you find that when a verse or chapter becomes so well-known you can cease to meditate on the rich theology of the text and thus allow its brilliance to become dim in your heart? Let that not be true of us! When we delight ourselves in the Word of God, even the much-loved passages we know so well can reveal great and glorious truths in fresh ways.

In Psalm 23, David employs the imagery of sheep and a shepherd, describing the compassionate care the people of God enjoy. Many biblical references to everyday life in the Middle East are beyond our personal experience. You may think shepherds fall into the category of antiquity as well, but the role still remains. On a recent trip to Israel, as our tour bus made its way through a rocky and deserted landscape, we were suddenly forced to stop as a flock of sheep carefully picked its way across the highway in search of better grazing…and they were guided by shepherds! As I watched this procession, I was struck by the shepherds themselves. Yes, their equipment had changed; sandals and cloaks had given way to Nikes and blue jeans, but their purpose remained. They were doing what shepherds do. They were guiding, protecting, and providing for their flock of trusting sheep. 

With that in mind, let us consider just the opening statement of Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In just one sentence, God tells us all we need to know about the blessing and profound contentment we can experience when we follow Him. 

The Lord is my shepherd… 

Every word of this opening stanza is worthy of careful consideration. David gets right to the point as he first evokes the covenantal name of God. Yahweh is the shepherd. Our comfort comes to us because our shepherd is none other than God Himself. Before this is a psalm about us and our needs, it is about the loving-kindness of the Lord. Recognizing that reality helps bring the message into proper focus.

The personal name of God that David uses comes from the Lord's self-revelation in Exodus 3, where God reveals who He is to Moses. David's contentment is due to the simple fact that his comforter is known to him; it is the Lord, His God. Whatever else may be true, however many dangers and snares may be lurking, it is the Lord Who is the great shepherd of His sheep.  

Take note also that there is confidence in David's words as he boldly declares, the Lord is my shepherd. This is unquestionably true. No doubts in his mind! The psalmist is not merely hoping God will care for and guide him; he boldly proclaims it as truth. This is Who God is: a shepherd. David knows it, is comforted by it, and declares it. 

Consider that the God of the universe desires that we know Him and have a familial and familiar relationship with Him. It is He Who initiates this close bond and urges us to maintain an intimate relationship with Him. Charles Spurgeon once said of the word my that it is the sweetest monosyllable in the entire Bible. The Lord is my shepherd. It is not that the Lord is merely a shepherd. No! He is my shepherd! This possessive word speaks of the personal, reciprocal relationship between the Creator and the created. David affirms the Lord is his own shepherd, personal provider, intimate guide, and imminent helper.   

Although many unbelievers may be quite familiar with these particular words of Scripture, the promises contained in Psalm 23 are not universal. They are preserved for those who have believed and put their faith in Him. The New Testament affirms this too, as Jesus declares in John 10:26-29: 

But you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.

David knows he is protected as a child of the Lord as he confidently states, "The Lord is my shepherd." Although this is not the first time the Bible speaks of God in this way (Genesis 48:15-16 records that Jacob describes God as a shepherd as he blesses his grandsons), it is worth remembering that this stanza is written by someone who had lived that life. Remember, David spent his early years as a shepherd, so perhaps no one could better understand how meaningful it is to know the God of the universe in this way. God had literally prepared him to write the 23rd Psalm from first-hand knowledge. What does it mean to know God as your shepherd? It means:  

 He rules; we obey 

He guides; we follow 

He feeds; we flourish 

He protects; we trust 

…I shall not want 

What a confession! But, we must rightly understand this statement to grasp what the psalmist affirms. These words do not stipulate that our longings cease once we are saved. For example, I know the Lord as my shepherd, but I also desire my congregation to obey the Lord, my family to be holy, and our nation to turn to the Lord. You no doubt have desires that also exist in your heart. 

Rightly understood, I shall not want states that because the Lord is our shepherd, we will have what we need. We might lack otherwise, but not when the Lord Himself is our shepherd. The Lord, whose ways are higher than our ways and thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 558-9), knows our needs even more certainly than we do. 

The Shepherd is the one who is all-knowing, all-wise, and all-sufficient. The sheep are entirely dependent upon the shepherd, but because of who our shepherd is, we shall not be in want. We will lack for nothing that we truly need in any particular moment. 

With the Lord as our shepherd, we are dependent upon His care. We have all we want because God ensures we have what we truly need. Our dependency is met with the trustworthiness of God, which results in our security. When the one on whom we depend is worthy and faithful, it leads to a place of rest and comfort, as though a sheep lying beside still waters. 

What does this mean for you? 

If you know the Lord as your shepherd and Savior, you can rest in the truth that He will provide what you need in the right time and way you most need it. How will we ever grow without the trials and tests of earthly life? But how can we be so sure we will have what we need? Because your shepherd is the Lord Himself. He knows your circumstances, your needs, and your limitations. As your shepherd, He guides, protects, and provides for you in the day of trouble. So, begin where David began: with the reminder of who your shepherd is and His work on your behalf. Then, rest in the truth that because the Lord is on your side and knows all things, He will always provide for you and faithfully bring you home to dwell with Him forever.