The Lord is My Shepherd
I. God as Shepherd
The opening word in this Psalm is “YAHWEH.” The name God gives to Moses as he speaks to him from the burning bush (Ex 3:14-16). This does not speak about a god we do not know about but the God of the Bible. The God we worship, the one who made the heavens and earth and all that is within them. The Bible teaches us about God’s greatness. This greatness should drive us to praise and adoration of him (Ps 96:4). 1 Chronicles 29:11 says, “O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all.” Psalm 47:2 says that the LORD is the most high, that he should be feared, the Psalmist says that he is the great king over all the earth. In all of this, we see the magnificence of God. So much sure his greatness is unsearchable (Ps 145:3). The Lord is great, but also does great things. However, this Psalm does not say the Lord is my fortress, my refugee, my strength, or my strong tower. We do see Psalms like this. However, the twenty-third Psalm begins by saying, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
Many people have glamorous ideas of what a job entails. People have the idea that jobs are just hobbies done more permanently. People watch a youtube video and make a birdhouse and consider themselves master carpenters. They bake a single cake and think of the glamorous lifestyle of an artisan baker. However, many of these jobs are gruesome and tedious that have no end. The carpenter is physically draining. The baker is one of the early mornings. We have in our mind that the job of a shepherd is one given to us in pictures; beautiful scenery, passive sheep, with the sound of birds as the ambient sound. The shepherd is not a job that is high on the food chain, it was given to the youngest brothers (normally). When Samuel is sent to the house of Jesse to find the next king to anoint and the seven sons of Jesse pass before Samuel, Samuel asks Jesse if this is all of his sons, Jesse responds, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” David was seen, even by Jesse, as insignificant. Even Eliab, David’s older brother ridiculed him when David was asking questions about Goliath, “And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness?” (2 Sam 17:28). When Jacob and his family move to Egypt at the end of Genesis Joseph explains to his father than the occupation of a shepherd is considered an abomination by the Egyptians (Gen 46:34). It is hard not to mention a job and potentially offend someone but think of a job that no one else wants to do, that the one way you could move is up. This is the job of a shepherd in the times of the Bible.
The job of a farmer is difficult, and although I have no experience, I would believe the shepherd in the middle east three centuries ago would have a more difficult job than today. He would take his flock into the arid desert to try and find grass and water. He would be left alone as he wandered the desert for long periods of time. The sheep would wander off and he would have to get them. No glory was given to the shepherd. Overworked and underappreciated.
However, David says the Lord is His shepherd. The Great God is a lowly shepherd. Charles Spurgeon says, “What condescension is this, that the Infinite Lord assumes towards his people the office and character of a Shepherd! It should be the subject of grateful admiration that the great God allows himself to be compared to anything which will set forth his great love and care for his people.”
Condescension is a great term for this line of the Psalm. John Stevenson puts it this way, “Significant and beautiful as this emblem of a Shepherd is, David seems to have felt that it could not adequately express the greatness and the excellency of the Lord’s condescension towards him.” God would call himself the shepherd of his people (Ps 100:3). We see this condescension in the humiliation of the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. Christ comes to earth, he does not call himself king, but Christ explains that he is the good shepherd. Christ says in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The good shepherd gives up his life so that the sheep might live. Christ, in his lowly estate comes as a shepherd to collect his sheep.
The first strange part of this Psalm is that God is the Shepherd, and the second is that we are sheep. How beautiful the statement, “the Lord is my shepherd.” But I doubt we have ever thought about what makes us, sheep. When playing on a playground and everybody has to choose an animal to make a belief, I doubt any child is going to choose a sheep. Maybe a lion or an eagle. People want tattoos of strong animals or beautiful animals, not sheep. Most people do not want a sheep as their spirit animal. I am not saying these are helpful things to consider besides that no one wants to be a sheep. A sheep does not have any teeth to bite back, they are not very fast compared to other animals. They are not strong; they are not that smart (especially considering them individually). They wander far away putting themselves in danger. The beautiful statement The Lord is my shepherd means we are admitting we are sheep.
However, in this image is the understanding of the gospel message. Sheep need a shepherd. They have no defense system. They are helpless and useless without a shepherd (Num 27:17, Matt 9:36). Sheep are prone to wander after anything that grabs the attention of their little brain (Is 53:6). Many of us love to recite the Psalm but have the wrong idea of who we are. We find ourselves strong and stable. We think of ourselves higher than we ought. We think we have no need for a shepherd, we can do this on our own. However, we must be reminded that saying the Lord is my shepherd implies that we need a shepherd, want a shepherd. This is a hard pill to swallow in this Psalm. If the Lord is not our shepherd, then we are being cared for by the hired hand who cares nothing for the sheep. When a wolf comes, he leaves the sheep and runs. No good comes from denying that we are helpless sheep. The cry of a believer is that I am a sheep in need of a shepherd. The Lord is my Shepherd. Joel Beeke explains this confession more elegantly, “Lord, I am as dependent, as foolish, as wandering, and as stubborn as a silly sheep; break me down; take away my legs. Lord, I need the Redeemer-Shepherd shall it ever be well with me for time and eternity.”
The two points I have made before are strange to our ears, however, it is the combination of these two that is the important factor. To say God is the Shepherd and that I am a sheep is truth, but the glue that holds this glorious line together. My is a small word but a tremendous word. Shows the personal nature of this Psalm. David does not speak in a collective nature, as you think that he might when you think of sheep (Ps 100:3). He does not write the Lord is our shepherd, but my shepherd. How small a word that makes a great difference in one’s theology. Martin Luther said, “The sweetness of the gospel lies mostly in pronouns, [such] as me, my, thy – “Who loved me, and gave Himself for me”, “Christ Jesus my Lord”, ” Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee.” George Swinnock says, “All our consolation indeed consists in this pronoun. He is my God. All the joys of the believer are hung on this one string. Break this and all is lost.”
Spurgeon says that the word my is, “The sweetest word of the whole is that monosyllable, “My.” He does not say, “The Lord is the shepherd of the world at large, and leadeth forth the multitude as his flock,” but “The Lord is my shepherd;” if he is a Shepherd to no one else, he is a Shepherd to me; he cares for me, watches over me, and preserves me. The words are in the present tense.”
The Psalm is not merely saying the Lord is a shepherd, and I am a sheep. The two must be connected. The Lord is my shepherd, and I am his sheep. You could say the whole Psalm depends on this word, my. There is no comfort to be found if the Lord is not your shepherd. There is no victory over your enemies if the Lord is not your shepherd. The challenging part of this Psalm is to honestly say is the Lord your shepherd? Jesus explains what it means to be one of his sheep in John 10:27-30;
“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” (John 10:27–30).
Jesus explains what he does as the good shepherd, he knows his sheep, he protects his sheep, and previously he had said he lays down his life for his sheep. Here Jesus says two things about his sheep that his sheep do, they hear his voice and follow him. If thinking of yourself as a lowly sheep wasn’t enough, the truth is that a sheep finds all the comforts from this Psalm only when he has the Lord as his shepherd. A sheep is protected by the shepherd when he is nearest the shepherd. Now that does not mean we do not wander; oh we are prone to wander. However, the good shepherd leaves the 99 to bring the 1 back to the flock, to be near him again, to bring them back to the flock. We might all say with a loud and joyous voice that the Lord is my shepherd. But maybe we would shrink back if we were to ask do you hear the shepherd’s voice? Do you obey and follow the shepherd’s voice?
I say this not to fill us with guilt, but to drive us to gratitude because of his grace shown towards us. John Stevenson again puts it so well when he says,
“How glorious is the Being whom sinful man here calls his Shepherd! How great is his condescension in undertaking this office! How complete are his qualifications? How abundant his resources! How faithful his performance of its duties! And how perfect and infallible shall be his success!”
When we realize that we are sheep and we need a shepherd, then who would we turn to? You could look through all the shepherd applications for the hired hand, but their resumes are horrific, they left their last position because they did not want to protect the sheep. Where would we go, to whom would we turn? When we learn more of the good shepherd, then we see how we desire to always be by his side, as he provides all that we ever will need, as he restores our souls, as he feeds us, leads us, disciplines us, and walks with us. Once we realize this glorious truth of this perfect shepherd then we will long to say, “oh, that I should dwell in the House of the Lord forever.”
 John Stevenson, The Lord Our Shepherd: An Exposition of the Twenty-Third Psalm (New York; Pittsburg: Robert Carter, 1846), xxv.
 Joel R. Beeke, Jehovah Shepherding His Sheep: Sermons on the Twenty-Third Psalm (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1997), 10.
 John Stevenson, The Lord Our Shepherd: An Exposition of the Twenty-Third Psalm (New York; Pittsburg: Robert Carter, 1846), 37.