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Psalm 23 – Part I – By Dr. Glenn Cummings

It’s probably the most familiar passage in all the Bible. It’s quoted regularly at funerals, in hospitals, and in battle zones. You read it on wall hangings and sympathy cards. If I said the first line, many, even those who don’t go to church, could join me…” The Lord is my shepherd.” What comes next? “I shall not want.”

Sometimes we get so familiar with a passage that we know the words but can forget the meaning.  Psalm 23 is a psalm of David. Prior to becoming Israel ’s king, David himself was a shepherd and lived in country full of shepherds. But there aren’t very many shepherds in our country. A metaphor that communicated volumes in David’s day ten centuries B.C. in Israel can go right over our heads in modern day America.
When I read that the Lord is my shepherd, that image doesn’t help me much, not based on personal experience. The Lord is my shepherd, yes, but what does that mean, and what difference should it make in our lives?  David uses God’s personal, covenant name. To David, God isn’t some cosmic power way out there, nor is God “the man upstairs,” as some naively demean Him. No, the One who is David’s shepherd is the One who created the universe and then chose to redeem one nation, Israel, to whom He revealed His personal name. David tells us something specific about Yahweh in verse 1…He is our provider. This wonderful Psalm permits each believer to take its words on his lips and express in gratitude and confidence that all the demonstrations of God’s covenant love are his, too.  What happens when Yahweh is your shepherd? David says, “I shall not be in want.” Literally, “I do not lack.” In other words, I have everything I need. Everything. In the rest of the psalm David will show us how the Shepherd meets those needs.
In these six verses he gives us a full picture of the shepherd’s daily round: walking, resting, feeding, facing danger, celebrating and returning home.  That’s what a shepherd does for his sheep, and that’s what God has done for me, says David.
Ten centuries later, Jesus applied this metaphor to Himself, saying in John 10: “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd (verses 10-11).”

What I’m about to say next is vital. Not everyone can claim Psalm 23. I’ll grant that nearly everyone does, but not everyone can. Why not? To claim that the Lord is your shepherd, you must first be a sheep. You say, “Well, isn’t everybody a sheep?” No. The Bible makes it clear that we do not enter the world as sheep. Only those who belong to the Shepherd are sheep. Prior to the new birth all men are depicted by other metaphors, such as goats or wolves.

How can you tell if a person is truly a sheep? Jesus answered that question in John 10:27-28. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.”

To say that the Lord is your Shepherd, He must first be your Savior. You must hear the Shepherd’s voice and follow Him, first to the cross where He died as a substitute for sinners like you and me. You must believe that the Shepherd died for you, as He said in John 10:11, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” But you must also follow the Shepherd to His empty tomb and believe that He rose again from the dead, a fact He likewise predicted, in John 10:17, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.”
Those are the two marks of a true sheep. They hear the Shepherd’s voice. And they follow Him. And those are the people who, like David, can say, “The Lord is my shepherd.”