The LORD is my shepherd…
The Psalms were written in Hebrew and cover roughly 800 years of Israel’s history. These are the poems, proclamations, petitions and praises of those who have followed Yahweh, the LORD, for the last 3000 years.
Here in the well-loved 23rd Psalm, the author opens by equating Yahweh to a shepherd. King David himself, prior to battling Goliath, was given no respect in his role as a shepherd boy who had no experience as a soldier (1 Samuel 17:28-34). Yet in the Bible and in broader Ancient Near Eastern culture, “the role and title of shepherd were used for leaders…[as a] royal connotation. Gods and kings were called the shepherd of their people…” (James Mays, Psalms: Interpretation, p. 117). Yahweh is both King and Shepherd.
When you do usually hear Psalm 23? Most often you will hear it recited as part of a funeral, emphasizing God’s presence and ongoing care of the one who has died. You would be hard pressed to find Psalm 23 in a wedding! “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:4-5, NKJV). Death, evil and enemies are not Pinterest-worthy tags for wedding planning! But it’s nevertheless unfortunate that Psalm 23 gets relegated primarily to funerals because it really is a Psalm for everyday life. We need Yahweh not only as we transition from this earth, we need him as a Kingly Shepherd every day.
The author paints a picture that evokes images of everyday living in Psalm 23 (lying down, being led, feasting) as well as showing God’s presence for the totality of life. This royal Shepherd is present from beginning to end, using his resources to care for his people entrusted to his care.
God, our King, is not looking for leaders who turn to him only in their last days nor only their darkest days. Yes, Psalm 23 is especially comforting at times of loss, but overall it is a reminder that God is always present and ready to connect to our life in every moment of every day. This is not some far-away king nor a God who will only shepherd you as you come near death (or near some kind of tragedy). Yahweh is our Kingly Shepherd who leads us daily in paths that are good and who will ultimately make sense of all the bad.
So I invite you to claim Psalm 23 to be a Psalm for today. Whether you are facing a dark valley or relishing in the security of God’s blessings, the Kingly Shepherd is present and ready to walk with you now and empower you to live fully as you live and lead today.
Something to Think About
Dallas Willard prayed his own paraphrase of Psalm 23 every day. My friends at Soul Shepherding have compiled it here:
The Lord is my Shepherd, I have life without lack.
In his green pastures I’ve eaten my fill so I lie down.
At his still waters my thirst is satisfied.
He heals and reintegrates my broken depths in his eternal life
so I can walk in paths of righteousness on his behalf.
Even though I go through loss, hunger, disease, aging, and death I will fear no evil because you Jesus are with me.
Your strong rod and protective staff put me at liberty.
Your abundant provision is a feast for me so I’m happy to share with my enemies.
You give me hot showers and warm fluffy towels, joyful experiences and deep relationships, to make me feel clean, special, and powerful.
My cup runs over so I can be generous without ever running out.
Surely this world is a perfectly safe place for me to be
Because I dwell and abide with God in the fullness of his life in the Kingdom of the Heavens forever.
Something to Do
Slowly pray through Willard’s version of Psalm 23, inviting the Kingly Shepherd to make his presence known to you today. What is God saying to you as you listen?
LORD, thank you for being my Shepherd. You are near to me today so show me the right paths you are leading me on. Grow me as a shepherd leader who is present, guides with care and develops others to experience abundance. Amen.