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Psalm 23

Have you ever seen a flock of sheep? Have you ever been up close and personal with a flock of sheep? They are actually fun animals to be around. They have individual personalities. They tend to prefer the community of other sheep. They also fare well when they have a good shepherd leading them. The prophet Isaiah says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way” (Isaiah 53:6a NIV). Experienced ranchers will tell you that sheep wander astray for a number of reasons: fear, inquisitiveness, or simply because they get lost in their own little world while grazing.[1]

If humanity reflects tendencies of sheep, or vice versa, it would also warrant that we need guidance; we need a shepherd. In the 23rd Psalm, the psalmist identifies the LORD (YHWH) as his shepherd (v. 1). YHWH is the eternal, self-existent, author of creation. The author Himself leads, guides and protects His people. Because of this, the psalmist will not be in want of anything. He recognizes this truth, “I lack nothing” (v. 1b NIV). In the mindset of lacking nothing, complete trust has been given to the shepherd. The sheep has exhibited vulnerability and humility, knowing that the LORD will provide. We look forward in time to the pastoral advice the Apostle Paul shares with Timothy, “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6 NIV). We can be content knowing that our shepherd provides for all of our needs.

The human condition gives us a mindset of discontentment; The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Our shepherd leaves no room for something better out there, for, “He makes me lie down in green pastures” (v. 2a). He has already chosen the best provision. Similarly, when providing refreshment, “he leads me beside quiet waters” (v. 2b). He does not direct us to turbulence, danger or chaos. He leads us to rejuvenation in serene places, which in-turn, “refreshes my soul” (v. 3a). If you’ve ever taken an exhausting journey, think of the overwhelming thankfulness you feel once you’ve arrived and entered into a time of rest. It seems as if you can breathe again. A weight has been lifted. This is the setting for the journey of our souls as we follow our shepherd.

His name is integrity. For the glory of His name, He will direct and lead His people in righteousness. He will not lead His people astray. The pathway of His determination is where He guides, “for his name’s sake” (v. 3b). One of the most challenging concepts for people to wrap their minds around is the picture painted in the beginning of verse 4. The psalm opens with provision, contentment and serenity. The text then reveals the reality of life’s most difficult situations.

How can this be? We are led by the LORD Himself, and yet we are supposed to believe He’s allowing difficulties in our lives. Absolutely! Even though our journey can take us through shadowy areas – brushing with tragedy and death itself – the psalmist expresses faith in action, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (v. 4b). You see, it’s not that challenges are avoided. The truth is, as Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). In the face of challenges (even ones that seem overwhelming), He is right there with us. He has never abandoned us in our journey. He can lead us through the trials, knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps the phrasing of that statement undermines the truth. The light is with us on the journey. The darkness cannot overcome the light (John 1:5). The shepherd’s tools of protection, “[the] rod and [] staff” (v. 4b) provide comfort, even in the darkest night.

Moving forward in the journey, we see something much greater than provision. We see divine opportunity enveloped in blessing. God chooses to place us in settings where we can accomplish His will if we are faithful. The psalmist acknowledges this, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (v. 5a). The shepherd leads us directly into enemy territory. His provision, the prepared table, is set up in the midst of wolves. Wolves thrive on the process of devouring sheep. Yet, God sets up shop for us to operate in a hostile environment. When a table is prepared, a meal is on its way. People develop friendships and community when breaking bread together. God established His everlasting covenant with humanity through the communion elements, the body and bread of Jesus.

God’s blessing never shortchanges His people. He, “anoint[s] my head with oil” (v. 5b). Anointing was an outward confirmation or symbol of God’s selection upon a chosen individual. He chooses us as His sheep. Through His divine provision, not only do we lack nothing, as was stated in verse one. His provision overflows, giving us more than we could ever need.

Our lives are not limited to momentary interactions with our good shepherd. He leads us all day every day. The psalmist confidently speaks prophetic words of hope, “surely your goodness and love will follow me all [emphasis added] the days of my life” (v. 6a). As we walk the earth, led by the LORD our shepherd, our final destination will be in His house (v. 6b). Through all of life’s paths leading through serene places, darkness and seeming uncertainty, He is always with us. He always leads and guides. When our journey on this earth comes to an end, we will dwell with Him in His house forever.

[1] “Why Do Sheep Stray? (And How To Prevent It),” Savvy Farm Life, accessed December 12, 2022,