David’s description of the Shepherd in the 23rd Psalm who cares for and loves His sheep, is a fitting illustration of the Messiah’s love and care for His sheep, who He came to redeem.
Sheep are undoubtably the dumbest and most helpless of all animals. Unable to care for themselves, they will soon perish without the attentive care of a good shepherd. Sheep cannot find food or water for themselves; they must be led to green pastures and cool waters. Very often sheep will fall and turn upside down with their hooves pointing into the air. Unless the Shepherd comes to their rescue and turns them right side up, they will die. David referred to this frequent event as being “cast down.”
Psalms 37:24 Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the LORD upholds him with His hand.
On four occasions, David asks of his own soul; why are you cast down?
Psalms 42:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him For the help of His countenance.
David had apparently seen the sheep many times in this precarious position with their feet pointed up into the air—hopeless, and helpless unless he came as their shepherd and turned them right side up. This reminded him of those times when his own heart was discourage—turned upside down, and God came as his Shepherd to give him hope and help.
Several years ago, I conducted a twelve week study in the text of the 23rd Psalm and then presented that study to the two churches in which I was the pastor. The amazing details brought forth by David’s account of the shepherd are clearly a prophetic look at the Messiah’s care for those who will come to believe in Him for their salvation.
Psalms 23:1-6 1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.
“The Lord is my shepherd.”
In order for the Messiah to be a shepherd who will lead us and care for us, we must first know Him as Lord of our life. The term Lord in this context is master or ruler. Until Jesus becomes the Lord of our life, He will not be able to lead us to the places of blessing He desires to take us. Step one is surrender ourselves to Him and submit to His authority over every part of our life.
“I shall not want.”
Once we have submitted our life to Jesus as Lord, He can then lead us. The results of being led by the Lord is that we will have no want. We will be content, and the longing of our heart for love and a purpose in our life will be satisfied. All the needs we have will be taken care of as long as we keep Jesus first as Lord and Shepherd of our life.
Though the Lord is our Shepherd, we will still suffer losses during our life. Those we love will die; friends will come and go; and material blessings will be gained and lost. There will be suffering, pain, and sorrow—but in all these things; there will be a knowledge that we are loved by God. We have a Shepherd who is caring for us; tending to our injuries, and comforting us in our losses. There will be no want for answers to life’s problems and difficulties; if we abide-in and stay close to our Shepherd. There will be a confidence about us; though doubts will come and fears will never cease. If the Lord is our Shepherd, we will always return to a place of peace—knowing that God is for us and He will never leave or forsake us. In all these things, we will have no want; for our Shepherd will be our provider and guide through all of life’s perils.
“He makes me to lie down in green pastures.”
As the Lord, our shepherd will lead us into peace—which is typified here by the description: lying down in a green pasture. Sometimes He will bring us to a trial so that we can learn to lay down in peace—even in the midst of difficulties. Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of calm and inner tranquility during storms and conflicts. This is the peace that passes all understanding, which the Bible describes (Philippians 4:7). This calming peace is an ever-present part of the believers’ life, when they make Jesus their Shepherd.
“He leads me beside the still waters.”
A river or creek has areas of rough water as well as calm. Sometimes a person will attempt a crossing at a place where the waters are deep and treacherous. Often, sheep are not aware of these dangers and they may try to cross at the wrong location and place themselves in danger. When the Lord is our Shepherd, though we may get ourselves into precarious situations, He will take our failures and errors and turn them around for good because we love and trust Him.
“He restores my soul.”
Nothing in this present world can restore the human soul, like the Lord—our Shepherd. We may try every exciting new adventure and passing pleasure, but they will often leave us empty and unsatisfied. Only a living and personal relationship with the Shepherd can give us the satisfaction we are searching for in our life. When we sin and fail and feel hopeless, our Shepherd comes and forgives us. He restores our soul and brings us back to a place of hope once again. There are countless empty souls who walk the streets of every city, in despair. They have no joy, no sense of purpose—lacking in direction and purpose. Any person who comes to the Shepherd for relief—finds it. Every broken heart is mended. All loneliness and despair is removed. Peace that overcomes strife, like a soothing melody—encompasses the mind and spirit.
The moment that any person surrenders their life to Jesus and makes Him Lord of their life, He becomes a Shepherd who can daily restore our soul and give purpose to everything we do.
“He leads me in the path of righteousness for His names sake.”
To be led along the path of righteousness is to follow a precise and predetermined plan of action.
By following the Shepherd’s course—being led by Him, He keeps the sheep healthy, happy and nourished. He leads us into the correct path, along places where we can receive all that we need. The sheep, left to themselves, tend to follow the same paths over and over. As a result, they often get themselves into “a rut.”
The Shepherd will keep us on the right path and prevent us from going over the same failures and hurts again and again. If we persist and wear a rut into our path, revisiting old mistakes, regrets and disappointments, the Shepherd will lift us up and set us on the correct path—fresh and new.
“…though I walk through the valley….You are with me…I will fear no evil; For You are with me.”
Thus far; the Shepherd has been leading us. We are able to lie down in green pasture, beside still waters, taking us to the best places, feeding us along the way. In Israel, the shepherd leads the sheep on a long journey to the high country—up into the mountains where the finest and sweetest grasses are located. In order to get to these wonderful places, the shepherd will—at times, lead the sheep through difficulties. All mountain ranges come as a result of a valley, and it is for certain that as our Shepherd leads us to the pinnacles of the life He has planned for us, there will also be valleys of struggle to go through.
The shepherd’s goal is to slowly lead the sheep through each valley and into the meadows full of green grass and still waters. It takes quite a long time to make the journey into the places the Lord has in mind for us. Though the journey will be long, the Shepherd who guides us, is patient and He knows the right way.
Your dark valleys lead to high mountains and places of peace and refreshing. The Shepherd understands every difficulty you will encounter in your life. He is not just a wonderful Shepherd; He is our God—the One who made all things. He knows that leading you through the good as well as the bad will cause you to grow closer to Him and trust Him more as the journey proceeds before you. One day, the journey will come to an end, and all the dark valleys will end—never to return. Until that time, the Shepherd will be there with you and never leave you.
“Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
A rod is used for discipline, correction and deliverance.
A staff is used for guidance, comfort and rescue.
One of the purposes of the shepherd’s rod is to discipline the sheep. Whether we like it or not, there are moments when we need to be disciplined. Because we are His sons and daughters, He will correct us when we get off the correct path. When we feel the searing pain of His discipline, we might wonder if the Lord still loves us. It is by the existence of His discipline when we suffer through periods of pain and suffering that we are certain we are His—for only the children of God are disciplined by God. As a Father who loves His children, He corrects us, so that we can learn to walk in the life of blessing which He has prepared for us.
The staff has a hooked section at the top which is used to pull the sheep back from the brink of danger, or to rescue one who is caught in a swift current. The shepherd carries the rod and the staff with him at all times. Both are needed; both will be used. The strait end is used as the rod, to correct and guide; the crooked end is used to rescue or pull back.
By David’s vivid description of the Lord as our Shepherd, we see that in His love. He will do whatever it takes to cause our growth, either by correcting us through painful trials or rescuing us from our failures. He will also follow close behind to snatch us from the edge of destruction, or gently guide us with the staff—as it is needed.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
The person who follows the Lord with all of his heart will encounter danger by enemies who seek to destroy the devoted follower. The Shepherd knows that the enemy is no real threat to the sheep. He may make accusations and ridicule the devotion of the follower of the Shepherd, but the enemy cannot touch the sheep unless He permits it. Even in times of peril, the watchful eyes of our Shepherd never stray from a careful observance of every step His sheep make. The good end intended by the Shepherd is always the guiding influence of every trial and peril allowed in the life of His sheep.
The promise that is given to the faithful follower of Jesus is that on the final day of this present world, when the Lord removes us from this earth and takes us to be where He is—all our adversaries will observe a great banquet table prepared by our Shepherd. Set out for us in the presence of our enemies and seated with us at this table will be all those who have loved and trusted in the Shepherd—all the days of their life.
From this point forward, we shall no longer be called “desolate,” “destitute,” “meaningless,” or “insignificant.” We will be known as kings and priests of the Most High God. We will forever live with Him and be publicly displayed for all creation to see that we are in Him, and He is in us.
“You anoint my head with oil.”
Anointing is an action of the Holy Spirit, whereby we are prepared and empowered by the Lord for certain works that He has specifically prepared for us. In the Old Testament, when the oil was poured over the head of an individual who was being anointed by God, the oil would run down the head and face—into the beard and onto his garments. This illustrated a massive overflow of God’s Spirit in the life of the believer —displaying the abundance of His Spirit, poured out upon us when we ask Him to fill us and empower us to do what He has asked.
Our Shepherd earnestly desires that we would experience the overwhelming joy of His presence as He uses each one of us to accomplish His will. One of the most amazing truths in coming into a new relationship with God is His desire to work through us. Not because He needs us, for He needs no one to accomplish His will. His desire to use His people to accomplish His purposes—originates from His desire to bless us. We were created for service. When we give of ourselves in benefiting other people—our own hearts are filled with Joy.
It is because He loves us so dearly, that we are given the opportunity to accomplish things for Him which will give us a deep sense of satisfaction. It is for this reason that He calls us to be His witnesses and tell others how they can also experience Jesus and find the fulfillment their hearts long for.
I can personally testify that in writing this book, I could have never imagined the deep joy and sense of satisfaction that I would experience in accomplishing this for the Lord. It really is of no consequence to me if this book is well received or ignored. I wrote these words for Jesus because of my love for Him and deep gratitude for saving me. If He should use this small work to help or encourage one person in their personal walk with our Shepherd, or bring one wayward sheep who was on a path of destruction—to the Shepherd for salvation, then I will have accomplished everything I had hoped for.
“My cup runs over.”
And this brings us to this brief text of verse 5. When we are following our Shepherd and He is leading us, anointing our head with the oil of His Holy Spirit—as we begin to experience the joy of serving Him in whatever capacity He has called us to; our cups begin to run over. The delight and a satisfaction that is given to us by Jesus—surpasses all other experiences of this world.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life.”
Having been led through the valley into the high mountains where we feed on tall green grass and drink from cool waters—being led, anointed, protected and running over with His love—we find that all of our days, led by our wonderful Shepherd, are filled with goodness and mercy, as He is ever present with us all the days of our life.
“And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.”
Finally, when this journey with our Shepherd come to an end, we will be led by Him into eternal life. We will live together—forever with the One who died for us and has led us all the way to heaven.
When Isaiah wrote in his prophecy of a Messiah who is like a shepherd: He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, And carry them in His bosom, And gently lead those who are with young; he was most certainly thinking of the Shepherd whom David had written about in the 23rd Psalm, and ultimately—Jesus, the Messiah who is the purpose for all Scripture.
As David laid many times upon a cool grassy hillside, beneath a moonlit night—while the sheep quietly rested, he certainly gazed into the darkness of the night sky and contemplated the splendor of God. Overwhelmed by the innumerable stars which inhabit the trillions of galaxies created by the Chief Shepherd, he realized just how small he was and how magnificent the Lord is. He asked a question of the Lord: “Who am I Lord that you would even consider me?”
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? Psalms 8:3-4
 Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
 Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2013
 Rut: “a long deep track made by the repeated passage.”
 Hebrews 12:7-8 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons
 Psalms 133:2 It is like the precious oil upon the head, Running down on the beard, The beard of Aaron, Running down on the edge of his garments.
 2 Samuel 7:18 Then King David went in and sat before the LORD; and he said: “Who am I, O Lord GOD? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far?