To the casual observer, the 23rd Psalm may appear to be the simple prose of children’s poetry. To the casual observer, the 23rd Psalm may simply communicate comfort in times of death. To the casual observer, the 23rd Psalm may only be seen as words befitting a nice greeting card. But, if those observations were the case, then the casual observer would have failed to see the true heart of the Heavenly Shepherd–to lead the sheep home.
The passage begins in an uncertain locale, yet anchored in the assurance of a Shepherd whose name is Yahweh, translated as the Lord in many versions of the Bible (verse 1).
“The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want.”
Effectively, the Psalm is about a Shepherd, and a sheep throughout the scenario of life.
Life in which the Lord cares for the physical needs of the sheep (verse 2).
“He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters.”
Life in which the Lord cares for the spiritual needs of the sheep (verse 3).
“He restores my soul.
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.”
Life which is terrifying at times, but the Divine Shepherd is there (verse 4).
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
Life in which this Shepherd fosters bountiful relational intimacy with His sheep in the midst of a hostile world (verse 5).
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.”
Life in which the blessing of the Lord is continuously at the heels of His elect, to bring them home (verse 6a).
“Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,”
All those are divine assurances of the presence of the Eternal Shepherd, and His sovereign care for His sheep.
But, one must not overlook the fact that all this, that pursuit of grace and mercy, is “chasing” us through the journey of life to lead us to a very certain place. Like faithful sheepdogs, goodness and lovingkindness, the grace and mercy… are in relentless pursuit of God’s chosen sheep to escort them securely to their eternal home.
“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (verse 6b).
One may be tempted to relegate this final verse as one referring to an earthly temple, but it is clear for the sheep, it will be spending its “length of days” (eternity) with the Lord. The picture here is one of eternal restored relationship with the Lord.
For the sheep that has understood that they are under God’s sovereign care…
For the sheep who recognizes that the Lord is their Shepherd…
For the sheep that has willfully placed themselves under the Lord’s benevolent hand…
For the sheep that has walked that journey of life with the Great Shepherd at hand…
For that sheep the journey “ends” living in perpetual intimate relationship with God in the Heavenly Temple; the best place to begin the eternal journey.
What better residence to begin forever! In the all-encompassing presence of our Shepherd!
See what I mean? The 23rd Psalm is anything but a nursery rhyme, words at a funeral, or contents of a greeting card; it is the promise that in this life, God is with us, and looks out for His sheep.
It is the assurance that the Good Shepherd is walking, and will be with us on our journey home–all the way home.