“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even 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.” (Psalm 23:1-4 ESV)
God sustains us
“Even 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.” (Psalm 23:4)
These are precious words and so dear to us. David imagines the worst moments we can have and describes them vividly as the valley of the shadow of death. You can shepherd in Indiana without valleys. Here, Baldy is a mountain. But in Israel, to shepherd in Israel is to lead sheep up and down hills. I have personally walked some of this terrain and you can’t go far without going through ravines, gorges, and valleys; those deep places where the sun doesn’t break through. Anyone in a life valley today?
While I’m sure this applies to those dark moments at the end of life, the language is more applicable to those dark nights of the soul during life. The valleys of life where everything seems dark, mysterious, uncertain, and fearful. This is such a vivid description of human emotional pain. Again, anyone in the valley today? Need a little light? See that it says I walk through the valley. When we are hurting we can give in to despair and think the valley is a canyon; a pit. I’ll never get out. It’ll always be this way! I’ll always feel this way. I’ll always have this pain. I’ll never get over this experience! I’m stuck and I can’t get out.
Not if God is your shepherd.
If God is my shepherd, then I’m walking through this valley of darkness. Ever wonder what people do with life’s problems without God? Some of the things I have heard over the years at funerals makes you realize many people are just making it up as they go. “For you are with me.” In the end, our confidence is in God’s enduring presence with us.
“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” The Shepherd’s weapon was the rod. It was essentially a billy club. David claimed to have killed a bear and a lion with one so they apparently were pretty effective. If you are a sheep and you see your shepherd nearby with a weapon to protect you, how do you feel? Safe. Loved. Protected.
Recently I was in a situation I deemed unsafe. One of our members who is a secret service agent was nearby. I asked him if he would mind walking with me. This guy protects the president of the United States. He is highly trained and experienced having done this all over the world. I knew he was packing heat and frankly knows what to do with it. How did I feel as he walked with me? Kind of like a sheep in a dark valley with my shepherd nearby wielding a rod and a staff. “They comfort me.”
Learning From Psalm 23
Jesus is the Good Shepherd of Psalm 23
While David may not have realized it, he perfectly described Jesus’ ministry to us. Jesus self-identified as the Good Shepherd.
- “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:14–15)
- “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
All the qualities and blessings of Psalm 23 find their completeness and fullness in Jesus and his ministry to us. You can insert his name. “[Jesus] is my Shepherd, I shall not want…. [Jesus] restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:1, 2) If you like the shepherd of Psalm 23, then you’ll love Jesus.
But this leads to a final application:
For the Lord to be your shepherd, Jesus must be your Savior
Everybody wants the reassurance of Psalm 23. People refer to it in times of trouble. They quote it at funerals. Everyone loves Psalm 23. Does it apply to everyone? It does not. If Jesus isn’t your Lord, then God isn’t your shepherd. That is why the key word may be, “The Lord is MY shepherd.” (v. 1, emphasis added) My means I am submitting to Jesus. Or to pick up the New Testament language, Jesus is your Savior. Before he can be our shepherd, he must be your Savior. “My” personalizes this relationship. He is the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. Jesus said that to describe his sacrifice on the cross for us. He gave his life. He died for us. He died for our sins and our guilt.
Jesus becomes our shepherd when we make him our Savior by faith. Are there incredible blessings when Jesus is your shepherd? Yes, but that is only if he is your Savior. Is he?
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2017 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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