“Lord” in “the Lord is my shepherd” is an English translation capitalized in most English versions when it translates “Yahweh,” the personal Hebrew name for God. Of course in the New Testament Jesus is revealed as the human who not only enacts this, but does so because he in fact is the God-human. So what is meant in Psalm 23 is God, and later that is fulfilled in Jesus, certainly true of the Triune God.
We are called sheep in Scripture, and for good reason. We go astray, are easily lost, and are quite dependent. To understand sheep better would be a good study in itself, but we need to be careful not to press those analogies from Scripture too far. We need to consider them in their contexts in Scripture. No question that sheep in Scripture are said to go astray, to be vulnerable against attackers such as wolves, helpless and harassed in need of a shepherd. And interestingly, sheep know the voice of their shepherd, each of them having their own name so that they’re known individually by their shepherd.
I am glad that this psalm is attributed to David. David was a shepherd early on which prepared him to be king over God’s people. Kings in the best sense of what they were to fulfill were to be shepherds. David was certainly no perfect shepherd, especially evident from his horrific sin involving Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. He had other faults as well. Yet he was a man after God’s own heart, having a heart for the people.
As I recently picked up from Dallas Willard, Psalm 23 is a prime passage to memorize so that one can meditate, reflect and pray through it. I think one can do well to say it again and again, and talk to God about it. Asking God if God really is our shepherd.
Jesus calls himself “the good shepherd” in the classic passage in John 10. He calls his sheep by name and leads them out to find good pasture, even life to the full. And he lays down his life for the sheep.
The psalm is quite personal. God is “my” shepherd. Oftentimes to push against the individualistic emphasis in our culture in which little else matters except for “me and mine,” we neglect the reality that our faith is personal and that God really does care about and for us individually. Each sheep he knows by name. Yes, each of us are dear to the Lord. He knows us through and through, and really does love and care for us.
I don’t like a lot of things about myself, and have struggled to like myself at all. I often just put up with myself. But that’s not what God wants. The Lord wants us to accept the truth that he made each one of us, and that redemption and reconciliation is for each one of us in and through Jesus. In Jesus the shepherd analogy of Scripture fits to a tee. Do we see Jesus and God in Jesus that way?
We must not let go of this. Everything in Psalm 23 is meant for us, yes each one of us, individually. And we need to see it for others as individuals, as well. Each and every line. Here it is again, to be read and pondered and prayed over until it becomes more and more our own in and through Jesus.
A psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord