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.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
forever. – Psalm 23 (ESV)
D.A. Carson helpfully reminds us that the model by which we understand something largely determines what we see. For example, how do you think about the Church? If you think of the Church as an organization, you will focus on management and programs. If you think of the Church as a family, you will focus on relationships. If you think of the Church as the pillar and foundation of the truth, you will focus on teaching and the proclamation of the Apostolic Gospel. All of these models are valid. We are therefore to see the Church through all of these models (and many others) rather than reducing it down to our favorite model. One obvious question that this raises is what primary metaphor to you use as a model for thinking about God? Frequently, in the Psalms, God is referred to as Creator and King. He is also referred to using abstract language like “Rock” and “Fortress”. In Psalm 23 David selects a metaphor that would have been very personal. He likens God to a Shepherd. Remember that David himself had been a shepherd as a boy and continued to think of his own kingship as a type of shepherding of the people of Israel. As a good shepherd, David cared for and defended the sheep with great courage. As David told Saul before going out to fight against Goliath:
“Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you!”
With this in mind, perhaps the most striking word in the psalm is “my”. It doesn’t entirely shock us that the Creator of the Universe would be the Shepherd of the whole flock of Israel. What is astonishing is that He personally cares for each one of His sheep. As we confess in the Heidelberg Catechism: “Without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation.” This is a beautiful truth. It is also one that leads all thoughtful readers to ask: Is the LORD my Shepherd the way that He was David’s Shepherd?
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 71
Q. 71. What is required in the seventh commandment?
A. The seventh commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech and behavior.