This psalm has been read countless times at funerals, but its precious and personal message is for believers every day. Abel, Moses and David were all shepherds, and now we come to think of the Lord condescending to be our Shepherd.
It may be divided into two sections, the first of those being verses one through four which deal with the Shepherd and His flock.
Sheep need almost constant attention because they are defenseless animals and they tend to wander and sometimes get lost. This sounds a great deal like us, and it should because we cannot live fully without a relationship with Christ Jesus. Our pride leads us to think we can fend for ourselves, but we are unable to live independently of our Shepherd. We are apt to wander off on a destructive path, but our Shepherd will lead us to safety with Himself.
The Shepherd knows how and where to feed the sheep, so He leads His flock to places that are best for their spiritual nourishment. Who are the sheep? They are believers who have repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Jesus said this about the flock: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28).
He brings us to green pastures and still waters, places of tranquility and joy in contrast to our former life as captives of our sins. David said He restores my soul because He, and He alone, is able to save a soul. The Lord deals gently with us, bringing us to an inviting place where we drink our fill. Isaiah, in writing about our Shepherd, said “he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11).
He brings us back from self-destruction, and leads us in the ways of holiness and truth. He does this, not because we deserve it, but because of His goodness.
Even when we walk through the darkest, most dangerous valley we have no need to fear evil because the Lord is at our side. He is guiding, protecting and encouraging us. The Shepherd knows every square inch of the valley, every rock and every pit. He sees all of these before we even reach them, and just when the valley of the shadow of death would close in on us from every angle, we remember the precious words, “for thou art with me.”
The rod and staff carried by the Shepherd demonstrate His infinite capability and add to our comfort. They protect sheep from enemies and guide the sheep to take the way deemed best by the Shepherd.
The final two verses of the psalm form its second section in which we come to a banquet prepared by the Lord. He has furnished the table with every good thing, and even though He has done this in “the presence of mine enemies,” we will sit safely at His table. His anointing of the head is a sign of celebration and the cup that runs over speaks of abundance at the table.
If the Lord has done all of this, why would He give anything less than His goodness and mercy for all our days here on earth? David said, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” It was his heart’s desire to so experience the joy and peace of living for the Lord that it would be as if he lived in the Lord’s house.
The psalm begins with “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Is He your Shepherd?
The Sunday school lesson is written by Ed Wilcox, pastor of Centerville Baptist Church. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org