Psalm 23 is likely one of the most familiar passages in scripture. I imagine that, if we were asked, most of us could probably quote the KJV of Psalm 23 from memory. It was the first passage of scripture that I ever memorized.
In Psalm 23, one of the things the writer does is affirm that God’s being and God’s consistent acts of caring for God’s children cannot be separated from each other. God’s actions towards God’s children are not simply what God does, but who God is.
God does not simply perform acts of love, God is love. God does not simply act like a shepherd. God is the holy shepherd. Because of this fact, the psalmist knows that God’s acts on their behalf will always be enough to manage and/or to overcome the challenges of life.
Within its six short verses, Psalm 23 affirms multiple theological ideas that help the reader to understand the progressively deepening relationship that occurs between God and God’s children. Today, I want to highlight three theological ideas Psalm 23 affirms. They are the theological ideas of provision, protection, and restoration.
God provides for God’s people as shepherds provide for the sheep within their care. Within the Hebrew context, one of the foremost responsibilities of shepherds was to lead their flock/ensure that sheep had access to the resources they needed to thrive.
This was not always an easy task. Sometimes the fields shepherds wanted their flocks to graze in had already been over-used by other shepherds. Other times there were droughts or other conditions caused by the weather and seasonal patterns that did not allow for grass to grow well. And many times, there was not traditional access to water and the shepherd had to lead the flock on long journeys to get to a place where they could get what they needed.
No matter the conditions, it was the shepherd’s responsibility to get the sheep to a place where they could receive/experience what they needed to become or stay healthy.
Not only were shepherds responsible for providing for their flock, they were also responsible for protecting the sheep under their care. This was not always an easy task to accomplish, either. Shepherds had to be on the lookout for predators looking for an easy meal, or poachers who wanted to take what belonged to someone else.
Shepherds would often find themselves putting their own safety in jeopardy to protect their flocks. What would save shepherds and sheep were the tools they carried that often doubled as weapons for protection.
Two of the tools used by shepherds were rods and staffs. Staffs were long pieces of wood that were typically used by shepherds to guide or move sheep as they traveled. Rods were much shorter pieces of wood, almost like a mace with a heavy round end. In the hands of a capable shepherd, both became useful objects to defend their flocks.
No matter what type of predator was being faced, it was the shepherd’s responsibility to protect the flock so they could get to the place where they could receive/experience what they needed to become or stay healthy and produce what they were created to.
Not only were shepherds responsible for providing for their flocks and protecting them, shepherds were also responsible for restoring sheep who had been physically injured. One responsibility of a shepherd was to ensure that sheep who had experienced trauma or injury were nursed back to health.
If a sheep experienced injury, the shepherd would help that sheep heal by providing personal care for it. The shepherd would often perform surgeries on sheep that had been hurt. Shepherds would eventually take time to check every sheep in the flock so they could become familiar with all of them individually and make sure that they were all safe and healthy.
The point of the psalm is that God, the good shepherd, does all of this for God’s children, in real time. God provides, protects, and restores God’s children regularly. God makes sure that God’s children have what they need, even when resources seem slim. God ensures that God’s children are safe, even when the path they travel on seems dark. God also restores God’s children when it seems like life gets the upper hand on them.
We can all rest assured that when, like real sheep, we cannot do much for ourselves, God, the good shepherd, loves us and travels with us wherever we find ourselves. Like human shepherds, sometimes we can see God out in front of us guiding the way, and like David, physically fighting off the predators that want to overcome us.
But other times, we may start walking and end up somewhere unexpected and wonder how we got there. But when we look around for God, we see God behind us and realize that God had been with us the whole time. God allowed us to move as we pleased, but God remained present watching over us.
This is the essence of God. The essence of who God is. God does as God is. God is our provision, protection, and restoration. We do not have to do anything for God to be this in our lives. God is that already.
Dr. F.B. Meyer wrote, “We (should) think less of our attitude toward (God) and more of (God’s) responsibility for us. The flock does not keep the shepherd, but the shepherd keeps the flock. Look away from yourself and trust Him with all, in all, and for all.”
God the great shepherd has been, is, and will be all, in all, and for all in our lives. That is why we worship today. Amen.