Psalm 23: The Story of Sheep

Psalm 23 is perhaps the most well known Psalm within the collection of Psalms among the Bible.  It is a Psalm which, as one writer says, “children have learned by heart, that has sustained the mature in the perplexities of life, and that has been a peaceful benediction on the lips of the dying” (Bernhard Anderson, Out of the Depths, 180).

The 23rd psalm is the story of sheep sharing their experience in the poetic form of confession and praise.  The sheep are confident in their shepherd.  Yet this confidence should not be mistaken for naiveté.  The sheep know that their is danger in the world.  However, because of the Lord’s pastoral guidance, they have nothing to fear.  Instead the sheep exclaim, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (v. 4, KJV).  Rather than encountering danger and harm, these sheep know that at the end of the days journey that they have a meal prepared for them by the Lord.  It is an invitation to the Lord’s table where “goodness and mercy” can be enjoyed.

Throughout the Psalm, the awareness of the Lord’s pastoral care is attested by the use of the personal pronoun “my” (which is a suffix in Hebrew) that runs throughout the poem (Konrad Schaefer, Psalms, 59).  Traditionally the Psalm has been understood as a Psalm of David.  Whether that is actually the case or not, it draws on Israel looking back on their wilderness journey and the way the Lord cared for them and saw them to the promise land.  So Psalm 23 is the story of Israel.  Yet it is also our story, for we all traverse safely throughout life with great risk and even danger.

Psalm 23 is my story as well.  I have journeyed throughout life without fear because the Lord has been my Shepherd.  I wanted to say that to my blog readers because the next few days I will reflect on the darkest days of my life, ten years after the birth and death of my first child.  So I am not naïve to the times when it seems that God is silent in the midst of suffering.  Yet I think it is good first to remind myself (and you) that the Lord is the Shepherd.

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If you have about 25 minutes, here is the sermon I preached yesterday with the Columbia Church of Christ on Psalm 23 titled “Psalm 23 _The Lord Is My Shepherd.”

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