This Psalm is perhaps one of the most well-known and beloved of all passages of Scripture. For many it is one of the first chapters they have committed to memory. Let’s take a brief look at a few of the many gems to be found in this beloved Psalm.
During his youth and as a young man, David had worked as a shepherd, so he knew the job well. As an Old Testament believer, he knew God as our Shepherd as well. In the Gospel of John, Jesus calls Himself our Good Shepherd, (John 10:11). The author of Hebrews calls Jesus the Great Shepherd of the sheep (Heb. 13:20), and Peter calls Jesus the Chief Shepherd (I Peter 5:4).
Sheep are not the smartest of all animals. They have no sense of direction, and will wander away from the flock. They will also blindly follow each other, even into danger. As sheep, we need the guidance and direction of our Shepherd. As our Shepherd, He will provide for all of our needs (vs. 1). Sheep really are unfit to live on their own, and without God in our life, we are helpless as well. He is a Good Shepherd, and He will lead us to the best places to feed and find refreshing water (vs. 2). It is better for sheep to have still water, as they will wander into a swiftly running stream, and with their wool wet, it is difficult for them to get out, and can easily drown. If we do wander away from our beloved Shepherd will seek us out, and has promised to restore us (vs. 3).
Our Good Shepherd is also the Lord of Life. He alone can safely walk and lead His sheep through the dark and unknown valley of death, and bring us safely to the other side (vs. 4a). With Him by our side, we do not need to fear anything, including death.
Shepherds in earlier times usually carried two items to help with the care and defense of his sheep - a rod and a staff (vs. 4b). The rod was used to defend the sheep from predatory animals. Sheep have no natural defense from their enemies - no horns, fangs, or ability to run swiftly. We need a shepherd, and He is there to protect us from our enemies, particularly our great enemy, Satan and his minions. The staff was used by shepherds to help corral the sheep when they were wandering away. God will use what it takes to bring us back into His fold when we wander. Just like the shepherds crook on his staff may be uncomfortable when hooked around the sheep’s neck, sometimes God may have to use some difficult circumstances to bring us back to Him, but like a good shepherd, it is all done in love.
In the next verse we see some more examples of how our Good Shepherd deeply cares for us. Our enemies may seek to knock us down and see us destroyed. Our Shepherd says here, in verse 5a that He will prepare a table for us in the presence of our enemies. They will see when He blesses us, and meets all of our needs. They will see how much He loves and cares for us, and as they witness His goodness and faithfulness to us, hopefully they will seek to join His flock, as well.
In Biblical times oil was poured on people when bestowing a blessing. Here, in verse 5b, the Lord has anointed us with His blessing, also done in the presence of our enemies. They will see His blessing upon us. Oil was also used by shepherds in the healing and care of their sheep. It was poured on, soaking into their wool coats, and if a sheep might cut himself while grazing, it would soothe, cleanse, and heal the wound. Our Good Shepherd is there to care and protect us.
Finally, we, as sheep in the Lord’s flock, see goodness and mercy following us every day (vs. 6). Several well-known preachers have likened them to the Shepherd’s sheep dogs, keeping watch over the flock. We may not see the Lord’s goodness and mercy ahead of us, but looking back along our path through life, we see how He has helped us. God’s goodness and mercy towards us will hunt us down, just like the sheep dog does, never stopping, pursuing us our whole life.
At the end of our life, if we are a part of God’s flock, we have assurance that we will dwell in His house forever. Are you a part of His flock? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, as your Good Shepherd? If so, you are a sheep in His flock, and can know all of the blessings of this Psalm. If you have never accepted Jesus as your Savior, do not delay in calling upon Him. Become a sheep in His flock, and know the joy of having Him as your Good Shepherd through life.