Psalm 23 – What it means

Sep 05, 13 Psalm 23 – What it means

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  Isaiah 53:6 ESV


Written 500 years before his birth, the above bible verse is a prophecy about Jesus and about how every one of our individual selfishness/sin was laid on him.  He is the Good Shepherd.  The good shepherd takes such good care of his flock that he is even willing to risk his life for them.  Jesus tells us in John 10:11 ESV, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” 

I’ve recently read two books, which are by modern-day people who have been shepherds. Sharon Niedzinski, the author of “Heaven has Blue Carpet” became a shepherd when she decided that the hill over looking their house on their new farmland, would be so much more picturesque with a flock of pretty white sheep    😆    She realized pretty quickly that those sheep were quite a handful but she also learned why God compares us to sheep so often in the Bible.  It’s because we share many tendencies with them. Not very flattering tendencies …  It seems that sheep are not very good at taking care of themselves. They, in fact, more than any other class of livestock, require endless attention and meticulous care.

She found that sheep are easily frightened (and by everything), stubborn (even when it is a detriment to their well-being and safety), selfish (they’ll even run over their own lambs to get to food), and lastly, self-absorbed (she found that unless she worked hard at trying to develop a friendship with a particular sheep, their tendency was to ignored her, never even making eye contact).  Sounds like us, huh?

The second book I read is a Christian classic, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” by W. Phillip Keller.  He shepherded in land very similar to the lands referenced in the Bible.

In his book, he analyses each Psalm 23rd verse as an analogy for our walk with our God.  Using his observations and my own gleanings I will touch just on the first part of this Psalm verse by verse.  The rest of the Psalm, which is about God honoring His follower, is more understandable to us.


“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”

The author had one ewe (a female sheep) that had a very discontent nature. No matter how good the pastureland was that he would lead his flock to, she would escape the area to eat elsewhere, even when her choice led to her feeding on very poor pasture.  She was always looking for “greener pastures” (she is the perfect example of that expression).  The saddest part was that she taught this tendency to her lambs and she even influenced the other sheep to follow her. This ewe would find away around or through fences but those fences were there for a reason!  This man’s ranch was by the sea and countless times, he would find her (and anyone else who’d followed her) in the most dangerous situations, trying to get any other food, then what he, the good shepherd, had provided for them.  Does this too sound familiar?

This is how we are when we fight against what Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows is best for us.

When we are a Christian, Jesus becomes our Good Shepherd and because we belong to him instead of satan, “I shall not want” means that no matter the outward appearance or circumstance, we can be so utterly satisfied with God’s care for us that we will not and do not crave or hanker for anything or anyone else but Him.  We are thoroughly content, (no matter what!), because of the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for us.


“He makes me lie down in green pastures”

In an arid/desert land, the good shepherd must cultivate a field in order for it to become green.  Once he leads his sheep there, they will only lie down if all of the following four (4) conditions are absent: 1) fear due to an imagined or actual threat, 2) “butting order” which is rivalry and cruel competition within the flock, 3) pesky bugs (being “bugged” or irritated), 4) hunger.  The only one able to have absolute control over these circumstances is the shepherd, who cares and is diligent over his flock; the “Good” Shepherd.


“He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul”

I had heard about sheep and moving water so I double-checked it online and sure enough, sheep don’t like to drink from moving water.  Our God brings us to a place that we can drink our fill without fear.  Not only does He sustain us physically but when a Christian, it is also spiritually.  Jesus tells us in John 7:37-39, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, asthe Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the [Holy] Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the [Holy] Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.


“He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”

I agree with the author when he states, “He who has no sense of self-importance cannot be offended or deflated.”  He makes a further point, “Human beings, being what they are, somehow feel entitled to question the reasons for everything that happens to them… we are often quick to forget our blessings [but] slow to forget our misfortunes.”  So it has to be our decision to say to God, “I lay down my will – I carry my cross daily”, if I am His follower.  I go where He invites me; I say what He instructs me to say; I act and react befitting to His reputation.  “And he [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

In a nutshell, we need to be willing to allow ourselves to be led by Jesus for Jesus.


“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

The author writes that in these arid lands, in certain seasons, shepherds led their sheep through deep ravines in order to get them to the higher ground, where the richer grass was going to sustain them for the coming season. Sure, the cliffs could be hiding dangerous predators like lions or bears, but in order to sustain them along this journey, only the valley offered the best water and the most nutritious grass. So, the Good Shepherd knows that the best way to get his flock to the high country is to take them on a journey through the valley.

This is an analogy for us and our walk with God (analogy means “A comparison of two different things that are alike in some way”).  In order to have an intimate relationship with God, as Christians, we will go through deep trials; Jesus, the good Shepherd, is always with us, even through to our own physical dying.  We arrive in a higher place: either a deeper relationship with Him on earth or in heaven.


“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

The rod is like a club and it was used to correct the sheep and keep them from going astray just as God’s Word through the Bible keeps us from conforming to the world’s culture and influence; His Word keeps us from straying from God’s authority.  The Shepherd also used the rod to search out any injuries on each sheep.  Our God’s Word searches our hearts and reveals anything that is detrimental to our spiritual health.  His Word (just as the rod does for the sheep) comforts us.  Psalm 139:23,24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

Finally, the shepherd used his rod to protect his sheep by warding off those predators like bears or lions.  God protects us from satan and our own evil tendencies.

The staff is used in three (3) different ways: 1) it moves the newborn lamb back to its mother’s side; our God through His Holy Spirit moves us back to His side, 2) it pulls each sheep close to the shepherd so that he can examine them.  And 3) the staff tip is sometimes placed gently on the side of a favorite sheep so that the sheep can walk alongside the shepherd, almost as though walking “hand-in-hand”.  The author says the sheep especially enjoys this attention.  He compares it to the Christian’s intimate walk with Jesus which His Holy Spirit makes real.

In “Lead Me, Holy Spirit” by Stormie Omartian, which my Bible study group is currently studying, she writes, “When your mind is controlled by the Holy Spirit, you have peace, contentment, and rest.”  The author of “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” makes a similar observation, “There is a calm, quiet repose in the knowledge that He is there to direct even in the most minute details of daily living. He can be relied on to assist us in every decision, in this there lies tremendous comfort for the Christian.”

What an incredibly loving and faithful God; He orchestrated a way for us to be able to be saved and if we accept that way (Jesus), we can experience a close & intimate walk with Him.

I hope that this little study has been able to shed some light on how rich the Psalm 23 analogy is in comparing Jesus-followers to sheep.  I’d like to leave you with some of our Good Shepherd’s own words, which I find very sweet and encouraging – oh how He loves us!


 Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32

PS – Chapter 10 in the book of John is an awesome follow-up read to Psalm 23!!!




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