This week’s blog is the first in a series of posts on Psalm 23. The Twenty-Third Psalm is perhaps the best known biblical passage in American society. Hollywood producers frequently use this psalm during graveside scenes, and it offers such comfort that many funerals today include the passage. Because of this, many people associate this psalm with death. However, Psalm 23 is far more about life than it is about death.
The key to understanding Psalm 23 is to read it from the perspective of the poem’s speaker—a sheep. That’s right. A sheep. Who better to give us an up close and personal look at what it’s like to be cared for by a shepherd? And not just any shepherd. The BEST shepherd. Just listen to what the sheep has to say in verse 1:
“The Lord is my shepherd.”
Did you hear it? Listen carefully and you’ll hear a tone of pride in the sheep’s voice.
The LORD is my shepherd. (Read it aloud and emphasize “Lord.”)
Emphasis can also be place on the fourth word. Read the verse again and emphasize “Lord” and “my.”
The LORD is MY shepherd.
There’s a bit of boasting going on here and rightly so. The sheep knew that his very life depended upon the identity of his shepherd. In fact, the condition of a flock always depends upon the characteristics of the shepherd. If the shepherd owns the flock, the sheep receive better care because the shepherd has a lot invested in the sheep. If the shepherd happens to be a hired hand, however, the flock’s care is often substandard and the sheep suffer.
It’s no wonder that the speaker of Psalm 23 boasts that “The Lord is my shepherd.” The sheep recognizes the importance of being under the Lord’s care.
When I think about this gloating sheep, I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a woman the day after giving birth to my daughter. I was explaining to her that our baby’s thigh bones needed a bit of help lining up perfectly in the hip sockets so she was under the care of an orthopedic doctor. Somebody named Caldwell. The woman stared at me in disbelief. When she finally overcame her shock she sputtered, “How on earth did you get Dr. Caldwell?”
I wondered why having Dr. Caldwell was such a big deal. Our pediatrician had told us that Dr. Caldwell was a friend and that he’d run into him in the hospital cafeteria and asked him to take a look at a newborn who might need his attention. Sounded pretty simple to me. What we later learned was that Dr. Caldwell was the leading orthopedic surgeon in the entire region. People had to wait months to get an appointment with him, and our daughter was under his care before she was even 24 hours old! She had THE BEST DOCTOR and we didn’t even know it.
When we’re grieving, it’s easy to forget that we have THE BEST SHEPHERD caring for us. We may be oblivious to what He is doing but that does not change the level of His care. We are His sheep. We belong to Him. He’s not going to turn our lives over to someone else who might give us substandard care. No, He made the ultimate investment in us on the cross—He is committed to caring for us. Whether life is good or you’re in the midst of your grief journey, you can say with confidence, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
The LORD is my shepherd.
The LORD is MY shepherd.
You may hurt, but you’re under the care of THE BEST Shepherd. Eventually, healing will come.