Psalm 23 speaks to my heart—green pastures, quiet waters, right paths. I am an outdoorsy person by nature. I’d much rather get lost in the woods, alone with my thoughts, the trees, and the breeze, than be in any city. So, as I read these familiar verses, I want to go outside, to be witness to the goodness and beauty of the natural world. It also occurs to me that I have something in common with sheep—we can both get lost without hardly trying.
Some years ago, I read about a Merino sheep in New Zealand named Shrek. He had wandered away from his flock and his shepherd and gotten lost. For six years, he lived in nearby caves, eating what he could find and avoiding the shearer’s blade. When Shrek was finally found, his wool weighed sixty pounds, and the raw weight of twenty men’s suits on his back was threatening his life. He had trouble walking, and his breathing was labored. He needed his shepherd. So do we.
Shepherds take care of sheep—plural—but in this psalm, the relationship is between one sheep and his Shepherd. It’s personal, much more intimate. “The LORD is my shepherd” (v.1, emphasis mine). These words are from David, but I can’t help but read them as my own. I think we were meant to, each one of us. The Lord is my Shepherd. He guides me, provides for me, protects me from my enemies.
I don’t need to worry. “I have what I need” (v.1). I don’t need to struggle or strive. “He lets me lie down in green pastures” (v.2). Weariness does not have the final say. “He renews my life.” And I won’t ever get lost. (Not really, anyway.) “He leads me along the right paths for his name’s sake” (v.3). It is only because the Shepherd is so good that I can be still and rest, that I can have true peace.
I could be happy for eternity being a beloved lamb of the Good Shepherd, but Psalm 23 doesn’t leave us as sheep. A shift occurs in verse 5. David begins to address God directly—the song becomes a prayer of thanksgiving. Not only that, but the pastoral imagery is replaced by a banquet scene. You and I have become honored guests of the King.
The table is set, and though my enemies might rage just outside, none of that matters (v.5). I am in the house of my Maker, the One who knows me and loves me better than anyone else. But the best part? I’m not just a guest. I get to stay in His presence forever—”as long as I live” (v.6), though the Hebrew phrase that’s been translated doesn’t limit this time to my natural lifespan. It has all come full circle—”I have what I need,” because I have the One I was created to know and love.