A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 [Part One: The Lord Is My Shepherd]

Many of us have some familiarity with this Psalm 23, whether memorizing it as a child for Sunday school or studying it for ourselves as adults. It is one of the most recognized psalms and referenced in both Christian and secular literature. In this season where most of us are struggling with some degree of uncertainty, anxiety, confusion, and fear, it has been a soothing balm for my mind and heart to be re-reading a little book about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. I have read this book at least three times before this current re-reading, and every time I gain new insights and am encouraged all over again. This remains one of my favorite books of all time and is one of my most recommended books.

 A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 was written in 1970 by W. Phillip Keller. Born and raised in East Africa by missionary parents, he enjoyed wildlife and nature from an early age, and actually was a shepherd for some time. He has first-hand knowledge and familiarity of shepherding techniques and customs closely resembling those in the Middle East, specifically those used by a young shepherd named David, who wrote the much-loved Psalm 23.  From his years as a shepherd as well as future study in agricultural research and land management,  he understands the psalm much more acutely and personally than someone like me, who has never touched sheep in my life. Most of us do not live an agrarian lifestyle. The closest I've come to being a gardener is a 4 x 4 raised bed with vegetables that only survived one season, though the blazing Texas sun was definitely a factor in that failure. My urban, non-agricultural context and culture keeps me from understanding a lot of the Biblical passages that include farming and livestock management. I am thankful for resources from trustworthy people who can explain what I so obviously do not have experience with. Keller shares keen insights from  Psalm 23, correlating them to Jesus being our Good Shepherd. As a lay pastor in his later years, he "shepherded" a flock of Christians, leading them to the Good Shepherd. So, what better way to understand this psalm better than from a man who is able to connect the symbolism to scriptural truth from being a shepherd in both senses of the term? The short book is saturated in encouragement, comfort, and reminders of God's faithfulness. It is the perfect book for this season and I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically recommend it.

I wanted to spend a few blog posts to share a few of my favorite insights from Keller's classic. Each chapter is titled after a different sentence in the psalm, so I will share the first verse today and proceed to share the next verses in the coming weeks. Hopefully it'll convince you to grab a copy of the book for yourself to dig deeper in the spiritual truths he uncovers through the symbolism of caring for sheep. If not, then I hope these posts will be an encouragement to you as you meditate on Psalm 23.

The Lord Is My Shepherd
Although David was a shepherd himself, he penned this beautiful psalm from the perspective of being a sheep. As human beings, we resemble sheep in many ways, so it is easy to understand why David --and later Jesus-- would refer humankind to sheep:

"Our mass mind (or mob instincts), our fears and timidity, our stubbornness ... (and ) habits are all parallels of profound importance. Yet despite these adverse characteristics Christ chooses us, buys us, calls us by name, makes us His own, and delights in caring for us... He is ever interceding for us; He is ever guiding us by His gracious Spirit, He is ever working on our behalf to ensure that we will benefit from His care." (p 22)

Although written hundreds of years before Jesus came to earth as a God-Man, the 'Lord' refers to Jesus. Keller explains:

"Now the beautiful relationships given to us repeatedly in Scripture between God and man are those of a father to His children and a shepherd to His sheep. These concepts were first conceived in the mind of God our Father. They were made possible and practical through the work of Christ. They were confirmed and made real to me through the agency of the gracious Holy Spirit." (p 17)

So, if the Lord Jesus is the shepherd of those who have given their lives to Him, then we ought to know more of Him. The Bible is the best place to know more about the Good Shepherd. One of my favorite passages about Jesus' sovereignty and lordship is found in Colossians 1:15-20.

 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Jesus is worthy of our reverence, awe, submission, and worship. If we are Christians, we are His own beloved people. We do not have to fear being under His ownership and lordship. He is our Lord, the most loving, powerful, compassionate, wise master over every part of our hearts. 

"Yes, He the Christ -- the Son of God-- brought all into being. From the most gigantic galaxy to the most minute microbe, all function flawlessly in accordance with definite laws of order and unity which are utterly beyond the mind of finite man to master." (p 19).

Jesus was the shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep, saving us from the death we deserved because of our sin. He restored us to right standing (righteousness) with God the Father and made a way for us to be in the family of God.

"We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6)

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.  The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.  The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:11-18)

So, as you meditate and study Psalm 23, think of yourself as part of the flock of sheep under the caring, ever-present guidance of the Good Shepherd, who is trustworthy to care for all of our needs. Jesus is Lord and He is the Good Shepherd.

Do I really belong to Him? (Have I given my life to the Good Shepherd?)
Do I really recognize His right to me? (And does that scare or comfort me?)
How do I respond to His authority and acknowledge His ownership?
Do I find freedom and complete fulfillment in this arrangement?
Do I sense a purpose and deep contentment because I am under His direction?
Do I know rest and repose in belonging to Him?

(Questions from concluding paragraph of chapter on page 27; questions in parentheses are my own)


Here is a playlist I made with songs about either Psalm 23 or the general topic of Jesus as a Shepherd:


I will soon post about the next chapter in the book, titled "I Shall Not Want."  I also have three children's books about Psalm 23 for different age levels that I will share in the next few days as well!