A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 [Part Two: I Shall Not Want]


I am currently re-reading a favorite book of mine, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller for my book club. It is a timely book because it helps reassure the reader that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is in control and lovingly providing all we need even in difficult circumstances. What a better time than the present pandemic to be reminded of this truth. Keller worked as a shepherd and used very similar techniques to those used in Biblical times, so he has keen insights on what David meant when he wrote about tending sheep as a way to express the Lord's tender care for us. It is a simple and short book, yet it is packed with wisdom and comfort from this beloved psalm. In my first post, I shared my favorite insights from the first chapter, where Keller discusses what is meant by "The Lord is my Shepherd." [ See post HERE ]

"I Shall Not Want"
Today, I am moving onto the next chapter, which is titled "I Shall Not Want", the second part to the first verse of Psalm 23: "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." Does this mean that we will never have needs are are left unmet, finances that are in the red, or illness that threatens our health? Instead of a nod towards a prosperity gospel mentality, Keller believes David was focusing on contentment, not material wealth. Regardless of what our circumstances, we can be content and trust in the care of the Good Shepherd, and in that sense, we will have everything we need. Paul echoes this thought in his letter to the Philippian church:

" I don't speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:11-13)

In order for us to be content, we must be able to trust the One in whom we are surrendering ourselves. Who is the our Shepherd? As mentioned in the previous post, David is referring to God, specifically God the Son, Jesus. And why is He trustworthy? The rest of the psalms uncovers the ways sheep can rest in the care of their good shepherd, and likewise, we can rest in His faithfulness because of what Scriptures says about Him.  As Sally Lloyd-Jones says in The Jesus Storybook Bible, "every story whispers His name". The Bible is ultimately all about the gospel. The Old Testament foreshadows what Jesus would do at the cross to bring us into right standing with God the Father. His sacrificial, unfailing love is the bedrock to a Christian's faith and the reason why we can rest in His care.  A shepherd who spends every day with his sheep, tending to their every need, pouring healing oil and spreading calming salves on their blemishes, finding the best pastures and clean water, protecting the flock from predators, and managing every little detail needed for the flock to be heathy and secure. Likewise, Jesus does not leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6) . A good shepherd doesn't neglect his sheep or abuse them. His reputation as a shepherd lies in his ability to care for his flock. But his motivation goes beyond his good name; he genuinely delights in caring for his sheep. He takes his identity as a shepherd seriously and everything he does is done with his flock in his mind. 

Contrast this with hired help. A tenant shepherd who is employed to care for the sheep while the shepherd is gone for extended periods doesn't have the same sense of ownership and compassion for a flock of sheep since they are not his. To him, it is a job to get a paycheck. But the shepherd who saves up money to pay for the flock and who spends countless hours making sure they are safe and healthy, who prepares months in advance for their wellbeing, that is what Jesus, the Good Shepherd is like. He can be trusted and we can find contentment in Him. Therefore, because of who He is and what He has done to prove Himself the Good Shepherd,  contentment should be a hallmark for Christians. We should surrender our worries, dreams, plans, and most precious gifts into His hands and trust in His ability to take care of it all. This is not always easy, but it is possible through the Holy Spirit's empowering. 

Too often, however, the opposite is true: "We are outstandingly insecure and unsure of ourselves ... Always men are searching for safety beyond themselves. They are restless, unsettled, covetous, greedy for more -- wanting this and that, yet never really satisfied in spirit." 

Sheep who do not trust their shepherd are restless. They cannot lie down in peace because they are constantly on guard for trouble, ready to make a run for it. If their shepherd has not taken care to provide for their basic needs, they cannot be content. But some sheep, even when they are managed by a shepherd who delights in his flock and takes expert care of his sheep, still have a tendency to try to take care of themselves.  These dumb sheep often end up in precarious situations. Keller tells of a ewe he nicknamed "Mrs. Gad-about" because she was always crawling around the fence to other pastures, even if those pastures were severely worse maintained. She'd end up in dangerous fields with poisonous weeds and was easily visible by predators. Worse still, she taught her lambs to do the same. She was foolish and dangerous for the rest of the flock. What a sobering thought that we have the ability to lead other Christians astray by our own stubbornness and unwillingness to rest in the care of our loving and capable Good Shepherd, and would rather choose to walk into danger just to do it our own way. Our pride and inability to trust can be our downfall.

Luke 15 tells the parable of the lost sheep. The shepherd leaves his ninety-nine sheep in their safe surroundings in order to find that one lost sheep. He does not rest until he finds it. I love the artwork above that depicts this parable because it makes me think that the shepherd was willing to risk his own life to save his sheep. That is the kind of shepherd a flock wants guarding and providing for them. And that is the kind of Good Shepherd we have in Jesus.  In Isaiah 53:6, humanity is compared to sheep: "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." We were lost sheep, turned in our own sinful way, far from the Good Shepherd. Yet, He sought us out and made a way for us to be brought back to the fold. I love the hymn,  In Tenderness, which was modernized by the band Citizens:

In tenderness he sought me, weary and sick with sin
And on His shoulders brought me, back to His fold again
While angels in His presence sang, until the courts of heaven rang.

Oh, the love that sought me!
Oh, the blood that bought me!
Oh, the grace that brought me to the fold of God
Grace that brought me to the fold of God. 

He died for me while I was sinning, needy and poor and blind
He whispered to assure me: "I've found thee; thou art Mine"
I never heard a sweeter voice, it made my aching heart rejoice.

What a powerful picture of the Good Shepherd! He lay down His life for His sheep (John 10:11-18).  He daily carries our burdens (Psalm 68:19) and watches over us day and night (Psalm 121:3). He knows that we will have troubling circumstances in this world, but He comforts us with His presence as well as the assurance that He has overcome the world (John 16:33). 

I can say "I shall not want" because I first can say "the Lord is my Shepherd". That does not guarantee ease, and more often than not, it guarantees challenges instead. Yet, we are in the hands of the Good Shepherd who will take care of us each step of the way. We can be content in His leading.

1. What qualities of a leader to you admire most? Who has demonstrated these qualities in your life? 
2. If you are a Christian, how have you experienced Jesus as a Good Shepherd in your life?
3. Is there an area of your life where you are not content or where you struggle to let Jesus guide you as the Good Shepherd? What do you think could happen if you surrendered that area to Him?


Here is a playlist I compiled with songs about Psalm 23 and/or references to Jesus as a Shepherd. The songs have be great for worshipping Jesus as the Shepherd as I read the book: