Good Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:1-3

Sometimes we read Psalm 23 and we can think of the Lord as a gentle but weak shepherd. Can you picture it? He’s guiding the sheep along quiet waters and gently caring for them as they lie down in green pastures. It’s a very calming picture, but we might not immediately call this kind of shepherd “powerful.”

Yet, as we continue to read the Psalm, we run into the next verse which says, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” And since we don’t come from a shepherding culture, we may have no idea what it’s talking about here. The rod was for the protection of the sheep. It was used to fight off predators. The staff was meant to corral the sheep. The hook at the end of the staff was used to pull sheep back into the flock.

A modern, modified way to read verse 4 would be, “I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your shotgun and Your cattle prod, they comfort me.” In other words, the Psalmist was comforted by the Shepherd’s power to protect him and power to correct him. This kind of power is comforting. It means we don’t have to try to muster up strength that we don’t have. In John 10:11 Jesus identifies Himself as the “good shepherd.” And the only way for a shepherd to be a good shepherd was for him to be a powerful one.

We see this truth in the early life of David before he became king. David was about to fight Goliath. King Saul told David that Goliath had been a warrior from his youth. David proceeds to give King Saul his resume. And the only thing on his resume was “shepherd.” David went on to explain that his training as a shepherd was as good or better than Goliaths training as a warrior.

But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

1 Samuel 17:34-37

In order to be a good shepherd, David had to be a powerful one. You can’t be a good shepherd and a weak one. They are incompatible. John 10:11-13 goes on to explain that a hired hand will run away when a predator comes after the sheep, but a good shepherd will stay and be willing to lay his life down for his sheep.

So, next time you read Psalm 23, remember that the Lord is our shepherd, and though He is gentle with us, He is not weak. Our Good Shepherd is powerful! Part of what it means to be a good shepherd is to be a powerful one. His power to protect us and His power to correct us brings us rest and comfort. We don’t have to live in fear because He is near.

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