Jehovah is my Shepherd

“Jehovah is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1

Is there any other Psalm as well known as this twenty-third? Though some three thousand years have passed since it was written by the sweet singer and Shepherd-king of Israel, David, it has not been forgotten. And who can forget this Psalm which brings comfort, the depth of which is beyond explanation. So powerful is this portion of God’s Word that it has long comforted the poor, brought encouragement to the sick, the imprisoned, and the dying . . . even armies. What peace the Holy Spirit brings to the child of God through these words.

These familiar words, Christian, are our song. Over the three thousand years that it has been in the Song Book of the Church, the people of God have sung about the child of God being led through life until at last he knows the completeness of salvation. This has been the Song of the Pilgrimage. And how beautifully it speaks of the sweetness of Jehovah’s care.

Since this familiar Psalm is so rich we can take only a few words at a time for our meditation. David, himself the Shepherd-king, begins, “Jehovah is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Let’s stop here.

Yes, David had been a shepherd; he knew what it was to care for sheep. Caring for the flock, he had known each one of those not-to-a-lovely creatures by name; he had loved them; he had defended them against the dangers of life; he had sought new pastures for them, and through the darkness of the valley he had brought them. From this experience came this never-dying song about the pilgrimage of the child of God.

It was not unusual that God’s people should be likened to sheep. The Patriarch Jacob as he neared death had said it first: he had been fed, i.e., shepherded, all through his life by the God of his father’s (Genesis 48:15). And now David by inspiration uses this picture language in writing these comforting words. As he docs this, he is placing in our minds a picture of the Palestinian hillside. On it we see the shepherd and the sheep.

• It’s a quiet scene, a peaceful scene—indeed, a pastoral scene. There we see a shepherd—young or old—around whom many white, furry sheep are gathered.

David has a reason for focusing our eyes on the shepherd in the midst of the flock. He says: “I have a shepherd for my life and Jehovah is His name.” There is no sound of doubt in his words. He does not begin by asking, as so many do today, “Does Jehovah exist?” For him this would he a foolish question. David does not need to prove God. He lives out of faith. Even as there is a sun which sent its rays into his presence, so there is 900. And this God, Jehovah, David knows intimately. His heart is filled with rapture at the very thought.

This Jehovah of whom David testifies has a significant name in Scripture. Long years before, Moses as he was shepherding Jethro’s flocks in Midian learned the meaning of this name: “I will be that I will be.” This Jehovah is the God who is unchangeable in His grace. He is the Ever-faithful Covenant God. Before Moses, Abraham had heard the precious covenant promise which is grounded in God’s eternal love for His own.

Now David, as a child of God, bears testimony to the fact that he knows Jehovah. To him, God is neither a philosophical abstraction, nor a problem to be solved, nor even a principle to be debated. To David, God is a Person! Using personal language he says, “Jehovah is my Shepherd . . .”

• And more fully than David we know this Covenant God, Jehovah, for we live beyond the days of types and shadows. Saying these words with the Psalmist, we see the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. We see the Great Shepherd whose blood is the sign of the eternal covenant. We take comfort in the Chief Shepherd who shall be manifested in the Last Day.

Why can we call Jehovah our Shepherd? If you go out to the Judean hillside and learn from the shepherd just what his task is, you’ll find out. You will see him seeking out the suitable herbage and the unfailing springs of water, so necessary for the well-being of the sheep. More than once you will see him rescue his charges from being lost, and then you will see the tender care he pours over their wounds when they have been hurt. When these helpless sheep face the onslaught of wild animals he brings protection. For their safety he stands in jeopardy every hour. His labor is, without a doubt, a labor of love exercised in constant care.

From this, can’t you see how Jehovah is the Shepherd? F. B. Meyer put it this way: Our Lord has a shepherd’s heart “beating with a pure and generous love that counted not His life-blood too dear a price to pay down as our ransom.” He has a shepherd’s eye, seeing all the Rock, wherever it may wander. He has a shepherd’s faithfulness for He never leaves His own -not even when the wolves of life come. His is the shepherd’s strength for He has the power to deliver us from the jaw of the Han or the paw of the bear. So tender is He that there is no lamb so tiny that He will not carry, no saint so weak that He will not gently lead, no soul so faint that He will not give rest. Jehovah is our Shepherd!

Our every need He provides. As He feeds the ravens and causes the lilies to grow, so He fulfills our needs, too. Our Shepherd cares. And so, on Him we wait, praying, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

There is no day when we are not given strength and grace along this busy pilgrimage. We can say with David, “I shall not want.” “The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing,” the Psalmist says (34:10).

But not all men can say “Jehovah is my shepherd.” Not all men can echo these words of assurance. To say this is to say that there is an intimate relationship with Him. This is one of electing grace. And so that we may know this relationship we have been purchased—bought with a price. Christ said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Unless we know God through Jesus Christ the comfort of the Shepherd is not ours. Oh, how precious is Jesus our Great Shepherd!

• Now look again at the scene on the Judean hillside. We see the shepherd, but we also see the sheep: white, furry snowballs in the green grass.

David tells us that the Lord is the Shepherd of His sheep. But who are His sheep? His sheep are the ones He has sought and for whom He has paid a great purchase price. In Scripture the word “sheep” is used for the child of God, while he who is not a child of God is called a “goat.” In Christ we can rejoicingly say, “He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand” (Psalm 95:7).

If we make a study of the nature of sheep we will soon find that this word is a good one to describe the Lord’s own. Ask that shepherd on the Judean hillside about those animals of his tender care. He will tell you that the sheep are very dependent. Without a shepherd they are utterly lost. Without one to lead them they stumble and falter—and oh, the trouble they get into. He will tell you that though the animals have keen hearing, they have very poor eyesight, seeing no more than fifteen yards. In so many, many ways they are dependent creatures.

It’s easy to see why we are called “sheep.” Spiritually, we are so much like them. We don’t walk by sight: we walk by faith and as we make this earthly pilgrimage we hear our Shepherd speaking to our troubled and fearful souls. Yes, we are sheep, and we have a Shepherd whom we love. On Him we depend. And His name? “Jehovah is my Shepherd . . . .” Him we know in Jesus Christ who is the Good Shepherd.

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds,
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.

What comfort and assurance come in this first verse of Psalm 23.

To experience this comfort, we must have absolute trust in this Jehovah. Had David been less godly he might have said, “I have wealth, a name, a position; and, therefore, I have no need.” But such an attitude would not have been one of trust; rather, a commentary on a comfortless life. We must learn, as did David, that trust must be in Jehovah who changes not. And we must learn as we are engaged in this long and difficult pilgrimage that our Shepherd has our constant care at heart. When in rapturous tones you breathe and sing these words, do you mean that your burdens rest on Him? Do you mean that you trust Him, no matter what?

“Jehovah is my Shepherd.” “My Shepherd” we call Him. And we say, “I have learned to be content.” The shepherd cares for his sheep. We need not worry. He cares! O, yes, it is easy to worry but then we forget, “Jehovah is my Shepherd!”

How marvellous this all is. And what is more wonderful: our being loved does not rest on us. Troubled child of God, these are words of hope. The Bibles, says, “If we are faithless, he abideth faithful; for he cannot deny himself” (II Tim. 2:13). And by grace we utter, “The Lord is my portion saith my soul, therefore will I trust in Him”—and all because in Christ we are sheep and known of the Good Shepherd.

Jerome M. Julien, pastor of Faith Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, herewith presents the first of a series of meditation on Psalm 23.