2006-12-09 - The New Shepherdism
Psalm 23:1, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want." (NIV)
Many of the Psalms contain frustrations and complaints. This is not the case here. This Psalm is an expression of confidence in God's grace, and rather than complaints, we see in this Psalm David's comforts. He delights in God's goodness and tells of his pleasure in Him. David gives God, in this Psalm, the credit for all the good things he has received. He does what we should do in all experiences of our lives. He gives the glory to God.
David first calls God his shepherd. In one sense this is a demotion for God. God is much more than a shepherd, but God is much more than anything we could ascribe to Him. The picture of a shepherd is one part of who God is and how David viewed God. Remember that David himself was a shepherd once, and so he knew how a shepherd loves and cares for the sheep under His watch. The shepherd defends and protects his flock. David knew this by experience, and was well qualified to say that the Lord was his shepherd. David knows that with the Lord as his shepherd, he shall not want.
Consider the great care God takes for us. He is like a shepherd to us. As David knew that the sheep had need of a shepherd, so also we know that we have need of a shepherd to guide, protect and preserve us. Can you think of a greater One to be our shepherd than the Lord? Who is more skillful and faithful to guide us in all things? Who can better be our strength and deliverer when we need rescue? With such a shepherd we surely shall not want.
Is there a Messianic element to this verse? There could be, and it is very possible that Christ is referencing Himself as the fulfillment of this verse when He says in John 10:11, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." Christ is the good shepherd of His church and He has laid down His life for her. We can't know if David had the promised Messiah in view as he wrote this, but we do believe that He wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and thus this verse becomes personal to all who rest, for all their hope and trust, in Christ alone.
We have a natural tendency to look at this verse and focus in on the "shall not be in want," portion of it. Let us not diminish the wonder and promise given here to all followers of Christ: They shall not be in want. However, let us not overlook the first part that the Lord is our shepherd. He was willing to, and did, lay down His life for His sheep. He paid the penalty for the sins of all His sheep and this is something that trumps the promise of our not being in want.
We could re-write this verse in a very personal way saying:
"I am a sinner. I deserve condemnation, but the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be condemned. It shall not be the case that I am cast out of the presence of God to suffer for my sins. I shall not be in hell. I shall be with my shepherd in glory. Want is the furthest thing from my mind, because the good shepherd has taken my sin upon Himself, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
Only a follower of Christ can say this, but the comfort and knowledge of experiencing this truth changes everything about us. If the Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want - neither now on earth nor soon in glory.
Soli Deo Gloria,