Many life lessons in scripture are based on agrarian or husbandry lifestyles, something I am not familiar with. It can take some extra study then to understand their meaning. Phillip Keller helps lift the veil a bit, on this most precious Psalm, by providing the shepherd’s point-of-view.
Psalm 23 was written by King David. Before he was King, David was a humble shepherd, who understood the intimate relationship between a shepherd and his sheep. This beloved Psalm is short, so before I offer a few comments about Keller’s book, I will cite Psalm 23.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.1
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.2
He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.3
Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.4
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.5
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.6
I memorized this Psalm as a child. It is poetry, and beautiful in that sense alone, but like all scripture it is given instruct the child of God. It portrays, the LORD as the Good Shepherd, which necessarily makes the children of God, sheep. Keller opines:
…it is no mere whim on God’s part to call us sheep
No whim, but not very flattering. Sheep are selfish, stubborn, defenseless, and stupid, or as the author states:
They require, more than any other class of livestock, endless attention and meticulous care.
Keller brings out numerous, subtle nuances of this Psalm that would only be obvious to a shepherd. I’ll just point out a few.
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures” – sheep will only lie down when they are: free of fear, free from friction with others of their kind, free from pests, and free from hunger. The Good Shepherd frees his sheep from all of these.
The rod and the staff – not the same thing. The rod was the shepherd’s weapon, and speaks of the Word of God. The staff is used to guide, assist, and occasionally rescue the sheep. It speaks of the Spirit of God. It is also, the one thing that uniquely identifies a shepherd.
…that staff, more than any other item of his personal equipment, identifies the shepherd as a shepherd. No one in any other profession carries a shepherd’s staff.
But the most poignant lesson, that Keller’s knowledge of shepherding revealed to me, is from the phrase “goodness and mercy shall follow me”. Keller pointed out, that a properly shepherded flock will actually enrich their pasture lands, whereas a mismanaged flock will destroy them. The application being that, the Child of God, who is blessed by God, should be a blessing to others. Keller asks some powerful, and convicting questions:
Do I leave behind peace in lives – or turmoil?
Do I leave behind forgiveness – or bitterness?
Do I leave behind contentment – or conflict?
Do I leave behind flowers of joy – or frustration?
Do I leave behind love – or rancor?
A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 is a short and accessible read. It added beauty and benefit to my understanding of Psalm 23.