The LORD is my Shepherd. That’s the first line of Psalm 23. Many are familiar with this verse, but only a few really know its deep meaning. In this post, let us discover what it means.
Psalm 23 is probably the most popular chapter in the book of Psalms. Most people can quickly quote the first verse if not the whole chapter. Psalm 23, in its entirety, is full of profound meaning and insight to the love, mercy, and protection that God bestowed upon us.
While the whole chapter is worth our attention, in this blog, I simply want to answer the question, “What does the statement, the LORD is my shepherd mean?” Let’s analyze this verse and discover the amazing and powerful meaning of Psalm 23:1.
Who is the LORD?
To understand Psalm 23:1, we must first identify who the LORD is mentioned in this passage.
Looking at the original Hebrew word, LORD came from what we commonly refer to as the Tetragrammaton – the YHWH. The Jews, who are afraid of blaspheming the name of the LORD, would rather pronounce this name as Adonai to be safe.
Some people thought that the proper pronunciation of this name is Jehovah, which is false and inaccurate. (This is a huge topic which is better reserved for future articles.)
Personally, I would pronounce YHWH as Yahweh. It is the unique and sacred name of the Everlasting and Eternal God – the God of the vast universe; the almighty, omniscient and omnipotent Creator.
From the onset of Psalm 23, we have seen how King David identified the very Being of whom who is the Shepherd of us all.
King David recognized the true and living God. In a world full of idolatry and false religion, David calls upon Yahweh. He didn’t invoke any pagan gods who are powerless and useless. David knew that if he would call the highest power there is, it should be Yahweh!
Is the LORD the Father or the Son?
Now, let’s dig deeper into what Psalm 23 really means.
We come to know that the LORD here is Yahweh. However, one might ask, is the Yahweh here referring to God the Father or the Son, whom we would later know as Yahshua the Messiah (or popularly known as Jesus Christ)?
Most Christians and non-Christians today would assume that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are different. The popular belief is that it was God the Father, the cruel and sadist God in the Old but was replaced by the more loving and merciful God in the New, which is Jesus Christ.
Nothing can be farther than the truth!
Here’s a surprising fact: the God who primarily interacted with human beings in the Old Testament is the Yahweh who would later become Yahshua (Jesus) in the New Testament.
It would be difficult for me to lay out all the scriptural evidence here since that’s entirely a separate topic. However, let me just share with you the blog I wrote about this profound truth in the Bible. Please open this to another tab, “The Astounding Truth of Jesus Revealed as the God of the Old Testament.”
With that being said, the Yahweh in the Bible applies to both God the Father and the Son, Yahshua. What determines the identity would be the context.
So, again, who is the LORD of whom David was speaking about? Given the explanation I mentioned above, it could be both the Father and Jesus Christ. King David himself, understood that there are two God Beings. We read that in Psalm 110:1.
The LORD said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”
David was literally saying here, “Yahweh said to my Adonai.” Yahweh here is God the Father and Adonai is Jesus Christ.
The Father, with His great love and care, can undoubtedly be considered as our Shepherd as well. However, this analogy is also applied to Yahshua which is revealed in the New Testament.
John 10 is the famous chapter where Christ referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd. We read the astounding revelation of Jesus in verse 11 and 14-15:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
As you can see, we have the two most powerful Beings in the entire universe, though majestic and almighty, choose to be the Shepherd to all of the people who answer their call.
Can you imagine what this means? It means that even if we are mere mortal beings made of dust, God the Father and Jesus Christ have become our personal Shepherds!
In short, they are intimately involved in our lives. They take care of all our needs, protects us from danger, and lavish us with love every single moment of our lives!
Our Shepherd is not just any other gods. We have the highest Authority in the universe as our Shepherd who takes care of us. What a MARVELOUS comfort that we can get from this verse!
What does a shepherd do?
Of all the many occupations in the world, why would King David compare God to a shepherd? As a shepherd himself, David knew very well what he was talking about. He knew what a Shepherd’s role is and how these roles fit the loving character of God.
Let’s examine what a shepherd does to his flock of sheep.
The Shepherd as the Protector
God is the ultimate protector (II Samuel 22:3-4). He does not simply oversee his flock. Before danger comes near the flock, the shepherd will intervene. He won’t let any evil come near them. (Read more about God’s protection to His people by reading “20 Most Surprising Lessons from Psalm 91 You Probably Never Heard Of.”
In the life of a sheep, there are a lot of dangers which are waiting to just happen. Whether that danger comes from predators and even the sheep itself, God as our Shepherd protects us from all of those.
The Shepherd as the Guide
God leads us to the still waters. He leads us to the green pasture. Left on our own, we simply go wherever we want to go. Like a curious toddler who recently learned to walk, we don’t have a sense of direction. We simply go where we feel like going without actually thinking about the consequences of our action. With God as our Shepherd, we are kept safe.
The Shepherd as the Provider
Just like what James wrote, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). All that we are and all that we have are from God. It is not by our own strength that we obtain blessings and riches.
God promised to supply all our needs and even the desires of our hearts as long as they are part of His will and purpose. Every day, God leads us to the green pasture. He knows where to bring us. Once a piece of land is depleted of food, he brings us again to another place where our needs would still be met. Indeed, God will never leave us nor forsake us.
The Shepherd as our Physician
A shepherd can never call himself a shepherd without the ability to heal. A shepherd must know how to take care of the diseases of his flock and ensure that they are always healthy.
God, in His great love and affection to us, didn’t spare His Son. He gave up His Son and die a gruesome death to offer salvation to all mankind.
Part of this sacrifice is the promise of healing to those people who are sick.
Isaiah 53:5 tells us that by Christ’s stripes, we are healed. King David mentioned that one of the benefits of following God is the healing of our diseases (Psalm 102:3). James even instructs those who are sick to “call for the elders of the church and let them pray over [them]” (James 5:14).
Truly, our God is like a shepherd who heals us of our infirmities and illnesses. (To learn more about God’s healing power, please read, “Five Incredible Reasons God is the Greatest Physician.”
The Shepherd as the Savior
Yahshua or Jesus Christ gave the parable of the lost sheep. He talks about how the shepherd will spare no pain just to find even one lost sheep. He is ready to leave his flock in safety and go out of his way and do everything within his power to find the sheep that went astray (Matthew 18:10-14).
Indeed, the “Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). God does not give up on us. When we go on our own, He does not simply give us up without any fight. He would come and rescue us. He is even willing to give up His Son just to grant us eternal life.
How’s that for a savior!
These are just some of the ways God is a Shepherd to all of us. I’m sure there are other ways.
Now that we already know who our Shepherd is and His role in our lives, the next question is why would God inspire David to use sheep to represent His people?
This is an interesting question to ask. Why not? Of all the majestic and even stronger animals found in nature, why choose the sheep? I mean we can use probably the dog, cat, lion, elephant, cow, horse, and others that are more beautiful and dashingly charming.
But NO. David simply chose the sheep.
There’s a great lesson here. The Bible is simply showing us our great reliance on God! David was making a point that we are helpless, defenseless, and even purposeless without God in our lives.
Sheep are weak. To put it bluntly, they are dumb!
You probably heard of a news how hundreds of sheep died simply by following their leader off a cliff. Because of herd mentally, they simply follow what they thought what is right in their own eyes. They don’t question things. They don’t even think for themselves!
No doubt; Isaiah exactly know what he meant when he wrote:
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 (Isaiah 53:6).
Even if you place sheep in a perfectly good environment. You give them green pasture and enough water to sustain them. They are prone to wander around. Without anyone looking after them, they would soon be lost and far from the flock.
I mentioned a while ago that sheep are weak and defenseless. Other domesticated animals can readily defend themselves, but not sheep.
When a sheep senses danger, it can’t fight. It does not have claws, sharp teeth, armor, horn, or anything it can use to defend itself. Now, even if it thinks of running, it is just too slow to outrun its predator. Its feet are too small and its body is too big.
So, what do sheep do when they are in danger? They simply gather around and run in a full-blown panic hoping for a miracle that they won’t get picked and get other sheep eaten by the predator.
The Bible tells us whom God chooses as His people:
For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things [does a sheep comes into mind?] of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence (I Corinthians 1:26-29).
Notice the last verse of this passage. Why did God choose us? The answer is so that “no flesh should glory in His presence”!
Wow! What powerful imagery. Here we are, as sheep in God’s flock. God did not call the lions, bear, wolf, eagles, and elephants inside his fold.
Because these animals are filled with pride. They are wild. They are difficult to deal with. They are most often than not untamable.
God won’t let any rebellious animal within His fold. In the same way, before God can use us, we need to be humble. Before God can let us in, He needs to make sure we won’t hurt other sheep within His flock.
Do you now have a clearer understanding of why God has chosen the sheep? He wants to teach us that if we are left by ourselves, we simply do what we think is right.
A shepherd is needed for a flock of sheep to flourish. It is through staying within the fold of the True and Good Shepherd that we will surely be blessed and be filled with God’s peace and joy.
Understanding Psalms 23:1
We now come to the conclusion of this article. I hope that you have obtained a better understanding of what it really means when the Bible said, “The LORD is my shepherd.” This five-word sentence might sound simple, but it is packed with rich and powerful meaning.
May we seek the sheepfold of our God. Let us make Him our Shepherd and once we get in, may we stay for good and “dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6).