The Shepherd’s Care


1  The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3  He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4  Yea, 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.

5  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

IN THE spirit of our minds let us come apart and rest awhile, in green pastures and beside still waters, and have our souls refreshed—lifted from the cares of this world, its turmoils and its strife, and rest in our Shepherd’s care.

Not all mankind can claim Jehovah and Jesus as their Shepherds. Concerning Jehovah we read (Isa. 40:11), “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”

And then we have Jesus’ words, “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep. … My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: … My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”—John 10:26,27,29

David and the nation of Israel were typical, and recognized God as their Shepherd. God dealt with them in the giving of his law through their mediator Moses. They were God’s covenant people. So while this psalm was the personal expression of David applicable to himself, and those of his day, it seems as a prophet moved by God’s spirit he so worded it as to beautifully express the faith and assurance of all God’s people, even to our time.

In Eden

God was the great Shepherd, the Caretaker and the Provider for our first parents, Adam and Eve. He made “to grow every tree that is pleasant [beautiful] to the sight, and good for food”—the green pastures and still waters of Eden were theirs—but through disobedience they were lost from the fold of God. The human family as a whole has been as lost sheep ever since. The Great Shepherd has since then sent his own Son as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10) “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”—John 10:11

The first to be recovered are those who consecrate to do the Great Shepherd’s will, and accept Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and follow him whither so ever he leadeth. These are relatively few—the church class—called to a heavenly inheritance, to whom Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) These, if faithful, are to live and reign with Christ for the blessing of the redeemed world in the kingdom age, not only in blessing those living, but all who are to be raised from the dead, “both of the just and the unjust.” (Acts 24:15) Then those among mankind developing sheeplike qualities will be those to whom Jesus referred when he said, “Other sheep [not of the “little flock” or of this age] I have, which are not of this fold.”—John 10:16

The Shepherd’s Care

But though we might liken the world to lost sheep, the sentiments expressed in the twenty-third Psalm are not the expression of a lost sheep, but rather, one reposing in the Shepherd’s care. Yes, they can say, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Though there be that are called gods, … to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” (I Cor. 8:6) It is the Lord who made the heavens and the earth, and things both animate and inanimate, visible and invisible. What a mighty God have we! “How great thou art!”

And if we have taken the proper steps, we can be in the position to say, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Not, I hope he is, or, I think he is, or, I wish he were—but, he is my shepherd. What a comfort to realize this, in the full assurance of faith! “The Lord is my shepherd.” This is no mere generalization, but something very definite and personal. What a joy should be ours that each of us can say, “My God”; “My Shepherd”; that together we can say, our God; our Shepherd; our Father.

“The Lord is my shepherd.” What meaning do we attach to this word shepherd? A farmer or raiser of sheep is not necessarily a shepherd. Probably few of us have ever met a shepherd. However, from history, the Bible, and the dictionary, we know what a shepherd is. The dictionary definition is: “A man employed in tending, feeding, and guarding sheep in pasture.”

David himself had been a shepherd before he was anointed king. No one knew better than he what was the work of a shepherd—to feed, by leading into better grazing land as a pasture would become depleted. Other duties were to water, to keep together, to heal, and to defend the flock from thieves, marauders or wild animals. David slew both a lion and a bear in the defense of the sheep he tended. So then, “The Lord is my shepherd” means he is our Provider, our Guide, and our Defender from dangers known and unknown.

God Is Able

Surely, then, since “the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Because God is not only willing, but able; and “no good thing [for their eternal good] will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” (Ps. 84:11) Our basic want was to be saved from the death penalty which had come upon Adam and all of his children. All being under condemnation, none could give himself a ransom for his brother. “All we like sheep have gone astray.” (Isa. 53:6) This want of salvation from death the great Shepherd supplied as stated by the “good Shepherd” for “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16

“I shall not want.” No indeed, for “God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19) If bread and water was promised us, with how much greater abundance have our wants been supplied? Our wants as Christians are not, however, centered in earthly and material things. “I shall not want” or lack his providence and care, nor for his grace and strength in every time of need, nor for any spiritual good thing.

“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” He causeth me “to lie down”—that is, to dwell in, to rest in, to abide in, “green pastures.” Cannot we all exclaim, How green is my valley, my pasture! Living not “by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Resting on the promises of God; resting in the peace of God, which surpasseth human understanding. We dwell in green pastures as we assemble with others of like precious faith, in Bible study, in song and praise, in prayer and in testimony, “making melody in our hearts unto God.”—Eph. 5:19

“He leadeth me beside the still waters.” The shepherd leads, not to the dangerous swift torrent of the mountainside, but to still, quiet, safe waters, where the sheep may drink without danger. Not stagnant waters, however, but still, living, pure waters. And so we are led to the still, refreshing waters of truth, whereof we drink and are satisfied. This is dispensational truth, harvest truth, present truth—the truth of God’s Word; a harmonious, beautiful plan of the ages, appealing both to our heads and our hearts. A water whereof we drink and never thirst, for it is in us “a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14) How full of meaning are these three words, “He leadeth me.” This same thought is repeated throughout the Bible. “The meek [sheeplike] will he guide in judgment: the meek will he teach his way.”

“He leadeth me, O blessed thought!
O words with heavenly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be,
Still ‘tis God’s hand that leadeth me.”

“He restoreth my soul.” In the Hebrew writings, as indeed throughout the Bible, the soul means the being, the life, oneself. In the Eastern shepherd country with which David was familiar there were perilous places for the sheep on all sides, and they never seemed to learn to avoid them. The shepherd must ever be on watch. There are private fields, and sometimes gardens and vineyards in the countryside; if a sheep should stray into them and be caught there, it is forfeited to the owner of the land. So, “He restoreth my soul” means just that—the rescue of sheep from fatal and forbidden places.

In relating to ourselves the statement, “He restoreth my soul,” it need not apply to restoration of body or physical health, but to the fact that our lives, our souls, were lost in Adam, but have been saved through faith in Christ. Our restoration from the lost condition of enmity with God to peace with him is called justification. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.”—Rom. 8:1

“He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” We may be sure if we had David’s background, if we knew more of the topography and geography of that shepherd land in which he lived, there would be a fuller meaning to many of these verses. One way might lead to the wilderness, one to a precipice, another to a place from which the sheep could not find their way back. But the shepherd was always leading them in right paths—proud of his good name as a shepherd.

“He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” can be very meaningful as we make a personal application of it. Without God as our Shepherd, and the guidelines of his Word, how incompetent we would be always to choose the right path in life! For “there is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25) Manmade salvation does not save.

If God is leading us, we will be walking in the only way of life open from Pentecost to the present time. Jesus introduced it with the words, “Enter ye in at the strait [narrow] gate … Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt. 7:14) If we have found it, then we may be led in this path, this narrow way to heavenly life, to “glory and honor and immortality.”—Rom. 2:7

“He leadeth” us in paths of self-denial and self-sacrifice in following the “Good Shepherd” in the doing of his Father’s will; in paths of honesty and truth; of faith and hope and love—love, which Paul calls “a more excellent way.”—I Cor. 12:31

“For his name’s sake”—not because we are worthy—but by his grace and favor; to his glory, for his name’s sake! His leading shall redound to his praise and honor as well as for our good.

Some of these sheep paths we have referred to are right paths, but still lead through places that have deadly perils! “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”—is the way the psalm touches this fact in shepherd life. May it not have been in one of these “valleys” that David as a shepherd on occasion rescued a lamb from the mouth of a lion—and again from a bear? (I Sam. 17:34-36) We, as well as all the world, are walking through this “valley of the shadow of death.” Mankind has been in the permission of evil’s dark valley—now for over six thousand years.

“I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” The tendency of sheep when attacked is to scatter and run and leap, and perhaps make it impossible for the shepherd to reach the foe, if he (most likely a wolf) is in their midst. But the shepherd is with them. He knows what to do, even at such a time. He leaps to a rock or hillock, that he may be seen and heard. Then he lifts his voice in a call something like a dog’s cry; Ooooh! Ooooh! On hearing this the sheep remember the shepherd; they heed his voice; and strange to tell, the poor, timid creatures which were helpless with terror before, instantly rush together with all their strength into a solid mass. The pressure is irresistible; the wolf is overcome; frequently he is nearly crushed to death, while the shepherd stands there on a rock giving his call. “I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.”

In this “valley of the shadow of death” how can we say, “I will fear no evil”? Ah, there is a great difference between a poor lost sheep astray in this valley of the shadow of death and the case of one of the Lord’s own sheep attended by the good shepherd. We were once lost sheep, but are so no longer. This is the way Peter puts it: “For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” (I Pet. 2:25) “I will fear no evil.” But why not? Because “thou art with me.” Reason enough, is it not? Faith should bring to the child of God a continual sense of his presence. Of this we are assured. “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exod. 33:14) “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world [age].”—Matt. 28:20

We will fear no evil, even though according to the flesh we are still in this valley of shadows, for God-kept, under the leadership of our Good Shepherd, we shall pass safely through. We fear no permanent evil even for the world of lost sheep in this valley, knowing that in God’s kingdom on earth, for which Jesus taught us to pray, all lost sheep may be restored to human life on earth—which was lost in Eden.

“Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” The rod and staff were used by the shepherd in the care of the sheep. The double expression, rod and staff, covered the whole round of protecting care, by day and night. The shepherd carries a crook for guiding the sheep, and a rod for defending them. David was evidently also effective with the sling.—I Sam. 17:49

The rod and staff might be thought of as the Old and New Testaments, which comfort and also defend us. Jesus answered, when tempted by the Devil, with a quote from The Book: “It is written.” The sword of the spirit, the Word of God, is valuable to us in our fight against the world, the flesh, and the Devil. As the staff, it is through the comfort of the Scriptures that we have hope.

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” Here some would change the scene from the pastoral life to a banquet hall. It need not be changed; but either way the language and thoughts expressed are most beautiful. The word here used for “table” simply means something spread out. We all may have seen some wonderful picnic spreads, even though the table was more like those still seen among the Arabs in Eastern countries—a piece of cloth or a mat, or skin spread out upon the ground. One of the psalms asks, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?” Now, is that not exactly like what the shepherd prepares for his sheep?

Along with finding water the shepherd has the daily task of searching out a good and safe feeding place. He prepares a table before them in truth, and it is a table none-the-less in his eyes because it is a spreading slope of grassy ground.

All the shepherd’s skill and oft heroic work are called forth in this duty, for it is done many a day in the presence of the sheep’s enemies—poison plants; snake holes, and in caves of the hillside may be wolves, hyenas, and panthers too. Bravery and skill are shown in closing up these dens with sticks and stones or slaying the wild beasts with long-bladed knives. Perhaps David used his sling to advantage at times.

“Thou anointest my head with oil: my cup runneth over.” Ah! Here begins the beautiful picture at the close of the day! The psalm has sung of the whole round of the day’s wanderings, all the needs of the sheep, all the care of the shepherd. Now it closes with the last scene of the day. At the door of the sheepfold the shepherd stands and the “rodding of the sheep” takes place. The shepherd turns his body to let the sheep pass; he is the door, as Christ said of himself. With his rod he holds back the sheep while he looks them over one by one as they go into the fold. He has the horn filled with olive oil, and he has cedar tar, and he anoints a knee bruised on the rocks or a side scratched by thorns. And here comes one that is not bruised, but simply worn and exhausted; he bathes its head and face with the refreshing olive oil, and he takes a large two-handed cup and dips it brimful from the water he has brought for the purpose, and he lets the weary sheep drink. “Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” There is nothing finer than this!

And then, when the day is done and the sheep are snug in their fold, what contentment, what rest under the starry sky! Then comes the thought of deepest repose and comfort, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” as they have through the wanderings of the day just ended. As the song dies away the heart that God has watched and tended breathes this thought of peace before the roaming of the day is forgotten in sleep. “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

The Lord My Shepherd 

The Lord my Shepherd feeds me.
   And I no want shall know:
He in green pastures leads me,
   By streams which gently flow.

He doth, when ill betides me,
   Restore me from distress;
For his name’s sake he guides me
   In paths of righteousness.

His rod and staff shall cheer me,
   When passing death’s dark vale;
My Lord will still be near me,
   And I shall fear no ill.

His food he doth appoint me,
   Prepared before my foes;
With oil he doth anoint me;
   My cup of bliss o’erflows.

His goodness shall not leave me,
   His mercy still shall guide,
Till God’s house shall receive me,
   Forever to abide.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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