The Shepherd’s Care

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
—Psalm 23:1

THE ISRAELITES WERE the typical people of God, and they recognized Jehovah as their shepherd. They were God’s covenant people, and he dealt with them through their mediator, Moses. So David could say, ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’ God was a shepherd and provider for our first parents, Adam and Eve. The green pastures and still waters of Eden were theirs.

But through disobedience they were lost from the fold of God, with the result that the entire human family have been as ‘lost sheep.’ These ‘sheep’ are not hopelessly lost, however, for God sent his Son as the Good Shepherd to ‘seek’ and ‘save’ the race.

Jesus said, “The Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?”—Matt. 18:11,12


But though we might properly liken the world to ‘lost sheep,’ the 23rd Psalm is not the expression of ‘sheep’ which have gone astray, but of those reposing in the shepherd’s care. These are the ones 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 can truly say, ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’ To some there are “gods many, and lords many, but to us there is but 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. 8:5,6) The Heavenly Father, then, is our Great Shepherd, and Jesus said, “No man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”—John 10:29

We may emphasize that the Lord IS our Shepherd, not that we hope he is, or think that he is.

Then, too, the Lord is MY Shepherd. This is no mere generalization, but something definitely personal. What a joy should be ours that each of us can say MY God, MY Shepherd, MY Father!

What is a shepherd? King David had been a shepherd before he was anointed king. No one knew better the work of a shepherd than he. It was to provide food by leading the sheep into suitable pastures. It was to keep the sheep together; to water, heal, and defend the flock. All this was the work of the shepherd. David slew both a lion and a bear in defense of the sheep entrusted to his care. So, the Lord is our provider, our guide, our defender.


Formerly, as members of the Adamic race, we were all lost in sin. “All we like sheep have gone astray.” (Isa. 53:6) Then it was that “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

Now Jesus, the Son of our Great Shepherd, is our Good Shepherd, who “giveth his life for the sheep.”—John 10:11


“God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus,” wrote Paul. (Phil. 4:19) Another promise: “No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” (Ps. 84:11) We can testify to the words of Joshua: “Ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.” (Josh. 23:14) Truly, ‘I shall not want,’ neither his providential care, his grace and strength, nor any spiritual good thing.


We are made to “lie down” in the “green pastures” (Ps. 23:2) which the Shepherd provides. This means to rest, or abide, in these pastures. We all should be able to exclaim, “How green are my pastures!” We are living not “by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”—Matt. 4:4

We are resting on the promises of God, and resting in the peace of God which passeth human understanding. In the assembling of ourselves together for praise and testimony, and in our study of God’s Word, we are dwelling in the ‘green pastures’ which he provides. We are no longer feeding on the husks of human tradition, or on creedal misconceptions, but on the glorious truths of God’s Word.


Our Shepherd leads, not to the dangerous, swift torrents of the mountainside, but “beside the still waters” (Ps. 23:2) to safe waters where we may drink without danger. However, these still waters are not stagnant, but the pure and living waters of truth—dispensational truth, harvest truth, present truth. These harmonious truths satisfy both our heads and our hearts. This ‘water’ is in us as “a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”—John 4:14

And how reassuring the words, “He leadeth me.” (Hymn 87, Hymns of Dawn) This thought is repeated throughout the Bible. For example, “The meek [sheeplike] will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way. All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.”—Ps. 25:9,10

Our Great Shepherd has promised to lead us through Christ. In Jesus we have an example of how we should walk, and where, for we are following in his steps. The Master calls his own sheep by name. The Lord knoweth them that are his, “and when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.” (John 10:4) Blessed are those of whom these words of the Master are true!


Throughout the Bible, ‘soul’ means the being, the life, one’s self. In the eastern country with which David was familiar, there were perilous places for the sheep on all sides, and the shepherd There were also private fields and vineyards in the countryside. If a sheep strayed into one of these and was caught there, it was forfeited to the owner of the field or vineyard.

Our souls, or lives, were lost through Adam’s disobedience, but we have been restored through faith in Christ. The Bible speaks of this as our justification. Romans 8:1 reads, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.”

This assurance of soul restoration (Ps. 23:3) might also well apply to times in our Christian walk when we become spiritually ‘weary,’ or, through neglect, allow ourselves to stray from the footsteps of our Shepherd into situations of danger to us as New Creatures. How often we need to be ‘restored’ to the full sunlight of our Great Shepherd’s love!


In the land where David served as shepherd there were many ways in which the sheep could be led. One might lead to the wilderness, another to a precipice, and still another to a place from which the sheep could not find their way back. But the faithful shepherd always led his sheep in the right paths—“paths of righteousness.”—Ps. 23:3

How important it is for us to follow the leadings of our Shepherd. How unable we are to choose our own ways. How true the words, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”—Prov. 14:12

Our Shepherd leads by the ‘still waters.’ He leads in ‘green pastures.’ He leads in the ‘paths of righteousness’—not in the way of worldly ambition, not after the flesh. If we are following his leadings we are walking in the ‘narrow way.’ Jesus said, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: … Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt. 7:13,14) Again, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”—Luke 9:23


The good name or reputation of a shepherd was at stake in connection with the care of his flock. A good shepherd loves his flock and takes a personal interest in every sheep under his care. However, his success does not bring honor to the sheep, but to his own name. Jesus may have had this in mind when in prayer to his Father he said:

“Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.”—John 17:11,12


The ‘right paths’ upon which the Good Shepherd leads his sheep are not always pleasant ones. Sometimes they are through situations of deadly peril. David describes these as the “valley of the shadow of death.” (Ps. 23:4) May it not have been in one of these literal valleys that David, as a shepherd lad, occasionally rescued a lamb from the mouth or claws of a lion or a bear?

All mankind is walking through a ‘valley of death.’ The world has been in this dark valley now for more than 6,000 years. But the world is wandering and lost—and dying. We are in the same valley, but we are being led through its dangers by our Shepherd. Our life is hid with Christ in God.


In the places where David served as shepherd, the sheep were in almost constant danger of being preyed upon by wild animals. The tendency of sheep when attacked is to excitedly scatter and run, making it nearly impossible for the shepherd to reach the foe—most likely a wolf—which is among them.

The shepherd knows what to do at such a time. He leaps to a rock, or another elevation where he can be seen and heard. Then he lifts his voice and intones a long call, something like the howl of a dog. On hearing this the sheep remember the shepherd, and they heed his voice. The poor, timid creatures, which were helpless with terror and scattered, instantly rush together with all their strength into a solid mass.

The pressure is irresistible; the wolf is overcome. Frequently it is nearly crushed to death. This happens because the shepherd is with the sheep and has given his call. No wonder that David, in applying this lesson to God’s care for his people, wrote: “I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” (Ps. 23:4) Is that not reason enough?

Faith should bring to the child of God a continual sense of his presence. And the Great Shepherd has given assurance that he will be with us—“My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” (Exod. 33:14) To this the Good Shepherd added, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world [age].” (Matt. 28:20) Even though we are still in the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil, for under the leadership of our Shepherd we shall pass safely through.

In pastures green?
   Not always.
Sometimes He who knoweth best,
   In kindness
Leadeth me in weary ways where
   Heavy shadows be.
So whether on the hill tops high
   And fair I dwell,
Or in the sunless valley, where
   The shadows lie,
What matter? He is there!
   The Lord my Shepherd is!

Because our Shepherd is with us, we can hear his voice. The voice of the Good Shepherd is a blending of various sounds in a manner in which they are blended by no other voice. His voice sounds forth the chord of justice commingled with the chord of love, and the whole intoned with wisdom and with power.

At times, two or more shepherds may come together to visit. While they are doing this, the sheep and the lambs all commingle about them in a seemingly inextricable manner. But when the time comes for the shepherds to go their way, each will sound his call and the sheep will follow the call of their respective shepherds.

Various ‘voices’ are calling us today. There is the voice of the world—the pride of life. There is also the voice of the flesh—self. The voice of Satan, in all its many disguises is making its appeal. Also calling are the voices of ambition, fame, selfishness, or mammon and pleasure; sometimes even of friends and family. These and many other attractions are attempting to lure the Lord’s people away from the footsteps of the Good Shepherd. Let us not heed these voices, nor follow them.

To the extent that any of them have a legitimate claim upon us, we will be apprized of it by our Good Shepherd. In this connection we hear him saying, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22:21) Let us listen for the still small voice of a conscience instructed by the Word of God—“Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.”—Isa. 30:21


“Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me,” wrote David. (Ps. 23:4) The rod and staff were used by the shepherd in the care of his sheep. The double expression, ‘rod’ and ‘staff,’ covered the whole ground of protecting care, by day and by night. The shepherd carries a crook for guiding the sheep, and a rod for defending them.

God’s protection and his correction should both be a source of comfort to us. The Old and the New Testaments are a comfort and defense. Through the comfort of the Scriptures we have hope. How comforting indeed are the expressions of Divine love! “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.” (Isa. 40:11) Truly, “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”—Rom. 8:28


The promised ‘table’ (Ps. 23:5) is said to be prepared “in the presence of mine enemies.” Here some would change the scene from the pastoral life to a banquet hall. However, this is not necessary. But whether we do or not, the thought is just as reassuring and beautiful.

The word here used for ‘table’ simply means something which is spread out. Have we not all 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 mat spread out upon the ground? Is this not exactly like the ‘table’ the shepherd prepares for his sheep?

In addition to finding water, he has the task of searching out a safe feeding place. He spreads this table on a slope of grass-covered ground. All the shepherd’s skill, and often heroic work, is called forth in this duty, for it could often be done in the very presence of the sheep’s enemies. These enemies are poison plants and snake holes. And in the caves of the hillsides there may be wolves, hyenas, and panthers. Bravery and skill are required in closing up these dens with sticks, or slaying the wild beasts with long bladed knives. Perhaps, at times, David used his sling to good advantage.

So our Good Shepherd prepares a ‘table’ for us, despite the enemies with which we are surrounded. Satan and all his cohorts would like to take this ‘meat in due season’ away from us if they could. They would also like to destroy the Lord’s ‘sheep,’ but his presence is with them. His wisdom, his power, and his love are their protection, so they continue to feast unharmed at his table.

Are we not indeed enjoying a rich spiritual feast of truth! Can we not say, “I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.”—Song of Sol. 2:3,4

We have been served by the returned Master: “Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.” (Luke 12:37) We have been fed as suggested in Matthew 24:45: “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?” Truly the Lord has prepared a ‘table’ spread with spiritual bounties that we might grow strong in the things of the Spirit.


In the expression, “Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over,” (Ps. 23:5) begins the beautiful picture at the close of the day. The psalm has sung of the whole round of the day’s wanderings, referring to all the needs of the sheep, and the wonderful care given them by 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. He turns his body to let the sheep pass, for he is the “door” (John 10:7), even 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.

The shepherd has with him a horn filled with olive oil, and also a supply of cedar tar. With the tar he anoints a knee which had been bruised on the rocks, or a side scratched by thorns. As he scrutinizes the sheep he finds some which are simply worn and exhausted. He bathes the heads and faces of these with the refreshing olive oil.

Are we not associated with One who was anointed with the “oil of gladness above thy (his) fellows”? (Heb. 1:9) Have we not received of his anointing? John wrote, “The anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you.”—I John 2:27


For this closing scene of the day, the shepherd has provided a supply of cool, refreshing water. He takes a large two-handled cup, dips it in his supply, and gives it to his weary sheep to drink. There is nothing in the psalm finer than this.

Our ‘cup’ of experiences is largely one of joy in the Lord. Even our communion in the afflictions of Christ we can count as joy, because they are a provision of God’s loving-kindness. “Surely,” David continues, “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” (Ps. 23:6) Rotherham’s Translation uses the word “pursue” instead of ‘follow.’ This suggests that the goodness and mercy of the Lord are very close to us, keeping up with us, never letting us get out of sight. In all the experiences represented throughout the psalm, God’s goodness and mercy are manifested, the last loving touch being shown by the cup of refreshing water just as the weary sheep enter the fold for the night.


The fold reached at the end of the day could represent our eternal home into which we enter at the end of the “narrow” way. (Matt. 7:14) And what a prize this will be—to dwell in the house of the Lord! It is the house which Jesus, our Good Shepherd, promised when he said to his disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go … I will come again, and receive you unto myself.” (John 14:2) In this ‘house’ we will abide forevermore.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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