38. Shepherd

God in the Psalms No.38  – God who is a shepherd

Psa 23:1   The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

To approach this most familiar of psalms, let’s see if we can view it slightly differently from usual, in an endeavour to catch something new from it. Suppose you were a sheep and you’d never read this psalm – well sheep can’t read can they! As a sheep you know little of existence. There are sheep enclosures where you are put at night and there are fields where you wander during the day. That is your world – and no more. In the morning you are turned out of the fold. You wondered why you had to be in a fold. Without thinking you start nibbling at the grass. As one patch of grass is shortened you are moved on to another fresh patch. You are taken to the river shallows where you drink. This happens day in, day out, and all the while in the background of your consciousness is this figure who is there. You’re not sure why he’s there, he just is, and he’s the one who lets you out in the morning and shuts you in at night and moves you on during the daytime. He’s just there, whoever he is, this being.

I suspect that is how many people feel about life. It just happens and we take it for granted. We seem to have what we need – and lots more sometimes – and life goes on, and there in the background we’re conscious of some ‘being’ who is there – God.

David is very much aware. He is aware of what the shepherd does – because he is or has been, a shepherd. He also knows who God is and what He does, and as he thinks about it, he realises that God is very much like a shepherd. He’s there in the background of the sheep but He’s not just there, He’s doing things and He’s doing them for the sheep. He spells out some of the things he’s come to realise that the shepherd does. He makes me lie down… he leads me…. he restores(v.2,3). Yes, the way The Shepherd looks after him, He looks after his welfare and quietens him and restores him when he feels worn and jaded.   He guides me in paths of righteousness(v.3).  He helps keep David on track. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me (v.4). He reassures David by His presence with him. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (v.5). David didn’t have to worry about his enemies because God was blessing him. You anoint my head with oil (v.5). David was aware of the Lord re-equipping him and resending him (anointing was a sign of being set apart for a task).

In each of these ways David was aware of The Shepherd looking after him: quietening, restoring him, keeping him on the right track, reassuring him by His presence, blessing him and resending him. So how about us?  Have we taken for granted the figure in the background or have we realised that He is there ministering to us?  Have you responded to Him and let Him lead you into a place of peace and quiet (even in the midst of busyness) where He stills you and restores your soul? Have you known His reassuring presence?  Have you had a sense of His gentle voice calling you back to the right track when you’ve gone to wander away? Have you had that sense of being equipped to be sent, of going into life with a clear sense of purpose, going at the bidding of the Shepherd?

Do you see the point of what we have been saying?  It is so easy just to have a vague awareness of this person in the background of our lives, but not realise what He’s doing. He IS you shepherd and He’s there guiding and directing, protecting and providing, caring and concerned – all for you!

Shadow of Death


Psa 23:3 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

Life in this Fallen World is a complete mix. There are mixes of people. There are some who are incredibly rich and have everything the rest of us could dream of. There are some who are poor and don’t know how they will make it from one day to the next. But there are also varieties of experience within an individual life. There are times when we are healthy and everything seems to be going well, times when we are happy and contented with not a worry in the world. Then there are times when our health deteriorates and we feel low and every step of life seems hard and difficult. And then it gets worse and before we know it we are walking in the shadow of death. Illnesses and accidents occur and what makes it worse, they come with no warning. It would be so much easier if we received a letter from heaven that said, “In two weeks time we have seen that you will be having a serious accident but don’t worry you will be over it in a month.” But we don’t and so we didn’t expect it and we don’t know how it will work out or how long it will take. The absence of those things makes serious illnesses or serious accidents such harrowing experiences. The walk through the valley of the shadow of death is not a pleasant one!

The description of this experience that we have just used, and which David uses in this psalm, is very graphic. A valley by definition is a low place with high sides where you can feel shut in. In a valley sometimes the sun is shut out and so there are shadows so that part of it seems in semi-darkness. David speaks of the shadow of death, a shadow of darkness that seems to hang over you, threatening to completely obliterate the light from your life, when death comes.

You may find in your Bible a note next to the phrase, valley of death, indicating an alternative rendering, through the darkest valley. It may not be death that threatens; it may be a variety of other things. In our nation we live in confusing times. The news recently was of a couple who were falsely accused of child abuse and for two years their children were wrongly taken from them. For two years they walked through a very dark valley, a valley filled with the darkness of frustration, anger, fear, anguish and so on. It was a horrible time. A woman can accuse a man of assault at work and before he knows what has happened he is suspended pending an investigation which may take months. Whereas we once had a society where you were innocent until proved guilty, there is now, in these sorts of cases, implied guilt until innocence has been proved, and those waiting times are times of immense darkness.

It may be that we have fallen and society is not forgiving. We have done something wrong, sincerely regretted it, asked forgiveness of offended parties, but still the Law is going to take its long, slow process, and while it does, we walk through a very dark valley. We wonder how we could have been so stupid, we wish it had never been found it, we wonder what will happen to us, and we wonder is there any hope of being ever able to walk an ordinary, good life again? These are some of the dark valleys that we find ourselves walking in, and in them we even despair of life itself. What help is there?

David had one hope, one help, “you are with me.” The presence of the Lord, the knowledge of His love, those were the things that kept David going. The concept behind the whole psalm was what upheld David – The Lord is my shepherd. David saw that in life, it was the Lord who led him and therefore if, in their walk together, it involved walking through a very dark valley, David would not worry because his shepherd was there looking after him, guiding him, providing for him, protecting him. As one of God’s sheep he knew the security that, although the place or circumstances of the walk may be temporarily dark, it was temporary and even while they walked it, it was as they walked it together. He was not alone and the One who walked it with him was much bigger than the circumstances and would see him through them.

Because such a thing is so common to the human experience, it is quite possible that you are going through a ‘dark valley’ time. Key questions! Do you know that you are one of God’s sheep, one of His children? Do you know Him as your shepherd who is there for you, looking after you in the midst of the circumstances, providing for you and protecting you? It is this knowledge that enabled Paul to instruct, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess 5:18), but note what he says. It is not give thanks for all circumstances but give thanks in all circumstances. You can give thanks that God is there with you and as you put your life in His hands He will provide all you need in that valley to bring you through until you come out the other end. There will be an end, and until you get there, remember, you are not alone, The Shepherd is there with you in it.