By Ben W. Curtis
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Tracy City
Psalm 23 is undoubtedly the most beloved psalm, and maybe even the most well-known chapter in the entire Bible. Even irreligious people are familiar with these words and drawn to them in times of crisis: “The LORD is my shepherd.” There are many names for God in the Bible, but Yahweh is the most sacred. Often translated as “LORD” (in small, upper case letters), it’s used to show the personal nature of God and how He relates to human beings. In Psalm 23:1-3, David describes this eternal, unchangeable, covenant-making God as a “shepherd!” Shepherding was the job of lower classes or the youngest in the household (1 Samuel 16:11). Why would the king of the universe bother himself to find “green pastures” for me? Why would He lead me to a place of “still waters?” After all, He is the LORD! But He’s also “my shepherd!”
In Psalm 23:4-6, David continues by talking to God. In the face of danger and even death itself, he finds comfort in the LORD’s presence, and oddly enough, his rod. The shepherd’s rod was used to fight off predators, to defend against robbers, and more frequently, to reinforce to the sheep where they should and should not go. David is saying, “In the hands of our divine shepherd, the rod is truly comforting, because it represents His commitment to protect, to keep us from straying, and to bring us back when we wander from the path.” He is truly a good shepherd to us!
In verses 5-6, the imagery changes from a field where the LORD is our shepherd and we are His sheep, to a banquet table where He is our host and we are His guests. Remember, this is Yahweh! We should be the ones preparing a lavish feast for Him, anointing His head, and filling His cup. Yet, He is doing these things for us. How unusual and unnerving to see our enemies at a banquet given in our honor! Yet their mouths are shut, and they can only look on in terror as they await their final judgment (Psalm 31:18). Even in the midst of conflict, the LORD provides what we need by feeding us, healing our wounds, and filling our cups to overflowing.
Think of how perfectly Jesus fulfills these images of shepherd and gracious host. As our shepherd, we hear His voice and He calls us by name (John 10). He promises rest from our labors and forgiveness for our sins (Matthew 11:29; 26:28). Likewise, Jesus proves to be our gracious host in the way that He serves His disciples. He provides a place for them to gather and washes their feet (John 13). He hosts the meal, giving His very life as the meal (John 6:53).
Through the cross, He prepared not a table for us in the presence of our enemies, but a table for us who were still His enemies (Romans 5:8). And ultimately, He has secured a place for us in His Father’s house (John 14; Psalm 23:6) where there will be an even greater banquet at the end of the age (Revelation 19:6-9).
As we wait, Christ continues to be our good shepherd and gracious host who will provide for us and protect us both now and forevermore!
Let’s join the psalmist in proclaiming: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8).