Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
If I was to take a survey of the top Bible passages, I have a feeling Psalm 23 would be near the top. It’s the beautiful Shepherd Psalm—Psalm 23, written by King David. It starts off, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”. I have quoted this Psalm many times at funeral services and at hospital beds when people have been facing death.
This is a beautiful Psalm indeed for it gives us a wonderful picture of a God who cares for his people. David was the youngest of the eight sons of Jesse, and as a young boy David was trained to tend his father’s sheep. What an unusual beginning for a lad who would one day be King David. The Psalm is a picture of a shepherd who rules and feeds his sheep. In the Holy Land, sheep will begin grazing about 4 am, walking steadily until 10 am when the sun is high. They are hot and thirsty, and the shepherd leads them to a cool shady place where they can lie down to digest the grass they have eaten.
The first verse is a lovely reminder that “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want”. In fact, this verse sums up the whole Psalm. We are talking about the Lord, a Person. God, my Lord, is not just a nice theory or fairy story. He is God with a name. I can call him ‘the Lord’, for he is—present tense. Not ‘was’; not just ‘will be’, but he is—here and now, at this very moment.
Jesus Is Our Good Shepherd
If you can take that in, it will make all the difference in the world, whether you’re working or at home. The Lord is with you, but he is also your Lord. I’m talking of a personal God who doesn’t belong to someone else who is better or smarter or more holy than me. No matter who I am, the Lord has something personal to say to me because he is my Lord.
David then brings in the word shepherd—“The Lord is my shepherd”. Interesting to see that in the New Testament Jesus is called the Good Shepherd, or the great shepherd, and the chief shepherd. The shepherd in Old Testament times had an important task in looking after the sheep, sometimes at great personal risk from wild animals or robbers. He took his job seriously.
William Barclay describes the shepherd who carried a scrip, a bag made of the skin of an animal to carry his food. He had some bread, dried fruit and olives. He carried a sling as his weapon, as there were no sheep dogs in Palestine. He had a staff, a short wooden club with nails embedded, which hung on his belt. It also was a weapon to defend himself and his flock. Then he carried a rod, which looked like a shepherd’s crook. With that, he could catch and pull back any of his sheep who strayed away. At night when they entered the fold, each sheep jumped across the rod as the shepherd checked for any injuries. It’s quite an old-fashioned description.
We Need Someone Who Cares For Us
When David said, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”, it was a picture of contented sheep who learned to trust the shepherd. Another version (The Message) of this verse is, “I don’t need a thing”. How wonderful to know when we trust in our shepherd God we don’t need a thing. He provides everything I need. And he provides things like rest, refreshment, guidance, companionship, comfort, sustenance, joy, goodness and mercy. David says if you trust in the Shepherd God you will not lack anything in this life or in the life to come.
“If no one cares for you, you are truly alone.” Frank Reed
We each need to have someone who cares for us, and the main message of Psalm 23 is exactly that. Frank Reed was held hostage in a cell in Lebanon from 1986 to 1990. For months at a time he was blindfolded and lived in complete darkness or chained to a wall. He was beaten, made ill and tormented. But on his release he spoke to Time magazine:
Nothing I did mattered to anyone. I began to realise how withering it is to exist with not a single expression of caring around me. I learned one overriding fact: caring is a powerful force. If no one cares for you, you are truly alone.
If you feel today no-one cares, get out your Bible and read Psalm 23.
(To be continued in A Look at Psalm 23 – Part 2)