The Shepherd-King and the Sheep: Psalm 23: Part I
Psalm 23 in The Context of Five Kingship Psalms (Psalms 20-24)
Introduction: The three-part series: the Shepherd-King and the Sheep: Psalm 23 examines God’s provision of the King, kings and shepherds for the sheep. Mankind was created to be shepherded. Before sin, Adam, and mankind with him, was satisfied to be sheep. There was no conflict between shepherd and sheep. After sin, mankind rejected the shepherd even though he remained the sheep. He has failed miserably to shepherd himself. However, God did not leave man individually or corporately as his own shepherd. Jesus Christ is the greater David and the Good Shepherd.
Many people are familiar with Psalm 23. It has a unique mass appeal. It seems to have a universal application. There is a sense of deity within every person, a sense of the Shepherd-King and the Sheep. The issue is how will man respond to Him? You often hear Psalm quoted at funerals. Often readers have made images of a personal, tender Shepherd. Certainly God would be honored with this individual application. However, there is more to the Psalm. It has a broader application that is realized when one examines the psalms surrounding it.
David opens with an awesome and non-negotiable statement of confession for the believer: Yahweh (the Lord) is my shepherd (verse 1). David acknowledges the Shepherd-King and the sheep in a I and thou moffit: God is the great shepherd and David is a shepherd and a sheep. He was humbled but also confident. Because of who God is, David gives a litany of promised blessings to be experienced now: David shall not lack (v.1), David shall have rest with the essentials for life provided (v.2), restoration and renewal will take place (v.3), David will be comforted (v.4), David is guaranteed God’s presence (v.5), and David will continue to experience God’s covenantal faithfulness (v.6). This litany is somewhat analogous to the first five verses of Psalm 103 and it looks forward to the litany of truths and blessings spelled out in Ephesians 1:3-14.
While a personalized view of Psalm 23 is legitimate, it fails to recognize the Triune God as the universal and corporate Shepherd and King of all history. It also fails to take into account the position of Psalm 23 in the Psalter. Please remember that the Psalter has five divisions (books I-V) and each division of the Psalter has a theme (see earlier blogs for a discussion of the division of the Psalter). Book I of the Psalter is composed of Psalms 1-41 with David as the primary author. Confrontation and conflict is the theme of book I. The Davidic kingdom is on the rise and there is resistance to him and to God. In in this context that the Triune God’s covenantal faithfulness was perfectly manifested to David and David’s imperfectly manifested to Him. The lesser Shepherd-King and the sheep meet in one man: David. He is both and looks toward the greater Shepherd-King.
David was a single figure, God’s person and agent, who sought to establish a kingdom of peace and righteousness – shalom. He was the lesser messiah that predicted and pointed to the greater Messiah. In terms of God’s covenant, David does not represent “everyman.” Rather, he was the messianic king (note the small “m” and “k”) – God’s man and representative. David was called by God to build God’s kingdom of peace and righteousness. He pointed to the greater David, God’s greater Son Jesus Christ.
The concept of God as Shepherd-King and the Sheep goes back some 1000 years. Jacob anticipated it (Genesis 48:15-16; 49:24). The imagery of shepherding plus that of Warrior is applied to God at various times in redemptive history as recorded in the Bible (Exodus 15:3, 6, 11, 16, 18; Deuteronomy. 32:39-43; 2 Samuel 5:2; Psalm 80). Moreover, David is not presented or referred to as king or the anointed one until Psalms 18-19. Five Kingship psalms follow (Psalms. 20-24). Early on, these Kingship psalms establish God in His distinctive role as King. The Davidic kingdom was being established but not yet.
The five Psalms (20-24) consist of a poetic pyramid: Psalm 22 serves as a pinnacle with two kingship psalms on either side. Psalm 22 at the apex that brings together Messianic Kingship terminology. Psalms 20-21 present messiah as king and Psalms 23-24 present God as King. This ordering of the Psalter indicates that God is more than the Shepherd. He is Shepherd-King. As such He is Protector and Sustainer of His honor and glory AND His people. The Shepherd-King and the sheep are to form a union that pictures Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:27).
Certain terms which were not used in Psalms 3-17 became much more frequent after Psalms 18-19. Such terms include the “anointed one” and the “king” who had won great victories. Psalms 20-21 record the prayers of the people for their messianic king and build on Psalm 18:50: Yahweh gives His king great victories, gives him great strength, and shows him and the people unfailing kindness (mine: covenantal faithfulness). The victories and blessings are for Yahweh by Yahweh to David and his descendants. Note the name used. It is Yahweh which used throughout Book I of the Psalter. it indicates the Triune’s God special relationship with His people Israel – the Shepherd-King and the Sheep. Psalms 20:5-6 and 21:1, 5 echo the note of victory. As the messianic king goes, so goes the nation of Israel. The vitality of the Shepherd-King and the Sheep are integrally-related.
This collection of kingship psalms also presents Yahweh’s Kingship. Psalm 23 pictures Yahweh as David’s King and Shepherd. It expresses David’s and the greater David’s, Jesus Christ, joyful trust in the Lord. The good Shepherd-King received David and the greater David into His presence (Isaiah 25:6-8; 61:10; Matthew 22:1-4; Revelation 19:7-11; Hebrews 12:1-3). Since He did, all believers are guaranteed a place in heaven (Hebrews 6:13-20). Psalm 24 begins with a statement of God’s ownership (v.1-2) and closes with the refrain – “King of Glory” – five times in verses 7-10. Yahweh is King of Glory who supplies David with needed assurance and all he needs for victory for and by Yahweh.
Taken together, the five psalms link two the kingships. As given in Psalms 20-21, the lesser David was the lesser messiah who established a physical kingdom which pointed to the true kingdom of God which was spiritual in nature. In Psalms 23-24, we read of Yahweh’s Kingship which pictures the greater David’s Kingship. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 1:17; 6:15-16). Yahweh establishes kings and takes them down (Psalm 33:10-11; Proverbs 21:1, 30-31). He is the eternal King and the people should rejoice in their King (Psalm 149:2).
1. Is the concept of Yahweh as Shepherd-King new to you? What is your response?
2. Psalms 20-21 indicate the messianic king’s dependence on prayer especially for Yahweh’s intervention. They indicate that Yahweh is worthy of prayer.
a. How was that a source of encouragement to and for David?
b. What does that fact tell you about Yahweh, David, and the greater David, Jesus Christ?
c. Look at Luke’s gospel for an emphasis on Christ’s prayer life.
3. Psalms 23-24 provide the Messiah with reassurance that Yahweh is who He says he is.
a. Yahweh has the whole world in His hands especially the greater (Psalms 23-24) and lesser David (Psalms 20-21). How did fact affect David and Jesus?
b. What does that fact tell you about Yahweh, David, and the greater David, Jesus Christ?
c. How does that fact affect you?
The Shepherd King and the Sheep: Psalm 23: Part II
Shepherds and Sheep
I was at a nursing home today. We encountered many people with failing bodies including the brain. How would we minister to them? What truth did they need first and most? The question is easy to ask but it has far-reaching ramifications for me, you, and the residents. God’s Word is truth (John 17:17) and the truth sets you free (John 8:31-32). Jesus is Truth (John 14:6). What was the best way to reach these sheep? What truth would be most beneficial? All of God’s Word is conducive to bringing blessings. But we were faced with a unique group of people. How would I minister God’s truth to the group and in what format?
We sang and we prayed. Singing and making music are commanded in Scripture and are a privilege and a blessing. They have been used to strengthen and comfort God’s people especially in times of trouble. David and Elisha used music quite well (1 Samuel 16:16, 23; 2 Kings 3:15). I picked Psalm 23 and presented to them the Lord Who is the Shepherd-King and the sheep and the believer’s Warrior-Shepherd.
You may know the psalm. It is found in book I of the Psalter with its theme of conflict, confrontation, and opposition to David as he labors to establish Yahweh’s kingdom of peace and righteousness. The psalm opens and closes with statements of two foundational truths. In verse 1, the psalmist wrote: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want (lacking anything). In verse 6, he wrote: Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. The term Lord refers to the God who is – I am who I am. The term Yahweh is God’s covenant name and its use is prominent in book I. Yahweh is the stand-alone God but who reaches down to His people fulfilling His covenant promises and achieving His purposes for Himself and for them.
The psalm, written by David, emphasizes joyful trust in the Lord. Yahweh is presented as the Shepherd-King caring for the Sheep. David had learned joyful trust while in the pasture literally caring for his sheep. He had learned well. So, too, did the greater David who was discipled by the Father and experienced confidence and comfort from His relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. David learned the beauty of pleasing God and the Lord’s covenantal faithfulness. The greater David, and to a lesser degree the lesser David, had one goal as He entered His Messianic role as the Good, Grand Shepherd: to please the Father (John 4:31-34; 5:19, 30; 6:38-30; 8:26; 9:4; 10:37-38; 12:49-50; Hebrews 4:15-16; 5:7). In contrast to happiness which looks at happenings (circumstances), Christ knew that joy is God-dependent and God-focused because joy fixes one’s gaze at the God of circumstances. Moreover, Christ kept the long view in focus. He did live for the moment but in the moment with an eternal perspective. He knew God would bring all things to pass for the greater good. He knew that God planned the work and worked the plan both in the means to the end and the end itself.
During the time of the Patriarchs, shepherding was a noble occupation. However, when the twelve tribes of Israel migrated to Egypt, they encountered a lifestyle foreign to them. The Egyptians were agriculturalists. As farmers, they despised shepherding because sheep and goats meant death to crops. After resettling in Palestine, shepherding ceased to hold its prominent position. In fact, shepherds were disparaged. As the Israelites acquired more farmland, pasturing decreased. Shepherding became a menial vocation regulated to those of the laboring and lower class. Shepherds were considered expendable.
In Christ’s day, shepherds stood on the bottom rung of the Palestinian social ladder. The religious leaders of the day held them in contempt. Shepherds shared the same unenviable status as did tax collectors and dung sweepers. It is noteworthy that God chose the shepherds to be the first recipients of the angels’ birth announcement of the Messiah (Luke 2). Similarly, it is noteworthy that Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10). God chose the lowly, despised, and cast-off to humble the proud (Luke 4:18-22; 1 Corinthians 1:18-23).
Israel’s perspective of herself was the inverse of her view of shepherds. It was into the morass of Israel’s self-righteousness, ignorance, and pride that the True Shepherd placed Himself. In view of the despicable nature attributed to shepherds and the juxtaposed high view Israel had of herself, it is striking that Yahweh chose to be called my shepherd by David (Psalm 23:1). Jesus’ proclamation of Himself as the Shepherd-Provider of liberation, protection, and comfort for the poor, captive, blind, and oppressed in Luke 4:18-22 is the same truth that David expressed in Psalm 23:1. Yet like David early on in His ministry and as noted by the theme of book I of the Psalter, Jesus, too, was rejected by His people (Luke 4:28-30; John 1:5-9). Christ will return as the Good and Chief Shepherd and He will bring all of His sheep into the fold. Before He does, as did David, believers are confident that the Triune God takes care of his sheep. He loses none – they are in good hands. The truth was a source of hope and comfort for David and Jesus; it is for every believer until Christ returns.
1. Notice the change in status of the shepherd in Israel’s history: how did that fact influence Israel’s view of the messiah? What does it say about Israel’s people and leaders?
2. Shepherding was assigned to the youngest son: give reasons.
3. Read Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11, and James 2:8-11: how do these passages fit Israel’s view of herself and shepherds? What did they miss?
The Shepherd-King and the Sheep: Psalm 23: Part III
Shepherds and Sheep
David’s emergence as king temporarily raised the shepherd’s image. It pictured the arrival of the greater Shepherd-King and the Sheep. Initially in the family structure, David, the youngest son of Jesse, was given the task of shepherd. The menial position of shepherd fell to the youngest. David became familiar with the function of the shepherd and the activity of sheep. In this sense he modeled Christ who knew His sheep (John 10). Psalm 23 depicts two groups of people: shepherds and sheep. The shepherd-sheep motif was a widely used and familiar metaphor for kings and his subjects in the Near East and Israel. It conveyed work and care by the shepherd because sheep wandered and were easily misled. The sheep had difficulty caring for themselves. Left to their own resources, they would head off in the wrong direction and die out of sight of the watchful eye of the shepherd. Fallen man closely mirrors sheep – doing their own thing seemingly oblivious to the consequences.
David stated that the Lord was his shepherd. As a shepherd but also as a sheep, David understood there was the greater Shepherd-King for the sheep. He recognized two facts: he was not God but a sheep and that God was the True Shepherd. The word Lord in v.1 is the name Yahweh. It is used some 6000 times in the Old Testament. It is God’s covenant name. It is the self-revelation of Who God is and what He does. The term emphasizes God’s unchangeable nature especially in the area of promise-making and promise-keeping. Yahweh would accomplish His plan by making and keeping promises determined in eternity past and reiterated to His people by various means.
David’s Shepherd was also his Rock Who protected and provided safety for David and the sheep. David knew that he would never be out of the watchful eye of his Shepherd. This Shepherd was a Rock and a King.
In the way of knowledge, confidence, and trust, the lesser David modeled Christ, the greater David. Christ held firmly to the Father through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Christ did not waver in establishing the Kingdom of God. He proceeded to the cross and beyond. The lesser David taught and imperfectly modeled this truth as evidenced in this psalm. David continued his efforts to establish a kingdom of peace and righteousness in spite of serious obstacles.
David knew Yahweh and experienced Yahweh as the Shepherd-King and Yahweh as maker and Keeper promises. Therefore, David ended the psalm with the assurance that Yahweh was ever-present and was faithful to His promises. He knew he would dwell in the house of the Lord forever (v.6). Dwelling in the house was a metaphor for being in the presence of Yahweh. This presence was/is more than a feeling. Rather it is the reality that God has bound Himself unbreakable bound to individual sheep and His Church. It is the reality of a permanent relationship with the Triune God and the significance of that relationship daily. Relationships matter!
Paul summed up the presence of God by the phrase in Christ indicating an ongoing, vital, spiritual, mystical union with God by Christ through the Holy Spirit. The indwelling Holy Spirit was God’s guarantee of the eternal beauty of a relationship with God (2 Corinthians 1:20-22; Ephesians 1:14). The presence of God was of utmost importance to David and to the greater David, Jesus Christ. Jesus, to the greatest degree and David to a lesser degree, relished the certainty of being in the presence of the Lord on this earth by the Holy Spirit and in heaven as the second person of the Godhead (Hebrews 12:1-3). The same desire should motivate all believers to honor and worship God and to grow in the likeness of Christ. Being in God’s presence now points to and reaches its fulfillment when Christ returns. David experienced the truth that resurrection life begins now (Romans 6:9-10).
David writes that because of who Yahweh and His relationship with David, David will not lack anything (v.1), will be led and restored (v.2), and guided (v.3). These are all-encompassing terms and statements indicating rest and even contentment and confidence knowing that the Great Shepherd won’t leave us in our sins and misery. Earlier Psalms may seem to indicate the opposite. All of us including the lesser David have to come to our senses –so that we are able to view God, ourselves, and circumstances through God’s truth.
Verse 4 carries a promise good for all ages: I will fear no evil. Throughout the Bible there is a refrain: fear not/be not afraid because God near. David responded to this call as did Moses and Joshua with an affirmative: I won’t. .Jesus echoed this call to the apostles with the proclamation: It is I (Matthew 14:23-33). The presence of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit dispels all sinful fear – 1 John 4:18-19. Perfect love cast out all sinful fear. Both the lesser and greater David was bolstered by the fact that God is ever-present even when circumstances and the senses say otherwise. David lived by and though the eyes of saving faith and biblical truth. Safety, protection, and provisions were part of the investment Yahweh has made in both the lesser and great David and all believers in every age. We ignore the Giver and His provisions at our peril! David and Jesus knew heaven was a wonderful place. Each had an eternal perspective which led them to stay the course and run the race to and for victory. Jesus did this perfectly and redemptively.
David was motivated to think and desire differently about himself and Yahweh. He closes the psalm looking forward to being in the presence of Yahweh forever (v.5-6). He had tasted Yahweh’s goodness (Psalm 34:8) – a growing, intimate union and fellowship with Him in Christ while on the earth. He imperfectly modeled Christ’s motivation to return to His Father (John 14:1-3; Hebrews 12:1-3). Similarly, in all ages, believers and the Church are privileged and blessed to recognize and act upon the Triune God’s faithfulness: in sending the Son; in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; in the forming of the union with Christ by the Holy Spirit; and in the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in terms of growth and change individually and corporately. David looked forward to and in fact, prophesied the coming of the Good Shepherd who was and is Christ. Let us rejoice and be glad.
1. Set your thoughts on sheep farming. Consider the shepherd who leads and guides his sheep always moving them in the right direction. They are totally dependent on him.
2. Read Isaiah 40:10-11 and John 10:1-18. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. What did Jesus do and what is He still doing as the Good Shepherd? See John 10:11-14.
3. What significance does that fact have for you?
4. How are David and Christ similar as shepherds and kings?