The Shepherd Psalm

Title: The Shepherd Psalm

Bible Book: Psalms 23

Author: David E. Owen

Subject: Shepherd; Jesus



Psalm 23

William Makepeace Thackeray said, “The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar (and) familiar things new.” I trust that the Holy Spirit will do that tonight.

I’m sure that we have all heard the message of Psalm 23 over and over again, and for that reason I was hesitant to use it as my text. But this is the text that is on my heart for this service. And to use the words of John McNeill, “All I want to do is to thrum its strings, in an easy, artless way, as one would thrum the strings of a well-tuned harp.”

By Way Of Introduction, Let Me Mention A Few Things About The “Special Ness” Of This Psalm…

i. Our Text Tonight Is A Special Text Because Of Its Familiarity

Robert Ketcham said, “There is perhaps no more familiar passage of Scripture than the Twenty-third Psalm. Matthew Henry said, “Many of David’s psalms are full of complaints, but this is full of comforts.” Phillips Brooks said, “This Psalm is an outpouring of the soul to God ... It is the utterance of a soul absolutely unshaken and perfectly serene.”

ii. Our Text Tonight Is A Special Text Because Of Its Fit

Psalm 23 really fits into a trilogy with Psalm 22 and 24. Warren Wiersbe said, “These three familiar and beloved psalms present Christ … each one emphasizing a different aspect of His Person and His work.”

In his book, The Pearl of Psalms, George Henderson presents the trilogy like this …

Psalm 22

Cross Crook Crown

Psalm 23

Grace Guidance Glory

Psalm 24

Sword Staff Scepter

iii. Our Text Tonight Is A Special Text Because Of Its Focus

The Focus of the Psalm is the Shepherd, and we don’t have to manipulate this text nor stretch our imaginations to know and understand that the Shepherd of this Psalm speaks of the Lord Jesus, for He said of Himself in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”

It is to those whom He has won through His passion (as we are reminded in Psalm 22) that He becomes known as the Shepherd (in Psalm 23). (G. Campbell Morgan)

To see the Lord Jesus as a Shepherd makes this a special Psalm, because as W. Robertson Nicoll recorded, He is “not merely a shepherd having a hundred sheep, with an interest only in the flock as a whole, but the Shepherd who cares for me.”

By Way Of Introduction, Let Me Also Mention A Few Things About The “Story” Of This Psalm…

In his Expositor’s Dictionary Of Texts, W. Robertson Nicoll also said, “If you ask, whence came this Psalm, I know of but one adequate reply. It came from a (God filled soul); it came from the lips of a man to whom the cardinal reality of life was Jehovah.”

Albert Barnes wrote, “It is wholly uncertain on what occasion the psalm was composed, since there are in the psalm no historical references, no indications of time, and no allusions to any circumstances in the life of the author. The only apparent allusion to any circumstance of the poet’s life is in Psalm 23:6, where he says ... that he would ‘dwell in the house of the Lord forever,’ from which it has been inferred by some that he was then in exile.” The Keil & Delitzsch Commentary dogmatically attributes this Psalm to David and further states that “this Psalm belongs to the time of the rebellion under Absalom.”

This psalm is undoubtedly a psalm of David, and it is thought by some that he wrote this psalm in old age. And as he reflected back over the years of his life, the one person that he saw in every stage and every step of his life was the LORD who was his Shepherd.

Guy King said, “Some hold that three figures are employed by the psalmist to portray God’s providential care for His people: that verses 1-2 present Jehovah as the Shepherd; verses 3-4 show Him as the Guide; and verses 5-6 picture Him as the Host. Others, however, (assert) that we have here two portrayals: the Shepherd, 1-4, and the Host, 5-6. A third school believes that here is but one portrait, consistent throughout – that of the Shepherd, from the first verse to the last.”

I certainly can’t deny the fact that He performs the role of Shepherd, Guide, and Host in this Psalm; and I certainly don’t want to diminish the truth that He is consistently the Shepherd. However, tonight it’s on my heart to magnify the Lord Jesus in His dual role as Herdsman, that is Shepherd, and Host. In verses 1 thru 4, He is the Herdsman. Then in verses 5 and 6, He is the Host.

He said first...

I. The Lord Is My Herdsman (my Shepherd)

Verses 1-4

Jesus claimed this title of shepherd for Himself as he said in ...

(John 10:11) I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.

In Hebrews 13:20, Jesus is called “that great shepherd of the sheep,” and in 1 Peter 5:4 He is called “the chief Shepherd.”

In our western culture, we are not really familiar with what is involved in being a shepherd, but David understood personally and experientially that being a shepherd means that you guide and protect and feed a flock of sheep. As T. H. Rich wrote, “The Psalmist was not unacquainted with the shepherd’s office; for he had fed his father’s sheep in the mountains about Bethlehem, and often in solitude shut up to their lowly and loving companionship, by sympathizing in their wants, he had loved them much, and for their sake had struggled hard with lion and bear.” David indicates that this is what the LORD had done in his life. (T.H. Rich From The Biblical Illustrator)

A. David Mentions the Characteristics of This Shepherd

He Mentions His Name - The LORD

This is the name Jehovah, which tells us that God is the self-existent and eternal One. This means that He can get along without us, but we cannot get along without Him.

He Mentions His “Nowness” - The LORD is

I want to remind you that “The LORD is,” and according to Hebrews 11:6, “he that cometh to God must believe that He is.” God is – right now He exists, and because He exists today, if you have a relationship with Him, He can help you and comfort you today. But in two weeks and two months and two years, He will still exist because He “is.” He’ll be able to help and comfort in days to come because He will never cease to exist. He will never cease to occupy the now.


(Psalms 23:1) The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

“I shall not want.” The expression is absolute and unlimited. Neither food, nor protection, nor guidance, nor loving care and sympathy shall be lacking. The believer is sure not only of repose, restoration, and guidance, but also of protection and deliverance even in the most trying circumstances. (Talbot W. Chambers from The Biblical Illustrator)

“The Lord is my shepherd; I want nothing”: thus it may be equally well rendered, though in our version it is in the future tense. (J. R. Macduf from The Treasury of David)

B. David Mentions The Course Of This Shepherd 2-3

1. He Leads His Sheep In Paths Of Provision And Restoration

(Psalms 23:2-3) He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

{3} He restoreth my soul...

restoreth – Hebrew 7725. shuwb, shoob; a prim. root; to turn back (hence, away) trans. or intrans., lit. or fig. (not necessarily with the idea of return to the starting point); gen. to retreat; often adv. again:

He brings me back from the brink of despair and emptiness.

When the soul grows sorrowful he revives it; when it is sinful he sanctifies it; when it is weak he strengthens it. “He” does it. His ministers could not do it if he did not. His Word would not avail by itself. “He restoreth my soul.” Are any of us low in grace? Do we feel that our spirituality is at its lowest ebb? He who turns the ebb into the flood can soon restore our soul. Pray to him, then, for the blessing — “Restore thou me, thou Shepherd of my soul!”

(C. H. Spurgeon from The Treasury of David)

2. He Leads His Sheep In Paths Of Purity And Righteousness

(Psalms 23:3) ... he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

These paths are for our good and His glory.

[He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness] In right paths, or right ways. He conducts me in the straight path that leads to Himself; He does not permit me to wander in ways that would lead to ruin. In reference to His people it is true that He leads them in the path by which they BECOME righteous, or by which they are “justified” before him; and that He leads them in the way of “uprightness” and “truth.” He guides them in the way to heaven; His constant care is evinced that they “may” walk in that path.

[For his name’s sake] For His own sake; or, that His name may be honored. It is not primarily on their account; it is not solely that they may be saved. It is that He may be honored - (From Barnes’ Notes)

C. David Mentions The Comfort Of This Shepherd
1. Notice The Comfort Of His Companionship

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me

For those who are saved and they experience the death of a loved one, there is not that sense of dread and despair, “for thou art with me.”

2. Notice The Comfort Of His Cross

thy rod and thy staff they comfort me

Since the rod and the staff are reminders of the shepherd, they might typify the things that remind us of our Savior.

The rod and staff remind me of the comfort in the passion of the Shepherd. The shepherd also carried a rod and a staff. The rod was a heavy stick about two and a half feet long, large and thick on the one end. The thick end was studded with spikes or flint stones to make it a deadly weapon to be used against thieves or wild beasts. The staff was longer than the rod and was used by the shepherd to help the sheep. These terms are not synonymous, although oftentimes they may appear to be so. They were two instruments and not one, as some seem to suppose. The one might be called a club; the other a crook. The rod had a knotty knobby end; the staff had a crook or a hook on its end. The rod was about two and a half to three feet long; the staff about six and a half or seven feet long. The rod was carried suspended by a thong from the waistband; the staff was generally carried over the shoulder.

(Robert L. Moyer)

“Thy rod”: a truly formidable weapon, made of oak, with a bulbous head, often studded with iron nails.

(Guy King)

In a sense the staff, more than any other item of his personal equipment, identifies the shepherd as a shepherd. No one in any other profession carries a shepherd's staff. It is uniquely an instrument used for the care and management of sheep – and only sheep. It will not do for cattle, horses, or hogs. It is designed, shaped, and adapted especially to the needs of sheep. And it is used only for their benefit. (Phillip Keller)

The crook at the top of the staff is something that clearly identifies the shepherd as the shepherd…

(John 19:19-21) And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. {20} This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. {21} Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews.

The Rod And Staff Remind Me Of The Comfort In The Possession Of The Shepherd

May we next explain what is meant by the expression “rodding the sheep?” In Leviticus 27:32 God speaks of the sheep that “passeth under the rod.” This has reference to the numbering of the sheep. It might take place at the close of the day when the sheep were brought back to the fold. The shepherd stood at the door of the fold with his rod outstretched, permitting but one sheep to enter at a time. He lifted the rod and permitted the sheep to pass under it into the fold, counting them one by one as they went in. He did that not only to see if any were missing, but to keep back by the rod a strange sheep that might enter with his own, that there may not be even one too many. Or, the sheep were driven into a corner or pocket so that they had to pass through a gap, one at a time, and as the rod was raised over them they were counted. The flock was one. There was no distinction that severed them, but beneath the rod the shepherd never lost sight of the individual sheep. He saw each sheep alone. He understood it by itself. He knew just what it needed and cared for it. (Robert L. Moyer)

The Rod And Staff Remind Me Of The Comfort In The Purpose Of The Shepherd Fellowship With The Sheep

There are (several) areas of sheep management in which the staff plays a most significant role. The first of these lies in drawing sheep together into an intimate relationship. The shepherd will use his staff to gently lift a newborn lamb and bring it to its mother if they become separated. He does this because he does not wish to have the ewe reject her offspring if it bears the odor of his hands upon it. I have watched skilled shepherds moving swiftly with their stalls amongst thousands of ewes that were lambing simultaneously. With deft but gentle strokes the newborn lambs are lifted with the staff and placed side by side with their (mothers). It is a touching sight that can hold one spellbound for hours. But in precisely the same way, the staff is used by the shepherd to reach out and catch individual sheep, young or old, and draw them close to himself for intimate examination. The staff is very useful this way for the shy and timid sheep that normally tend to keep at a distance from the shepherd.

Fellowship With The Shepherd

Sometimes I have been fascinated to see how a shepherd will actually hold his staff against the side of some sheep that is a special pet or favorite, simply so that they “are in touch.” They will walk along this way almost as though it were “hand-in-hand.” The sheep obviously enjoys this special attention from the shepherd and revels in the close, personal, intimate contact between them. To be treated in this special way by the shepherd is to know comfort in a deep dimension. (Phillip Keller)

“Jesus Keep Me Near The Cross!”

The Rod And Staff Remind Me Of The Comfort In The Protection Of The Shepherd From serpents, lions, and wolves

(Genesis 3:15) And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

(Acts 20:29) For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

I might also mention the direction of the rod and staff – the smaller rod was often held horizontally while the longer staff was often held vertically (like the cross pieces)

David not only talks about the fact that the LORD is a Herdsman and a shepherd, but he also mentions the fact that …

II. The Lord Is My Host

Verses 5-6

The location changes, and David moves from the field to a feast. He sees the LORD as a host, and I might add that He is the host with the most. If David was in exile during the incident with Absalom, he must have felt very rejected, a stranger in his own kingdom, unwelcome at his own table, threatened by his own son. Though unwelcome at an earthly king’s feast, he was still welcome at the table of  the heavenly King. As the Psalm progresses, David says of the Lord ...

A. He Makes Me Feel Safe vs. 5a

As He Satisfies My Appetites Thou preparest a table before me
As He Subdues My Adversaries in the presence of mine enemies

Despair has to sit back and watch as we feed upon the spiritual nourishment that the Lord Jesus gives us.

B. He Makes Me Feel Special 5b

He Gives Me Affection

thou anointest my head with oil

(Luke 7:44-46) And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. {45} Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. {46} My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.

He Gives Me Abundance my cup runneth over

C. He Makes Me Feel Sure 6
1. I Can Be Sure Of His Favor In The Earthly Realm

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life

Someone has quaintly said, in commenting upon the Twenty-third Psalm, that “the coach in which the Lord’s saints ride has not only a driver, but two footmen”— (A. T. Pierson)

Mention the distraught lady who thought she was being followed, and the wise pastor told her that it was goodness and mercy.

2. I Can Be Sure Of My Future In The Eternal Realm

I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever

A Vest-Pocket Edition of Psalm 23

Beneath me: green pastures;

Beside me: still waters;

With me: my Shepherd;

Before me: a table;

Around me: mine enemies;

After me: goodness and mercy;

Beyond me: the house of the Lord.


Sankey and “Savior Like A Shepherd Lead Us”

One Christmas Eve, Ira D. Sankey (the sweet singer of Methodism and associate of D. L. Moody) was traveling by steamboat up the Delaware River. Asked to sing, Mr. Sankey sang the “Shepherd Song” (Savior Like A Shepherd Lead Us). After the song was ended, a man with a rough, weather- beaten face came up to Mr. Sankey and said: “Did you ever serve in the Union Army?”

“Yes,” answered Mr. Sankey, “in the spring of 1860.”

“Can you remember if you were doing picket duty on a bright, moonlit night in 1862?” “Yes,” answered Mr. Sankey, very much surprised.

“So did I,” said the stranger, “but I was serving in the Confederate army. When I saw you standing at your post I said to myself: ‘That fellow will never get away from here alive.’ I raised my musket and took aim. I was standing in the shadow completely concealed, while the full light of the moon was falling upon you.

“At that instant, just as a moment ago, you raised your eyes to heaven and began to sing. Music, especially song, has always had a wonderful power over me, and I took my finger off the trigger. ‘Let him sing his song to the end,’ I said to myself. ‘I can shoot him afterwards. He’s my victim at all events, and my bullet cannot miss him.’ But the song you sang then was the song you sang just now. I heard the words perfectly:

We are Thine, Thou dost befriend us, be the guardian of our way;

Keep Thy flock, from sin defend us, seek us when we go astray.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Hear, O hear us when we pray.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Hear, O hear us when we pray.

“Those words stirred up many memories in my heart. I began to think of my childhood and my God- fearing mother. She had many, many times sung that song to me. But she died all too soon; otherwise much in my life would no doubt have been different.

“When you had finished your song it was impossible for me to take aim at you again. I thought: ‘The Lord who is able to save that man from certain death must surely be great and mighty’ and my arm of its own accord dropped limp at my side.” Religious Digest

Words: Attributed to Dorothy A. Thrupp, 1836 Music: William B. Bradbury, 1859

Savior, like a shepherd lead us, much we need Thy tender care;

In Thy pleasant pastures feed us, for our use Thy folds prepare.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!

Thou hast bought us, Thine we are.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!

Thou hast bought us, Thine we are.

We are Thine, Thou dost befriend us, be the guardian of our way;

Keep Thy flock, from sin defend us, seek us when we go astray.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!

Hear, O hear us when we pray.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!

Hear, O hear us when we pray.

Thou hast promised to receive us, poor and sinful though we be;

Thou hast mercy to relieve us, grace to cleanse and power to free.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!

We will early turn to Thee.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!

We will early turn to Thee.

Early let us seek Thy favor, early let us do Thy will;

Blessed Lord and only Savior, with Thy love our bosoms fill.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!

Thou hast loved us, love us still.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!

Thou hast loved us, love us still.

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