The twenty-third Psalm is one of the most famous passages in the Bible. Part of what makes the ancient psalm so moving is that it was written by David, who had been a shepherd before he became a king. It beautifully pictures God caring for us like shepherds care for their sheep. Here is the psalm:
1 THE LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 3 He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. 5 Thou dost prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Thou hast anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23, NASB95)
The opening of the psalm provides an image of God comforting us and giving us peace. In verse three David proclaims, “He restores my soul.” God assures us in verse four that even in the “valley of the shadow of death” we need not have fear since he is with us. In the last verse David comforts us by reminding us of God’s goodness and lovingkindness which follow us throughout life and one day we will live with him forever.
Some years ago, I read about a Sunday School teacher who wanted to help her young students to memorize this beautiful Psalm. She gave her class a month to learn it. Some easily mastered the words, while others struggled to remember all six verses.
At the end of the month, when each child was to recite the psalm, one student, Tommy, was especially excited and nervous. After many attempts to learn the words, he could barely get past the opening line. However, he stepped up to the microphone and nervously said, “The Lord is my Shepherd, and that’s all I need to know.”
Although Tommy had not memorized the psalm, he captured the essence of the passage. What matters most is that just as shepherds care for their sheep, God cares for us. While we can and should learn much more about the Great Shepherd, if we know he cares for us, nothing else actually matters.