God’s shepherding love

Psalm 23 is part of the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent on March 22nd. It is a fitting passage of Scripture to spotlight, especially given our current circumstance of national and global crisis brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Of the 150 songs in the psalter, Psalm 23 is perhaps both the simplest and the best loved. On the one hand, the poem was written by David from the perspective of a shepherd. On the other hand, the ode represents the prayer and meditation of a person with a mature spirit.

From an historical perspective, David’s confession of faith, hope, and trust in the Lord as the good Shepherd-King has inspired and comforted millions of believers down through the ages. Its timeless truths continue to be the bulwark of Christian living in moments of travail.

Perhaps the secret of the psalm’s peacefulness is its portrayal of an intimate relationship with God at every successive stage of life. As such, among the sacred songs, it would fall into the category of a song of trust.

From a pastoral perspective, our prayers and counsel must be rooted in the strong affirmations found in passages of Scripture such as Psalm 23. In this beloved text, we learn that God will never forsake His children. In fact, nothing can separate us from the Father’s love that is found in baptismal union with His Son (Rom 8:39).

What follows is my own rendition of Psalm 23. I invite you to read through it thoughtfully and prayerfully.

The Lord is my shepherd.

I have everything I need.

He gives me rest in lush meadows.

He leads me beside peaceful streams.

He renews my life.

He brings honor to his name,

by guiding me along the right paths.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,

I fear no danger,

for you are close beside me.

Your rod and your staff reassure me.

You prepare a royal banquet for me,

in full view of my oppressors.

You drench my head with perfumed olive oil.

My cup overflows with blessings.

Surely your goodness and constant love

will pursue me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the Lord’s house forever.

Key ideas to contemplate

As the Shepherd of His people, the Lord wants us to know that we can be completely dependent upon Him. He is always alert, looking after His children. We can trust Him to keep us safe and protected, and we can be completely dependent on Him for the following:

1. FOR OUR PROVISION. Just as shepherds provide lush meadows for their sheep to graze and peaceful streams for them to drink, so the Lord will provide for the needs of His children. God has surely proven Himself to be trustworthy in meeting our needs in the past, and He can be trusted to provide our needs in the present and the future.

2. FOR OUR GUIDANCE. As our good Shepherd, the Lord leads and guides those of us who are His sheep. It is interesting that He is not called the “Good Cowboy.” After all, the work of a shepherd is done out in front of the sheep, guiding them and leading them where they should go. The work of a cowboy is done behind the cattle, driving, pushing, and forcing them where he wants them to go. As our Shepherd, the Lord has, in essence, paved the road before us. We need only to follow and trust Him to guide us as we go.

3. FOR OUR PROTECTION. Shepherds put their lives on the line to maintain their flock of sheep. To protect and rescue sheep from danger, shepherds were forced to inch out onto risky ledges and to put themselves between wild animals and their sheep. In a sense, our Shepherd has done the same for us today. He not only can be trusted for our protection physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, too.

4. FOR OUR CONTENTMENT. Shepherds realize that sheep are fearful, flighty animals. They are prone to get lost or harm themselves in a multitude of other ways. Accordingly, shepherds sought to keep their sheep protected, as well as give them a sense of contentment in the shepherd’s care. Psalm 23 promises that God pursues us all the days of our earthly existence with His goodness and unfailing love. Likewise, He yearns for us to find our contentment in Him.

Professor Dan Lioy (PhD, North-West University) holds several faculty appointments. He is the Senior Research Manager at South African Theological Seminary (in South Africa). Also, he is a professor of biblical theology at the Institute of Lutheran Theology (in South Dakota). Moreover, he is a dissertation advisor in the Leadership and Global Perspectives DMIN program at Portland Seminary (part of George Fox University in Oregon). Finally, he is a professor in the School of Continuing Theological Studies at North-West University (in South Africa). Professor Lioy is active in local church ministry, being dual rostered with the Evangelical Church Alliance and the North American Lutheran Church. He is widely published, including a number of academic monographs, peer-reviewed journal articles, and church resource products.

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