A Kingly Shepherd - Psalm 23:1
“The LORD is my shepherd…” (23:1a)
The Psalms were written in Hebrew and cover roughly 800 years of Israel’s
history. These are the poems, proclamations, petitions and praises of those who have followed Yahweh, the LORD, for the last 3000 years.
Here in the well-loved 23rd Psalm, the author opens by equating Yahweh to a
shepherd. King David himself, prior to battling Goliath, was given no respect for being a shepherd boy who had no experience as a soldier (1 Samuel 17:28-34). Yet in the Bible and the broader Ancient Near East culture, “the role and title of shepherd were used for leaders…[as a] royal connotation. Gods and kings were called the shepherd of their people…” (James Mays, Psalms: Interpretation, p.117). Yahweh is both King and Shepherd.
When you do usually hear Psalm 23? Most often you will hear it recited as part of a funeral, emphasizing God’s presence and ongoing care of the one who has died. You would be hard pressed to find Psalm 23 in a wedding! “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (NKJV). Death, evil and enemies are not the Pinterest-worthy tags you would find for wedding planning! But it’s nevertheless unfortunate that Psalm 23 gets relegated primarily to funerals because it really is a Psalm for everyday life. We need Yahweh not only as we transition from this earth, we need this Kingly Shepherd every day—especially in challenging seasons like we are all experiencing today.
The author paints a picture that evokes images of everyday living in Psalm 23
(lying down, being led, feasting) as well as God’s presence for the totality of life. This royal Shepherd is present from beginning to end, using his resources to care for his people entrusted to his care.
God, our King, is not looking for followers who turn to him only in their last days nor only their darkest days. Yes, Psalm 23 is especially comforting at times of loss but overall it is a reminder that God is always present and ready to connect to our life in every moment of every day. This is not some far-away king nor a God who will only shepherd you as you near death (or near some kind of tragedy). Yahweh is our Kingly Shepherd who leads us daily in paths that are good and who will ultimately make sense of all the bad.
So I invite you to claim Psalm 23 to be a Psalm for today. Whether you are facing a dark valley or relishing in the security of God’s blessings, the Kingly Shepherd is present and ready to walk with you now and empower you to live fully as you live and lead today.
Living Out God’s Word
Write down 5 names and commit to calling each one for 5 minutes to ask how
they’re doing and how you can pray for them. Perhaps share the latest sermon
message with them or offer to meet a physical need in a creative way.
LORD, thank you for being my Shepherd. You are near to me today so show me
the right paths you are leading me on. Give me a shepherd’s heart, a servant who is present, guides with care and meets the needs of others in practical ways. Show me how to be not just friendly but a true family member to someone who is hurting. Amen.
**An earlier version of this devotional can be found at https://depree.org/life-for-leaders/