Footsteps to Follow: The Lord is my shepherd
“The Lord is my shepherd…and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” is the beginning and end of Psalm 23, one of the favorite Bible passages of all time (ESV).
It is requested for funerals, brings tears of hope and assurance to the dying, and is especially appropriate now in the season of Easter, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, in this springtime of hopeful recovery from one of the deadliest global pandemics the world has ever experienced!
Sheep are fearful and not very smart; they need a shepherd to protect and guide and provide for them, and so do we!
The simple words of David, the shepherd who became king of Israel and ancestor of Jesus the Messiah, continue: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Other versions translate the original Hebrew as “I have all that I need,” but future needs are also included (NLT). What are those needs? “He makes me lie down in green pastures” (find food), “He leads me beside still waters” (drink in peace), “He restores my soul” (receive physical, emotional, and spiritual health – how we need those now!). “He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” The path of God’s provision has moral guardrails for a relationship with Him; they bring Him glory as they keep us safely on the path.
David now turns from God’s provision and guidance to His protection: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (we certainly have been through a time of fear and death, so what is God’s answer?), “for You are with me;” (God’s response throughout His Word is consistent; it is His abiding presence with us that makes all the difference!), “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (The shepherd’s rod and staff can defend against predators but also help redirect wayward sheep, for their own good!), “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;” (even among enemies You provide for me), “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Oil was used in ancient times to get rid of lice and also to anoint prophets, priests, and kings to their stations; “Messiah” literally means “anointed one.” Today it symbolizes the Holy Spirit who indwells every true believer in Jesus.
Finally David concludes with words of assurance: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” (what a wonderful promise in these troubled times!), “and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” What sweet comfort to those facing death or grieving loss in this season!
But many today want to claim the assurance of this Psalm without trusting the Lord as their shepherd, provider, protector, and king. In this time of illness, division, and fear, have you trusted and received Jesus as your savior and messiah? Only then can you say, “The Lord is MY shepherd!” Only then can you rest assured that He will provide for you in this life, and you will live with Him forever!
Rev. Charlie Winkelman, pastor emeritus (retired), Jersey Shore Presbyterian Church