We’ve heard it so many times: the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want (Psalm 23). I’ll go out on a limb here and make a bold assumption – there is a very small chance that you own sheep. Maybe even a smaller chance that you yourself are a shepherd. 

This particular psalm may be one of the most memorized passages of the Bible. In fact, it is probably right up there, with the outstanding John 3:16. 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures,
Leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.
(Psalm 23:1-3a)

So then, how are we to understand David’s analogy, where He calls the Lord our Shepherd? 

The Meaning of Psalm 23

What does Psalm 23 make you think of? Do you imagine green fields straight from a Windows screensaver? Is there a sparkling creek, maybe some happy trees like in a Bob Ross’ painting? 

We want to take you on a journey through the desert lands of Judea. As we do so, we want to explore the meaning of Psalm 23 and how it relates to each one of us.  

At night, warm air from the Mediterranean Sea blows across the desert. And when that warm humid air hits the side of a hill or rock, a tuft of grass can pop up overnight. 

Such a clump of grass is just enough for one mouthful, not more. Then, the sheep has to look to its Shepherd for more. Where’s the next mouthful? The shepherd patiently leads His sheep, caring that they have enough to sustain them. 

I’m afraid that in the movie-like green pasture we would have no need for a shepherd. In a culture that is so focused on self-sufficiency, God is calling us to be dependent on Him. We can trust our Shepherd even in the desert to lead us to every mouthful.

The Lord is My Shepherd

God is likened to a shepherd. He takes care of His sheep, He knows them by name, and He leads them in paths of righteousness. He leaves the ninety-nine to find the lost one. 

When asked who God is, we would be quick to say that God is love. We would probably describe Him as holy, and righteous. He is also good. All of these statements are true and biblical. But in the Middle Eastern culture, the answers can get a little more metaphorical. 

We may hear in response that God is a strong tower. He is a rock. The Lord is my shepherd. In this context, the Lord would be likened to something that we can touch, smell or see – something that we can relate to. By that, we could almost draw an image of his personable nature. 

In Psalm 23, David is using more than just poetic language and imagery. He is painting a picture of how God relates to us. And let’s be honest. Sheep are not the most intelligent of animals. But they know to recognize the voice of their shepherd. 

Rely on the Shepherd

David wrote Psalm 23 having a good understanding of the life of a shepherd. However, he wrote this song from a perspective of a sheep. The land of Judea is a great reminder of how desperate any sheep would be for a shepherd.

Dependent on a leader and a protector, sheep can feel pretty vulnerable without someone to rely on. David knew that, and he turned his eyes to God. Looking around this land we may ask ourselves the question: what pastures was David writing about? 

Psalm 23 is a beautiful picture of who God is and who He wants to be for us. In Israel, it is easier to notice how much more depth and meaning there is to these comforting verses. We need God to guide us even simply to survive. 

A Psalm-like Trust

Have you ever had such confidence in someone that you wrote a Psalm about them? David depended on God with everything. He did not write about his status or other relationships. Because he knew God would lead him on the right paths. 

He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for You are with me.
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
(Psalm 23:3b-4)

The Hebrew word for ‘paths’ used in Psalm 23 is the same word used to describe someone walking in a circular way. I don’t know when the last time was you were in a rocky desert. But to walk down from a steep hill, you can’t just run straight down. 

The shepherd leads the sheep down the mountain almost circling it around. Over the years, the sheep have worn these paths into the side of hills. This is what the Bible is referring to when it speaks of paths of righteousness. Psalm 23 says this is how the sheep walked safely down the mountain.

Following the Lead

We assume that the paths of righteousness must be very clearly marked. We would like for the right thing to be the obvious thing. But more often than not, there are a lot of different paths, options and choices, to choose from. 

Maybe you are wondering today, what is the right step for you? That is exactly why we have a shepherd to lead us. He knows the right choice in every circumstance.

Learn more about Psalm 23 from the video below:

Do We Recognize the Voice of Our Shepherd?

In the New Testament, Jesus reiterates the comparison of a good shepherd. He said He was a loving and caring shepherd who looks after His flock. And then He added, my sheep know my voice. 

Something interesting happens when a shepherd in Israel is out in the desert with his flock at sunset. When the sun is up and everything is safe and visible, the shepherd lets his sheep go in front of him and roam around. But as the sun starts setting, He moves closer to be right amongst his sheep.

That’s a great representation of what we see in Psalm 23. As the Lord leads us, in the dark valley He comes closer. God is with us, to comfort us, to speak truth over us, and to show us the way. 

For the One

In the darkest time, God draws near. Maybe you are facing some great challenges, or you no longer have what it takes to fight on. God cares about the details of your life. He wants to draw near to lead you through it all. No matter if it’s family problems, health issues, financial troubles – there is nothing too big for Him.

He is going to come close in the darkness and be with you. Just like that. He will make a way for you. As our shepherd, the one who knows us but also knows the fields we are in, He is our greatest hope. 

Jesus said He would leave the 99 to go after the one. When you feel alone, that is exactly when He is chasing after you. He will not walk on with the entire flock when He knows that one of His beloveds got lost.  

God wants to leave the crowd for you, to show you that he’s paying attention to the details of your life. It doesn’t matter if you’ve taken a step back when he’s taking two steps forward. He loves you. No matter what you’ve done to distance yourself from Him, he is still drawing near to you.

To hear more about our Shepherd leading the way in the desert, follow IsraelU and watch the following video:



Estera Wieja is a journalist, book author and public speaker, focused on the topics of Israel, Jewish history, and Judeo-Christian culture. Born and raised in Poland, Estera is a regular contributor to "Our Inspirations" magazine in Poland. She holds a bachelor's degree in Communications and Media from Azusa Pacific University (California, USA), and a master's degree in Journalism from University of Warsaw, Poland. Estera has lived in Jerusalem, Israel for several years before joining the staff at FIRM in 2018.
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