The Twenty-Third Psalm is probably the most well known and best loved of all Psalms. In it David, who as a boy was himself a shepherd, paints a beautiful word-picture of the great God of the Universe as a personal, loving and caring shepherd. He provides everything for his sheep, leading them where they should go, and protecting them from those that would harm them.
A Psalm by David
Yahweh is my shepherd: I shall lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and loving kindness shall follow me all the days of my life, And I shall dwell in Yahweh’s house forever.
Psalm 23 WEB
Using this example, the Psalmist observes that the shepherd’s rod and staff are used to lead and protect the sheep. They are said to provide comfort. Many have attempted an analysis of what the rod and staff symbolize in this poetic discourse, but the sheep really do not concern themselves with the make-up of the rod or staff. They only know that the shepherd uses them to provide comfort.
The Hebrew root word translated “comfort” is nacham (Strong’s Hebrew word #5162). “Nacham originally may have meant ‘to breathe intensely because of deep emotion.’ In some references, the word is translated ‘repent,’ the idea being that regret causes deep sighing. In its sense of comfort, nacham does not describe casual sympathy, but rather deep empathy…From nacham are derived the names Nahum (comforting) and Nehemiah (comfort of Yahweh).” (from the Spirit Filled Life Bible, Nelson, p 773)
The prophet Isaiah used this word to announce to Israel that God was still their shepherd. Nachamu, nachamu ami – “‘Comfort, O comfort My people,’ says your God” (Isaiah 40:1). This beautiful chapter contains many familiar passages that are often used to bring comfort. Every copy of the New American Standard Bible has Isaiah 40:8 printed in the foreword:
The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.
Following the loss of the space shuttle Columbia carrying six Americans and one Israeli, President George W. Bush read from verse 26 of this chapter:
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.
Millions have found comfort and strength in verses 28 through 31:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.
And at the beginning of this chapter, Isaiah prophesies that God himself will come:
Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 40:3-5)
When the Creator of the Universe took on human form and walked among us, He used the same word-pictures as David did in Psalm 23. Yeshua described Himself as a shepherd – the “good shepherd.” John chapter 10 records Yeshua telling how the good shepherd provides, leads and protects the sheep. But in drawing this analogy, He went a step beyond what David said. Yeshua added, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
Each year in ancient Israel on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies with the blood of a goat to make atonement for the sins of the people. Every year it was the same. Then God Himself came. Yeshua, the good shepherd, laid down His life for the sheep. But that wasn’t all, for He also said, “I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18).
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12)
This is a solemn day. There is much to contemplate and much to ponder as we reflect on the sacrifice made for our atonement. Yahweh is my shepherd, and the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. This is also a day of rejoicing. He laid down His life, and He took it up again. Take comfort knowing He has obtained eternal redemption. Atonement has been made – once for all – and today He lives to always intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25).
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).
My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever (Psalm 23:6).