Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd and the Christian Life

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Psalm 23 is called the Lord is My Shepherd, but what does that mean for Christians today?


It sounds cute that members of Jesus’ Body, the church, are called sheep. Aren’t sheep cute…even adorable? The fact is, it’s not really a compliment to be referred to as sheep. Of course, it’s great that we are saved and Jesus is our Good Shepherd, but sheep are not very impressive animals. For one thing, sheep are defenseless against predators. They certainly can’t outrun anyone, and they’re terrified of moving water and can only be led to still water by their own shepherd (Psalm 23:2). They will only follow His voice because that’s the only voice they know (John 10:2-4). They are terrified of strangers (John 10:5) because they don’t recognize that voice, but even in pitch black, the sheep can still recognize the true Shepherd’s voice. To show that sheep are not the most intelligent of God’s creatures, they’ll eat the grass right down to the roots, destroying the pasture and stay there and die, so it’s up to the shepherd to move them to greener pastures (Psalm 23:1). Sheep are not smart enough to figure that out. Eventually, sheep will grow grimy, filthy, dirty, smelly, and be filled with vermin, weeds, and burrs, and flight or fight won’t work for them because they have no natural defenses and can’t outrun anything. They are the most vulnerable of all animal species…and like all sheep do, we’ve all gone astray, every one of us going our own way (Isaiah 53:6).

Wolves in Sheep's Clothing

The Shepherd

If Jesus is not your Lord, then He is not Your shepherd. That means He will be your judge (Rev 20:12-15), but for those who’ve trusted in Christ, we can say, “The LORD is my shepherd,” and when He is your Shepherd, you “shall not want” (Psalm 23:1) for anything but Him. That means you are content with what you have. All you really want is the Shepherd! The Apostle Paul said that contentment with godliness is great gain (1 Tim 6:6-11). The Shepherd won’t let His sheep starve so the sheep are content in knowing that. It’s not seeing the glass as half empty or half full…it’s just being thankful you have a glass!

The Rest

God’s creatures are often not smart enough to rest when they need it, and that includes me, but thank God for our Good Shepherd who “makes me lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:2a). The thing is, sheep need to chew the cud and rest when they do so, so similarly believers need to reexamine the messages from the church or Bible studies that week and digest them on the Lord’s Day of rest. Sadly, sometimes the Lord has to make us lie down, because we don’t have enough sense to rest on our own. Sometimes God allows illnesses to slow us down, but lie down we must, in submission to God, and chew on what God has said to us through His Word and His church.

Still Waters

Sheep do not like rapidly running water. That’s why they can only be lead to still waters. We don’t like to approach troubled waters either, but the Lord steps in and “leads me beside still waters” (Psalm 23:2b) for my own good. The words used for still waters in the Hebrew means “beside waters of rest,” so only the Shepherd can lead us to the Living Waters were we rest in Him (John 4:10).


The psalmist tells us that the Shepherd “restores my soul” (Psalm 23:3a), which comes from the word “Qal,” meaning “to turn back.” That sounds like God turns us back to Himself, which sounds a bit like repentance. To the shepherd in the fields, restoring a sheep meant getting them off their backs, because sometimes they fall on their backs due to heavy, wet wool or if they fall in a crevice. A sheep that’s left on its back will suffocate because when the grass begins to ferment in their stomachs, they will literally explode if they’re not in an upright position. Being “cast down” or on their backs also makes them vulnerable to predators. Sheep on their backs are said to be “cast down,” just like in David’s Psalms where he wrote, “Oh Lord, why am I cast down” (42:11, 43:5, etc.). David, being a former shepherd, knew that being “cast down” meant certain death, but thankfully, the Lord’s restored our souls through Christ to an upright position before God.

The Path

The Lord Himself “leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3b). In other words, our being led in the right paths is so that His name will receive glory. By leading me in the path or righteousness, we give glory to His name by living a holy life; not sinless, but we will begin to sin less, and the unsaved world is watching.

The Valley

We can never know the peaks of life without having the valleys. A faith that’s not been tested is a faith that can’t be trusted, so “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (Psalm 23:4a), and the reason we should have no fear of evil is because the psalmist said, “you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4b). I’d like to point out that a shadow and the reality are not nearly the same thing. I’d rather be hit by the shadow of a semi, than the semi itself!

The Marriage Feast

The Book of Revelation mentions the marriage feast of the Lamb of God takes place at the consummation of His kingdom (Rev 19), so it makes sense that the psalmist said that “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5). The Lord said He was going to prepare a place for the disciples (John 14:1-3), and He is preparing a place for us too. That place includes a seat at the table of the marriage feast to Christ. In the Jewish culture, a cup that overflowed signifies that a particular guest can stay as long as they like, and we see that in the following verse (Psalm 23:6b).

Dwelling with God

The psalmist had no doubts about the Lord’s coming, writing with confidence, “Surely goodness and mercy” [literally, “steadfast love”] “shall follow me” [or come after me, like a toddler follows their mom], “all the days of my life “(Psalm 23:6a), meaning the time when we finally inherit eternal life. After we’ve received a glorified body, we shall serve as kings, priests, and in other positions, but we all “shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6b). That’s the time when “the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev 21:3). Think about this; All these years and through all the sorrows, tears and trials, the time has finally come and we “will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Rev 22:4). Imagine seeing Jesus for the very first time! What joy that will be because that’s when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:5).


The Christian must realize that the Lord is their Shepherd and He knows what’s best for them, which is why,

He makes us lie down to rest [in His Word…chewing the cud of the Word]

He leads us to waters of living water….Jesus…and the washing of the water of the Word

He restores us to an upright position so that we might live

He leads us to the right path and keeps us on it

He prepares a place for us (John 14:1-3)

He anoints (oil) us with His Spirit

He overflows our cup (meaning, we’re a permanent guest of God in heaven

Here is some related reading for you: The Parable of the Good Shepherd

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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