Psalm 23 is special to us. Many of us memorized it as children. We’ve heard about how special sheep were to David. We’ve seen wonderful pastoral pictures of a shepherd gently holding a lamb as he leans against a tree, his staff propped behind him.
All that is well and good.
This psalm is not really that flattering to us. God is the Shepherd. That is wonderful. But we’re sheep! That is not a flattering picture. We’re helpless, hopeless, powerless. We have no natural defenses. We’re easy prey. We often fall over, becoming cast down, and can’t even get up on our own feet again. We get ourselves into tight spots. Instead of being able to get out, we thrash around until we are exhausted and kill ourselves. If that doesn’t happen, we worry our feeding grounds until they burnt out, rutted and infested with parasites and disease. We also like to wander off, totally oblivious to the fact that when we leave the Shepherd’s watchful gaze we are walking right into the enemy’s lair. Left to ourselves our only future is death.
On the good side, we’re tasty. But that just means the enemy wants us all the more.
We do have one good quality. But it’s not really our quality. Our Shepherd loves us. For some reason, He looks at us and instead of being disgusted and wondering, “Why bother?” He cares for us. He leads us, feeds, protects us, restores us, comforts us. Our shepherd even dies for us.
But here is the side of this psalm we rarely grasp. There is only one way for us to survive. We have to surrender to the shepherd. Instead of thinking we can remotely do something for ourselves, we have to simply trust our Shepherd cares for us and will lead us well. We must go where He guides. We must do what He says. We must drink what He offers. We must eat what He feeds. We must submit ourselves to His discipline. We must bow our heads to the comforting and relieving salves He offers. We must trust that He knows how to fight off our enemy. If at any point along the way, we think we can do any of that for ourselves, we’ll find ourselves cast from our own fatness, struggling, thrashing, kicking, banging our head against the wall, eventually exhausted. If at any point along the way, we think we can do any of that for ourselves, we’ll die.
We’re sheep. We don’t have strength. Our only strength is our Shepherd. We better just throw ourselves on Him.