“Jehovah Is My Shepherd”
“Jehovah is my Shepherd. I shall lack nothing.”—PSALM 23:1.
1, 2. What were some of David’s accomplishments, and how many psalms did he compose?
IMAGINE this scene: Philistine troops face the army of Israel. Goliath, a Philistine giant, is defiant. A young man, armed only with sling and stones, runs to meet him. A well-aimed stone pierces the giant’s skull and kills him. Who was the young man? David, a shepherd who won this stunning victory with the aid of Jehovah God.—1 Samuel, chapter 17.
2 In time, this young man became Israel’s king, ruling for 40 years. He was an expert harpist and composed much poetry under divine inspiration. David also wrote over 70 beautiful psalms that are a source of much encouragement and guidance for Jehovah’s people today. The best known of these is Psalm 23. Why not open your Bible and follow along as we undertake a verse-by-verse study of this psalm?
Jehovah, a Loving Shepherd
3. (a) On what occasions did David risk his life to protect his sheep? (b) In what sense is Jehovah our Shepherd?
3 “Jehovah is my Shepherd.” (Psalm 23:1) As an experienced shepherd, David knew how to lead, feed, and protect the sheep. For instance, he courageously protected his sheep from a lion on one occasion and a bear on another. (1 Samuel 17:34-36) David’s sheep trusted their shepherd implicitly. But in relation to Jehovah, he himself was a sheep. Since David felt secure in God’s loving care, he could say: “Jehovah is my Shepherd.” Do you enjoy this feeling of security under the Great Shepherd, Jehovah God? He surely leads, feeds, and protects his sheeplike worshipers today. Moreover, as appointed elders in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, faithful, loving undershepherds zealously care for the sheep.—1 Peter 5:1-4.
4. How is our situation today similar to that of the Israelites in the wilderness?
4 “I shall lack nothing.” Think carefully about this statement. Because of Jehovah’s loving care, do you not have a soothing feeling of calmness and confidence? Do you remember what happened to the Israelites when they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years? Why, God provided for all their basic needs! It is the same today. Jehovah’s faithful servants lack nothing. Many can echo these inspired words of David: “A young man I used to be, I have also grown old, and yet I have not seen anyone righteous left entirely, nor his offspring looking for bread.” (Psalm 37:25) Today, an abundance of spiritual food is being provided through “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matthew 4:4; 24:45-47) In addition to several meetings a week, we have the Bible, the magazines The Watchtower and Awake!, and many other publications. Even in countries where the preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses is banned, supplies of spiritual food are received regularly. Jehovah’s sheep lack nothing!
5. Why are Jehovah’s sheep today peaceful and relaxed, and with what result?
5 “In grassy pastures he makes me lie down.” (Psalm 23:2) There were large grassy pastures around many cities in ancient Israel. As a loving shepherd then led his sheep to fine, safe pasture grounds, so Jehovah cares for his sheep today. Says the psalmist: “We are the people of his pasturage.” (Psalm 79:13; 95:7) Literal sheep do well when they are contented and are able to rest in the heat of the day. Jehovah’s sheep today are peaceful and relaxed because they have confidence in mature shepherds—trained overseers in congregations and circuits. As a result, the spiritual flocks are increasing. Many people previously treated badly by the false shepherds of Babylon the Great are now very happy and contented as Jehovah’s sheep.
6. How does Jehovah ‘conduct us by well-watered resting-places’?
6 “By well-watered resting-places he conducts me.” In Israel a shepherd had to guide his flock to a pool or a stream for water. But water was often hard to find in the dry season. Today, Jehovah ‘conducts us by well-watered resting-places’ by providing the waters of truth in great abundance. (Compare Ezekiel 34:13, 14.) And the prophet Isaiah gives this rousing invitation: “Hey there, all you thirsty ones! Come to the water.” (Isaiah 55:1) By taking in these spiritual waters, the sheep gain protection from the fiery judgments to come upon those “who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news.”—2 Thessalonians 1:8; Revelation 7:16, 17.
7. When is spiritual refreshment from Jehovah especially helpful, and under what circumstances can memorized Bible texts prove to be highly beneficial?
7 “My soul he refreshes.” (Psalm 23:3) When we are weary, in trouble, discouraged, or facing serious opposition, Jehovah refreshes us by means of his Word. Hence, it is good for Christians to make it a practice to read a portion of the Bible every day. Do you do this? Some find it helpful to memorize certain texts, such as Exodus 34:6, 7 or Proverbs 3:5, 6. Why is this beneficial? Well, if a crisis should occur and you do not have a Bible handy, comforting Scriptural thoughts can immediately strengthen you. Many brothers condemned to jails or prison camps because of standing firm for righteous principles have been greatly refreshed and strengthened by recalling memorized scriptures. Yes, God’s Word can cause “the heart to rejoice” and make “the eyes shine”!—Psalm 19:7-10.
8. Is it easy to follow “the tracks of righteousness,” but doing so leads to what?
8 “He leads me in the tracks of righteousness.” Tracks of righteousness are difficult to follow, but they lead to life. As Jesus said: “Narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life.” (Matthew 7:14) The apostle Paul expressed a related thought by telling disciples in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch: “We must enter into the kingdom of God through many tribulations.” And Paul certainly knew what he was talking about. Shortly before that, he had been stoned at Lystra and left for dead!—Acts 14:19-22.
9. (a) How does God ‘lead us in the tracks of righteousness’? (b) In what way can Psalm 19:14 be helpful? (c) What scriptures can help us to avoid the pitfalls of illicit sex?
9 Jehovah ‘leads us in the tracks of righteousness’ by guiding and instructing us through his Word and organization. But most people follow the broad and spacious road “leading off into destruction.” (Matthew 7:13) Rampant sexual uncleanness and the rapidly spreading plague of AIDS underscore the need for Christians to avoid bad associations. (1 Corinthians 15:33) We must also take care to prevent our very thoughts from wandering into unclean channels. (Psalm 19:14) To that end, let us always apply the fine counsel God’s Word gives concerning sex and how to avoid the many pitfalls of immorality.—1 Corinthians 7:2-5; Ephesians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8.
10. (a) What responsibility do Jehovah’s Witnesses have regarding the divine name? (b) Why do worldly people often criticize us? (c) Under what circumstances will Jehovah help us?
10 “For his name’s sake.” Jehovah’s Witnesses have the heavy responsibility of glorifying God’s name and bringing no reproach upon it. (Matthew 6:9; Exodus 6:3; Ezekiel 38:23) Many worldly people are quick to point an accusing finger at Jehovah’s people. If this is done because of our stand for such Bible principles as neutrality or the sacredness of blood, our conscience is clear. But if this was to happen because of our wrongdoing, we would be dishonoring Jehovah. (Isaiah 2:4; Acts 15:28, 29; 1 Peter 4:15, 16) So may we hate what is bad. (Psalm 97:10) If we have to undergo persecution, Jehovah will always help us and protect us for his name’s sake.
Jehovah Protects His Sheep
11. What is meant by “the valley of deep shadow,” and of what may this remind us concerning Jesus?
11 “Even though I walk in the valley of deep shadow, I fear nothing bad.” (Psalm 23:4) Isaac Leeser’s translation reads: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear evil.” This may call to mind the deep gorges, or valleys, that run down from the mountains of Judea on the western side of the Dead Sea. A valley, or ravine, where beasts of prey lurk in the shadows is a dangerous place for sheep. David passed through many perilous valleys in his life, with death staring him in the face. But since God was leading him, he was confident and did not give way to unrestrained fear. We should have similar confidence in Jehovah. This reference to “deep shadow” may also remind us of Isaiah’s prophecy: “Those dwelling in the land of deep shadow, light itself has shone upon them.” Matthew referred to this prophecy and applied it to Jesus Christ, saying: “The people sitting in darkness saw a great light, and as for those sitting in a region of deathly shadow, light rose upon them.” How? By the great preaching campaign that Jesus conducted.—Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:13-16.
12. (a) How have Jehovah’s servants adapted to persecution in many countries, and with what result? (b) How did Peter encourage the persecuted early Christians?
12 David ‘feared nothing bad.’ The same thing is true of Jehovah’s servants today, even though they are not popular in this evil world ruled by Satan. (1 John 5:19) Many people actually hate them, and they are severely persecuted in some countries. But in these lands they continue to preach the good news of the Kingdom, although not as openly as they would normally do. They know that Jehovah is with them and will protect them. (Psalm 27:1) Fine progress is being made in many countries where the Kingdom work must be done underground. In such countries, Jehovah’s Witnesses echo the words of the psalm: “Jehovah is on my side; I shall not fear. What can earthling man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6) These Witnesses are in a position similar to that of the early Christians to whom the apostle Peter wrote these encouraging words: “Even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are happy. However, the object of their fear do not you fear, neither become agitated.”—1 Peter 3:14.
13. (a) What interesting change occurs at Psalm 23:4, and why? (b) How can Christians overcome their fears?
13 “For you are with me.” Please note a very interesting factor in this phrase. The inspired psalmist has changed from the third person to the second. Instead of speaking of Jehovah as “he,” David now uses the pronoun “you.” Why? Because it is more intimate. Danger brings us closer to our loving Father, Jehovah. We then enjoy a more intimate relationship with him. By means of prayer and supplication, we can call upon him for protection, and thus overcome our fears.—Compare Zephaniah 3:12.
14. (a) What implements did shepherds have in David’s time, and how did they use them? (b) How do Christian shepherds protect the flock today?
14 “Your rod and your staff are the things that comfort me.” The Hebrew word sheʹvet, rendered “rod,” can signify a shepherd’s crook. Both the rod and the staff can be used for defense and to represent or indicate authority. Certainly, these implements would be very useful in beating off such predators as wolves and snakes. A shepherd’s crook could also be used to nudge sheep in the right direction or even to draw back a sheep straying too close to a spot where it might fall and get hurt. Today, Jehovah provides faithful shepherds, elders in congregations, who defend the flock from such spiritual predators as apostates. Or the elders may have to counsel those who become lax in meeting attendance or deviate from Christian conduct.
A Rich Banquet Amid Enemies
15. (a) What meaningful change of illustration occurs at Psalm 23:5? (b) What facts show that Jehovah’s people are well fed spiritually, in contrast with whom?
15 “You arrange before me a table in front of those showing hostility to me.” (Psalm 23:5) Here we have a meaningful change of illustration, from a shepherd to a host. As a very generous host, Jehovah provides an abundance of spiritual food through the anointed “slave” class. (Matthew 24:45) Although we live in a hostile world, we are well fed. The Watchtower is published in over a hundred languages so that people living in such diverse places as South Africa, Greenland, the Solomon Islands, and India can be fed spiritually. Besides, the approximately 55,000 congregations worldwide have well-trained public speakers and teachers and fine meeting places, including hundreds of new Kingdom Halls. Over 3,000,000 home Bible studies are being conducted to help sheeplike ones. In contrast, those in Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion, go hungry.—Isaiah 65:13.
16. (a) In contrast with a sinful woman, what did a certain Pharisee fail to do for Jesus? (b) What kind of oil does Jehovah provide for his loyal servants today?
16 “With oil you have greased my head.” In ancient Israel a hospitable host provided oil to grease the heads of his guests. Interestingly, on a certain occasion Jesus was the guest of a Pharisee who did not grease Jesus’ head with oil or provide water to wash his feet. At that time, a sinful woman washed his feet with her tears and greased them with special perfumed oil. (Luke 7:36-38, 44-46) But Jehovah is a very hospitable host! For his loyal servants, he provides the spiritual “oil of exultation.” (Isaiah 61:1-3) Yes, Jehovah’s people certainly are exulting today.
17. (a) A ‘well-filled cup’ denotes what? (b) How does Jehovah provide a ‘well-filled cup’ for his servants today?
17 “My cup is well filled.” Another rendition is: “My cup is brimming over.” (Moffatt) This denotes spiritual abundance. Though overdrinking is not meant, these words suggest a cup of fine wine. This beverage has curative properties, as is shown by Paul’s advice to Timothy: “Do not drink water any longer, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent cases of sickness.” (1 Timothy 5:23) In a spiritual sense, wine also makes our hearts rejoice. (Psalm 104:15) Our loving Father, Jehovah, generously provides a spiritual banquet of good things for his loyal servants, including a ‘well-filled cup’ of joy.
18. (a) Jehovah’s goodness and loving-kindness are enjoyed by whom, and how does Psalm 103:17, 18 show this? (b) What glorious prospect lies ahead for those faithful to Jehovah?
18 “Surely goodness and loving-kindness themselves will pursue me all the days of my life.” (Psalm 23:6) Goodness is part of the fruitage of Jehovah’s holy spirit. (Galatians 5:22, 23) God’s goodness and loving-kindness are enjoyed by those who walk in his way. (Psalm 103:17, 18) With strong faith in Jehovah, his people can face any trial they encounter. They are always the objects of his blessing and loving care. And faithfulness to the end will mean everlasting life in the new world. What a wonderful prospect!
19. (a) What does it mean to “dwell in the house of Jehovah”? (b) What has Jehovah’s organization established to promote true worship today, and why do thousands of dedicated people deem it a privilege to serve there? (c) Who else are determined to serve God forever?
19 “And I will dwell in the house of Jehovah to the length of days.” In David’s day God’s sanctuary was the tabernacle, for the temple had not yet been built. Since the psalmist had a gracious host in mind, ‘dwelling in Jehovah’s house’ meant having a good relationship with God as His guest. (Psalm 15:1-5) Today, that house can be identified with Jehovah’s holy temple, his arrangement for pure worship. King Solomon was privileged to construct the first material temple, richly ornamented with gold and built to honor Jehovah. What a great privilege it was to serve there! Although such a temple no longer exists, God has a holy organization to honor him and promote pure worship. As one means of doing this, Jehovah’s organization has established Bethel Homes in scores of countries. “Bethel” means “House of God,” and thousands of dedicated people serve in these theocratic centers. Some of these men and women have served in this way “to the length of days,” having spent most of their lives in Bethel service. Millions of others, not members of a Bethel family, are similarly determined to serve Jehovah forever.
20. (a) Why is Psalm 23 an outstanding part of the Scriptures, and what does it help us to cultivate? (b) What privileges await Jehovah’s faithful servants?
20 The 23rd Psalm 23 is like a gem with many facets that sparkle with light. It exalts the glorious name of our loving heavenly Father, Jehovah, and reveals how he guides, protects, and provides for his sheep. As a result, his people are happy, well fed spiritually, and rapidly increasing in number, even in countries where there is bitter opposition. Psalm 23 also helps us to cultivate a warm, intimate bond with our Creator. And when we look at the starry heavens, as David often did while watching his flock, we are grateful that the Creator of this awesome universe cares for us as a loving Shepherd. Lovingly, he also offers us eternal life in the new world if we maintain our integrity to him. How grand it will then be to meet such faithful resurrected servants of God as David! And what a privilege to serve Jehovah, the Great Shepherd, to all eternity!
How Would You Answer?
□ How does Jehovah prove to be our loving Shepherd?
□ By what means does God ‘lead us in the tracks of righteousness’?
□ How does Jehovah protect his sheep?
□ In what respect has God spread a table for us amid our enemies?