Jehovah Is Our Shepherd
“Jehovah is my Shepherd. I shall lack nothing.”—PSALM 23:1.
1-3. Why is it not surprising that David compared Jehovah to a shepherd?
IF YOU were asked to describe the way Jehovah cares for his people, what would you say? What comparison could you draw that would convey the tender care that he gives his faithful servants? Over 3,000 years ago, the royal psalmist David put in writing a beautiful description of Jehovah, using an analogy drawn from the occupation of David’s early life.
2 As a young man, David had been a shepherd, so he knew about caring for sheep. He was well-aware that sheep, if left to themselves, easily get lost and become prey for robbers or wild beasts. (1 Samuel 17:34-36) Without a caring shepherd, they may not find their pasture and their food. In his later years, David no doubt had fond memories of the many hours he had spent leading, protecting, and feeding sheep.
3 It is not surprising that the work of a shepherd came to mind when David was inspired to describe the care that Jehovah shows for his people. The 23rd Psalm, penned by David, begins with the words: “Jehovah is my Shepherd. I shall lack nothing.” Let us consider why this is a fitting statement. Then, with the help of Psalm 23, we will see in what ways Jehovah cares for his worshippers as a shepherd cares for his sheep.—1 Peter 2:25.
A Fitting Comparison
4, 5. How does the Bible describe the traits of sheep?
4 Jehovah bears many titles in the Scriptures, but the designation “Shepherd” is among the most tender. (Psalm 80:1) To understand better why Jehovah is fittingly called a Shepherd, it is helpful for us to know two things: first, the disposition of sheep and second, the duties and qualities of a good shepherd.
5 The Bible often alludes to the traits of sheep, describing them as readily responding to a shepherd’s affection (2 Samuel 12:3), unaggressive (Isaiah 53:7), and defenseless. (Micah 5:8) One writer who raised sheep for a number of years noted: “Sheep do not ‘just take care of themselves’ as some might suppose. They require, more than any other class of livestock, endless attention and meticulous care.” To survive, these helpless creatures need a caring shepherd.—Ezekiel 34:5.
6. How does one Bible dictionary explain a typical day in the life of an ancient shepherd?
6 What was a typical day like for the ancient shepherd? One Bible dictionary explains: “In early morning he led forth the flock from the fold, marching at its head to the spot where they were to be pastured. Here he watched them all day, taking care that none of the sheep strayed, and if any for a time eluded his watch and wandered away from the rest, seeking diligently till he found and brought it back. . . . At night he brought the flock home to the fold, counting them as they passed under the rod at the door to assure himself that none were missing. . . . Often he had to guard the fold through the dark hours from the attack of wild beasts, or the wily attempts of the prowling thief.”a
7. Why did a shepherd at times need to show extra patience and tenderness?
7 There were times when sheep, especially the pregnant ewes and the young, required extra patience and tenderness. (Genesis 33:13) One Bible reference work states: “The birth of offspring in a flock often occurs far off on the mountain side. The shepherd solicitously guards the mother during her helpless moments and picks up the lamb and carries it to the fold. For the few days, until it is able to walk, he may carry it in his arms or in the loose folds of his coat.” (Isaiah 40:10, 11) Clearly, a good shepherd needed a blend of strong and tender qualities.
8. David cites what reasons for his confidence in Jehovah?
8 “Jehovah is my Shepherd”—is that not a fitting description of our heavenly Father? As we examine Psalm 23, we will see how God cares for us with the strength and tenderness of a shepherd. In Ps 23 verse 1, David expresses his confidence that God will make all necessary provisions for His sheep so that they will “lack nothing.” In the verses that follow, David cites three reasons for this confidence: Jehovah leads, protects, and feeds His sheep. Let us discuss these one at a time.
“He Leads Me”
9. What peaceful scene does David describe, and how would sheep come to be in such a setting?
9 First, Jehovah leads his people. David writes: “In grassy pastures he makes me lie down; by well-watered resting-places he conducts me. My soul he refreshes. He leads me in the tracks of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:2, 3) A flock lying down peacefully in the midst of abundance—David here paints a scene of contentment, refreshment, and security. The Hebrew word rendered “pastures” can mean “pleasant place.” Likely, on their own, the sheep would not find a refreshing spot to lie down in peace. Their shepherd must lead them to such a “pleasant place.”
10. How does God show his confidence in us?
10 How does Jehovah lead us today? One way he does so is by example. His Word urges us to “become imitators of God.” (Ephesians 5:1) The context of those words mentions compassion, forgiveness, and love. (Ephesians 4:32; 5:2) Certainly, Jehovah sets the finest example in displaying such warm qualities. Is he being unrealistic in asking us to imitate him? No. That inspired counsel is actually a marvelous expression of his confidence in us. In what way? We are made in God’s image, meaning that we are endowed with moral qualities and the capacity for spirituality. (Genesis 1:26) Hence, Jehovah knows that despite our imperfections, we have within us the potential for cultivating the same qualities that he exemplifies. Just think—our loving God is confident that we can be like him. If we follow his example, he will lead us, as it were, to a pleasant ‘resting-place.’ In the midst of this violent world, we will “dwell in security,” experiencing the peace that comes from knowing that we have God’s approval.—Psalm 4:8; 29:11.
11. In leading his sheep, what does Jehovah consider, and how is this reflected in what he asks of us?
11 In leading us, Jehovah is tender and patient. A shepherd considers the limitations of his sheep, so he leads “according to the pace of the livestock.” (Genesis 33:14) Jehovah likewise leads “according to the pace of” his sheep. He considers our abilities and circumstances. In effect, he adjusts the pace, never asking more than we can give. What he does ask is that we be whole-souled. (Colossians 3:23) But what if you are older and cannot do what you used to? Or what if you have a serious illness that limits you? Therein lies the beauty of the requirement that we be whole-souled. No two souls are exactly alike. Serving whole-souled means using all your strength and energy to the fullest extent possible for you in God’s service. Despite the frailties that may affect our pace, Jehovah values our wholehearted worship.—Mark 12:29, 30.
12. What example from the Mosaic Law illustrates that Jehovah leads “according to the pace of” his sheep?
12 To illustrate that Jehovah leads “according to the pace of” his sheep, consider what is said about certain guilt offerings in the Mosaic Law. Jehovah wanted fine offerings that were prompted by grateful hearts. At the same time, the offerings were graded according to the offerer’s ability. The Law said: “If . . . he cannot afford enough for a sheep, then he must bring . . . two turtledoves or two young pigeons.” And if he could not afford even two pigeons? Then he could bring some “fine flour.” (Leviticus 5:7, 11) This shows that God did not demand what was beyond the offerer’s reach. Since God does not change, we can find comfort in knowing that he never asks more than we can give; rather, he is pleased to accept what is within our reach. (Malachi 3:6) What a pleasure it is to be led by such an understanding Shepherd!
“I Fear Nothing Bad, for You Are With Me”
13. At Psalm 23:4, how does David speak more intimately, and why is this not surprising?
13 David gives a second reason for his confidence: Jehovah protects his sheep. We read: “Even though I walk in the valley of deep shadow, I fear nothing bad, for you are with me; your rod and your staff are the things that comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4) David now speaks more intimately, addressing Jehovah with the pronoun “you.” This is not surprising, for David is talking about how God helped him to endure adversity. David had been through many dark valleys—times when his very life was in danger. But he did not allow fear to dominate him, for he sensed that God—with His “rod” and “staff” at the ready—was with him. This awareness of protection comforted David and no doubt drew him closer to Jehovah.b
14. What assurance does the Bible give us regarding Jehovah’s protection, but what does this not mean?
14 How does Jehovah protect his sheep today? The Bible assures us that no opposers—demon or human—will ever succeed in eliminating his sheep from the earth. Jehovah would never allow that. (Isaiah 54:17; 2 Peter 2:9) However, this does not mean that our Shepherd will shield us from all calamity. We experience the trials that are common to humans, and we face the opposition that befalls all true Christians. (2 Timothy 3:12; James 1:2) There are times when we may, so to speak, “walk in the valley of deep shadow.” For example, we may come close to death as a result of persecution or some health crisis. Or it may be that someone dear to us comes close to or even succumbs to death. During what seem to be the darkest moments, our Shepherd is with us, and he will safeguard us. How?
15, 16. (a) In what ways does Jehovah help us to handle the obstacles we may face? (b) Relate an experience to show how Jehovah helps us in times of trial.
15 Jehovah does not promise miraculous intervention.c But of this we can be sure: Jehovah will help us to get through whatever obstacles we may face. He can grant us the wisdom to cope “with various trials.” (James 1:2-5) A shepherd uses his rod or staff not only to ward off predators but also to nudge his sheep in the right direction. Jehovah can “nudge” us, perhaps by means of a fellow worshipper, to apply Bible-based counsel that may make a big difference in our situation. In addition, Jehovah can give us the strength to endure. (Philippians 4:13) By means of his holy spirit, he can equip us with “power beyond what is normal.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) God’s spirit can enable us to endure any test that Satan might bring upon us. (1 Corinthians 10:13) Is it not comforting to know that Jehovah is ever ready to help us?
16 Yes, no matter what dark valley we may find ourselves in, we do not have to walk through it alone. Our Shepherd is with us, helping us in ways that we may not fully perceive at first. Consider the experience of a Christian elder who was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. “I must admit that at first I found myself wondering if Jehovah was angry at me or even if he loved me. But I was determined not to pull away from Jehovah. Instead, I voiced my concerns to him. And Jehovah helped me, often comforting me through my brothers and sisters. Many shared helpful insights based on their own experience of coping with serious illness. Their balanced comments reminded me that there was nothing unusual about what I was going through. Practical assistance, including some touching offers of kindness, reassured me that Jehovah was not displeased with me. Of course, I must continue to battle my illness, and I do not know what the outcome will be. But I am convinced that Jehovah is with me and that he will continue to help me through this trial.”
“You Arrange Before Me a Table”
17. How does David describe Jehovah at Psalm 23:5, and why is this not at odds with the illustration of a shepherd?
17 David now cites a third reason for his confidence in his Shepherd: Jehovah feeds his sheep, and he does so in abundance. David writes: “You arrange before me a table in front of those showing hostility to me. With oil you have greased my head; my cup is well filled.” (Psalm 23:5) In this verse, David describes his Shepherd as a generous host who provides food and drink in abundance. The two illustrations—a caring shepherd and a generous host—are not at odds. After all, a good shepherd must know where to find rich pasture grounds and sufficient drinking water so that his flock will “lack nothing.”—Psalm 23:1, 2.
18. What shows that Jehovah is a generous host?
18 Is our Shepherd also a generous host? There is no question about that! Just think of the quality, quantity, and variety of spiritual food that we now enjoy. Through the faithful and discreet slave class, Jehovah has provided us with helpful publications and rich programs at meetings, assemblies, and conventions—all of which fill our spiritual needs. (Matthew 24:45-47) There is certainly no shortage of spiritual food. “The faithful and discreet slave” has produced millions of Bibles and Bible study aids, and such publications are now available in 413 languages. Jehovah has provided this spiritual food in great variety—from “milk,” basic Bible teachings, to “solid food,” deeper spiritual information. (Hebrews 5:11-14) As a result, when we face problems or decisions, we can usually find just what we need. Where would we be without such spiritual food? Our Shepherd is truly a most generous provider!—Isaiah 25:6; 65:13.
“I Will Dwell in the House of Jehovah”
19, 20. (a) At Psalm 23:6, what confidence does David express, and how may we share that confidence? (b) What will be discussed in the next article?
19 After contemplating the ways of his Shepherd and Provider, David concludes: “Surely goodness and loving-kindness themselves will pursue me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of Jehovah to the length of days.” (Psalm 23:6) David speaks from a heart filled with gratitude and faith—gratitude in recalling the past and faith in looking to the future. This former shepherd is secure, knowing that as long as he stays close to his heavenly Shepherd, as if dwelling in His house, he will always be the object of Jehovah’s loving care.
20 How thankful we are for the beautiful words recorded in the 23rd Psalm! David could hardly have found a more fitting way to describe how Jehovah leads, protects, and feeds his sheep. David’s warm expressions have been preserved to give us confidence that we too can look to Jehovah as our Shepherd. Yes, as long as we stay close to Jehovah, he will care for us as a loving Shepherd “to the length of days,” even to all eternity. However, as his sheep, we have the responsibility to walk with our great Shepherd, Jehovah. What this involves will be discussed in the next article.
b David composed a number of psalms in which he praised Jehovah for delivering him out of danger.—See, for example, the superscriptions of Psalms 18, 34, 56, 57, 59, and 63.
c See the article “Divine Intervention—What Can We Expect?” in the October 1, 2003, issue of The Watchtower.
Do You Recall?
• Why is it fitting that David compared Jehovah to a shepherd?
• How does Jehovah lead us with understanding?
• In what ways does Jehovah help us to endure trials?
• What shows that Jehovah is a generous host?
[Picture on page 18]
Like a shepherd in Israel, Jehovah leads His sheep