By Sally Lombardo
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:1–3)
Once I taught a Sunday class on the biblical image of the Good Shepherd. My research was mostly taken from a book about Psalm 23 and the life of shepherds in the ancient Middle East. Each line in Psalm 23 has a literal meaning about culture in David’s time, but this famous psalm also offers rich symbolism for our lives today. The role of a shepherd requires courage, love, and grace—and these qualities are shown most remarkably in Jesus, the Good Shepherd who cares for us.
These first three lines are full of lessons that can help us understand our daily walk with God. Several images are displayed: the Lord is the Shepherd, his people are the sheep, and he cares for the flock with green pastures and still waters. He gathers his sheep when they are scattered and gives them a place to lie down and settle. Sometimes this happens as a result of global conflict, sometimes plague and illness, and more frequently because of our own discontent. Even the recent pandemic forced us to change our frantic pace and stay home. God has helped us settle in new pastures as we learned new ways to work and be with family.
Sheep, who symbolize our dependence on God, won’t drink from flowing stream water, so the shepherd must show them where the water is still. This is not easy in the lands around Israel, as the rocky, dry land only allows thin streams of water to flow downhill. Shepherds have to lead the sheep to green pastures and still waters, which are not readily available. In the fullness of time, God sent his Son, the Living Water, to quench our souls’ greatest thirst forever.
“Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).
Reflection: When you remember all that Christ has done for you, how does it settle your soul? How can you abide near the streams of Living Water that God provides? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Follow the ancient way of the Psalms and find the life God has for you. A model for vibrant worship, the Psalms provide practical wisdom to traverse the circuitous path of life with trust and hope. Pilgrim’s Path: A Study of the Psalms traces our spiritual walk with God—from discovery and delight, through doubt and disappointment, into joyful confidence. Whether used for individual or group study, Pilgrim’s Path is for everyone who seeks to know and love God more and find life in him.
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