Psalm 23 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. I love the imagery of God painted by a shepherd boy. It is apparent that he was confident in his role as a shepherd, but ultimately saw himself as the dependent sheep when it came to the larger picture of life. His description of God as the shepherd of His people gives us an intimate look at the intentionality, dedication, and self-sacrifice that is woven into the love God offers us.
The shepherd’s role is far more complex than one might assume. It takes strategic planning to know where to lead your herds to graze. There is also advance preparation of the fields and routes that will be used in upcoming seasons. Since sheep have no ability to defend themselves, the shepherd must be ever vigilant to keep his herd safe from predators. During attack, the shepherd often risks his own life to protect his sheep.
This was the life of the shepherd boy, David, who penned the words to Psalm 23. He knew the danger, the commitment, the tireless, thankless work of being a shepherd like he knew the back of his hand. When he wrote, “Only goodness, mercy, and unfailing love shall follow me all the days of my life” there were probably memories of previous experiences with predators in his mind.
I wonder if the hairs on the back of his neck stood up as he wrote. Did the feelings of fear and anticipation rush back? Long, sleepless nights where he dared not close his eyes for fear that he would be too late if the enemy attacked. The sounds of restless sheep who could sense danger approaching. Memories of shadows shifting and moving, always at the corner of his eye and never in full view.
His words take on new meaning, fresh revelation, as we consider the boy who knew the constant threat of danger. Looking up to the heavens, eyes focused on a God he could not draw an outline of, the shepherd boy saw only light and no darkness. As though a citizen of a world beyond this one, the boy confidently asserts that the only thing following him through life is goodness, mercy, and unfailing love. Despite the lions, the bears, the thieves, the storms, and the self-imposed danger that was a part of his daily life, he appears certain that all those things are only surface level threats in comparison to the safety found in the care of God as his shepherd.
Confidence is not found in a false sense of safety or when no threats are visible. True confidence is trust in the Shepherd, knowing that only goodness, mercy, and unfailing love are following you as you follow the path God has laid out for you.