The following is an excerpt from When the Lord is My Shepherd: Finding Hope in a Hard Time by David Roseberry.
Without any apology or explanation, David says that the Lord is a Shepherd to him. And not just like—God is a Shepherd. David, above anyone else, would know what a shepherd does. David was a shepherd himself. We know from the details of his storied life that he was a good shepherd. He was the protector of his sheep and the defender of his flock. At one point, David boasts that he was able to defend his sheep by killing ferocious predators nearby. We know that he lived with his sheep. That is the way of the shepherd.
Being a shepherd was a poor man’s position in the Bible. It was the lowest of duties. The shepherd was literally among the sheep all the time—24/7/365. There was never a time when a shepherd would leave his sheep. The sheep might wander off, but the shepherd never would. He would always be with them. If it was raining and they got wet, he got wet. If the sheep were cold, then the shepherd shivered too.
God does not shrink back from the image of the shepherd. In fact, Jesus embraced it for Himself. He even amplified it. He called Himself the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd watches over the flock. The Good Shepherd knows each of the sheep by name. The Good Shepherd leads His sheep. In one analogy, Jesus says that the shepherd’s job is to guard the sheep in a holding pen by literally laying down his life for their safety. (All of these phrases and verses come from John 10.)
One commentator on Psalm 23 underscores the beauty and truth of this image:
David uses the most comprehensive and intimate metaphor yet encountered in the Psalms, preferring usually the more distant ‘king’ or ‘deliverer’, or the impersonal ‘rock’, ‘shield’, etc.; whereas the shepherd lives with his flock and is everything to it: guide, physician and protector.(Kidner)
This is one of the most central truths of our Christian faith. We are called to honor the Lord God as the King of the Universe. He is “high and lifted up” as the Ruler of all things. We do well to call Him Lord and to worship Him. But we also know that God came down to be with us; He lived among us as the lowest of servants. God (in Christ) would care for us the way a shepherd would care for his own sheep.
The cornerstone of the Christian faith is the belief that God is seen and honored as both beyond us and beside us.
Many people easily accept the truth that there must be a God, a creator of all things. How else can you explain the beauty of the planet and the wonder of life? But people struggle in their faith when they consider that God became a man. He lowered Himself down from the high vaults of heaven and took on our likeness in order to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. That God is ‘out there’ is easy to believe for some; that He was also ‘down here’ is much harder to believe for all. But He is both heavenly Lord and earthly Shepherd.
This great mystery is here in the first line of our Psalm. David declares that there is someone who stands over all time and space as a God of glory; and also stands with Him to guide and protect Him day by day. This God is SomeOne. He is SomeOne over all things. He is SomeOne near him. He is SomeOne who knows his deeds and his needs. He is SomeOne who can care for the sheep as if they were His own children.
When the Lord is my Shepherd, the God who is beyond me is also beside me.