The Psalm for Easter 4 is Psalm 23. Certainly, Psalm 23 may be considered the most well-known, beloved Psalm in the Church and beyond. The beautiful imagery of a Shepherd and His sheep paints a picture of “new/re-orientation” as a result of the actions of the Shepherd. Sheep are one of the very few animals which have no natural defenses. No claws, biting teeth—they are not fast and elusive—sheep need to be cared for.

To have a better grasp of what “shepherding” is about, one needs to consider the context of the eastern way of shepherding. Most of us are more familiar with the western approach to shepherding, but this context does not fit the biblical texts on shepherding. In western culture we herd sheep by pushing and/or with sheepdogs. The eastern method is described with words from the New Testament: “My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me.” This is a completely different picture. The biblical shepherd leads his sheep. He provides for their needs. He protects them from enemies, and he does not leave his sheep unattended. Small wonder our LORD and Savior uses this imagery to describe His relationship to His people. No doubt Jesus is building upon Psalm 23 as He delivers His address in John 10.

It is the patriarch Jacob who first calls God/The Mighty One a “Shepherd” (Genesis 48:15; 49:24). Certainly, this would be an image easy to identify with for the nomadic Hebrew shepherds. Another aspect of “shepherding” is the assumption that it is the shepherd who provides for his sheep. The theme of “The LORD Provides” is strong in the Scriptures. First, the Garden of Eden where all things are given, a gift to the crown of God’s creation. Then, even as man is expelled from the Garden there is the promise that the LORD will provide the Holy Seed. As we look at this Psalm with the LORD as Shepherd the language of leading, protecting, and providing must have reminded the people of the Exodus and the 40 years in the wilderness, and then being brought to the Promised Land where they ate from vines they did not plant and lived in houses they did not build. All was provided in this land flowing with milk and honey. The language of this Psalm is quite similar to these texts. To complete the theme we look from the Manna to the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. He calls Himself the Good Shepherd and provides for His sheep on a cross and forever more. The final provision are the open gates of everlasting life and the table spread—the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom which has no end.

The biblical shepherd leads his sheep. He provides for their needs. He protects them from enemies, and he does not leave his sheep unattended.

23:1 מִזְמוֹר (miz-Mor) “psalm; melody”
יְהוָה רֹעִי (Yah-weh ro-I) “The LORD is my Shepherd”
אֶחְסָר (ech-Sar) root: חדר (khaw-sare) Qal: “to be in want; want; be devoid of”

23:2 בִּנְאוֹת (bin-ot) from: נָוָה (naw-aw) “pasture; meadow; grazing place”
דֶּשֶׁא (De-she) “grass; vegetation; green”
יַרְבִּיצֵנִי (yar-bi-Tze-ni) root: רבץ (raw-bats) Hiphil: “to allow to lie down; cause to lie down” Sheep can only lie down if they are completely at peace – well fed, watered, no danger, no irritating flies, etc.
מְנֻחוֹת (me-nu-Chot) “resting place; rest”
יְנַהֲלֵנִי (ye-na-ha-Le-ni) root: נהל (naw-hal) Piel: “to escort; to lead to” In this context – to lead to a watering place and cause to rest there.

23:3 נַפְשִׁי יְשׁוֹבֵב (naf-Shi ye-sho-Vev) “My life/soul He restores”
יַנְחֵנִי (yan-Che-ni) root: נחה (naw-khaw) Hiphil: “to lead; guide”
בְמַעְגְּלֵי (ve-ma-ge-lei) “in a firm path (of righteousness)”

23:4 בְּגֵיא (be-Gei) “valley”
צַלְמָוֶת (tzal-Ma-vet) This appears to be the conjunction of two words: צֵל (tsel) “shadow; darkness; gloom” and מֶוֶת (meh-veth) “death”.
וּמִשְׁעַנְתֶּךָ (u-mish-an-Te-cha) “staff; support”

23:5 תַּעֲרךְ (ta-a-Roch) root: ערך (aw-rak) Qal: “to arrange; to get ready; to set out in order; to prepare”
שֻׁלְחָן (shul-Chan) “table”
צֹרְרָי (tzo-re-Rai) root: צרר (tsaw-rar) Qal, Participle used as a noun: “attacker; enemy”
דִּשַּׁנְתָּ (dish-Shan-ta) root: דשׁן (daw-shane) Piel: “to anoint; refresh; make fat”
כּוֹסִי (ko-Si) “cup; my cup”
רְוָיָה (re-va-Yah) “well-filled (overflowing); satisfied”

23:6 לְאֹרֶךְ (le-O-rech) from: אֹרֶךְ (o-rek) “length; for length; forever; unto perpetuity”

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Psalm 23.

Text Week-Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Psalm 23.