The lord is my shepherd (Psa. 23:1) – Message from Primate Okoh – Part 2
Exegesis Of Psalm 23 – The Lord As Shepherd
PSALM 23 is one of the very personal Psalms in which there are no references to “we” or “us” or “they,” but only “my” and “me” and “I” and “You.” This Psalm is David’s own testimony, his personal experience with God. In this Psalm, David expresses unflinching confidence in God. What he writes is not a poetic exaggeration or theoretical theology, but his real experience. He has heard God’s voice, followed His lead, felt His care. Beneath the beauty of his words, there are solid convictions, formed in the crucible of crisis.
At the opening of the Psalm, David declared: ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’ This is actually a sharp departure from the understanding of ancient Israel that thought only about “our” God (Deut. 6:4). The God of Israel as a nation is also the God of the Israelites as individuals. A single flock can have as few as 10 animals or as many as hundreds of them. Yet, a good shepherd knows each and every sheep in the flock, regardless of how large the numbers could be. Similarly, David, when he uses the metaphor of the Shepherd to describe God, talks not just about a designation or a name for the Lord, but the relationship between God and His covenant children.
Naturally, sheep do not voice out their needs, but the shepherd knows the needs of each of them in the flock. The “green pastures” are the rich and verdant pastures, where the sheep need not move from place to place to be satisfied. The fields, even parts of the desert, would be green during the winter and spring. But in summer, the sheep would be led to many places in search of food. God’s care is not seasonal but constant and abundant. Sheep have some characteristics that differentiate them from other animals, the most outstanding of which is that the sheep is completely dependent on the shepherd for virtually everything. David implies in this Psalm that he depended on God for everything.
The manner in which David addressed God in verses 4 and 5 is significant. He changes from referring to God as ‘He’ to ‘You’: “I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me . . . You anoint my head with oil.” The change from “He” to the more intimate “You” happens in verse 4 precisely because it’s there he speaks of the valley he has walked. He has felt the shadows closing in. Verse 4 describes the crisis points in his life. And in those times, something deep happened between him and God.” The phrase ‘shadow of death’ portrays death as a deep shadow or as deep darkness. This image of death compliments the metaphor of the shepherd because the shepherd at times has to lead his flock to feeding grounds across ravines with sharp cliffs. Aside the risk of a slippery foot, chances are high these ravines are inhabited by wild animals like Leopards. Yet the sheep that follows in the path of the shepherd does not need to worry about cliffs or predators because the shepherd shall fight them off.” David did so for his father’s flock while he tended them (1Sam 17:34-35).
Human beings have more tendency of talking about God, when in the green pastures but much more tendency of depending on God when in the ‘valley of the shadow of death.’ In good times, we are prone to wander off in pursuit of greener grass, but in the challenging times, we seek His face earnestly and are compelled to draw closer to God. David had experienced God in a way that had ushered him into intimacy with the Almighty Shepherd.
(Culled from THE OPENING ADDRESS by His Grace, The Most Revd. Nicholas D. Okoh, MA, Fss, Mss, LLD, DD.; Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate Of All Nigeria to The Standing Committee of the Church Of Nigeria held in the Cathedral Church of St Andrew Warri from February 4 to 8, 2019)