Discovering The Shepherd: A Study of Psalm 23

Discovering The Shepherd: A Study of Psalm 23

by G.E. Johnson

ISBN: 9781495298745

Publisher CreateSpace

Published in Christian Books & Bibles/Christian Living, Christian Books & Bibles/Bible Study & Reference, Health, Fitness & Dieting, Christian Books & Bibles, Religion & Spirituality

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Book Description

Thousands of years ago, King David penned what has possibly become the best known passage of the Old Testament - the 23rd Psalm. This testimony of God's faithfulness has served as a hymn of confidence for Christian believers worldwide. Yet, how many believers have taken time to really become familiar with the scripture in its original language? Are there hidden meanings in the Hebrew text of the Psalm? In "Discovering The Shepherd," readers will take a deeper look at the text through a scholarly overview & discover revelation hidden beneath the surfaces of the English translations.

Sample Chapter

Psalm 23, Verse 1

“The LORD is my shepherd…”

“This psalm is probably the best known passage of the OT. It is a testimony by David to the Lord’s faithfulness throughout his life. As a hymn of confidence, it pictures the Lord as a disciple’s Shepherd-King-Host. David… progressively unveils his personal relationship with the Lord.” (Footnote from The MacArthur Study Bible NKJV, 1997)

It is precisely with the same purpose as revealed by King David that God is calling his people to reacquaint themselves with the 23rd Psalm – to unveil and gain a deeper understanding of our relationship to God, but more importantly His relationship to us. This Psalm is all about His vow and commitment to His sheep - those that belong to Him and hearken to the guiding voice of the Holy Spirit. It is a decree and a declaration spoken from the mouth of David in confidence, and even in warfare, against those who persecuted him under the power of evil influence. There are relationship promises and revelation regarding the nature of God’s relationship to his people hidden throughout each verse. Let’s begin with verse 1:

“The LORD is my shepherd…”

King David wastes no time in establishing who will be the subject of Psalm 23 – the Lord. Much like anything that is established by Holy Spirit, the Savior is placed first and properly positioned as the head of any proceeding thing. He is the banner that waves and guides us into the Psalm, then serves as the helm of the multi-compartmental vessel that is Psalm 23. I use the term “vessel” to describe the scripture because of its ability to hold, and store, the Truth and Mystery of the identity of God. It is multi-compartmental because of its ability to hold very distinct pockets of revelation, yet maintain the cohesion of one song or psalm.

The very first word alone – THE - unleashes a torrent of information for the believer engaging in a study of this verse. First, it eliminates any ambiguity regarding to whom King David is referring and establishes David’s faith in the solo God of Israel. This is important because there were numerous false gods being worshipped by the people at that time, several of which are still in existence today. David does not leave it for us to figure out or debate the deity to whom He is referring to in the Psalm. It is THE Lord – the one and only God professed by David and his kingdom.

Second, the use of any other article would have altered the reference to Lord in a way that could have subsequently rendered this scripture ineffective. Imagine reading “A Lord is my shepherd…” or “That Lord is my shepherd…” or even “My Lord is my shepherd….” One could easily insert a deity of their choice, creating a perverted version of the Holy Word of God that was intended.

David could have said “The Lord of Israel is my shepherd…” if he had wanted to be super specific and not leave room for misinterpretation, but the fact that he didn’t can actually be seen as prophetic. Though the coming of Jesus would happen some nearly 1000 years after the beginning of David’s reign over all Israel, David’s choice of “the” as a solo modifier of “Lord” speaks to the coming Lord’s (Jesus) dominion over ALL people, not just Israel and its descendants. Indeed Jesus would come to die for both the Jews and Gentile people and be established as THE Lord over all people. (Romans 3:29-30)

Keeping in mind David’s attitude of confidence in writing this Psalm, his declaration that “THE Lord is my shepherd…” speaks boldly of God’s sovereignty and his eternal positioning as the one and only Lord. It also speaks to God’s authority and dominion over all creation – Jews, Gentiles, atheists, agnostics, animals, insects, mountains, valleys – ALL creation. He is THE ONE AND ONLY LORD. Take a moment to reflect on how much revelation is hidden in just the first word of this Psalm – a simple article! It is only the tip of the iceberg of the revelation of God hidden in this scripture.

“The LORD is my shepherd…”

After David identifies and establishes that THE Lord that he is referring to in Psalm 23 is the one and only ruler over all creation, he introduces us to the word/name used as the accepted embodiment of the nature of the Lord in the Hebrew language – YHWH, Yĕhovah, or Jehovah, also transcribed as Yehowah or Yahweh. What do I mean by “word/name used as the accepted embodiment of the nature of the Lord?” Why not just simply say “His name?” Well, I do not believe that any human word, phrase, or utterance is significant or holy enough to truly represent the deity of Almighty God. In fact, some members of the Jewish faith believe that even the word Yahweh is too holy to speak and do not do so even now in modern times.

The fact that we even have words like God, Jehovah, and Jesus to use when referring to the persons of the Holy Trinity is to me an indicator of God’s desire to commune and connect with us on levels that we are able to comprehend. It is evidence of His desire to be known by His people on a deeply personal level, in a language that we understand. It is evidence of His love for us and grace toward us in allowing us to have “names” that we can easily understand and use in order to call upon and access His omnipotence, the vastness of which is far beyond human language.

Because this text is being written in English and because the English language is so heavily influenced by Latin, I will use the Latin translation of YHWH - “Jehovah”- for the purpose of this text.

Jehovah - "the existing One"; the proper name of the one true God.” (Gesenius’ Lexicon)

“The Existing One”

It is important to note the –ing ending on the verb “exist” in this description of Jehovah. We see this ending used frequently in the English language and use it ourselves daily, but let’s look at it a little closer to help us understand its significance here. The ending –ing is used to make the present participle tense of a verb. In the present participle tense, the verb refers to things that are ongoing or still happening.

The use of the present participle in describing Jehovah as “existing” literally means that He is in an ongoing state of existence. There is no point at which He did not or will not exist because He is in an unending state of existing. Yes, He is indeed eternal! God Himself confirms this when speaking to Moses in Exodus 3:14 when He instructs Moses to say that he (Moses) is being sent to free the people of Israel by “I AM.” In the original Hebrew text of the Torah, “I AM” is the word hayah meaning “to exist; to be in existence.” It is also important to note the present tense of the word “am”, proof again that God is always, and has always been, in a present state of existence.

Let’s clarify something here: In Exodus 3 we become acquainted with another Hebrew term Elohim, the word for “God” not to be confused with Yĕhovah (Jehovah), the word for the name of God in the Old Testament. To clarify further, Elohim means “God” and Elohim’s name is Yĕhovah (Jehovah).

This revelation of the eternal existence of Jehovah leads us perfectly to the “is” in “The LORD is my shepherd….” God, through David, lets us know that He (Jehovah) is ever present in our lives. The one and only ruler of all creation who has always been in existence IS currently and presently right here with us! Take a moment to let that sink in. The very one who spoke the words “Let there be” is right there with you right now. The very one who guided Moses in leading the Israelites out of bondage is right there with you right now. A power that has always existed, and will always exist is available to you as a believer in Jesus Christ who is I AM made flesh! I AM is with you right now and will be there forever!

“The LORD is my shepherd…”

We are all familiar with the use of the possessive pronoun “my.” We use it daily to refer to the things that belong to us, the things that we possess and have ownership of. We also use it to establish a personal relationship or connection between ourselves and the object that we are referring to. David’s use of the word in Psalm 23 is very similar to this not in the sense that he is claiming to own the Lord, but rather he is establishing the existence of a personal connection and relationship between himself and the Lord.

We have already seen how the beginning of the verse establishes the Lord’s sovereignty over all of creation, but here David uses “my” to focus that sovereignty onto himself in a personal way. The image that flashed into my mind as I was writing this was of a pure, white light shining brightly across the entire sky and from that light, one ray of light extended down and engulfed David. This is how the connection should be for all of those who are believers in Jesus Christ who is the flesh manifestation of Jehovah God. Though infinitely vast in His existence, Jehovah still desires to focus on us individually, to have a personal relationship with each of us. We, too, should be able to say boldly “The Lord is MY shepherd” and that even on an earth where billions of people live daily, Almighty God is available to me personally at all times.

So now that we see the absolute reign and eternal existence of God, and the fact that we are able to access Him on a very personal level, we come to David’s characterization of God’s role in His personal relationship with us – Shepherd. Though most believers are familiar with at least a few of the images of God illustrated in the Bible such as fortress, shield, and provider, David chooses to illustrate the loving presence of Jehovah in Psalm 23 as a shepherd. So why would he choose such a meager, even lowly title to bestow on One so vast and powerful? I believe a quick look at David’s past holds the answer.

Before King David ruled over Israel and wore the royal crown, and before he defeated armies to become known as a great warrior, he was himself a shepherd. He began his life tending the flocks of his father Jesse and it was literally in a field where the Prophet Samuel found him in order to anoint him for the life that God was calling him to. Surely the Lord knew everything about David, even before his birth, for as we see in His speaking to the Prophet Jeremiah, the Lord says “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart….” (Jeremiah 1:5) Because of the uniformity of God, and the fact that He remains forever the same (Hebrews 13:8), this same thing would have applied to David as well and applies to each of us as believers. He knew each of us before we were born!

God knew that David would tend to sheep as a young boy and He chose the image of Shepherd in order to reveal Himself to David in the most deeply personal way. Jehovah used David’s earthly knowledge of the life, work, and responsibility of a shepherd to give him spiritual understanding of God’s own existence, work, and responsibility in being the Shepherd over His own holy sheep. God deliberately used something that David was familiar with for this revelation so that David would have no trouble understanding. It also established for David that even before He was anointed by Samuel with his Godly purpose, God knew all about him and was by his side as he went about tending his earthly father’s sheep. Tending his father’s sheep… that reminds me of Jesus. No wonder David was a man after God’s own heart!

Now that we have examined David’s choice of characterization, we should take a closer look at the word “shepherd.” The use of “shepherd” found in the first verse of Psalm 23 comes from the Hebrew word ra’ah. The first, and possibly most fascinating fact to note about this word, is that though its translation in the English bible to “shepherd” would indicate that it is a noun, ra’ah is actually a verb! This means that “shepherd” is not just a word to describe or characterize Jehovah God; it is a word to illustrate what action He is taking in our lives! Jehovah as “shepherd” means that He is actively engaged in the act of shepherding us at every moment. So, what does the act of shepherding entail?

“Shepherd” (biblical usage) – 1) to tend, feed ; 2) to associate with, be a special friend

1a)To Tend

Generally speaking, to tend to something or someone means to “care for and look after” that thing or person. It also means to “give special attention” to whatever we are tending. ( This means that as God is shepherding us, he is caring for us and looking after us. 1 Peter 5:6-7 confirms this when Peter writes, “Therefore humble yourselves [demote, lower yourselves in your own estimation] under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you, Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully.”(Amplified)

But not only does God care for us and look after us watchfully, He also gives us special attention. This special attention is designed to meet our individual needs on a personal level. Though we are all human and do indeed have the same basic needs, we all certainly have different personalities, different emotional quirks and life issues. God knows each of us intimately, inside and out, from head to toe because He made us. Jesus confirms this in the Gospels by letting us know that He even knows the exact number of hairs on our head! (Luke 12:7) This is why David was able to boldly claim the Holy Shepherd as his very own by using the possessive “my.”

1b)To Feed

We are all aware that in a literal sense, all living things must eat in order to survive and certainly Jehovah God is concerned with whether or not we have food to eat. He confirms this in Matthew 6:31-33 when Jesus says to His disciples to not worry or fret over what they would eat or drink because their heavenly Father was well aware of these needs in their lives. He instructed them instead to seek His Kingdom and righteousness and all other things that they needed would be given to them. In other words, it is important for us to make seeking a relationship with God our top priority while also allowing Him the opportunity to shepherd us. In that relationship is the provision of all things, including literal food!

But God is not just concerned with feeding our bellies. He is also concerned with the feeding of our spirit. In Matthew 4:4, Jesus says “…It has been written, Man shall not live and be upheldand sustained by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” (Amplified) Since words coming forth from the mouth of God are not tangible objects, clearly he was not instructing us to literally eat the words from His mouth. Please do not bite your bible! Instead, He is referring to studying the bible, praying, meditating, and any other act that puts you in communication with God in order to receive and digest His Word. In reference to the Word of God, John MacArthur says the Word is “a more important source of sustenance than food; it nurtures our spiritual needs in a way that benefits us eternally rather than merely providing temporary relief from physical hunger.” (Study Bible, NKJV)

2)To Associate With, Be a Special Friend

In this action of the shepherd, Jehovah’s close personal relationship with each believer, or each of His sheep, is reaffirmed. Not only does He tend to us without ceasing and provide nourishment for both our bodies and spirits, He also acts as a special friend. This hopefully helps close the gap that believers often perceive between themselves and God when relating to Him. Some see Him as being distant or sitting so high that He is unattainable when in fact, He is daily acting as a close, special friend in each of our lives. The next time you pray and seek God’s face, I encourage you to close your eyes and picture Him not hovering above you, but sitting right next to you. Draw Him close to you and communicate with Him in that intimate space.


Wow! What a lot of information there was to consider in just the first half of the first verse of Psalm 23. Please take time to soak and meditate in what you’ve already read so far. Though we covered a lot, keep in mind that there are layers upon layers of revelation hidden in the Word of God because God himself is infinite in His existence. I believe that as you read and continue to move forward through this examination of Psalm 23, the Holy Spirit will speak to you personally, adding more revelation and wisdom to your reading than I could possibly uncover in a lifetime of writing.


Excerpted from "Discovering The Shepherd: A Study of Psalm 23" by G.E. Johnson. Copyright © 2014 by G.E. Johnson. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

G.E. Johnson

G.E. Johnson

G.E. Johnson made her debut as a Christian fiction author in 2011 and became an Amazon best seller in multiple categories. Now G.E. is focusing her writing talent on helping Christian believers gain greater understanding of the Word of God through bible studies and commentaries.

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