In his book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Phillip Keller describes the peril of a “cast sheep,” that is, a sheep that’s fallen flat on its back and cannot get back up on its own. In this position, it’s an easy target for predators such as buzzards and wolves. And, if not rescued within a short time, it will die. Gas spreads through the digestive system and cuts off the flow of blood. If the weather is hot and sunny, the sheep can die in just a few hours.
As sheep, we need the Good Shepherd (vv. 11, 14)! As a shepherd, Jesus cares for, watches over, guides, protects, defends, and rescues us. He knows us by name (v. 3). His voice leads us (v. 4).
In Ancient Near Eastern culture, shepherding was a common metaphor for kingship. An ideal king would behave much like a good shepherd, working to create and ensure the well-being of his nation (flock). So when Jesus asserted His authority at the end of this passage, He wasn’t really changing topics (v. 18). He is our King as well as our Shepherd!
Notice that the shepherd is strongly contrasted with the thief and the hired hand. Thieves and robbers wanted to harm the flock (vv. 1–5). These are enemies of God. Hired hands might be better, but they run away when danger comes. They’re not invested like the shepherd (vv. 12–13). These are false shepherds or bad religious leaders.
Christ is an exceptional shepherd. He loved us so much He laid down His life for us (vv. 11, 15, 17). His selfless goal is our salvation—”that they may have life, and have it to the full” (v. 10). As sheep, our best choice is to follow, trust, and stay close to Him.
“The Lord is my shepherd.” Psalm 23 echoes today’s Scripture reading from John 10. Today, we focus our prayers on the powerful images in both passages and thank the Lord for watching over us, even when we walk “through the darkest valley” (Ps. 23:4).