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There are many word pictures in the Bible to describe God. God is described as a Rock. He is described as a Fountain. He is described as a Fortress. And in Psalm 23, God is described as a Shepherd. Word pictures help us understand better what God is like. Sometimes it is hard to think about what God is like. When the Bible says God is good, what does this mean? How good is God? God is the creator of the universe, is all-powerful, and cannot sin. So what does it look like for God to be good? What does perfect goodness look like? It is sometimes hard for us to answer questions like these without some kind of picture to help us.
King David wrote Psalm 23 and tried to find words to describe God’s goodness, love, and care for him. He used the image of a shepherd to describe God. He said, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters” (vv. 1-2). What is a shepherd? A shepherd is someone who takes care of sheep. He usually has a group of many sheep called a flock that he leads. A good shepherd leads his sheep into lands full of grass so they may eat. A good shepherd loves his sheep by protecting them from wolves and giving them all they need to grow big and strong. A good shepherd will do whatever it takes to give his sheep what they need.
God has provided the church with elders, who are like shepherds, to guide and guard the people of God. They deserve our honor (1 Tim. 5:17-25). But elders are not perfect. They can fail us. They can fall into sin. Even when they guide and guard us well, they are not the perfect shepherds we need. Only God is our Great Shepherd who never fails to guide and guard us. He leads us and loves us. He cares for us and gives us exactly what we need.
Because God is our shepherd, we can know that everything we receive from him is for our good, even when we don’t understand. This means that God is worthy of our trust. We can fully trust God in all things because he is a good shepherd who leads us and loves us into all good things. Even when bad things happen to us, God is a good shepherd who is working for the good of his sheep (Rom. 8:28).
David calls God his shepherd because he had experienced his goodness. He led him into green pastures and beside still waters. A good shepherd finds still waters because it would be hard for a sheep to drink from a fast flowing river. He needs still water to drink from. A good shepherd seeks and finds the best water for his sheep to drink from, even when he must take them through a rocky valley to get there.. It is the same with God. He brings us to the best water, even when he takes us through the worst valleys to get there.
Not only did David see God as his shepherd, but we know that Jesus is our Good Shepherd (John 10:14). He is even called the “Great Shepherd” (Heb. 13:20) and the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Pt. 5:4). Through Jesus, we get joy not based on what we do, but on what he has done for us. When the Lord is your shepherd, there is nothing that you lack.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.