A couple of years ago, Bible Gateway published a list of the ten most-searched-for Bible verses on their website. Five of the top ten verses on their list were from Psalm 23. I am certain that many people around the world turned to Psalm 23 during the past two years as we faced a terrifying global crisis and deep uncertainty about the future.
Why do we return to Psalm 23 in the midst of crisis? There are many Bible passages in which God is referred to as a shepherd. The Bible is full of reminders about how God provides for his people in the midst of uncertainty and fear. So what makes Psalm 23 so special?
I think Psalm 23 is powerful for a simple but surprising reason: the first-person singular pronouns. In case you’ve forgotten your middle-school grammar, the first-person singular pronouns in English are “I,” “me,” “my,” and “mine.” In other words, King David didn’t write, “The Lord is a shepherd,” or “The Lord is the shepherd,” or even, “The Lord is our shepherd.” Instead, the very first verse of Psalm 23 begins with the powerful affirmation, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
Psalm 23 personalizes the metaphor of God as our shepherd to a degree that no other biblical passage really does. Most of us know that shepherds provide for and protect their sheep. They lead their sheep to food and water. They fight off wild animals and bandits that threaten their sheep. The Scripture is full of imagery describing God as a good shepherd for the nation of Israel and for the world as a whole.
But it’s one thing to know that God is a good shepherd in general. It’s another thing entirely to know that he is my good shepherd. God doesn’t merely care about Israel or about the world as a whole. Psalm 23 reminds me that he also knows and cares about me specifically.
When I am sad or scared, of course, it’s comforting to know that God is taking care of the world in a general sense. He’s leading the entire world to a good place. The Bible is clear about that: God has a perfect plan for this world that cannot be defeated by sin, sickness, or death. But Psalm 23 tells me that God is also taking care of me. Yes, he has the whole world in his hands, as the first verse of that old song tells us. But he also has you and me individually in his hands.
If God is your shepherd, then, you can trust that he sees you and cares about you personally. he knows your name and he knows all that you need. If you feel alone, or you’re afraid of what tomorrow holds, he sees you and cares about you. If you’re sick and in pain, God is concerned about you. And ultimately, he wants to lead you to a very good place, where your future is secure and you have all that you need and more. The Scripture makes it clear that God’s people will find that place of perfection when Jesus returns. He will remake the world into a kingdom where pandemics, war, and natural disaster will no longer wreak havoc and destruction.
In John 10:14 Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” By identifying himself as the shepherd of Psalm 23, Jesus was claiming to be God. He was making a bold statement: if you want God as your shepherd, you must believe in Jesus. He gave his life to save the sheep. He knows every one of them by name, and he loves them infinitely. As a result, not even the horrifying shadow of death can destroy the relationship between the Savior and his sheep.