This is a collection of thoughts/notes rather than one of my usual sermons. Hope it blesses you, though...
Don't know what understanding we may have of a shepherd today. Shepherd was a familiar sight in Jesus' day.
The comparison of God with a shepherd is used repeatedly throughout the Bible. One such passage is Psalm 23, which begins, "The LORD is my shepherd." Jesus called himself "the good shepherd" (John 10 - see today's gospel) and had compassion on crowds because they were like "sheep without a shepherd" (Mark 6:34). The image of God as a shepherd begins with Jacob (Genesis 48:15) and ends with Revelation 7:17.
Imagine you are a sheep. Write a job description for your perfect shepherd. Get some clues from Psalm 23.
security, lead/guide to a place to graze, water, care.
A profession of joyful trust in the Lord as the good Shepherd-King. The psalm may have accompanied a festival of praise at "the house of the LORD" (v. 6) following a deliverance, such as is contemplated in 22:25-31.
The psalm can be divided into two parts focusing on the Shepherd-King's reassuring presence with his people. The first part involves God as a shepherd to His sheep. From verse 5 God is directly addressed as "you".
23:1 shepherd. A widely used metaphor for kings in the ancient Near East, and also in Israel . For the Lord as the shepherd of Israel Eze 34:11-16.
Here David the king acknowledges that the Lord is his Shepherd-King.
For Jesus as the shepherd of his people see Jn 10:11,14.
not be in want. Confident in provision of shepherd. On the contrary, he will enjoy "goodness" all his life (v. 6). cf. John 10:10.
23:2 lie down. For flocks lying down in contented and secure rest see Eze 34:14-15.
green pastures. Metaphor for all that makes life to flourish (see Eze 34:14; Jn 10:9). leads me. A shepherd leads his sheep ( contra butcher who follows ) .
quiet waters. Lit. "waters of resting places," i.e., restful waters - waters that provide refreshment and well-being (see Isa 49:10). contra running waters.
23:3 restores my soul. Revives me, refreshes my spirit.
guides me in paths of righteousness. As a shepherd leads his sheep in paths that offer safety and well-being, so David's Shepherd-King guides him in ways that cause him to be secure and prosperous. It is also likely that "paths of righteousness" refers to the paths that conform to God's moral will.
for his name's sake. The prosperity of the Lord's servant brings honor to the Lord's name.
23:4 for you . . . comfort me. The very centre of the psalm;
rod/club. Instrument of authority used also by shepherds for counting, guiding, rescuing and protecting sheep.
staff. Instrument of support .
comfort me. Reassure me with divine protection and guidance.
After this the tone of the Psalm changes.
23:5 The heavenly Shepherd-King receives David at his table as his delegated king and takes him under his protection. In the ancient Near East, covenants were often concluded with a meal expressive of the bond of friendship. In the case of covenants, the delegated king was present as the guest of the overlord .
anoint my head with oil. Customary treatment of an honored guest at a banquet.
cup overflows. The cup is used as a symbol of prosperity or of the Lord's blessing .
23:6 goodness and love. Both frequently refer to covenant benefits to God's people, here they are personified to David.
follow. Lit. "pursue." cf. dog chasing postman.
dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Looks forward to a continuing relationship with God the shepherd.
How do we respond to this passage today ?
We can be thankful to Jesus, the good shepherd who voluntarily laid down his life for us, his sheep.
We are part of Jesus' worldwide flock with the joys and responsibilities that this brings. cf. next week service @ Baptists
We can look to Jesus to provide for us, to protect us, and to know us and be known by us in an intimate way.
We can rejoice in the 'life in all it's fullness, verse 10, that he offers to every one of his sheep, both in this life and the life to come.