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The story of Psalm 23

We do not know when David wrote Psalm 23. Perhaps it was when his son, Absalom, tried to become king.

David ran away. He went down to the River Jordan. He crossed it by the ford that we call Jabbok. He went on into a land that we call Gilead. There he met Barzillai. Barzillai was a shepherd. He kept sheep.

Sheep are animals about one meter high. They give wool for making clothes, milk and meat for food. Barzillai gave David food and shelter. Shelter means a place to hide from the weather. All this made David think.

God was like a shepherd.

God was like a guide.

God was a good friend.

David put these ideas into Psalm 23. This psalm has become better known than any other. It has given help to millions of people. This is because Jesus said that he was the shepherd in the psalm. If we believe in Jesus, we become one of his sheep. We can say, “The Lord is my shepherd.”

So in this week we ask for holy vocations to the church.

What Psalm 23 means

Verses 1–2: God is like a shepherd.

In Israel, sheep followed their shepherd. The man that wrote Psalm 23 said:

  He makes me to lie down in green fields: these were fields where the grass was new. Grass is a plant that grows in fields. Cows and sheep eat grass. Green fields means that the sheep would find plenty to eat. And they would sleep easily.

 he leads me to waters where I can rest: this was the best water. It was probably a well, not a river.

The shepherd leads the sheep to all that they need: food, rest and water.

Jesus leads his people to all that they need. Remember—what we need is not always what we want.

Verses 3–4: God is like a guide.

We do not know who led David to Barzillai. There was a guide. Just as the old shepherd Barzillai made David think about God, so the guide made David think about God.

Some Christians think verses 3 and 4 are also about the shepherd and his sheep. Others think that it is about a guide. That guide led David through the wild places to where Barzillai lived.

The two ideas are true. God is like a guide. God is also like a shepherd. The valley of the River Jabbok was very dark. But with God as guide and shepherd David was safe. God brought David through the shadow of death. He will do the same for us—if we believe in Jesus.

We must all die. It is a great help to know that:

  Jesus died and God raised him from the dead.

 If we believe in Jesus God will raise us from the dead.

Verses 5–6: God is like a friend.

Psalm 23,1-4 is about life on earth.

Psalm 23, 5-6 is about life in heaven. Heaven is the home of God. People that believe in Jesus go there. They go there after they die.

In the psalm, Barzillai made a great dinner for David. He poured oil, from plants, on David’s head. This was usual in those days. He gave David wine to drink. Wine is made from a fruit that we call the grape.

It made David feel very happy.

But it also made David think this: I will always live with God. It is the same for us. If we believe in Jesus we can say, “I will always live in the house of the Lord.”

The house of the LORD is in heaven.

Something to do

The Bible is in 2 parts. The Old Testament is the first part. It tells us about the time before Jesus came to the earth. The New Testament tells us what happened after he came to the earth.

Below are some words from the Bible.

Which bit of Psalm 23 do they make you think about?

1. Genesis 48,15: “God has been my shepherd all my life.” Jacob said those words just before he died.

2. Samuel 17, 20: “They brought honey and butter and meat and cheese for David, and for the people that were with him, to eat. They said, ‘They are hungry’.” People said those words when David came to Barzillai.

3. Psalm 80, 1 Listen, Shepherd of Israel. You led Joseph like a group of sheep. (Joseph is another name for Israel.)

4. Micah 7,1 4 Feed your sheep with your rod.

5. Luke 15, 4-6 Jesus said, “You may have 100 sheep and you lose one. What will you do? You will leave 99 sheep where they are. You will go from the wild country where they are. You will look for the lost one. When you find it, you will be very happy. You will carry it on your shoulders. You will be very happy. You will take it home.”

6. John 10, 11 Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd will die for the sheep.”

7. John 10, 27 Jesus said, “My sheep follow me.”

So in this week the catholic church reflects on the Good Shepherd and also sends a message of awareness about vocations to religious life and priesthood. We are all shepherds of others. Lets follow the good example of Jesus or Master, so the Lord of the harvest may send laborers into his harvest, and that is by our example and prayers.