The Good Shepherd

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Leader Guide ESV, Unit 11, Session 6
© 2019 LifeWay Christian Resources. Permission granted to reproduce and distribute within the license agreement with purchaser. Edited by Rev. Lex DeLong, M.A., Sept. 2022.
Summary and Goal
In this final session from the life of King David, we turn our attention to one of his most famous writings: Psalm 23. This psalm is beloved for many reasons, and countless believers throughout history have been both challenged and comforted by its words. But more than that, in Psalm 23, the former shepherd boy turned king points us to a greater Shepherd and King who was to come. In this session, we will see that the Shepherd about whom David wrote would provide for His people, guide His people, and love His people. We will see that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who accomplished all of this by laying down His life so that He might provide eternal life for us.
Session Outline
++The Good Shepherd provides (Ps. 23:1-2).
++The Good Shepherd guides (Ps. 23:3-4).
++The Good Shepherd loves (Ps. 23:5-6).
Session in a Sentence
The Lord is the Good Shepherd who lovingly cares for His people.
DDG (p. 84)
In the throws of World War II, with the fate of humanity on the line, the great British Prime Minister Winston Churchill stood up and addressed the House of Commons. His task was a difficult one. He needed to provide his people with hope in the face of the seemingly unstoppable German war machine. But at the same time, he needed to be honest; the English people knew what was happening on the continent of Europe. And so, on January 22, 1941, Churchill stood before the gathered government officials and declared:
“Far be it from me to paint a rosy picture of the future. Indeed, I do not think we should be justified in using any but the most somber tones and colours while our people, our Empire and indeed the whole English-speaking world are passing through a dark and deadly valley. But I should be failing in my duty if, on the other wise, I were not to convey the true impression, that a great nation is getting into its war stride.” 1
What kind of dark valleys are people at times, required to walk through?
As believers in Christ, we too are not promised a rosy picture of the future in this life. However, unlike Great Britain and her allies in World War II, believers have a Good Shepherd who provides for them, guides them, loves them, and assures their victory. Therefore, we do not look for escapes from life’s difficulties, but the Lord’s leading through them .
In Psalm 23, the former shepherd boy turned king points us to a greater Shepherd and King who was to come. In this session, we will see that the Shepherd about whom David wrote would provide for His people, guide His people, and love His people. We will see that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who accomplished all of this by laying down His life so that He might provide eternal life for us.

Point 1: The Good Shepherd provides (Ps. 23:1-2).

ReadPsalm 23:1-2 (DDG p. 85).
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
DDG (p. 85)
In these first two verses of Psalm 23, we discover...
Three truths about the Lord’s provision:
++1. The Lord’s provision is powerful
++2. The Lord’s provision is personal
++3. The Lord’s provision is purposeful.
Of the many different names we have for God, David used the covenant name “the Lord” to open this psalm. This is the name God revealed to Moses at the burning bush: “I am who I am” (Ex. 3:14). God shared this name with Moses to set Himself apart from the false gods of the Egyptians. The Lord alone is the one true God, the Creator God; He alone is all-powerful.
1. The Lord’s provision is powerful. Here David connects God’s holy name, “the Lord,” or “Yahweh,” with God being a shepherd. The Great I AM is also the Great Shepherd. The One who gives life and breath to all humanity, the One who created everything, the One who parted the waters of the Red Sea for His people to cross on dry ground is the One who provides for His sheep. The all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God provides for every need His people have, even the most basic ones.
2. The Lord’s provision is personal. David could have chosen a war metaphor to describe the Lord. “Warrior,” “king,” and “sword and shield” all would have been fitting and were used elsewhere of the Lord (see Ex. 15:3; Ps. 24; Deut. 33:29, respectively). Instead, David opted for a personal one—shepherd—and his use of the personal pronoun “my” heightens this. God wasn’t just a shepherd, He was David’s shepherd.
David had been a wildly successful warrior in Saul’s army, so he knew firsthand the power of warrior imagery. Yet he chose to describe God as a shepherd. Having been a shepherd prior to becoming a warrior, David was well-acquainted with a shepherd’s responsibilities and expectations. He knew how difficult sheep were to lead and that their sole chance of survival rested on the effectiveness of their shepherd. He understood that shepherds were with their sheep up to twenty-four hours a day, which explains why Jesus in the New Testament could say, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). David chose the metaphor of a shepherd because it communicates a personal God who cares deeply about His people. The Creator God is not a far off, detached monarch; He is an up-close and involved protector of those who belong to Him.
How should God’s provision being personal affect the way we view our circumstances?
(God knows us and knows what we need in life and what we don’t need; we can trust that our circumstances, no matter how pleasant or dire, are tailor-made for our good and God’s glory; finding ourselves in a situation of lack should drive us to God not with complaints but with prayers for His provision and our contentment)
DDG (p. 85)
3. The Lord’s provision is purposeful. Sheep are known for being helpless, so their shepherd is assigned to lead them and make sure their needs are taken care of. He directs them to places where they can rest in green pastures with plenty to eat and they can find refreshment from the quiet waters of a slow-moving stream. Thus, a purpose of the Lord’s provision is to give you all that you need so you will trust and rest in Him.
The Lord’s provision is purposeful. David knew that sheep are inherently timid and are usually too afraid to lie down, even for their own good. But in a rare moment of confidence and trust in their shepherd, sheep will lie down when they experience “freedom from fear, tension, aggravations, and hunger.” 2 Though David’s path likely was difficult as he wrote this psalm, he was convinced that the Lord was providing what he needed for his good. The level to which you believe this is the extent to which you will trust Him and step out in obedience.
Why do we find it difficult to rest in the Lord’s provision?
(we have not allowed ourselves to be trained by His provision in the past; we struggle to trust someone else with our needs; we have little faith in our God’s ability and desire to care for us; we believe our sin will make God vindictive; because God doesn’t always provide like we think He should)
The Lord our shepherd has promised to provide every one of our needs according to His riches and glory in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).
Philippians 4:19 NASB
And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
As a Christian, contentment in the Lord begins with a confidence in the Lord’s provision. All that we need, He gives, and all that He gives has a purpose. We should receive the Lord’s provision with gratitude and joy and use it to bring glory to the One who provided it to us (1 Cor. 10:31).
1 Corinthians 10:31 NASB
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Point 2: The Good Shepherd guides (Ps. 23:3-4).

Read Psalm 23:3-4 (DDG p. 86).
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
DDG (p. 86)
Countless wrong paths exist in this world, and we have seen people, even ourselves, fall prey to many of them. It is good, then, to be reminded that Christ, the Good Shepherd, leads us along the right paths. Two such paths are the vertical path (walking humbly with our God) and the horizontal path (walking lovingly with each other).
· The Vertical Path. The first four of the Ten Commandments describe our vertical relationship with God (Ex. 20:1-11), a path we are to walk along with humility (Mic. 6:8). One of the best ways to do so is to walk daily in His Word. Psalm 119:105 reminds us that God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light on our path. As we spend time reading the Bible, we will see how we are to live in relationship with God and walk along His path, the right path He has given us.
· The Horizontal Path. We are also to walk lovingly with each other, as summarized in the last six of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:12-17). We were not created for isolation; we were created to be in community, reflecting the nature of our triune God. The church, therefore, is a vital part of a believer’s journey with God into spiritual maturity. Again through God’s Word, we are told to encourage each other (1 Thess. 5:11), love each other (1 John 4:7), forgive each other (Col. 3:13), accept each other (Rom. 15:7), serve each other (Gal. 5:13), speak the truth to each other (Eph. 4:25), and pray for each other (Jas. 5:16).
How would you describe some wrong paths this world offers as counterfeit “right paths?”
(broad paths leading to death and destruction; paths of selfishness; paths on which you follow your heart; paths focused on fame and fortune; paths for self-fulfillment apart from God’s will; paths of bitterness; paths of hate; the hell-bound path)
DDG (p. 86)
For David, even in the dark valley, he had nothing to fear. How could he say that? Because the Lord was with him as a shepherd with his rod and staff in hand.
· The rod represented God’s power. A rod was a club that shepherds carried to fend off wild animals that wanted to harm their sheep. The rod was a symbol of safety. Similarly, as believers in Christ, we are told that our Shepherd walks before us protecting us with His power (Ps. 118:6).
· The staff represented God’s grace. The shepherd’s staff was used to pull sheep out of hazardous situations, such as thickets or crevices. So too, for believers, we find ourselves in hazardous situations resulting from our sin, and it is God’s grace that pulls us out.
The Lord’s rod and staff—His power and grace—comfort the believer even in the darkest of valleys because they are not for our harm but for our good.
God’s guidance is for our good, but God’s ultimate motivation is His glory.
· No doubt the Lord our Shepherd leads us on right paths and protects us with His rod and staff for our good, but we should take note of the ultimate motivation for His guidance: His name’s sake (v. 3). All that God does is for our good and especially His glory, and these are not mutually exclusive.
· We are not the center of the Lord’s universe; He is. This truth should keep us from thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought and getting puffed up with pride (Rom. 12:3). He created us for His glory and redeems people for the praise of His glorious grace. In a world that makes everything about you, God doesn’t. Much of our culture is about exalting humanity, but the gospel is about exalting God!

Point 3: The Good Shepherd loves (Ps. 23:5-6).

In these final two verses of Psalm 23, the imagery shifts from primarily one of a shepherd relating to his sheep to a friend or host relating to another friend or esteemed guest.
Read Psalm 23:5-6 (DDG p. 87).
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
DDG (p. 87)
Israel’s culture valued hospitality, and part of being a gracious host was preparing for and feeding a guest. The Lord’s preparation in this passage, however, was unique because it came in the midst of trouble. The Lord prepared a table in the presence of the psalmist’s enemies.
Even while oppressed, David experienced joy, symbolized by his head anointed with oil, and contentment, seen in his cup overflowing. His enemies may have been waiting outside to harm him, but he was inside enjoying a good, bountiful meal prepared by the Good Shepherd, his loving host.
What images come to mind about a table characterized by joy and contentment?
(be prepared to give answers of your own to jump-start the conversation, hopefully ones that communicate the love felt around a table)
DDG (p. 87)
In addition to his joy and contentment, David was confident in the Lord’s goodness and faithful love, or mercy, in the midst of his troubles. God is good and God is love, and David had experienced God’s goodness and love in the past. But David also knew he needed God’s love, mercy, and grace day by day. That was precisely what God would pursue him with throughout the rest of his life.
· David had recognized God’s goodness and love in choosing him to be king, in defeating Goliath, in his friendship with Jonathan, and in sparing his life from Saul. But perhaps there had been no greater evidence of God’s goodness and love than in God’s forgiving David of his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, Uriah. To pardon David of such heinous sins was an undeserved act of God’s love that surely reverberated throughout the rest of the king’s life. God’s pardon had been sweet, and because of it, David was able to experience a renewal of his fellowship with God (Ps. 51).
Two most important lessons from King David:
++There is no sin so small that God’s love and goodness aren’t needed.
++There is no sin so great that God’s love and goodness can’t cover it.
Voices from Church History
“Christ’s love towards us, and not our love towards Christ, is the true ground of expectation, and true foundation of hope … To look inward to our love towards Christ is painfully unsatisfying: to look outward to Christ’s love towards us is peace.” 3 –J. C. Ryle (1816-1900)
Fill in the Blanks: DDG (p. 87)
God Is Love: To say that God is love is to say that God is the essence of love, or that perfect love both resides and resonates within God Himself—one God in three Persons. The greatest act of love by God toward humans isn’t the giving of earthly goods but the giving of Himself in Christ so that we might become reconciled to Him.
Goodness and faithful love followed David then, and goodness and love follow believers now because the greater David, the greater Shepherd, followed His Father’s plan to the point of death, even to death on a cross (Phil. 2:8).
The first David took a life to cover his sin, but the second David gave His life to cover our sins and to shepherd us in the right paths on the way to His eternal home.
Winston Churchill’s words during World War II brought comfort, encouragement, and hope to his people, but stopped short of a sure hope. Psalm 23, however, encourages believers to look to Christ as the Good Shepherd who loves us and laid down His life for us, His sheep (John 10:7-15). We are to read this psalm and have a sure hope that we will dwell with God forever. Therefore, just as Jesus laid His life down, we can lay our lives down for the sake of God’s path for us.
DDG (p. 88)
· What step of faith do we need take because the Good Shepherd provides for, guides, and loves His sheep?
· What are some ways we can encourage one another to follow the Shepherd’s guidance in His Word?
· How should we lay down our lives to for the sake of God’s path for us?
Voices from Church History
“There is a difference between him, who is led by the good Shepherd, and him, who is led captive by the devil at his will; between him, who feeds in the green pastures, and him, who feeds on vanity. Oh that men saw this difference as they ought.” 4 –William S. Plumer (1802-1880)
Session in a Sentence
The Lord is the Good Shepherd who lovingly cares for His people.
Close in prayer:
1. Winston Churchill, quoted in Winston Churchill: British Prime Minister & Statesman, by Sue Vander Hook (Edina, MN: ABDO Publishing Company, 2009), 75.
2. W. Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), 33-34.
3. John Charles Ryle, Practical Religion (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2018), 263.
4. William S. Plumer, Studies in the Book of Psalms (Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1866), 319.
5. Augustine Pagolu, Jesudason Baskar Jeyaraj, Eliya Mohol, David Clarence, and Ajoy Kumar Lama, “Psalms,” in South Asia Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Brian Wintle (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 639.
6. C. John Collins, “Psalms,” in ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 966.
7. Gwynneth Marian Napier Raikes, “Psalms,” in The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary, eds. Catherine Clark Kroeger, Mary J. Evans, and Elizabeth Kroeger Elliott (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2011) [Wordsearch].
8. “Shevet,” in CSB Study Bible (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2017), 837.
9. Steven J. Lawson, Psalms 1–75, in Holman Old Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2009) [Wordsearch].
10. Allen P. Ross, “Psalms,” in The Apologetics Study Bible (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2007), 810, n. 23:4.
11. Augustine Pagolu, Jesudason Baskar Jeyaraj, Eliya Mohol, David Clarence, and Ajoy Kumar Lama, “Psalms,” in South Asia Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Brian Wintle, 639-40.
12. Allen P. Ross, “Psalms,” in The Apologetics Study Bible, 810-11, n. 23:6.
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