Some Psalms
Lesson 8

Lesson Eight

God's Guidance

Text: Psalm 23

 Verses from this Psalm are among the most recognized scriptures in the whole Bible.  These verses are commonly used in distress, and frequently used in funerals.

This Psalm is not about death, but about God’s provision for those who follow Him.  It is not about having in abundant excess, but about having the necessities to sustain life.  The primary image used to communicate the message of the Psalm is a sheep following its shepherd in the wilderness.  It is essential to grasp some basic background and context in order to accurately see the message of the Psalm.


The setting: The setting is likely in a wilderness area far away from people and cultivated fields.  In that time, being a shepherd was a lonely task that commonly separated a person from civilization by demanding he lead his sheep to and in wilderness areas.  The objective was to care for the sheep’s needs in a place where the sheep could do no harm to people’s fields.  Then farmers (the majority of people) practiced what today is called “open range”—no fences!  If sheep were to be guided away from cultivation, they had to be led into wilderness areas!


The relationship: The sheep totally depended on the shepherd for guidance and protection.  They were helpless even to go where they needed to be in order to have food and water.  They followed the shepherd; they were not herded.  Sheep also were defenseless—the only protection they had from their enemies (predators) was the protection of the shepherd.


In the Psalm, God was the shepherd, and the psalmist was the sheep.  The psalmist would not be afraid of being destroyed by future needs because of his confidence in the Lord.  The Lord would attend his needs and protect him from harm.  Like a sheep, he would have more than enough to eat, and he could drink without fear.  In fact, like a good sheep following a good shepherd, his “enough” would refresh his life as he followed the ways that blessed his life rather than leading him into danger.


As the sheep, he could follow his shepherd along ways he would never enter.  He did so without fear because of his confidence in the shepherd.  Harm would not befall him!  If he needed assurance, he looked at the shepherd’s rod and staff—the shepherd could both defend and help him!  The shepherd would lead him to food in lush pastures.  Those who would devour him could do nothing but observe from the distance as they watched from the rocks.  The shepherd would examine him for wounds daily, and treat him when he needed it. 


Because of the shepherd’s guidance, there always would be another pasture.  Nothing could sever his relationship with this ideal shepherd—that relationship would continue for all of life!  He would always live with the shepherd!


Several things should be noted.


  1. The Psalm is about the elimination of need, not the satisfying of greed.
  2. Sheep fear water. Wool caked with mud can make it impossible for the sheep to get up.  Wool soaked in water can make it impossible for the sheep to function.  Drinking is necessary, but a soaking is dangerous.
  3. The objective of being a good sheep is to be a living witness to the effective goodness of the shepherd. (We do not live in righteousness to prove our goodness, but our Lord’s goodness.)
  4. Following a good shepherd eliminates fear. (Following the Lord is designed to destroy being afraid.)
  5. Fear is not destroyed because “we can take care of ourselves,” but because we trust the shepherd.
  6. The shepherd will take care of our wounds and our enemies.
  7. Our future is found in our relationship with the shepherd.




  1. Greed and the desire to measure ourselves by our ability to possess is not the mark of being a good follower of God. The divine promise is NOT “be righteous and you will have all of your physical desires.”  Needs and desires are quite different.
  2. A righteous person follows God to declare and demonstrate the worthiness of God, not to advance self.
  3. Following God sometimes means we go to dangerous places.
  4. Being a good follower of God does not eliminate enemies.
  5. Comfort is not in the proficiency of self, but in the proficiency of God.
  6. Safety is found by sustaining relationship with God.
  7. There is more to be considered in successful living than what seems to be physically advantageous at the moment.


The analogy of a sheep and a shepherd is fascinating.  Stated simply, sheep are dumb.  If ever there was a dependent domesticated animal, it is sheep.  In ancient times, they were completely dependent on shepherds. God does not prize us because we are brilliant of thought and do wonderful things. God prizes us because we have an amazing ability to follow.  When we refuse to follow God, we get ourselves into trouble. Only to ourselves are we brilliant and accomplished!  It is amazing how stupid our brilliant accomplishments are to us later in life.



For Thought and Discussion


1. Verses from this Psalm are among the most recognized what?

2. The Psalm is about what?  What is the primary image?

3. What is the setting?  Why?

4. What was the relationship?  Why?

5. In the Psalm, who is the Shepherd, and who is the sheep?

6. Discuss the fact that the sheep follow the Shepherd through dangerous places without fear.

7. List the seven things to be noted.

8. List the seven observations.

9. Why is the analogy of a sheep and shepherd fascinating

Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 8

Copyright © 2010
David Chadwell & West-Ark Church of Christ

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