Sunday School Lessons

Is It About the Sheep, or the Shepherd?

Have you ever enjoyed a series (maybe a book, TV, movie, or just a story) that wasn’t actually about the title character?  Consider J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which is more about a Hobbit named Frodo than the eponymous tyrant Sauron (who has plotted to be “the lord of the rings”).  Or, the video game series, “The Legend of Zelda”, where the playable character was (for many generations) a green-clad adventurer (usually named Link), and not Princess Zelda.  (While gaming purists might make fun of those who thought that the green guy was named Zelda, this is a rational misconception.  And, those in the latter camp can now be vindicated, since Princess Zelda has become playable in some of the newer releases of that franchise.)

Sometimes, when we gauge a story by its title, we make the mistake of thinking that the wrong party is the lead of the story.  When we get into it, though, we might find that the true hero isn’t who we expected.

I suspect that many of my readers have heard, read, or even memorized Psalm 23 at one time or another.  If you are familiar with it, what would you say that it is about, overall?  You might say, “God taking care of us”, “God’s blessings and provision”, or even “God as our shepherd (and us as sheep)”.  If you have other summaries, just let other readers know in the comments.

Let’s take a closer look at this psalm over this and the next few articles, starting with the first few verses.  (As always, though, I hope that you’ll read also through scriptures cited on this web site in your own Bible, along with their context.)

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Psalms 23:1‭-‬3 NIV

In the first part of Psalm 23, we see an image of God being our shepherd.  This is not just any god, but the name of the psalmist’s God specifically (as we see by “LORD” being in small caps in certain Bible translations; I try to use all caps here on the site to indicate the same thing).  We would probably pronounce God’s name in this Psalm as “Yahweh”, the God of Judaism to David (the author of this psalm), who is also (per the teachings of Jesus Christ) the God of Christianity.

Now, you may have heard about the limitations of sheep on their own: that they are kind of dumb, they can wander off or follow the wrong leader, and they need help to keep in line.  Or, maybe you have found solace in God’s blessings for you, as described in this psalm.  Those are good things for us to better understand and apply the principles of this psalm.  In addition, I think that this passage is less about the sheep (us), and more about the shepherd and what He does.  We might think of verses in John chapter 10 (see verses 1-18), where Jesus explains how He is the Good Shepherd, and takes care of us as His flock.  It’s great that God takes care of us, and we should do our best to follow Him, but that’s a reflection on HimHe is the shepherd.  He is the standard of righteousness that we should aspire to.  As we appreciate our role – and our blessings – as God’s sheep, let us not miss out on the attributes of the Shepherd.

As you might imagine, some weeks are hectic, stressful, and draining for our family.  (I know that some of this site’s readers experience the same kinds of challenges for different reasons.)  This image of lying down in a beautiful green meadow or walking along a quiet brook, finding rest and refreshment for my inner self, is pretty attractive those days.

And why does the LORD (i.e., “Yahweh”) lead us “along the right paths”?  Verse 3 continues, “for his name’s sake.”  God takes care of us because that is who He is.  He is who His name represents.  We don’t deserve or earn God’s care and guidance, but He gives it to us anyway.

To prepare for the next few articles, I encourage you to find some time this week to just spend time with God, without any other agenda.  Maybe it’s being outside with His creation (weather permitting), sitting or standing at a window looking out at what He has done, spending time in His Word (reading His message to us), or just being alone with Him.

Whatever it looks like, spend some time with God that isn’t about you.  Spend some time simply being with Him.  Talk or don’t talk.  Be doing something or just be still.

When we think about spending time with those that we love, their mere presence is often all that we seek.  Do the same with God this week: no agenda, no timeline, and no expectations except to have spent time with God.  After all, for all of the blessings that God gives us, the ultimate focus of life is not about you and me.  It’s about Him!

From Sunday School lesson prepared for November 20, 2022


  • The Lookout, November 20, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
  • Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
  • The College Press NIV Commentary, Psalms, Volume 1, S. Edward Tesh and Walter D. Zorn, © 1999, College Press Publishing Co., Joplin, MO.

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