Why Psalm 23 Is One Of My Favorite Metaphors
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Why Psalm 23 Is One Of My Favorite Metaphors

The important figurative and literal language in Psalm 23

Why Psalm 23 Is One Of My Favorite Metaphors
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“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. “ - Psalm 23:1-6 (ESV)

The twenty-third Psalm is a well-known passage that God gave to King David, who was the physical author of this Psalm. King David was the youngest of his eight brothers. Being the youngest gave him little power so he was appointed as the shepherd boy. Even though his life looked insignificant, God saw so much more in David than everyone around him did. David grew up to be king of Judah, but he still knew the job of a shepherd well. When God spoke this metaphor, David, it was something he could relate to because of his past. A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two unrelated things, using characteristics they share. David uses the metaphor of God and a shepherd in Psalm 23 for it’s literal and figurative meaning, then connects the two using characteristics they both share.

The literal meaning of a shepherd is a person who guides and tends to sheep. Psalm 23, David uses imagery to paint the picture of what a shepherd looked like at this time. “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” This explains how the shepherd leads his sheep to green pastures, where they can lie down and rest. He takes them to still waters where they can drink and refresh themselves. “For you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” A shepherd does not leave his sheep unattended. He even carries a rod and staff with him to keep sheep from wandering, as they are likely to do, and physically pushes them back in the right direction. A shepherd knows what is best for his sheep, he knows when to let them graze and when to move them to a new pasture. The sheep trust their shepherd and he has gained their trust by always taking care of them. They know he will lead them in the right direction, and they do not question his judgment.

Figuratively, the shepherd in Psalm 23 represents God and the sheep represents his people. Just as the shepherd leads his sheep to greener pastures, God leads his people to places he know will sustain them as well. He uses a figurative “rod and staff” to lead them back home when they try to stray from him. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” God never leaves his people unattended, his goodness and correction follows them. God knows what is best for his people as well. He knows when they need to rest and be comforted, and he also knows when it’s time to push them out of their comfort zone into something new. Just like the sheep, God’s people trust him. They know he will not let them go unfed, or let them go off to dangerous places.

David took something ordinary and used it to show people how extraordinary God is. He knew the job of a shepherd, just as he knew the people of that time could relate to what the job looked like. The metaphor between the shepherd and God bridged the gap between heaven and earth, it showed people how great of a leader God was and still is to them. When God was speaking to David, he used metaphors to bring himself to his people. God is on the throne, but he still comes to his people’s level. Being a shepherd was not a glorified occupation. They stood out in the heat all day, having to stay alert and keep an eye on every one of their sheep. God does not care about how good the job looks, but more so the heart behind the job that is being done.

King David, the author of Psalm 23, wrote this passage to show how great of a leader God is to his people. He used a shepherd as a metaphor, saying that God cares for his people in the same way a shepherd takes care of his sheep. A metaphor compares two unrelated things using a common ground between the two. Although God is completely different from a shepherd, they both share leadership skills. By taking examples from ways that each of them lead, he bridged the gap between heaven and earth. Using figurative and literal examples and then connecting their shared characteristics, David used a strong metaphor comparing God and a shepherd in Psalm 23.

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