This is the classic chapter which all films quote: The LORD is my shepherd. Yet, the person who quotes this Psalm does not realise that it is Jesus who speaks this to His Father. It is the Father who is Jesus’ shepherd as Jesus hangs on the cross; it is the Father who gives Jesus comfort in green pastures and leads him beside still waters. It is the Father who restores and resurrects the Christ and leads the Saviour in paths of righteousness (v.3; the Hebrew for the beginning of v.3 is literally “He brings my soul back” – following on from Psalm 22, this is Christ’s soul brought back from death; c.f. Deuteronomy 21:23 – the penalty of the cross). How many of us truly walk through the valley of the shadow of death like Christ? It is no mere near death experience – Christ has to pass right through the valley of the shadow of death. As Paul Blackham states, with the Lord as Shepherd even death becomes a shadow of what it is. The sting of death is sin (1 Corinthians 15:56) – yet God is with us (c.f. Hosea 13:14). As Christ proclaims, the Father’s rod and staff comforts him; yet, the rod is commonly seen as a tool of judgment against sin and evil (Psalm 2:9; 89:32).
It is his divine triune relationship with the Father and the Spirit (c.f. John 17) which allows Jesus to fear no evil. He is the Anointed One (v.5) and by his overflowing cup we are blessed to bless others – it is because he returns to the house of the LORD forever (v.6; the Hebrew for v.6 is return rather than merely dwell in the Father’s house, indicating that the speaker is primarily Jesus and not a mere man) that we too can dwell in the Father’s house.
Jesus’ excitement to return to the Father’s house is to happen immediately after the cross. Jesus states in Luke 23:42-43 – “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”. Not three days later, not after he has spent three days in hell – no, it is today; the day when Christ died on the cross. Psalm 31:5 shows that Christ committed his soul to the Father and that there was nothing left to do or pay. Paul Blackham states: “The full work of atonement was carried out on the Cross by the Messiah, and He did not continue to pay for sin beyond the Cross. There was nothing to prevent Him going to His Father’s house.” The glory of the Ascension is that Christ entered into the Most Holy Place of paradise with His human body (c.f. Hebrews 10:19-21), and he was with His Father without a body during the period between his death and resurrection.
Yet, at the same time, this chapter can be spoken from our mouths too – just as the Father was Christ’s shepherd, so also Jesus is our Shepherd (John 10:11-14). It is by him and through him that we are also restored, that we are led in paths of righteousness, that we fear no evil even when we walk through darkness, difficulties and temptations. As Paul Blackham states in his book by book study on the Psalms (see also Isaiah 40:10-11):
Throughout Scripture it is the Messiah Himself who is described as the Shepherd of His people. In Genesis 48, when Jacob is about to die, he confesses that Christ has been his Shepherd all through his life. When he blessed Joseph’s two sons he says: “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm may he bless these boys…”. All these Scriptures must have helped Jesus to understand both Himself and His relationship to His Father in His life and death.