The theme of God as our shepherd runs throughout the whole Bible. As we move from the Old Testament to the New, we get a clearer and fuller understanding of this glorious truth. Let’s look at a few key passages about our great shepherd.
This is the most famous passage which talks about God as our shepherd—in fact, it’s one of the most well-known passages in the whole Bible, even among non-Christians. People turn to this psalm in times of fear, sorrow, and death. The first half deals directly with shepherd imagery:
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. (Psalm 23:1–4)
You can see why this passage is so beloved. All throughout the Old Testament we see God’s great power on display—he created the universe from nothing, breathed life into man, won victories for his people, rescued Israel from slavery by parting the sea, and appears amid fire, clouds, and thunder.
But this mighty, unapproachable God has also pledged himself in love to his people. David’s psalm personalises the love of God, expressing how his tender care is like that of a shepherd for his helpless sheep. Because God cares for us, we have no need for fear even in the midst of grievous suffering.
The second half of this psalm switches from shepherd to kingly imagery:
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 23:5–6)
This shepherd who cares for us is not weak—he is the king of the world, who richly provides for us from his abundance.
This is a long chapter which merits reading in full, but I’ll just consider sections of it here. The prophet Ezekiel declares this indictment on behalf of God:
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.” (Ezekiel 34:1–4)
The leaders of Israel were meant to be shepherds of the people—imitating God’s care, love, and protection. But they were corrupt. Instead of feeding the sheep, these leaders just fed themselves. The sin and selfishness of mankind is laid bare in light of God’s kindness:
“Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out…I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.” (Ezekiel 34:11, 15–16)
God steps into the breach where men fail. In a broken world that has destroyed itself, God himself will shepherd his people. This chapter ends with a wonderful promise: “And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 34:31)
As we enter the New Testament, we find the shepherd image applied to Jesus:
So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:7–11)
Jesus is making a bold claim there. All throughout the Old Testament, God revealed himself as Israel’s shepherd. By applying this image to himself, Jesus is saying that he is God. He is both the shepherd and the door of the sheepfold—meaning that he is the only way to salvation. His claim is proved by the miracles throughout his ministry, and ultimately in his death and resurrection.
Jesus is our good shepherd because he lays down his life for us. Psalm 23 comforts us with the assurance that God is with us through the valley of the shadow of death. We only understand this fully when we look at Jesus. Our Immanuel, God with us, was with us in the truest sense as he died forsaken on the Cross—going through the valley of the shadow of death with us. For us.
While Psalm 23 showed God caring for his suffering people, the death of Jesus adds another layer: he cares for us not just as helpless sheep, but rebellious sheep. We deserve only judgment because of our sin. Yet Jesus mercifully gives himself for us.
We also see a contrast here with the shepherds in Ezekiel 34. Where they were selfish, Jesus was self-giving. Where they fed themselves, Jesus feeds us by his broken body. Elsewhere in that chapter, God made this promise:
And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. (Ezekiel 34:23–24)
Jesus is the fulfillment of this promise. He is the descendant of David, God himself, who rules over his people with gentleness and love so that we shall never hunger or thirst (John 6:35). Without the Old Testament passages we’ve looked at, we wouldn’t fully understand what Jesus was claiming in John 10. We’d miss the rich comfort of seeing God as the shepherd who is with us through suffering, oppression, and sin.
There are many other passages about God’s shepherding throughout the Bible. Why not read them now, and see how they help you praise him? Here are a few: Psalm 80:1–3, Isaiah 40:9–11, Jeremiah 31:10–14, Matthew 18:10–14, Hebrews 13:20–21, 1 Peter 2:24–25, 5:1–4.