Of all our Christian T-shirts, the Bible Emergency Numbers Tee is easily the most popular. You can see why. It lists 25 important Bible verses for 25 different situation you might face. Each verse can help guide you through a tough time, remind you to be faithful, or give you the lift you need to get through the day. In this post, we’ll dive into the first of those Bible emergency numbers to help you understand how that particular passage can help. Today we’re looking at the book of the Bible that it suggests for the situation, “When you are lonely and fearful.”
The Bible Emergency Numbers Christian T-shirt points us to Psalm 23, perhaps the most famous Psalm of all. The psalm uses a shepherd metaphor to describe God’s relationship with his people. God is the shepherd, and we are the sheep.
The Bible uses this metaphor throughout the Old and New Testaments, most commonly with God being the shepherd and the people being his sheep. Let’s take a look at some of those passages:
The Psalms repeatedly call God the shepherd of his people:
Psalm 80:1 “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock.”
Psalm 28:9 “The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed. Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.”
The prophets also use the metaphor when he describes how God will gather his people together, especially after they are taken to Babylon. God, the shepherd will fight their enemies and save their people:
Isaiah 40:11 “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”
Ezekiel 34:11-12 “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.”
Throughout the Old Testament, the Bible describes God as the shepherd of his people. They are a flock that needs protection and provisions, so God defends them and leads them to green pasture and still water.
Even more frequently, however, the Bible uses the word, “shepherd,” to describe Israel’s human leaders. This wasn’t just a biblical image, either. Rulers throughout the ancient Near East described themselves as the shepherd of their people, and they regularly include a shepherd’s staff in their ceremonial. In this photo , (by Kaveh CC BY-SA 2.5) you can see that the Pharaoh holds a shepherd’s crook.
Psalm 78 describes how God chose King David to be a shepherd over God’s people. David is the positive example from the Old Testament, who should set the pattern for all the leaders to follow:
He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
to shepherd Jacob his people,
Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
and guided them with his skillful hand.
But the shepherds did not lead their people well. Jeremiah spends a great deal of their time calling out the shepherds of Israel as bad shepherds:
Jeremiah 10:21 “For the shepherds are stupid and do not inquire of the Lord; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.”
Jeremiah 23:1-4 “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.
Ezekiel, too, describes the bad shepherds. He uses all of chapter 34 to condemn the shepherds who used God’s flock for their own enrichment rather than protecting them.
Ezekiel 34:2-3 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.
But God will also raise up a new, good shepherd to lead his people:
Ezekiel 24:23-24 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. I am the Lord; I have spoken.
In the Old Testament, then, God is the ultimate shepherd, who guided Israel as a shepherd guides his sheep. He gave them everything they needed, food, safety, guidance, and comfort.
God also set up shepherds among his people to do the same. The best example was King David. Though he had a few missteps, David served God’s people as a good shepherd. He did just as God wanted. The shepherds that followed him, however, did not. The shepherds used the sheep to enrich themselves rather than providing for them.
When those shepherds failed, God promised to raise up a new shepherd who would take care of the people in righteousness, doing everything a shepherd is supposed to do.
All of this comes together in Jesus. Jesus is the true shepherd that God will set over his people in Ezekiel 34. He is the shepherd who is the heir of King David, the best example of a shepherd king in the Old Testament. He is God, himself, who comes to shepherd the people, to comfort them and gather them together.
Jesus himself says that in John 10:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Jesus d a shepherd over Israel is supposed to fulfill, but he goes one step further. He lays down his life to protect the sheep. We know what he means. Jesus laid down his life on the cross so he could save us from the wolf, that is Satan. He dies to protect us, and he provides eternal life for us.
All of this leads us back to Psalm 23, the perfect psalm for someone who is lonely or afraid.
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.
David writes that God does everything that a shepherd is supposed to do. He provides food and water, so we have what we need to survive. He guides us along the paths of righteousness so we do not get lost in evil or vice.
When we are feeling lonely or afraid, it can seem like there is no one with us. Will someone be there to help us? Will we get what we need? Of course! Even when it seems like no one is with you, we know that God is. He will protect. He will provide. Even after we die, he will be with us to guide us to eternal life.
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.
This next passage is for those who are afraid. God protects us through the most difficult and dangerous times. David writes, “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
A few years ago, I heard a sermon by a pastor originally from Africa. He described how shepherds in his corner of Africa continue to protect their people. The rod, he said, was for the lions. He held it up for us. It was a club, about three feet long, and the club end came to a point. It was designed so it could split the skin of an attacking lion.
The staff, however, was for the sheep. It was a thin reed with a hook. Shepherds used it to direct the sheep away from danger. If a sheep started to wander off, the staff would gently guide it back. It could even hook around the sheep’s neck to pull the sheep in an emergency.
When we are afraid of danger, whether physical or spiritual, God’s rod is there to protect us. He uses it to destroy our true enemies, Satan and Death. Like the rod splits the nose of the Lion, Jesus destroyed their power when he rose from the dead, giving us eternal life.
God’s staff, then, is how he directs us away from that danger. He leads us along the right path, directing us one way or another. Sometimes it might not feel good, as a swat from a staff might, but God uses it to move us closer to him so we can be safe.
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.
In these verse, David moves away from the shepherd metaphor, and he applies it to our lives. God’s protection means that we are safe, even in the midst of our enemies. He has chosen us, anointed us with baptism, and he promises to protect us all the days of our life and even beyond death.
When we are lonely or afraid, Psalm 23 reminds us that God is with us as a shepherd. We, the sheep, cannot navigate life safely without him. He protects us, guides us, and provides all that we need for this life and the next. God is our true shepherd.
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