When any student of the Bible looks within it’s pages, context reigns supreme. It is imperative to know the historical and cultural setting of a passage in order to ascertain the most correct meaning. This is often times the first step in the interpretive process. So then it makes sense that Phillip Keller would write a book called, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.” This is an incredibly popular Psalm, but often times we miss the nuances of the meaning because we live in a society where shepherds are scarce. Phillip Keller tended a ranch and watched over sheep for some time. This makes him an excellent character to write this book, having first hand knowledge of the subject. Through his experience, he gives us an “inside look” at how a Shepherd would understand Psalm 23 and breaks it down to a level that we, as a more industrial based society, should see it, radically altering previous misconceptions.
Simply, Mr. Keller exposits the 23rd Psalm from verse 1 to verse 6, adding commentary along the way of how sheep act and why David makes allusions to God as the “good shepherd.” For example, verse 1b says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Keller explains that sheep will only lie down when they are at complete contentment in a green pasture (one that is edible, a hard find in the hot, barren Middle East), and if there is any fear or uncertainty, they will refuse to do so. Keller explains that what David communicates is that God, as the good shepherd, wants us to be free of any anxiety that may come upon us, resting fully in His provisions.
What also is interesting is that this is a theme that is consistent throughout the Bible. In an agrarian society, it makes sense that this is a not the only time the sheep/shepherd archetype occurs. As I have already alluded to, in John 10, Jesus proclaims that He is the “good shepherd” and speaks of the sheepfold etc. Keller does an excellent job of speaking on a subject that can be applied to other areas of the Bible once a basic understanding is achieved. I’ve noticed this in my own Bible reading recently.
There are many more lessons that can be gleaned from this book, but I would encourage you to pick it up for yourself if you want to know more!