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 fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest 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 for ever. – Psalm 23
Using rich pastoral imagery, the psalmist reveals many ways in which sheep thrive in the care and keeping of a good shepherd. We are presented with an interesting list – green pastures, still waters, righteous paths, anointed heads, the eternal household of God. Even a cursory reading reveals that the shepherd provides far more than the bare necessities for mere sustenance. There seems to be goodness and mercy for every need.
In the middle of the 20th Century, Abraham Maslow created a framework for understanding human needs and, in particular, for understanding the need-obstacles which prevent individuals from achieving their full potential. Maslow posited that humans are needy and that the needs may be classified and ordered from basic needs for survival all the way to advanced needs for self-fulfillment. His study led to his famous hierarchy of needs.
The idea Maslow advanced is that humans can only address a higher-level need when all the lower-level needs are met. Only when we meet our needs for immediate survival, can we work to meet our needs for security, and only then can we work to meet our needs for relationships, etc. An accomplished musician cannot address higher-level needs of achieving excellence if she is suddenly submerged in a sinking boat and senses a danger of drowning. Her immediate need for oxygen trumps her higher-level needs for developing her skill. As you may remember from psychology textbooks, Maslow’s hierarchy looks like this.
Now, with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in mind, consider the progression of the shepherd’s care – from physiological needs (food and water) to safety needs (correct orientation and security even in the face of death). As the psalm unfolds, we find the shepherd’s care moves right up the hierarchy – belonging (preparing a table), esteem (anointing with oil), and self-actualization (dwelling in the LORD’s house forever).
As we study this concept, we perhaps understand even better the psalmist’s affirmation that in the Shepherd’s care, we truly are complete. ”The LORD is my shepherd. I shall not want.”
Lord, I confess that I am needy in so many ways. Grant me wisdom to bind myself to you and to trust your shepherding care. Amen.
A Bible-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston.