The Father’s Role as Shepherd – Completed Version!

I had originally intended to post the continuation of “The Father’s Role as Shepherd” in weekly installments. However, it developed into a full-fledged message. This post includes my sermon notes for a message I gave on September 21, 2003. I pray that it will be a help to fathers and their families.

Have you ever tried reading the 23rd Psalm, placing yourself as the shepherd? When you think about it, a father is the shepherd over his family. This is something worth meditating on! Let’s read together through “The Shepherd’s Psalm.”

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Psalm 23 (KJV)

Verse 1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

What if verse one read: “My daddy is my shepherd; I shall not want.” That paraphrase of the verse makes every line that follows, personal. Of course you can’t take the place of the Lord, but God does give you the responsibility to raise, nurture, instruct, discipline, lead, protect, and guide your children.

To understand this Psalm, we must understand what it means to be a shepherd. Simply put, a shepherd cares for sheep. Sheep are very dependent on the shepherd. A good shepherd will protect, feed, and water his flock. Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd in John 10:11-14.

11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. John 10:11-14 (KJV)

The first thing Jesus tells us about a good shepherd is that he would give his life for his sheep. He would not flee in times of danger. The good shepherd also knows all of his sheep, both by number and by name. It is interesting that Jesus uses the wolf as the example of a threat that chases away the hireling, but for which the good shepherd will risk his life fighting. The wolf is used to describe false teachers (Matthew 7:15) and as enemies to the flock of God (Matthew 10:16).

How does this apply to the father’s role as shepherd? Every father should give his life for his little flock. That is, your wife and children. This doesn’t mean only to the death, but also in denying yourself for the good of your family. History tells us of hard times when many a father gave up his meal so that his family could have more. If your child is thirsty, you would not deny him or her a drink, would you?
But, what about wolves! Jesus teaches that wolves are false teachers and enemies to the flock of God. It is your job to discern false teachings and defend your sheep from these wolves. It is your responsibility to protect your family from those influences that are opposed to God. David can be our example here. Listen to David recount how he fought to save his sheep.

34 And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: 35 And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. 1 Samuel 17:34-35 (KJV)

Now David wasn’t fighting a wolf, but a lion and a bear which are much more powerful animals! When the enemy attacked, David took action! He delivered that little lamb out of the beast’s mouth and certain death. Are we, as fathers, on guard for spiritual attacks on our family? Are we ready to take action like David? Are we ready to be a good shepherd like Jesus? It takes preparation and diligence to be a good shepherd over our own little flock. It is a great responsibility that God has given to us.

Let’s now look at the second half of verse 1. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” “To want” means to be destitute or deficient, to be without, or to fall short. Are your children left wanting? How about your wife? There are many things that people want: money, food, clothing, shelter, safety… The list could go on and I’m sure we could all add to this short list of wants.

What makes us to be wanting? It could be our great need for a Savior! If you don’t have Jesus, you are definitely going to fall short. But if we look at our wife and children, do we see them wanting? Maybe you provide for their physical needs, but for some reason they are not satisfied with that. We must admit that it is difficult to be satisfied in today’s world. Every where you turn, the world is screaming at you to want more!

How are you satisfied? It is when you look to the Lord to supply your wants that you will find that you do not want. This will then be passed on to your wife and children as they see your satisfaction and hear you tell of how the Lord God is taking care of you. Praise Him! Give God the glory! God is all-sufficient to provide us what we need.

Verse 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

Verse two is always a comfort to me. It is a real help on hectic days to go to the green pasture and the still waters. Think on this as it relates to your family. Is your family life bringing your children to the green pastures that David described? Or, is it an asphalt parking lot on a 100 degree day!

As I thought about the first part of verse 2, I asked myself this question. “Why does he have to make us lie down in the green pastures?” Is it because we don’t know we are there? Do we not lie down because we think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence? Are we desiring something other than what God has for us? I don’t know your specific answer to the question I posed. It is probably different for each one of us. Why does he have to make us?

If the Lord, as the good shepherd, makes us lie down in the green pastures, what should we be doing for our family? Is it the father’s responsibility to pasture his flock? YES! We have had a dry summer here in Iowa. The pastures are not very green, not to mention our lawns. I was told the other day that there is a company that will dye your grass green. Since this summer has been so dry, most lawns are brown and crunchy. Is dying your grass green the solution to a brown and crunchy lawn? It’s not real and it probably doesn’t feel cool and soft on your bare feet. The only way to have a soft, green lawn during a dry hot summer is to water it. Our families need the continual watering of God’s word so we can lie down in green pastures.

What about the still waters? I read once that sheep will only drink from calm streams. If the waters are too fast, they won’t drink! You see sheep are afraid of fast moving water. Also, fast moving rivers are dangerous to sheep. They could fall in, be swept away and drown! What about your children? Do they have still waters from which to drink God’s word? Is there peace in your household, or are you trying to get them to drink from white water rapids?

Notice also that the good shepherd leads his flock to the still waters. He doesn’t drive them there. He leads so they can follow. If you love God’s word, then your children will love it too. I enjoy it when Bible reading becomes contagious in my house. Sometimes, I will be sitting on the sofa reading my Bible and pretty soon, some of my children will want to sit next to me. This is when I encourage them to get their Bible and read it too. I need to do more of this. It is a good thing!

Verse 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you know what it means to have your soul restored. You know what it means to be forgiven when you have done something wrong. It is interesting to look up the meaning of restored. Here are a few quick phrases that describe this word:

  • to restore that which is lost,
  • to return a specific thing,
  • to return a person to a former place,
  • to bring back or recover from degeneracy to its former state,
  • to heal or cure,
  • to make restitution,
  • to repair or rebuild,
  • to return or bring back after an absence,
  • to renew or re-establish after interruption.

It is easy to see how important this word restore is to understanding salvation. How much more it means when you apply it to the tender hearts of your wife and children. Every day you have opportunities to restore the souls of those you love. When someone has done wrong, bring them through the full circle to restoration. There is great freedom in forgiveness.

In the psalm, David says “He restoreth my soul.” The Lord does this because we need to be restored. Every time we stumble and fall, our Lord restores us. As a father, you can probably tell when something is wrong in your child’s soul. You can see it in their eyes or how they hold themselves. What do you do with that? Do you leave them alone to work it out on their own? Or, do you lovingly ask, “What’s wrong?” Do you take the time to sit down, talk, and listen? Or, are you too busy to spend the time that is necessary? We need to invest the time to restore the souls of our family.

Continuing on in verse 3 we read: “he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Once again we can see the Lord leading. Oh how important it is for a father to lead his family! All this is done for the sake of Jesus’ name.

Let’s take a moment and consider what it means to be lead in the paths of righteousness. First, we see that we need God to lead us. In Psalm 119:105 we read: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (KJV) You can think of God’s word as a topographical map. It shows you the paths of righteousness. It also shows you the dangerous paths you are not to take. God’s word will illuminate your path and show you where to go and where not to go. It is up to us to not take a shortcut that seems better when the right trail is clearly marked.

When I was a teenager, I went camping a lot with the Boy Scouts. My friends and I liked to follow deer trails in search of wild berries, rather than staying on the well marked trail. I can remember one particular time when some in our group got separated from us. We spent much of the afternoon looking for each other, eventually ending up at our campsite, in trouble with our leaders. Were we lost? Yes, for a time we were! When I got back to camp, I was pretty hungry and thirsty. We were much more careful after that.

We are told by the prophet Jeremiah: “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.” (Jeremiah 6:16, KJV) The Lord speaks through the prophet to “ask for the old paths.” The old paths are the good way. We are to walk in the old paths. There we will find rest for our souls. Notice that we have to ask where the old paths are. Jesus promises us this in Matthew 7:7. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:” Directions to the old paths are there, just for the asking!

If you, as a father, will lead your family down the paths of righteousness, they will follow. You can read the Bible as your topographical map. You can use prayer as your compass. You can ask for directions from the Lord Jesus, and He will be faithful to show you “the old paths, where is the good way.” It is then up to you to walk them.

Verse 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

This verse brings a believer particular comfort. We have nothing to fear from death because that time in a believer’s life is a time of great deliverance. Paul put it so perfectly in Phillipians 1:21 (KJV). “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Notice also that we don’t walk through the valley of death, but rather “the valley of the shadow of death.” To have a shadow, you must have light. Who is that light? It is Jesus Christ himself! Jesus has removed the power of death so that only a shadow remains.

It doesn’t take much looking around to see what a dark world we live in. Some of this world, our children see as well. Maybe they see too much of it! A father must stay close to his family and be ever vigilant to protect them. If you aren’t careful here, much harm can come of it.

Thankfully, we have nothing to fear because the Lord is with us. He is our protector from all things evil. Many children live in fear of something. The father, along with his wife, must provide that safe, protected environment for their children. Your children can worry and fret about many things. This can be particularly true at night. It is up to the father and mother to calm those fears and teach from God’s word the truth about this world. Once the light shines on something, the fear goes away as we trust.

The good shepherd’s rod and staff do bring comfort because of the many uses they have. Picture a shepherd’s crook. It is about five feet long or longer and may have a gentle hook at the top. This stick is carried in the hand for support on rough terrain or when you get weary. It can be used as a club for a weapon in fending off dangers. The rod is often used to measure and count. It is an instrument of punishment and a symbol of authority. Sheep can be guided along using the staff.

How do we bring comfort to our family through the rod and the staff? It has a lot to do with safe boundaries and protection. This demonstrates our love to our children. Job 5:17 teaches us: “Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty.” (KJV) Your position as father gives you the ability to deliver your children from all sorts of trouble. You can guide and instruct them along the way. And yes, discipline them as needed.

Remember that comfort is the goal spoken of here in relation to the rod and the staff. If you look up the word comfort in the dictionary, you will find the following meanings:

  • to strengthen,
  • to invigorate,
  • to cheer or enliven,
  • to strengthen the mind when depressed or enfeebled,
  • to console,
  • to give new vigor to the spirits,
  • to cheer or relieve from depression or trouble.

These definitions of the word comfort give us the desired outcome of our discipline and instruction. If you aren’t getting these results, you are doing something wrong! Ask God for help!

Verse 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

As I pointed out in the beginning of this message, we are trying to look at this psalm from the perspective of the father being the shepherd. As we look into verse five and then on to verse six, I believe we are looking at the verses where our children are maturing. They are prepared to serve God all their days and we are getting ready to send them out. I have not done this sending out part yet myself, as my oldest child is sixteen. I may be overstepping my experience, so I pray that I don’t err in this section.

Soldiers are not used to having a table prepared for them. Our troops today are fed using Meals Ready-to-Eat, also known as MREs. The modern day rations are based on technology from the space program. In fact, MREs are vacuum packed so they can last for several years. Soldiers in battle are used to eating on the run. Contrast that with the table prepared for us by the Lord. Rather than grabbing a bite when we can, we can sit down to the table and eat in the midst of our enemies.

Our families need us to provide this table of peace in the midst of all the spiritual battles. We can come together to eat and bless one another. The word can be taught by the father as we all gather together. We need to follow the Lord’s battle plan for dealing with enemies and feeding our troops.

O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. Psalm 34:8 (KJV)

We are probably most familiar with the custom of anointing as it pertains to setting a king over Israel. David’s anointing was recorded for us in 1 Samuel 16:11-14.

11 And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither.
12 And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he.
13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.

The anointing is a setting apart and it is a blessing. It is necessary for the believer to be anointed by the Holy Spirit. Charles Spurgeon speaks to this in The Treasury of David. “Every Christian is a priest, but he cannot execute the priestly office without unction (anointing), and hence we must go day by day to God the Holy Ghost, that we may have our heads anointed with oil. A priest without oil misses the chief qualification for his office, and the Christian priest lacks the chief fitness for service when he is devoid of new grace from on high.” We need God’s anointing to be a good father.

How does this apply to our children? Part of the anointing is a blessing or a sending out. You need to explicitly commend your children into God’s service when they are ready. A young man or young woman needs to know that they have their father’s blessing and support before they go out to serve God. There is a confidence in knowing that you are ready and our children need to have that confidence. It is a sad thing when a child never knows if they are good enough in their father’s eyes. We need to give this to them. It is our job to see that they are prepared.

Let me now give you an illustration of “my cup runneth over.” Suppose you were in the middle of a dessert and all you have with you is a cup. Several friends are traveling with you. The water ran out yesterday and everyone is very thirsty. No relief is in sight. You ask God to save you from certain death. All of a sudden, you cup fills with cool, clear water! Not only that, when the water reaches the top, it overflows. Water is pouring over the edge and your friends start holding their cups under yours to catch the water that overflows.

In a similar way, you can bless your home if your cup runneth over. How do you do it? It comes from God. He fills you up when you are empty. He fills you up when you ask. It is God that will fill you up so much that it overflows into the lives of your family. Those living waters can so fill up your family that it flows out of your home to benefit others. When your children leave home, they need to know this source of living water so their cups will never be empty.

Verse 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

If you have done a good job with God’s help, your children will be well prepared for life. They will know God and love him. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” That can be the legacy you leave with your children. Your wife will be blessed as well. Who wouldn’t want to live all their days enjoying God’s goodness and mercy. This is something we can count on no matter what happens! Remember that God has promised saying, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5 KJV)

Finally, “to dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” There can be nothing better than this! Every Christian will be here together in heaven one day. John describes it like this in Revelation 21:1-5.

1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
5 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.

This is what we want our children to desire. This is what we want our children to have. Jonathan Edwards points out that “By virtue of the believer’s union with Christ, he doth really possess all things.” There will be a happy reunion in heaven one day if our children believe. All of these promises are sure because they come from God.


All of Psalm 23 is rich with things to think upon. Spend some time soaking up the wisdom that is in these six short verses. Take a day for each one! Remember, Jesus said, “I am the good Shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” John 10:11 (KJV)

Be a good shepherd/father. I encourage you in Christ.

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