Psalm 23

by Dr. J. Perkins

In David’s brokenness he cried out to God to forgive him. I believe that God always answers that prayer. And when He answered David’s prayer for Him to restore his joy, David came to know Him in a way that few people can claim. He came to know God as a Shepherd. He learned a lot about friendship with God along the way. His twenty-third psalm is a guide to who God is toward His friends. 

When I read the words of that psalm, I knew that David knew God intimately. He used a metaphor to describe God that he was very familiar with. David knew what it meant to be a shepherd. He had cared for his father’s sheep in Bethlehem. He had protected them from the lion and the bear. And he knew what sheep are like. Sheep have been described as unintelligent animals. They need someone to take care of them at all times. They cannot defend themselves. They need to be led to pastures to eat and to clean water to drink. If one jumps off a cliff, all the rest follow. If they get lost, they can’t find their way back. As a shepherd, David would carry a rod and a staff to rescue them if one would fall into a crag or over a cliff.

Sheep are helpless. But they are unique because they know the voice of their shepherd. It’s common in nomadic cultures for flocks of sheep to intermingle. But when the shepherd calls, his own sheep will answer. I imagine that God referred to His people as sheep because He wanted us to always remember that we are dependent on Him for everything. He is our shepherd. He is the one who charts our path for us because we do not know which way to go. David’s path to becoming king was littered with seasons spent running for his life away from Saul, and later, running from his son, who sought to overthrow his kingship. Yet it was these difficulties along his way that helped him to know God as the friend who is a shepherd.

If it had been left up to me, I certainly would have never returned to Mississippi to live. But God knew that was where I needed to be in order to obey His calling on my life. He is the shepherd who leads. He is able to lead us even through the valley of the shadow of death and keep us safe from all harm.

David was known as the greatest king of Israel. He was a leader, and his example shows us what godly leadership should look like. Not perfect. But trying to please Him. And when failure comes, as it always does, the godly leader acknowledges his sin and cries out to God for forgiveness.

I am constantly reminded of just how much I need this Shepherd. And I’m also reminded of how much my life should be marked by forgiveness. I owe a debt of forgiveness to everyone who has hurt me. Are there persons He is leading you to forgive? He can help you do that.

I’ve learned a lot about true friendship by watching how God interacted with Abraham, Moses, and David. God is a pursuer. He goes after those He sets His heart on for friendship. God is holy, but He wants face-to-face friendship with us. He wants to be close to us. And God forgives even the worst of sinners. He forgives and He doesn’t hold our sin against us. He’s that kind of friend, and He shows us what true friendship looks like. 

We hope you have enjoyed this plan in the John M. Perkins Devotional Series. In 1970, Dr. Perkins was tortured at the hands of the Mississippi police for his leadership in the voting rights movement. His radical forgiveness and tireless pursuit of biblical justice set him on a course where he would counsel six American Presidents, receive 16 honorary doctorates and bring healing to broken communities around the world. His life is a masterclass on purpose, friendship, and joyful endurance. At 91, he wants to pass the baton to the next generation and has created a six-part masterclass to help you discover your God-given purpose in life. To sign up for the free masterclass, visit 

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