Geoffrey Grogan gives Psalm 23 as an example of metaphor in the Psalter. “In asserting that the Lord is his shepherd,” he says, “the psalmist uses a figure familiar to his readers and which therefore conveys more, and does so more vividly, than any abstract statement about God.” (p. 58) *
But for the modern, western, urban reader, I suspect the metaphor has lost a lot of its force. We have romanticised the shepherd, and we have elevated the status of sheep as animals to an unnatural position in the created order. Our Shepherd has become little more than a provider who gives us sheep what we want. Yet, the Shepherd is the dominant figure, not the sheep. He owns the sheep for which he cares. He calls the shots, not us. So he provides graciously what we need, not necessarily what we want. We need to bear in mind that the Shepherd was also a metaphor for the King.
There’s more to the metaphor than we might at first suspect.
* Geoffrey Grogan. Prayer, Praise and Prophecy: A Theology of the Psalms. Fearn, Ross-shire: Mentor (Christian Focus), 2001.