Review: A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23
by Phillip Keller

When David wrote Psalm 23, best known as “The Good Shepherd Psalm,” nearly everyone in that culture knew exactly what he was talking about. They understood the analogies and how shepherds worked. They knew sheep. Well, most of us today don’t know much about sheep, except one followed Mary wherever she would go. In A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Phillip Keller speaks about his experience as a shepherd for many years and what Psalm 23 is really talking about.

First off, this book is generally regarded as a classic, and rightly so. Keller’s descriptions of the shepherding life and the phrases of Psalm 23 really work. He comes across not only as competent, but able to actually talk about it in language that a city slicker like me can understand. He also has a thorough knowledge of Scripture, not just quoting Psalm 23, but pulling in passages from all over the Bible as prove useful.

Keller often seems to live and breathe the gospel. He writes,

But despite this perverse behavior I am so glad He did not give me up. I am so grateful He did follow me in goodness and mercy. The only possible motivation was His own love, His care and concern for me as one of His sheep. And despite my doubts, despite my misgivings about His management of my affairs, He has picked me up and borne me back again in great tenderness. (129)

He has a very keen eye for not just how sheep act, but how humans act, and why: “Our view of Him is often too small – too cramped – too provincial – too human. And because it is we feel unwilling to allow Him to have authority or control – much less outright ownership of our lives” (16).

These very practical, down-to-earth threads, and a gasping awe of God’s grace, run throughout the book as he explains what David is talking about when he sings of “pouring oil on my head” or “walking in the valley of the shadow of death.” I learned so, so much from this book about how shepherds act, and I’ll be keeping that in mind as I preach about the Good Shepherd.

However, not all is good. There is a slight thread of mysticism, that God will speak directly to your heart to let you know which way to go, rather than pointing to God’s Word. It’s not a strong thread, but it is present. Also, I suspect that Keller either belonged to a Law-heavy church when he was younger or did when he wrote this book, because every once in a while he will let a little, “No Christian would do X” as opposed to breathing out that grace that understands we are still sinners. Again, it’s not often, but it is there.

Despite these relatively minor problems, I can highly recommend this book. It is an older book, so some of the language might be difficult (for instance, he uses the King James Version of the Bible). However, it’s not a slog in the least. Highly readable, highly practical, and generally very Gospel-oriented. Worth your time!

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