In the Shepherd’s Care

June 26, 2024

In 1977, Natan Sharansky, a Soviet refusenik, found himself separated from his wife, Avital, just one day after their marriage. While she was allowed to move to Israel, Sharansky was forced to remain in the Soviet Union. What they thought would be a short separation stretched into twelve long years.

Avital worked tirelessly to get Sharansky out of the Soviet Union, but he would spend nine years in prison, including solitary confinement and hard labor, before finally being freed. A few days before his arrest, Sharansky received a book of Psalms from a tourist, sent by his wife who was faithfully advocating for his release. This precious gift was soon confiscated by Soviet authorities. After three years of relentless fighting from prison, Sharansky finally got the book back, on the same day that he received the news of his father’s death. Despite not understanding Hebrew, the Psalms brought him immense comfort, and he began reading them daily.

Sharansky vividly recalls the profound impact of Psalm 23. Psalm 23 verse 4 was the first Hebrew verse that Sharansky understood:

When he read and understood those words, he felt as if King David, his wife, and his friends were all present with him in prison, offering support and strength, and giving him the courage to endure. Sharansky clung to the Psalm book through hunger strikes and punishments, believing that as long as he had it, he would be safe. When he was finally released, he refused to board the plane without his Psalm book, making it the only possession he carried to freedom.

Sharansky’s story illustrates the timeless power and comfort of the Psalms in general, and specifically Psalm 23. Like Sharansky, we can draw strength and solace from its verses, which remind us of God’s constant care and presence.

David begins Psalm 23 by declaring:

This statement sets the tone for the entire psalm, emphasizing a relationship of complete trust and dependence on God. Just as a shepherd ensures the well-being of each sheep, God takes care of our every need. This metaphor was taken from David’s personal life. When he was young, David himself was a shepherd, meticulously caring for his father’s flock. David ensured that each sheep in his care received appropriate sustenance, and through this experience, he was able to envision the care that God extends to every individual.

David continues:

These verses illustrate the shepherd’s care in guiding the sheep to places of nourishment and rest. Green pastures and still waters symbolize peace, sustenance, and rejuvenation. In a world often filled with turmoil and strife, these images offer a vision of peace and restoration; “He renews my life” (verse 3).

These moments of calm and renewal are gifts from God, allowing us opportunities to rest and recharge. God provides these moments, giving us the strength to keep going.

But David recognized that life is not always “green pastures and still waters.” In verse 4 he acknowledges the reality of life’s hardships:

Despite the inevitable challenges and dangers, there is a profound sense of security in God’s presence. The rod and staff, tools that a shepherd uses for protection and guidance, symbolize God’s vigilance and care. They offer comfort because they represent God’s active involvement in guiding and protecting us from both external threats and our own missteps.

Shifting metaphors, David then describes a kingly banquet:

Here, the imagery transitions from the pastoral to the regal, reflecting David’s life as a king. Despite adversaries, the provision of a banquet signifies abundance and divine favor. The anointing with oil, often a ritual for kings, signifies being chosen and blessed by God. Even though the table is set “in full view of my enemies,” and they lie in wait to attack, David feels at ease because He knows that God is on his side.

The psalm concludes with an affirmation of divine goodness and a longing for God’s presence:

This expresses David’s deep desire for a constant relationship with God. His aspiration to dwell in the house of the Lord symbolizes living in perpetual awareness of and closeness to the Divine. Although David wasn’t permitted to build the Temple, his yearning reflects a longing for lifelong communion with the Lord, regardless of physical location.

Psalm 23 is a beautiful and comforting expression of faith and trust in God, painted with vivid and relatable imagery. This psalm, written by David, reminds us of the unwavering care and guidance we receive from the Divine. David’s words invite us to see the divine in our everyday lives. Whether we’re facing deserts or dark valleys, or enjoying green pastures and still waters, we are never alone. Just as Natan Sharansky found strength and solace in the words of Psalm 23 during his imprisonment in the Russian Gulag, we too can find comfort in knowing that God is always guiding us, protecting us, and providing for us. We can face any situation, knowing that we are always in the loving care of our Shepherd.

Inbal Rose, an artist and Israel365 employee, has created a series of art pieces that beautifully complement the themes of Psalm 23. Her depiction of a shepherd leading his sheep in the desert captures the harshness of the environment and the shepherd’s crucial role in guiding and caring for the flock. This visual echoes the idea that God is our shepherd, and He is with us even in our toughest times, providing for our needs and leading us to safety.

Her depiction of a peaceful stream of water perfectly captures the tranquility described in “He leads me to water in places of repose.” The serene waters symbolize the divine peace and restoration that God offers us, refreshing our spirits and giving us strength.

Finally, Rose’s depiction of the ancient city of Jerusalem, representing the house of God, aligns with David’s longing to dwell in the house of the Lord. The city, with its historical and spiritual significance, represents a place where the divine presence is profoundly felt, mirroring our own desire to live in constant awareness of God’s presence and blessings.

There are so many meaningful ways you can show your support for Israel.

Visit the Israel365 store to purchase Inbal Rose’s artistic depictions of Psalm 23, and to discover more products that celebrate your connection to the Land of Israel and bring more meaning into your daily life. By purchasing from our store, you help support Israel and its people, ensuring we all thrive together.

Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

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