Psalm 23 King James Version (KJV)
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 forever.
Almost everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike, knows the 23rd Psalm. Maybe not entirely committed to memory but at least in part. It is the best known and most popular of all the Psalms. It is a Psalm about a life in service and surrender to God and the blessings bestowed by God. It is comforting and serene. It portrays a life of calmness and peacefulness. The 23rd Psalm is the most beautiful composition of six verses in the Bible and it is just as powerful today as it was when written over 3,000 years ago.
King David, with inspiration from God, wrote the 23rd Psalm as a metaphor for his relationship with Yahweh or Jehovah, the creator of all things. For many years in his early life, David worked as a shepherd boy. Because of this he had extensive knowledge about the relationship between a shepherd and his flock of sheep. He learned early in life that the sheep know and love their shepherd and the shepherd knows and loves his sheep. It was this knowledge and I dare say this personal experience that caused David to use this relationship metaphorically, symbolizing the life of a child of God, their dependence on God and God’s reciprocal blessings.
In reality, the 23rd Psalm is the living testimony of the sheep and metaphorically we are the sheep. The Psalm details the benefits the sheep receive from the shepherd. Metaphorically, we are the sheep and God is the shepherd.
The Lord Is My Shepherd; I Shall Not Want
The most important five words we can say.
If we can say these five words, it is evidence that we have accepted Christ as our Savior, being reconciled with God and living as His child.
If we can say these words, we fully understand the peace and contentment that this brings. It doesn’t eliminate the problems of life, but it allows God’s blessings and grace to see us through them.
Metaphorically, in this Psalm, Christians are the sheep and the Psalm is our testimony.
As we see the problems and trials of others, as well as our own, we realize that in many ways we are like sheep. Now, I’m not saying that we humans are “dumb” but it is a fact that sheep are not very bright. So, let’s discount this characteristic in the general sense, but even the most intelligent of humans make dumb mistakes.
At times, smart people don’t act very smart. We make stupid decisions that get us into trouble. We think we can go our own way, make our own decisions and in essence be totally in control. In these ways, we are very similar to the dumb sheep. We wander off down the yellow brick road of sorts.
It is a good exercise to think about the decisions you have made in your life. How many times did you make decisions that were not smart ones? How many times can you say some were really stupid? If we are honest, we will find that we have been like the “dumb” sheep more than we care to admit.
If someone becomes addicted to drugs, cigarettes or alcohol, it is because they made the decision initially to partake. Then another decision to continue and so on. Whether looking for peace, happiness or a way to get away from it all, it is our decision, our choice that caused our addiction. We can blame the drug, or the cigarettes or the alcohol, but it is truly on us.
Whatever path or road we find ourselves on, we chose the route. Remember the dumb sheep?
Another way sheep are “dumb” is that they will follow the lead sheep no matter what or where. Imagine a flock of sheep grazing 100 yards from the edge of a cliff. Further imagine that one of the sheep gets scared or startled and begins running toward the cliff. It is easy to visualize the lead sheep going over the cliff and the remaining flock following right behind.
The sheep need their shepherd.
Sheep are also without direction. They have a habit of wandering and getting lost even if they find themselves in the ideal pasture of green grass and clear water. Sound familiar?
Without Christ in our lives we are also without direction, at least direction that matters. We may have our career act together and climbing the ladder of success quickly and we can call this a life with direction. However, if all we have is career, material goods and financial success we are on the wrong route to true happiness and eternal security.
Lastly, sheep are defenseless. They have no natural defense; in other words, they are not fighters. They aren’t fast and therefore can’t run away. They simply make good victims for predators.
Considering the metaphor of believers being the sheep, we must consider our formidable predator and always remember that we fight against the spiritual forces of evil. We must put on the armor of our Shepherd, to battle Satan and his army.
Ephesians 6:12 New English Translation
12 For our struggle[a] is not against flesh and blood,[b] but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness,[c] against the spiritual forces[d] of evil in the heavens.[e]
The sheep most definitely need their shepherd.
Let us consider the shepherd for a moment.
The occupation of shepherd is the first occupation or profession that is mentioned in the Bible. You can find it in Genesis 4:2;
Genesis 4:2 New English Translation
2 Then she gave birth[a] to his brother Abel.[b] Abel took care of the flocks, while Cain cultivated the ground.[c]
The shepherd finds that his sheep are totally dependent upon him. To lead them to pasture. To lead them to and provide them with safe water. To protect them from predators or danger.
Like sheep, we humans are vulnerable and endangered by those who prey upon our vulnerabilities. Satan and his forces prey upon us as spiritual wolves. Like sheep, if we do not walk in the Spirit, we might wander away from the care of the Shepherd and safety of the flock.
We certainly need a Good Shepherd and if we are saved, we have that Good Shepherd in Jesus Christ. Jesus, who was willing to sacrifice His life for us, will always care for us.
The Lord is my shepherd. He watches over me. He directs me. He is my defense against all that Satan throws at me. In addition, through our Shepherd, we are made righteous in God’s sight. Colossians 1:14 says “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.”
The Lord is my Shepherd. Can you say this?
I shall not want. Can you say this also?
Unfortunately, we humans, including some believing Christians live much of life wanting; wanting things, wanting financial security, wanting stuff, wanting happiness found in the world.
In fact, in our minds we turn our wants into “needs.” To go even further, we will finally convince ourselves that we not only need these things, we deserve them.
Remember Satan’s ploy with Eve in the garden of Eden?
David said “I shall not want.” What? Does he mean he doesn’t want anything?
David is reciting what all true Christians grow to know. That in Christ, having accepted Him as Lord and Savior, we have all that we need.
Of course, we need food to live and clothes to wear and transportation to get to work and elsewhere. Of course, we need money, we need to be frugal, to save, to build some financial security in order to help others and not be a burden to anyone. Of course, all of this is true.
BUT, if we do not have any of these things and we are a Christian, we do in fact have all that we need. No matter what comes our way, God will provide grace that is sufficient to see us through; through to the end and beyond to be in His presence.
David is saying “I lack nothing; I have all that I need now, I have everything I could ever need.” Can we say that in respect to our life? Or do we still live day to day, month to month or year to year with a growing list of wants? Satan, will try to convince us we need many things, but we must not fall into his trap.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In this first verse of the Psalm, David is expressing his personal experience of the adequacy of his Lord. Adequacy in providing ease, contentment and serenity to his followers, metaphorically the sheep.
He Maketh Me To Lie Down In Green Pastures; He Leadeth Me Beside The Still Waters
David is saying that the Shepherd Lord takes him to lush, green pastures and allows him to find nourishment and rest there. Picture the beautiful meadows that David alludes to. In this inspired language, David is telling the world that God who created our sustenance, provides that sustenance for his children.
In addition, David tells us that God provides rest, peace and contentment to His children. Through the Holy Spirit we can always find peace and contentment when we call upon Him. Though our lives get harried, confusing at times and stressful, we can find this contentment when we call upon Him.
Picture in your mind the sheep laying in the beautiful green meadow, chewing their cud. Imagine the serenity. The peacefulness. The calmness. No predators. No danger. No worries. This is what God provides for his children.
Peter tells us in 1 Peter chapter 5:6-7 6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: 7 Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.
Jesus tell us in Matthew 11:29 to “take my yoke upon you.” In other words, Jesus is saying “let me carry the load and let me carry your burdens.”
Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6-7 “ Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
In other words, don’t worry about anything. Sometimes this is very difficult to do, but we can attain this goal when we surrender all to God and place our trust solely in Him. When we yoke up with Christ, we are not carrying the load ourselves and we are able to lie down in the beautiful meadow of tranquility that God provides for us. He truly does make me to lie down in green pastures.
David tells us that as a sheep in the flock of his Lord, he is led by the Lord to calm waters. He is led to calm refreshing waters. David says “he leads me beside peaceful streams with tranquil water.”
Why is it important that the water be calm or tranquil? Though sheep will finally drink from running water, they generally drink only from still, calm waters. They have an innate or instinctual fear of running water. They prefer still water, which makes them feel safe.
In typical human lives, the waters are not always calm. At times we face fast moving turbulent waters that come our way. God didn’t promise us a life without storms. Sometimes the waters get high and we feel we might drown if left to our own abilities to save us. It is during these storms of life that the Christian calls upon their Lord for help. Just as the sheep’s shepherd leads them beside the still waters, our Lord will provide comfort, contentment and peace so aptly described as the “still waters.”
In this second verse of the Psalm, David is expressing his happiness, gratification and contentment that comes from serving his Lord and God. The sheep have all this and more because of the care and love of the shepherd.
He Restoreth My Soul; He Leadeth Me In The Paths Of Righteousness For His Namesake
“He restoreth my soul. He restores me when I wander. He refreshes me.”
No animal gets lost as easy as a sheep does. They are likely to go astray and then likely to be unable to find their way back to the flock.
If we as Christians miss our way, or go astray taking the wrong path, God will show us our mistake. God will forgive us and bring us back. God will restore our soul.
Remember when David sinned, his heart “smote him.” Later, after another sin, Nathan was sent to him to tell him the truth about his sins; “Thou art the man” Nathan said. Then, God restored his soul.
When the soul grows discouraged, disheartened, weary or sorrowful, our God will revive it. If our soul grows weak, God will strengthen us. As our great Shepherd, God will lift us out of the miry clay of despair. As our great Shepherd, God will revive us should we become complacent or careless in our worship of Him. All we have to do is ask. We must call upon Him earnestly and sincerely, asking Him to restore our soul.
The Benson Commentary puts it this way; “In the plain, straight, and safe paths, the sheep of the Lord’s pasture are neither hurt, nor wearied, nor in danger of wandering. By his word and his providence, he directs me to the right ways of truth and holiness, and by his Spirit he inclines and enables me to choose those ways, and to continue to walk therein.”
Barnes Notes on The Bible Commentary puts it this way; “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness – In the right paths, or right ways. He conducts me in the straight path that leads to Himself; He does not permit me to wander in ways that would lead to ruin.
In reference to His people it is true:
(a) that He leads them in the path by which they become righteous, or by which they are "justified" before him; and
(b) that He leads them in the way of "uprightness" and "truth." He guides them in the way to heaven; His constant care is evinced that they "may" walk in that path.
“He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his namesake.”
One thing that David was certain of is that God will not lead His children astray.
We can be sure of this also. Just as the shepherd would not lead his sheep down a treacherous path, God will never lead us into evil or danger.
Yes, there will be trials and troubles. All of life is not lived on the mountain top. There will be valleys. Maybe many valleys. There will be trials; maybe many trials. There will be pain and sorrow.
But take heart, God is still leading us. God is in control and He will see us through these valleys and to the next mountain top. We shall see this more in the next verse.
For his name’s sake.
Not for any merit in me, but merely for the demonstration and glory of his mercy, faithfulness, and goodness. For His own sake; or, that His name may be honored. As his children sheep follow, surrender and worship God, His name is honored for all to see.
The “light of the world” shines in honor of God as we walk in love and righteousness. God is glorified and magnified in our lives, if we live centered in Christ and as the light of the world.
In this third verse of the Psalm, David is expressing what he has learned to be the supremacy of God; the dominion of God; the authority of his God as Shepherd, who is in total control.
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
Think about this; God will lead me in the paths of righteousness even though at times those paths may go through the darkest and gloomiest valley.
Imagine those valleys where it seems there is no light. It is dark. It seems like “death” has cast its shadow over me. In these instances, we must call upon our Shepherd. We are still on the right path and He is still leading us. We must surrender in total trust and faith, truly depending on the Shepherd to guide us through and help us climb out of this rough, rocky valley.
As we depend on our Shepherd, we will not be alarmed. We will not be afraid. We will not fear being lost or abandoned. For our Lord and Shepherd is with us. His rod and staff are a comfort to us.
The phrase “Valley of the shadow of death” is applicable to any path of gloom or sadness; any scene of trouble or sorrow; any dark and dangerous way.
Thus understood, it is applicable not merely to death itself, but to any of the dark and dangerous paths which we tread in life. Paths of sadness and solitude.
Keep in mind that along those paths God will be our safe and certain guide.
Then, when we reach the end of this life, God will see us through the valley of the shadow of our death.
Here I want to emphasize the word “shadow.” Some people are said to be afraid of their own shadow, but we know the shadow is nothing to fear.
Death is a passage; it is a transition from this life to our promised eternal life.
The body will die and decay but the soul never dies. Upon taking our last breath, our soul will be carried by the angels, to be with God.
Paul tells us in scripture “Now we look through a glass darkly, but then, face to face.”
Paul also tells us that God our Shepherd will lead us through all of our valleys including the last one, where once again we shall find that His grace will be sufficient. In other words, His “rod and staff” will comfort us.
In the fourth verse of this Psalm, David is expressing his personal testimony that God is his protector, provider and shelter in the time of storms.
Thou Preparest A Table Before Me In The Presence Of My Enemies; Thou Annointest My Head With Oil; My Cup Runneth Over
In this verse, we see that the image has changed. The word “table” used here is synonymous with a feast or a great feast.
Expanding on the words in verse one where David said “I shall not want”, David is now saying that his Shepherd truly provides for his wants.
The Bible provides many scriptures with historical facts that show several instances in the life of King David where this language imagery might apply. Here God provided a meal or feast for David while he is in the presence of his enemies, with no regard for them.
Visualize the defeat and discouragement that King David’s enemies must have felt as they see proof of God’s divine favor for his children; His sheep. The enemies were forced to view this scene; to see how God defended and provided for David.
I imagine these enemies, who knew not God, were envious all the while they were angry, realizing that they could do nothing to hinder or stop the providential care God provided for David.
We can take heart that God provides this same care for all of his children. All of his sheep.
David then proclaims that God anoints his head with oil. The Hebrew words of this phrase indicate an abundance of oil.
At this time there was a tradition of anointing the head with oil at Hebrew festival times. We see this tradition carried forth during the period of Jesus’ life as follows;
Matthew 6:17 King James Version (KJV)
17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
Luke 7:46 King James Version (KJV)
46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.
The act of anointing the head with oil signified one’s well-being and was an act of rejoicing and praising God for one’s state of happiness and well-being.
This also has reference to the care a shepherd provides his flock. It was common for the shepherd to rub oil on a sheep’s head, in it’s ears and around its eyes to keep flies and other pests away.
At the end of this verse David says “my cup runneth over.” David’s cup was not merely full, but it was overflowing. This indicates an abundance of temporal things and more importantly, a spiritual abundance.
In David’s life from a lowly shepherd boy, a musician, the lad who killed Goliath and finally King of Israel, God had shown him favor.
In fact, in Acts 13:22 it is said that God said “David is a man after my own heart, which shall fulfill all my will.”
God had blessed him with all manner of blessings. God had protected David and saved him from disaster.
When David needed chastening, God chastened him. David knew that God looked out for him just as he looked out for his flock of sheep as a young shepherd boy.
We see that David expanded on his words “I shall not want.” He knew that the blessings he received from God were more than he needed or deserved.
He spoke truly from the heart when he said “my cup runs over.”
In this fifth verse of the Psalm, David is expressing his testimony of praise and gratitude to God for the many blessing of his life. He is also testifying that because of God’s love and care for his children, he lived a life of well-being and security.
Surely Goodness And Mercy Shall Follow Me All The Days Of My Life; And I Will Dwell In The House Of The Lord Forever
David had the assurance that God’s favor and blessings would be with him as his child.
He had the assurance of the contentedness, peace and serenity that his faith and trust would provide.
David knew that his God would bestow goodness and mercy upon him.
He had learned through all of God’s merciful dealings with him that he could depend on God. That God would always be his Shepherd and friend, who would never leave him.
David knew that the goodness and mercy bestowed by God was not temporary. With God as his Shepherd, he knew that these blessings would follow him all the days of his life.
Just as the flock of sheep could depend on their shepherd being with them every day, David had the understanding and assurance that God, his Shepherd, would always be by his side.
Finally, David proclaimed that he would dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Theologians differ on the meaning of these words. Some believe this is a dedication or promise by David to be in constant worship of his God, who provides all the blessings aforementioned.
Others feel it is David expressing his assurance that he had a dwelling place waiting, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. The goodness and mercy that God provided all the days of his life, will continue when this life is over.
In my view, David is expressing that when this life is ended, he shall be removed to a better world; to dwell in the “house of the Lord forever.” To dwell in the house of his heavenly Father in which there are many mansions. To dwell where the saved of God’s church will dwell, as one people under One Shepherd.
David does not find his happiness in the pleasures of this world, but in his love, worship and service to God.
In this final verse of the Psalm, David expresses his testimony of assurance. Assurance that God will continue to provide goodness and mercy, peace and contentment, serenity and strength, in this life. Then, finally the assurance that he will have a dwelling place with God his Shepherd, for eternity in heaven.
King David's Trials
As we read the most beautiful words in scripture, where King David expresses his assurance, contentment, peace and strength we must realize that his life was not one of continual contentment and peace. He certainly had those mountain top experiences but he also had his share of the low valleys.
In truth, the true greatness exhibited by David was not his conquests or his being King.
His true greatness was his trust in God despite all the valleys, trials and hardships in his life. David also expresses his hope and trust in Psalm 25;
Psalm 25:1-2 King James Version (KJV)
1 Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me.
David writes many psalms of praise, thanksgiving and adoration of God.
He also writes in several Psalms of his pain and suffering.
He writes of his repentance and asking for God’s forgiveness.
As we study David’s life and all the hardships and trials he underwent, we can better understand his love, total dependence on God and his assurance that God would care for and shelter him as a shepherd would his flock.
As we briefly consider the hardships in David’s life, we must start at a young age when Saul, the first king of Israel took David into his court because of his musical talent playing the harp.
Shortly after David killed Goliath with his slingshot, Saul became jealous of David.
David had become a “star” in the kingdom and this did not go well with Saul whose jealousy reached a dangerous point where he began to plan and plot David’s death.
For most all of Saul’s life, he sought to destroy David.
However, David did not hold a grudge and was not revengeful. He could have taken Saul’s life, but refused to do so.
Saul was his father in law and God’s anointed king.
Instead of hate and revenge, David allowed this experience to strengthen his faith in God.
We would be remiss not to consider the sin in David’s life. His adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, her husband. These sins would bring hardship to David that he could not blame on anyone but himself.
After this, David’s son Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar. Tamar’s full brother Absalom kills Amnon for what he did to Tamar. Absalom then tries to take over the throne of Israel, intent on killing David, his father.
This causes David to flee from Jerusalem. This ends with the death of Absalom. After this, another son Adonijah tries to take the throne of Israel when David is old.
We can clearly see the hardships and trials that David endured. David was like all humans; a sinner saved by the grace of God.
He truly repented of his sins and pleaded to God to forgive and redeem him and thereafter lived his life in obedience and surrender to God; his Shepherd.
Whether on the mountain top or in the valley, David gives us hope with words that were inspired by God; words that help us reach out to Him.
He gives us this hope and assurance in the six verses of the 23rd Psalm with words of assurance, contentment, peace, security and serenity.
The most important words we can ever say are “The Lord Is My Shepherd.”
If we can say those five words, we can live our life knowing that all the blessings in this most beautiful Psalm are ours and God is in control.
He is watching us, protecting us, providing for us and leading us through the storms of life.
Storms and valleys will come, but our God, our Shepherd, will see us through to the other side.
As God promised David, he also promised Joshua that he would always be with him.
Joshua 1:9 King James Version (KJV)
9 Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.
The Shepherd will never abandon his sheep.
His promise is secure, as God cannot lie.
He assures us that as long as we are obedient and surrendered to Him, he will be our Shepherd.
Therefore, we can live with the assurance of David, that goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.