A Psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through
the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Without doubt the most familiar of Psalms, this Psalm is much more than merely “The Lord is my shepherd”. The first two verses are wonderful truths immersed in shepherding metaphors, but then four more verses follow, each one rich in metaphors of its own. Together they make this Psalm the most picturesque of all the Psalms.
The first two verses are wrapped in the picture of a shepherd, providing a care-free daily life for his sheep. The LORD is such a shepherd for us as His sheep. As the Good Shepherd reminds us again in the Sermon on the Mount, our Heavenly Father provides for us in all our daily needs (Matt 6:26-32).
The next verse continues the theme of the LORD as our shepherd, but focusses on our daily spiritual needs. Besides food and drink, our Lord also converts our soul from sin to righteousness. This again is echoed by the Good Shepherd in the Sermon on the Mount when He instructs us to lay aside worry and pursue His righteousness instead (Matt 6:33-34).
Then the Psalm takes a rather sudden turn into a different direction, without completely letting go of the original theme. David changes the third-person “He” into the second-person “You”, and changes from the wonderful physical and spiritual provisions from the LORD to the counselling presence of the LORD. When death seems near, and the bad things of life threaten, the LORD removes our fear and replaces it with compassionate counsel that comforts us.
Moving on from the shepherd metaphor, but maintain the personal “me-You” perspective on our relationship with the LORD, David pens another verse. From the provisions and counsel of the Good Shepherd, we ought also to think of God as our lavish benefactor. When we are needy and afflicted, the LORD reaches down, and in the midst of it all surrounds us with blessing. Like a kind billionaire, the LORD prepares a feast for us, seats us at his table, while those who are responsible for all the bad things can merely watch. He treats us with the best of personal care and leaves us with abundant personal blessing.
It is therefore with a song of exultation that David pens the last verse, realising that he truly has nothing to worry about. As much as we might fear all evil, and as much as our enemies might abound, God will do us good, and His loyal love (translated at times as “mercy”) will always be evident in our lives.
The closing thought, though, in all of this, is not another metaphor of God’s actions and care. Instead it is a statement of personal resolve. To re-word it for the sake of explanation, “I will get back to true worship, and stay there forever”. When we have the LORD as our providing shepherd in the physical needs of this life, and when we have the LORD as our spiritual counsellor in the evils of this world, and when we have the LORD as our gracious benefactor in the trials of our circumstances, then we ought to sense the natural obligation to stop worrying about everything, and focus instead on our faithfulness to the LORD. Well did Jesus say “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33).
We all love Psalm 23 for what it tells us about the LORD. Let us also love Psalm 23 for what it compels us to do—to entrust our lives to the LORD, getting back to our worship of Him and our steadfast obedience to Him.