Psalm 23 is one of the best known pieces of literature in the world; known by Christians and non-Christians alike as a wonderful outpouring of pastoral care and love. This does not mean though that we always understand the images portrayed, especially if we are not conversant with the lifestyle that provides the context for the passage.
It can be useful to go through passages from the bible, thought by thought, to see how they apply to us today and whether the things that we may have casually assumed about them are true in reality. They may be, but out of interest, let's have a look together at the whole Psalm, below. We can imagine David calming his sheep by speaking to them and musing on the comparison with God as his Shepherd.
Psalm 23 A Psalm of David.
Psa 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Now let's take a more detailed look at this song of David, thought by thought.
Psa 23:1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
The opening thought compares God with a shepherd. A good shepherd. In other places in the Bible God says He is the good shepherd and we are the sheep of His pasture. Jesus also said that we were His sheep and He was our shepherd. It's a thought that many could relate to in Jesus' time and before and we can relate to it now with only a minimal amount of information about the role of a shepherd towards his sheep.
Here David tells us initially as a broad sweep of the shepherd's duty that he will ensure that all the wants of the sheep are met. Inspired by God and based on his own life as a shepherd David tells us that God promises to make sure we lack for nothing. Now we know that 'the just shall live by faith', so if you believe that God doesn't do this today you could well limit what He can do in your life, but those who believe what God says can expect him to keep his word. Not just supply your needs; You shall not want! We notice also that David speaks of God in the third person at the start of the psalm.
Psa 23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
Here David goes on to tell us that the good shepherd takes the sheep to the best pastures and makes them lie down there. It seems that sheep may have a tendency to drift off into bad areas and God has to 'make' them lie down until they recognise that His plan is to give them the best of everything! Not just grass good enough to survive on, but lush green pastures.
Psa 23:2 He leads me beside still waters.
God leads us beside still waters with clear pools of cool mountain water. We can drink in from the Spirit the wonderful truths of God which bring us peace.
Whatever may befall us to take away our peace, God will restore it. Of course we should be looking to Him for our peace (shalom) at all times. Jesus gives us His peace which passes all understanding.
Joh 14:27 Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
Jesus left us His peace to equip us to face the things of this world without fear.
Psa 23:3 He restores my soul.
Whatever physical things may go wrong in this world, God can restore our souls to full health and wholeness. Jesus was beaten with stripes so that by His stripes we have been healed.
1Pe 2:24 (Jesus) Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, in order that having died to sins, we might live unto righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed.
It's a done deal and this Psalm anticipates that.
Psa 23:3 He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Jesus through Holy Spirit leads us to live 'Holy and Righteous' lives, as long as we submit and let him live His life through us. On accepting Jesus we were cleansed by His blood and cloaked in his righteousness. Our ongoing lives as followers pleasing to God is then by Jesus giving us the will and the power through Holy Spirit within us, to think and to do as He did when on earth.
Php 2:13 For it is God who is working in you, both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
Jesus was made sin so that we could become the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 5:21). So in and through Him we now live to righteousness.
Psa 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
As disciples of Jesus and recipients of His blessings we do not always realise what our position is in Christ and sometimes we can give Satan more credit than we should!
Take the above verse. It points us to the FACT that Jesus has defeated Satan and we have nothing to fear from him.
Jas 4:7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Even though Satan may get us to walk through the valley of the shadow of
death; it's the shadow not the real thing. As David points out, do not fear
Satan's evil. If you are in the shadow remember that God's word (Jesus) is
a lamp for your feet. Get into the word, turn the lamp on and dispel the
Psa 23:4 Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Notice that the rod and staff in the hands of the good shepherd are a comfort to the sheep. The rod signifies the authority of the shepherd. He has authority and power to defend and protect the sheep. He also has authority to discipline and correct. The word of God (Jesus) is the absolute authority over our lives and it's by the word that we are examined and corrected. The staff is used to gently guide the sheep and lambs to do what the shepherd requires and is for their comfort (emotional wellbeing) and good.
Psa 23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
This to me is a good verse to look to when facing trials or adversity. It shows God as being so much in control of the events surrounding your life in Him, that in the midst of any trial he can take time out to show your enemies how well he looks after you! While they are trying to slow your progress as a child of God, your God is showing off by preparing a table of good things for you in front of them! His grace is more than sufficient!
Psa 23:5 You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
We as Christians have been annointed with the Holy Spirit and have been sealed as a guarantee of our eternal inheritance.
2Co 1:20-22 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
Our cup does indeed run over.
Psa 23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life...
God's goodness and mercy to His people who put faith in Him as Abraham and David did is seen in this verse. Actually in the Hebrew the sense of God blessing us is much stronger than in the usual translations into english. The Hebrew more has the meaning that 'Goodness and Mercy will chase after you and hunt you down'! That's how much God loves you and wants to bless you.
Psa 23:6 And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
David knew that as one who depended on salvation through faith in God, his salvation was secure. So he could say "I will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever".
Joh 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has everlasting life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
This applies to us also as followers who have accepted Jesus' sacrifice for sin and have put faith in Jesus. Were we relying on our 'obedience' or 'good works' or our 'Law keeping' to save us we'd miss the mark, because there is no prize for 'almost' total obedience!But now, like David, we can look forward to everlasting life in God's Kingdom because, 'The just shall live by faith'.