The 23rd Psalm is the best-know passage in the whole Bible, and even unbelievers want it read at their funeral or memorial service, because it speaks of the kind of comfort and security everyone craves. This is a phrase-by-phrase, part-by-part, meditation. Please join me in unpacking the richest meaning we can get from this marvelous Psalm.
King David, the author, had been a shepherd long before he was anointed as a king, so he knew intimately what the responsibilities of a shepherd were. As he applied it to us, as sheep under God’s shepherding, he has told us both what our Shepherd will do, and what our response should be.
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 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 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
The LORD – The LORD – Yahweh…the most personal name of God, the great I AM. This was the marvelous name God told Moses to use when he went back to Egypt to carry out the mission God commanded him to do…liberate the children of Israel from bondage.
Is my shepherd – The supreme God of the universe is the One who has taken on the task of being my God, provider, guide and protector. There is no higher authority…no better provider.
I shall not want – I shall not lack the necessities of life. We have become a seriously materialistic society, and we often confuse our “wants” with what we actually need. God is the provider of our needs, and we should be thankful for “our daily bread”.
He makes me lie down in green pastures – Lying down in green pastures is a picture of rest…rest in abundance.
He leads me beside quiet waters – In all the hustle and bustle of life, God wants to lead us to a peaceful place, a place of refreshing…quiet waters.
He restores my soul – Our souls are in turmoil. We see nothing but bad news…broken relationships, violence, wars, and personal brokenness, but God wants to repair and heal our brokenness, and restore us to a right relationship with Him.
He guides me in paths of righteousness – Our first parents left us with a legacy of sin and despair. We are sinners by birth, and sinners by choice, but God wants us to depend on Him for our righteousness. Then, with His enabling, we are able to live a life that is pleasing to Him.
For His name’s sake – God has staked His own reputation on us, and if we do what is right, we are a positive reflection of Him. We should do everything for His glory, not our own.
Even though I walk through the valley of shadow of death – We will all face the valley of death, and maybe many times, as we lose friends and loved ones, but our Lord Jesus has already trod and conquered that lonely valley, and He will guide us safely through. Even though we all will die, unless our Lord returns beforehand, we should see our death not as an exit from this life, but as an entrance-ramp into eternity.
I will fear no evil – Evil IS everywhere around us, because Satan is on the prowl, but his days are numbered. Our Lord Jesus crushed the serpent’s head on the cross, and in so doing, gained the victory over sin and death. Even though evil men may kill us, our victory is assured in Christ. We need not fear the evil one or any of his schemes.
For you are with me – Is there any better assurance? God is with us, and if God is with us, who can sucessfully be against us. He is our guide, and He walks by our side and carries us when we need to be carried.
Your rod and your staff – These are pictures of both protection and guidance. The rod is a tool of protection from our enemies, and the staff is used to gently guide and direct us in the path.
They comfort me – What greater comfort can we have, than that we are both protected and guided by our faithful Shepherd, even though the path may be rough and steep. This life WILL bring tough times our way, but our comfort must come from the LORD.
You prepare a table before me – This is no ordinary table. It is a lavish banquet table in a magnificent celebration hall, set and prepared by the LORD Himself. We are His honored-guests.
In the presence of my enemies – Our enemies seek to do us harm, but when we are in God’s banquet-hall, all they can do is fuss and fume on the sidelines. God’s banquet-hall is a place of perfect safety and security. We are better-protected than any president ever will be.
You anoint my head with oil – Anointing carries with it a two-fold picture. It is a picture of healing, and also a picture of honor. Priests were anointed for their holy service, and we are anointed both for holy service and as a badge of honor in God’s house.
My cup overflows – A never-ending supply, and a permanent place at His table. There is a limitless supply of His wine of grace.
Sure goodness and mercy – Goodness and mercy=blessings and salvation, which come only from the hand of God. They are not things we can earn or merit.
Will follow me – They will not only follow me, but they will also surround me and indwell me.
All the days of my life – God, through Jesus Christ, has guaranteed these blessings for as long as we live.
And I will dwell – Live safely and securely.
In the house – We will no longer be out in the “fields” of life. Instead, we will be HOME, never to be put out to pasture again.
Of the LORD – Our eternal LORD is the provider of our “forever-home”. This reminds me of a child who has been in foster-care for many years, and who has never really had a place to call “home“, but when they are adopted, they are taken to their “forever–home“…the home of their new parents. We have been orphans, but God has adopted us, and He will take us to HIS home…our “forever–home“.
Forever – Do we really comprehend “forever“? If we see someone we haven’t seen in a long time, we may tell them: “I haven’t seen you in forever“, which to us means “a long time“, but that time isn’t even a pin-prick on the time-line of “forever“. The problem is that our minds are constrained by MEASURABLE time, so IMMEASURABLE time is incomprehensible. “Forever” is immeasurable, and we can’t wrap our brains around it, but in fact, that is how “long” we will dwell in the house of the LORD.
Is this LORD your shepherd? I pray that He is, and that you find great comfort in knowing that, no matter what kind of trials come your way, you are in good hands…the hands of the LORD.