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The Good Shepherd – Psalm 23

Read the Passage: Psalm 23

Provision of the Lord (23:1–3)

David is introduced into the biblical narrative when the Lord sent Samuel to anoint a new king to replace Saul at 1 Sam. 16:10–13. In this passage from 1 Samuel, the first words spoken about David, which come from the mouth of his father Jesse, are, “He is keeping the sheep” (1 Sam. 16:11). Later, in the Goliath narrative, David himself would testify before Saul about his skills as a shepherd (cf. 1 Sam. 17:34–35). Certainly, then, David was familiar with the details of the vocation of being a shepherd. Here in Psalm 23 David writes, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1). As David knew, the role of a shepherd is to provide for, to protect, and to lead his sheep. God fulfills these roles in His relationship with believers. Note that Jesus claimed, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11) Peter said Christ is the “Shepherd and Overseer” (1 Peter 2:25; cf. Heb. 13:20) of the souls of men.

In Ps. 23:2–3 David details four specific, characterizing activities of the Lord that demonstrate God’s provision for believers. Here David writes, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Ps. 23:2–3; cf. Ezek. 34:14). Thus, the Lord is described as providing refreshment for His people, including: food, water, rest (or sleep or pleasure), and direction. Yet, it is interesting that while such provision surely satisfies the “wants” (Ps. 23:1) of the sheep, David specifies that the reason why God provides for His sheep is “for his name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3). In a similar manner, note that Isaiah would later write and quote God as declaring “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake.” Clearly, salvation is of the Lord and for the Lord.

Protection of the Lord (23:4)

In Ps. 23:4 David writes, “Yea, 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.” While it is unclear exactly when in his life David wrote this psalm, it is certain that David experienced the Lord’s providential care throughout his life even when in peril (e.g., attacks by wild animals, the battle with Goliath, warfare during his reign, persecution under Saul, family dysfunction, exile from Jerusalem, etc.). These types of events is what is depicted by “the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4; cf. Job 10:21; Ps. 44:19). Indeed, David knew that God never promised to make his life easy—rather, God promises to be sufficient when times are difficult. Note that a shepherd’s rod (or club) provided protection and his staff (or crook) provided direction, both of which are forms of comfort.

Preparation of the Lord (23:5–6)

In Ps. 23:5 David writes, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Here David is describing a shared meal with his enemies. Note that it is a good thing to remove an enemy, it is a better thing to conquer an enemy, but it is a great thing to be reconciled with an enemy. Only the gospel has the power to promote true reconciliation—between man and God, as well as between fellow men (cf. Matt. 6:12; Luke 22:28–30; 1 Cor. 5:18). The mention of oil is a picture of blessing and hospitality. Priests were anointed before they served in the Tabernacle (cf. Exod. 29:7), kings were anointed as they were inaugurated (cf. 2 Kings 9:3), and Jesus was anointed with oil by Mary before His crucifixion (cf. John 12:1–8). The idea of one’s cup overflowing communicates the idea of having one’s thirst quenched and one’s hunger satisfied.

David concludes this psalm with a confident declaration, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Ps. 23:6). Clearly, along with Jeremiah, David knew, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22–23). In writing of goodness and blessings, David was not necessarily speaking of material gain, rather he was writing of the joy and contentment that comes with serving God. As Jesus taught, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). Note that since the Temple was not built until after David’s death, the reference to “the house of the Lord” (Ps. 23:6) is likely a metaphor for being in God’s presence (cf. Rev. 3:12).

Application Questions:

  1. Are you familiar with Psalm 23? How had this psalm been a comfort to you in times past? On what occasions is Psalm 23 oftentimes read?
  2. How can David write that he shall not want, when numerous time in his life he did have wants? What is the difference between a “want” and a “need”?
  3. Can you identify with the author of Psalm 119 as he wrote, “I have gone astray as a lost sheep” (Ps. 119:76)? How does God treat lost sheep (cf. Luke 15:1–7)?
  4. Can you testify, along with David, of the Lord’s providential care while in the midst of the trials of life (cf. Ps. 37:25)?
  5. Along with David can you confidently declare that goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life?
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