Psalm 23

Psalm 23  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 8
PSA 23
This is perhaps the most widely known psalm of the entire one hundred fifty psalms appearing in our Bibles. Who can ten how many millions have found comfort and solace in its message when beset with sorrow and trial? How many have been transported through the valley of the shadow of death with a sense of the everlasting arms leading and supporting at this difficult time?
We might wonder where these words with their sublime message came from. is this the product of man's wisdom? Those who Love the Lord Jesus are fully persuaded that these words came from a source entirely outside of mere mortal man. They came from the eternal God, the Creator and sustainer of the universe, the author and finisher of our faith. They came from the. One who endured the cross, preparing the way for our abundant entrance into His everlasting presence.
Now we believe God prepared each of the approximately forty men who became the ones to put into words the comprehensive statement of God's purposes and His plans for all who have been privileged to dwell in one small part of His universe. David was one such. His preparation began in his youth when he had the responsibility of caring for his father's sheep. Here he learned the interrelationship of a healthy, thriving flock of sheep and the constant care on the part of the shepherd, sometimes with peril to his own life.
After bowing to God's true and righteous judgment, he is then ready to experience the parallel truths of God's loving-kindness and tender mercies (Psa. 51:11<<To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bath-sheba.>> Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. (Psalm 51:1)). He will feel the shepherd's staff gently restoring him to the joy of God's salvation. David is now a ready scribe and able to tell others, "Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me." In a word, David was "a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work" (2 Tim. 2:2121If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. (2 Timothy 2:21)). God's acceptance of His servant is well documented:
The exquisiteness of Psalm 23 lies in the realization that every blessing that is communicated to us was purchased at great cost by the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ. The greatness of our benefit is measured by the greatness of His suffering. "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich" (2 Cor. 8:99For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)).
With this thought in mind, we might wish to appraise each of these several benefits with the critical eye of one who appreciates and values the exquisiteness of goodly jewels, who may himself have been in the heart of the earth, seeking the hidden treasures that lie buried there. His eye is trained to see every precious thing as revealed by the light from his lantern which penetrates the darkness of those secluded caverns. (See Job 28.)
Verse 1: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." The important word is "my." David has responded to those overtures from the Friend that sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:2424A man that hath friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)). Come what may, he will ever put his confidence in the One that has promised, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Heb. 13:55Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Hebrews 13:5)). As the Apostle John of the New Testament, David also knew that the Lord loved all His people, but each of these, in their day, dared to appropriate that love in their own lives and make it a personal relationship.
We, too, are invited into that place of endearment and to "know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge" (Eph. 3:1919And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. (Ephesians 3:19)). At what price was this wondrous relationship secured for us? We know the answer only too well. He who said, "I will never... forsake thee" must cry out in despair, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? why art Thou so far from helping Me?" (Psa. 22:11<<To the chief Musician upon Aijeleth Shahar, A Psalm of David.>> My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? (Psalm 22:1)). We become rich because He became poor.
Verse 2: "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures." This is a picture of peace, comfort and serenity, calculated by a loving shepherd to allay the fears of his flock, which may have experienced the effects of a very hostile environment. The sheep will respond to this loving care by a vigorous, healthy growth, which is a joy to behold. The environment surrounding Christians today is very hostile, and evil seems to be accelerating at an alarming rate. What a cheer to hear as Ezra of old heard, "Perfect peace, and at such a time" (Ezra 7:1212Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace, and at such a time. (Ezra 7:12)).
Jesus said to His disciples before He was taken from them, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:2727Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)). Here, then, is perfect peace-peace which the world knows nothing about. What lay ahead of our Savior that He was willing to endure for our sakes that we might have peace?
This was the price of peace. Mark it well; for it is the price that was paid to "keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee" (Isa. 26:33Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. (Isaiah 26:3)).
Verse 2: "He leadeth me beside the still waters." The Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd, wants to bring us to the still waters. Why? He knows what it is to be in the midst of turbulent waters, and He wants to shield us from such an experience. He cried out: "Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto My soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow Me" (Psalm 69:1-21<<To the chief Musician upon Shoshannim, A Psalm of David.>> Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. 2I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. (Psalm 69:1‑2)).
These are prophetic expressions of the feelings of the Lord Jesus as He suffered for our sins under the judgment of God, the Just for the unjust. After those three hours of suffering at the hand of a righteous God, our great ransom was fully paid. Our Shepherd now graciously leads us to the still waters.
Verse 3: "He restoreth my soul." Just four words stated in a matter-of-fact way, but what volumes they convey to those who recognize themselves as "sheep of His pasture" (Psa. 100:33Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. (Psalm 100:3)). We have all gone astray because of our willful nature, and we have become dejected and cast down; there seems no way back to the communion we once enjoyed. Perhaps it is then that we remember the invitation to call upon Him in the day of trouble (Psa. 50:1515And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me. (Psalm 50:15)); we lift a silent prayer, "Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation," and we rest in His promise, "I will deliver thee." How gracious of our Shepherd to meet this need, not just once, but time and again.
What of the Lord Jesus in His great need? He, too, felt trouble and sorrow pressing in on His soul John 12:2727Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. (John 12:27); Matt. 26:3838Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. (Matthew 26:38)). He, too, prayed that He might be spared from the hour fast approaching. For Him there was no relief as He remembered that "for this cause came I unto this hour" (John 12:2727Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. (John 12:27)); that the baptism which He was to be baptized with must be accomplished, no matter how deeply it pressed in on His soul.
Of the Lord Jesus it is spoken prophetically, "Then I restored that which I took not away" (Psa. 69:44They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head: they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty: then I restored that which I took not away. (Psalm 69:4)). Our great Restorer stands ready to bring back His wandering or straying sheep who have gotten into difficulty by not closely following the Shepherd's leading.
Verse 3: "He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake." Surely the path of righteousness is the place where God's precepts are known and practiced universally. Such a place the world at large knows nothing about, for we read that "they did not like to retain God in their knowledge" (Rom. 1:2828And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; (Romans 1:28)). And yet "there is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen: the lion's whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it" (Job 28:7-87There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen: 8The lion's whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it. (Job 28:7‑8)). This is the path of faith, the path through which the wisdom that is from above leads. It is the path in which our Shepherd desires to lead us.
As a faithful Shepherd, He laid His glory aside and submitted Himself to Satan's wiles in a meaningful display of His care for His sheep. Following the Spirit's leading, He was in the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. Jesus, who could have dispatched Satan with a simple display of His glory, knew that we would not have this option available to us. Instead, He demonstrated how we can gain the victory over Satan through the Word of God. We, who are no match for Satan, have the same resource available to us, and we can successfully ward off his attacks in the same manner.
Verse 4: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me." This verse introduces a subject which, naturally speaking, is universally feared the world around. Death is often referred to as the "king of terrors" (Job 18:1414His confidence shall be rooted out of his tabernacle, and it shall bring him to the king of terrors. (Job 18:14)) and is feared because it seems to gain the victory over every living thing. Man, in spite of all his efforts, has never been able to probe its dark mysteries. Man has forever had an aversion to that which he does not understand. If this were the conclusion of the matter, futile indeed would be the attempts to bring comfort to those who are feeling death's horrible sting. But thanks be unto God, the veil has been lifted, "by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Tim. 1:1010But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: (2 Timothy 1:10)).
And so, once again, the sheep of His pasture are brought into blessing because of the sacrificial giving of our Shepherd. The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep, that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil (John 10:1111I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. (John 10:11); Heb. 2:1414Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; (Hebrews 2:14)).
“O death, where is thy sting? 0 grave, where is thy victory?" (1 Cor. 15:5555O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Corinthians 15:55)). "Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (ch. 15:57). And now, because of this victory, those who sleep in Jesus (1 Thess. 4:1414For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. (1 Thessalonians 4:14)) can be assured that to depart to be with Christ is far better (Phil. 1:2323For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: (Philippians 1:23)).
There is something more regarding verse 4. At this juncture there is a change of pronouns: "He" and "His" become "Thou" and "Thy." David is speaking on more familiar terms, the terms of communion. It is not, "He is with me," but, "Thou art with me." It is in this relationship that we embrace the language of Psalm 116:1515Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. (Psalm 116:15), "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." David in full confidence says, "For Thou art with me." We appropriate the Lord Jesus' final words to His disciples, "Lo, I am with you alway" (Matt. 28:2020Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:20)).
Verse 5: "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies." The physical import of these words is that a caring shepherd is seeking fresh pasture for his flocks. And above all, he wants to keep them safe from their natural enemies—predators, perhaps hiding in dens and caves. The hireling, on the other hand, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming (John 10:1212But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. (John 10:12)) and abandons the sheep with devastating loss to the flock.
The Lord Jesus was moved with compassion toward those who followed Him in His earthly ministry. He fed them on several occasions, multiplying the five loaves and two small fishes (John 6:1111And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. (John 6:11)) that were available to feed the hungry five thousand. He Himself knew what it was to be hungry, as we read in Matthew 4:22And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. (Matthew 4:2) and 21:18. In neither case, however, does He satisfy His own hunger by His miraculous powers. He suffered in order to be touched by our infirmities (Heb. 5:8; 4:158Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; (Hebrews 5:8)
15For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
), and thus became, not only our faithful High Priest, but also our compassionate Shepherd, attuned to our every need.
Verse 5: "Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over." Our anointing is with the Holy Spirit, who leads us into all truth and joy in our Lord Jesus Christ. We can say with David, "My cup runneth over." This quite naturally leads us to the grand finale of verse 6.
Verse 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." Goodness and mercy are the two great attributes of God made known to David in his day, and present with us in our day.
Everyone who trusts the Lord Jesus as Savior knows that it was the goodness of God that led us to repentance (Rom. 2:44Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? (Romans 2:4)), and that we have a goodly heritage. On the other hand, there is the sobering truth that failure does come into the Christian's life. We have not yet been brought into a state of perfection, but provision has been made for our failures. "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:11My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: (1 John 2:1)).
The second attribute, that of mercy, becomes a wonderful comfort to each of His children. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope... to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:3-43Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, (1 Peter 1:3‑4)).
"Because He delighteth in mercy" (Micah 7:1818Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. (Micah 7:18)), we can with full assurance anticipate that blessed hope that is set before us—dwelling in the house of the Lord forever; being at home in those many mansions of the Father's house that are, even now, prepared for us (John 14:22In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (John 14:2)).
Cultivate intimacy with Him;
It keeps the conscience alive and the heart happy.