The 23rd Psalm may be the most well known passage in all the Bible. It is used at funerals, quoted in times of distress or sorrow, and has even been quoted by military leaders as they led their men into battle. The following is a brief running commentary of what this powerful passage says to our hearts.
1: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
This Psalm was written by King David, a shepherd who had practical experience at taking care of his father’s sheep. David understood what it meant to be a shepherd, the responsibility, the care, the tenderness required for the job. Therefore it was a small step for David to use this metaphor as a way to describe his relationship to God. Jesus used the same metaphor in the New Testament when He spoke of our relationship to Him, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow men. And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10.27-28). David’s confidence in God as his shepherd is expressed in the assurance that he would want for nothing. The shepherd loves, cares for, and protects his sheep. Thus we who are saved are loved, cared for, and protected by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
2: He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
Green pastures represent a place of plenty, a place of rest. No doubt David had spent many days in his life looking out over the sheep who lay peacefully before him in the pasture, perfectly content as they rested beneath his ever watching care. Green pastures also represent a place of security. David himself bore testimony how he had protected his sheep from a bear and a lion, using his sling to kill both. For those who are saved, our God is a mighty fortress, our shield and our buckler. The redeemed of Christ are forever safe in His care. Still waters is yet another way to describe the tranquility of resting in Him. What a contrast one sees when looking at the lost heart of man today. For the lost man there is no peace, there is no security, there is no tranquility in life. For the lost man there is only a certain fearful expectation of judgment to come. (see Hebrews 10.27).
3: He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
The soul of man is marred by sin. God created man to have fellowship with Him. But sin has broken that fellowship and separated us from our creator. David acknowledged here that God is the restorer of the human soul. God is the only one who can remove our sin guilt and restore us to a right spiritual standing and moral relationship with Him. Our sin is forgiven and our souls restored based on the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. Jesus died in our place on the cross, was buried, and rose again the third day to make possible the forgiveness of our sin. David was saved the same way we are today, he was saved by faith. All who place their faith in Jesus Chris can and will have their souls restored, just as David declared here. The natural result of having our souls restored is that we are led of God. The shepherd leads His sheep. God leads us in the paths or ways of life that are righteous before Him. As we walk in obedience to His Word, His name is glorified before the world. God is honored and pleased when we obey Him.
4: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and they staff they comfort me.
The message here is that in the darkest possible time of life, our shepherd is still with us. Even when this life is over and we are to pass from this mortal existence, our God is near. The valley may look long, it may seem dark, we don’t seem to be able to make our way, yet our God is near. It is His shepherd’s rod, His shepherd’s staff that will guide, protect, and encourage, even in the day of death. The Bible tells us how the child of God never really dies. When the end of this physical life comes for the child of God, we are but changing locations. The moment this life ends with physical death, we are instantly in the presence of the one who saved us.
5: Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
A table of plenty is another expression by David of how God had met and was meeting his every need. Not only did God meet his every need in life, He even did so in the very presence of those who would destroy him. Even when David was hiding in the caves of the wilderness, running from King Saul, David could say God had prepared a table of plenty before him. The circumstances of this life cannot steal from us the joy and overflowing of God’s blessings in our hearts. Even when life seems contrary and difficult, our cup runs over with the love, peace, and joy of Christ. The anointing of the head with oil was always a symbol of gladness.
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.
Are not past and present blessings an assurance of what is to come? As was so aptly penned by a secular song writer, “The future is so bright I have to wear shades.” The blessings of God we enjoy here in this life are only the tip of the iceberg. The apostle Paul said, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (2 Corinthians 2.9). If we can know and experience such peace, joy, and security in Christ in this life, truly what must it be like in heaven? What a testimony David closed with here, “I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” To that I can but say, “Amen.” I pray you have a saving relationship with Jesus by faith. I pray this Psalm speaks to the testimony of your heart.