The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 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 thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
The 23rd Psalm is one of the most beautiful, most quoted, and most memorized in the bible. We don’t know absolutely it’s background. Why was it written? Who wrote it? What was happening at the time in the life of the writer to inspire such powerful words? There are scholarly arguments that it was written by David and others that it was written by someone else, for David. No one living can prove it was not written by David and it has historically been attributed to him, so we can accept that. It’s almost guaranteed that the most recognizable translation found in the King James version of the Bible is not the original and probably even the translation available in Christ’s time was not either. But, what we have was inspired by God. The proof is in the thousands of hearts and lives it has touched, helped, comforted, strengthened and blessed.
While David was a shepherd and this psalm makes many allusions to the shepherd, it would be very unlikely he wrote it before a time in his life when he had enemies and was going through very tough times. Some research suggests this was written at Mahanaim while David was in hiding from Absolam during the civil war his rebellion caused. At this time he’s running for his life from a son who wants to kill him. To make it worse he knows it’s part of his own punishment from God for what he did. He’s hurting and embarrassed and humiliated and heart broken and grieving… but he’s made it right with God and still trusting God to take care of him.
This is more than most of us ever have to go through at one time in our lives, but we serve the same God who loves us and cares for us just as much as he did for David back then.
What It Means To Me
1 The LORD is my shepherd; - He’s my guide and protector. The shepherd keeps sheep moving, takes them to grazing lands and water. He’s MY shepherd, my personal shepherd. We each have individual needs, hopes, dreams, goals, families, etc. We have a personal God and savior who will lead us where it’s best for each of us to go.
I shall not want. - I will lack nothing, I’ll have all that I need. It’s not that we won’t desire things we don’t have, but we will not be in lacking of things we need to sustain life and live for God. God will take care of us. Has he ever failed any of us?
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: - he leads us to food for our souls and it’s good food, not dry and dusty. It will nourish us if we’ll eat it. He doesn’t force us to eat, but he takes us there and provides the opportunity. Sometimes he causes things to happen to force us to slow down or stop and recognize what he’s providing for us.
he leadeth me beside the still waters. - Peaceful waters, calm waters - When we’re in a turbulent time we need that calming of the holy spirit to refresh our souls. Fast rushing waters are unsafe and not easy to drink from. He takes our soul to a quiet peaceful place and provides that spiritual refreshment it desperately needs to quench the dry thirsting we go through when the devil presses us sore and life just isn’t fair.
3 He restoreth my soul: - He refreshes my soul, renews my strength. When we’ve been in a hard lonely battle our strength is being used up. We get weak and more tempted to quit or give up. But, if we turn to him, he will bring that new strength and refreshing we didn’t know could exist. Only he can bring it because he knows exactly what we need and when.
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. - When we’re down and hard pressed it’s so easy to give in to temptation to go the easy way and follow our own desires, but that’s not pleasing to God and doesn’t bring him glory. It also isn’t good for us in the long run. God will gently, softly, kindly point us in the right direction. ‘Go this way, it’s harder and uncomfortable but it’ll get you through safely.’ Doing the right thing, living holy and righteous, suffering persecution and trials don’t always feel good to the flesh, but when we remember who he is, what he did for us, the sacrifice Christ made, and the salvation that was offered to us, it’s all worth it. We want to do it because we love him for all he’s done and his love for us. And in doing so, we will bring glory and honor to God, which he rewards us for.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, - When I’m going thru the deepest darkest valley, the hardest times in life. When everything seems to be against me, when nothing seems to go right or in my favor, when illness, tragedy, or imminent death are upon me or those I love, it’s a time I can’t handle it alone. I need God’s help.
I will fear no evil: - I don’t have to fear evil, danger, harm, bad from whatever unpleasantness I’m going through. The worst the world can do is kill us, but it can never destroy our soul and our relationship with God.
for thou art with me; - He never leaves us, we can only leave him. We can always rest assured that no matter how bad things are and how remote he seems, he’s still there. We’re never alone. He always knows exactly what we need. He knows what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and when not to do anything. He’s God, he never fails and that is who I want by my side.
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. - These are our road map, our guardrails, our safety nets. When we try to go our own way and wander into dangerous areas, unsafe places, he’s the shepherd constantly reaching out and pointing the way. Sometimes he uses the staff to block our path and to pull us back from the edge. Sometimes he has to use the rod to correct us when we stray as sheep will do, looking to go our own way for what we think looks like greener pasture. We forget we are the sheep and don’t know the right way, the safe paths, the best pastures or calm clear waters. We think we know but we don’t. He’s there to protect and take care of us if we let him. His corrections are as mild and strong as necessary to help guide us back to paths of righteousness and the severity is based on our stubbornness and how far out of his ways we’ve strayed. But we have comfort in knowing if we’ll let him he’ll always be there to guide us, point us, even push and tug us to the right way, the safe way.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: - Even when we’re in the midst of the battle, things are going bad, our enemies seem to be all around us, he can bring us to a place of soul peace and give us a feast of his love and compassion and strength right in the middle of it all. The enemy thinks we’re under siege and surrounded, but God gives us a feast thru the Holy Spirit and his Word that rejuvenates us, revives us, and gets us ready to continue the fight stronger than before.
thou anointest my head with oil; - In David’s time a shepherd poured oil on his sheep’s heads as a balm to help them heal from wounds and protect them from insects. The oil of the Holy Spirit does the same for us now. He uses it to provide healing when we’re injured and to protect us against the things that can wound our souls. Who else besides the shepherd can do this for us? The world has nothing to offer.
my cup runneth over. - There is an old Jewish tradition that when a guest came they would pour a drink and keep pouring till the cup ran over the sides. It signified that the guest was not only accepted and welcome, but invited to stay as long as they desired. When God pours out his blessings on us he doesn’t give us just a little, he pours till our cups overflow. He’s letting us know we can stay with him forever and he wants us to.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: - God’s blessings and love, unfailing love, loving kindness, faithful love, and mercy are mine all my life. As long as I allow God to be my shepherd and I be his sheep I can be sure he’ll take care of me. He’s proven it over and over and has never failed. And it’s you too. We may fail, but he never can.
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. - If we let him lead and we’re faithful to follow, he’ll keep us in his paths and we’ll have a home with him forever. Here on earth with him living in our hearts and later, in heaven. God will bring his faithful children home forever.