“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads 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 shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalms 23:1-6)
Psalm 23 may be the most recognized passage of Scripture of all. It is a preacher’s delight to preach and a teacher’s desire to teach. It is a common read at funerals for both believers and unbelievers. It is memorized by children for Sunday School awards and quoted by children for VBS graduations. Psalm 23 is indeed well known.
What is important to note is how easy it is to simply read over it without knowing the power found therein. Psalm 23 is a genuine and powerful summation of the spiritual life. A deep dive into this Psalm will drive us deep into the heart of God for His children.
Over the years, there have been differing opinions as to when David may have written Psalm 23. Some think he may have written it as an old man looking back over his life and reminiscing on the care of the Good Shepherd.
Others believe that he may have written the Psalm as a young man in the middle of crisis and chaos under great attack from his enemies. However, I am convinced that David was just a shepherd boy tending his father’s sheep on the hills of Judea. I can see David sitting on a rock looking out over the pasture land in appreciation for the responsibility he has for his father’s sheep. In a time of worship, as David was prone to do quite regularly, a tremendous thought came to his mind - “The Lord is MY Shepherd, I shall not want.” He, the Lord (Adonai Jehovah), is MY Shepherd!
This truth captured his mind and flooded his soul with emotion. And as David began to dwell on this powerful truth, the Holy Spirit continued to reveal to him so much more about His God. It was at this moment that David was learning to BE STILL. He was coming to KNOW God in a deep, powerful way that would change the trajectory of his life.
I believe this truth became real as it carried David into the valley of Elah where he would face Goliath. Perhaps as he walked into that valley, he could say, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” I believe this truth came alive for David later in life when he needed his soul restored after his sin with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah. I believe that this revelation became clear when a table was prepared before the enemies of David who attempted to keep him from being the king and anointed as the ruler over the house of God. And this powerful truth became a promise of goodness and mercy following him for an everlasting kingdom and a dwelling in the house of the Lord.
Psalm 23 in reality is prophetic. It is an outline of David’s life experiences from a Shepherd boy to a royal representative of the Good Shepherd, the King of kings. David begins with …
The Lord is My Shepherd and I Shall Not Want
The Shepherd is responsible for my well-being. He protects me from the wolves. He guides me to green pastures which are for my nourishment and my growth. He does this so that I can grow and develop.
The Shepherd Makes Me Lie Down in Green Pastures
He stabilizes my life in a fruitful place. He gives me rest amid plenty. So long as we stay submitted and do not stray, the Good Shepherd will always watch over me. He causes me to BE STILL.
He Leads Me Beside Still Waters
There is not much in life more calming than still waters. Water not only quenches the thirst but it has a way of soothing the soul. The Great Shepherd leads me into peaceful and soothing places. There’s nothing like the peace that He provides. This is not just a spiritual truth but we see the living manifestation of this in physical science.
For example, the body is made up of mostly water. In medical science, we understand that the chemicals in the body can be out of balance creating any number of health problems. Chemical imbalance is the same as saying one’s waters have been disturbed. The water in our bodies is no longer still, peaceful, or at rest. They have been moved by something. When the waters within have been moved they can gather in excess in a particular part of the body causing discomfort, stress, anxiety, or other physical and emotional issues. Our waters can be disturbed because we wander into the wrong places whether that is physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. And if we wander into places away from the Great Shepherd, we will likely find ourselves in or with disturbed waters. Jesus leads us beside still waters. There’s peace when we submit to the Great Shepherd! David goes on to say …
He Restores My Soul
There is great comfort in knowing that if we become one of the sheep that goes astray, the Great Shepherd is there to restore my soul. The soul - is made up of the mind, will, and emotions. So when we lose our way mentally, the Lord is there to restore our minds. Of course, this requires that we fill our minds with healthy things, to feast upon the green grass of His Word.
It is important to practice the discipline of bringing every thought captive; engage in regular worship and Word - train the brain, reign in the emotions, and submit your will to His. This is the key to experiencing the full benefit of the Shepherd.
He Leads Me in Paths of Righteousness
The Good Shepherd will never let those who truly belong to Him go astray. He always leads them IN the paths of righteousness. I love the expression IN THE PATH rather than ON the path which is the normal usage for such a statement. Being IN something is quite different than being ON something. When you are in it, you are saturated by that which you are in. The Great Shepherd leads us IN the paths of righteousness so much so that we are saturated by it, overwhelmed and covered by His righteousness. He doesn’t want you to have a ‘sort of experience’ with righteousness, He wants you to be transformed by His righteousness so that it becomes you. Why is this important? Well, David says …
It is for His Names Sake
The path of righteousness is a testimony to the Shepherd who got you to where His righteousness takes you. It is not something you did yourself. Because He is our righteousness, our journey is intended to reveal Christ rather than ourselves. It’s all about Him and it is for His name’s sake.
You see, God will never let you down. He thinks too highly of His name. It would be an indictment on Himself. He is highly protective of His name, His glory! So,
Even though I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will Fear no Evil
When we have faith in the Shepherd to protect us more than we fear the shadow to affect us, there is peace, provision, and power for life.
Interestingly enough, it seems that the path of righteousness leads to the valley of the shadow of death. It doesn’t say the valley of death only the shadow of death. In other words, when the Shepherd leads you INTO the path, you will soon come to this Valley where it only feels like death. Therefore, there is no need to fear. When one walks IN righteousness, everything that is deadly will rise up against you casting this huge shadow in an attempt to cause fear and failure. But we need not fear for faith is in the making!
For You Are With Me
He who is our righteousness is with us! He will not leave you nor forsake you. He does not expect you and I to fend for ourselves. For if that were the case, we would surely die! Often, we think that when we are going through the rough stuff, it is because God is either distant from us or He is punishing us.
I have often stood at the side of those in difficulty asking God why or feeling that what they are going through is so undeserved. But God is always with His children through the good and the bad.
He is with me and His hand is on me to shape me into His image even in the valley of the shadow of death. Again, you’re not going to die, you only feel like you’re dying. The Good Shepherd has tools in His hands to shape, guide, and train us. And what are these tools to shape and train us?
Your Rod and Your Staff, They Comfort Me
Perhaps David knew the Scriptures and was reminded of Moses leading the children of Israel out of bondage and into promise. As Moses led them from the shadow of death, he did so with a rod and a staff. As they approached the Red Sea, he took the staff and pierced the waters and they parted. A pathway through the Sea would be a pathway of life. And once they were on the other side, the staff became the rod of God lifted to bring the waters crashing down in judgment upon the enemies of God.
The staff brought life to the people and that same staff became the rod of God that brought judgment upon the enemy. The staff served two purposes, to bring comfort through the pain of correction and to bring provisions through the peace of protection!
You Prepare a Table Before Me in the Presence of My Enemies
God gives us our provision even amid the enemy. He causes the enemy to see how blessed and cared for we are by His mighty love! He makes the enemy know that he has no authority to rob of us our inheritance. This is what we mean when we speak of Kingdom life!
You Anoint My Head with Oil; My Cup Overflows
God sets His children apart and gives them what they need. He fills them with the Spirit to overflow which means that the Spirit is poured through and out onto everything in one’s life. The Spirit becomes our shield and our covering enabling us to walk bravely and boldly even in the enemy’s camp to overcome and take back the ground that was stolen.
Then David the Psalmist begins to focus forward into the future. He says,
Surely Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow Me All the Days of My Life
David was not naive to the reality of life’s ups and downs. It would be easy to overlook this verse and not understand what is being said here. But he says, “Surely goodness AND mercy shall follow me …”
He is saying that there will be goodness in the believer’s life and there will be crisis - things that we will need to endure. And to endure and persevere, it will require mercy. The mercy of the Lord will be granted to a true believer so that we will not be destroyed by what would kill an unbeliever. We will have goodness and we will have mercy ALL the days of our lives. As we remain faithful, we can rest in the assurance of that final promise which is …
I Shall Dwell in the House of the LORD Forever
The Psalm begins with “The Lord is my Shepherd …” and ends with a promise of dwelling “… in the house of the Lord forever.” This promise of a life forever is only good to those who can properly and truthfully say, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
Forever in the house of the Lord is the reward for being in the fold of the Good Shepherd. It is the result of being still and KNOWING GOD! Eternity is only possible if we are IN that which is Eternal and only God is Eternal.
Are you in the fold with a promised future? If not, trust Christ today and inherit life abundant and eternal.