The Psalm of Psalms #23

Written on: July 29, 2020

Article by: George Mansfield

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

The 23rd Psalm is one of about 10 such writings called “Psalms of Trust.” This psalm is attributed to David. These are psalms that point out human trust and confidence in the Lord God’s shepherding care, His faithfulness and unfailing love. This often quoted 23rd Psalm is justifiably the most important psalm of trust. Few would disagree that the 23rd Psalm is the most widely known and loved of all the chapters in the Bible.

From the New Living Translation Study Notes, we quote: “This psalm of trust and confidence in the Lord has been a favorite of Gods people for generations. It expresses the assurance of Gods presence in the midst of adversity. It evokes images of the Good Shepherd (23:1-3 and Ezekiel 34:12; John 10:11).

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It is not surprising to find that this psalm is the most popular, most quoted by all ages and has become the message found inside so many cards intended to give hope to the hurting. It deals with real people, grass and trees, while focusing on an image of an individual who lives, sleeps, and spends every moment, awake or asleep, caring for a flock of sheep in the wild wilderness. And, these sheep belong to another!

One scholar offered this:The Christian cannot read or sing this psalm without thinking of Jesus Christ, who dared to reapply this metaphor from Jehovah to Himself! It is He who is to us ‘the good shepherd, the chief shepherd and the great shepherd of the sheep’”(John 10:11; I Peter 5:4 and Hebrews 13:20; John R W Stott, Favorite Psalms, page 32).

Be aware that the one speaking is the sheep not the shepherd. Surely we have the additional right to note that David was recognizing that he too had a shepherd!

When God is a person’s shepherd and that person is a God-follower, he or she can claim I shall not be in want.The shepherd/sheep scene finds the shepherd 100% responsible for every single sheep. He will lead them to the best pastures,  He will guide them in the right watering spots, free from hidden danger. 

The awful responsibilities of a Shepherd in Bible times are learned and appreciated by what the Bible says, and some outside writings, regarding the kinds of things that are a danger to a flock of sheep with a single shepherd.

One helpful book isA Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller. A reading of John chapter 10 will give us all a greater appreciation both of a shepherd in primitive times and Jesus who is our Good Shepherd today:

1) The shepherd of the sheep enters by the door to the sheep pen (John 10:2). There is no need for sneaky, crafty tactics.

2) The sheep know the voice of the shepherd and they will follow him (John 10:4, 5, 16, 27). Not so with a person operating from ulterior motives.

3) Jesus himself is the door of the sheep (John 10:7). Those sheep entering through Him will be saved (John 10:9).

4) While the thief comes only to steal and kill, Jesus said, I came that they have life and have it abundantly(John 10:10b).

5) When a wolf comes to kill the sheep the false shepherd will think of himself and flee (John 10:12).

Be remindful of what a day in the life of an early eastern shepherd as seen in Bible times might entail:

1) Usually, he cared for the sheep of another as well as his own.

2) His job was to look out for and protect the sheep at all times and at any cost. Wild animals might make a night’s sleep impossible, but it was his job.

3) When reading John 10:9 we find that the real shepherd is the door, that is he sleeps in the opening. No sheep can leave and no attacking animal can enter without going over body of the shepherd – dead or live!  

This Psalm truly is THE PSALM OF PSALMS God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son….” (John 3:16).When we see this in this beautiful Psalm it is beautiful and calming, but when we hear the words of Jesus Christ in the New Testament we find new faith, hope and love for God.

Blessings to you.

Beamsville, Ontario