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Scriptures are cited from the King James (Authorized) Version, unless stated otherwise.

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Psalm 23: 1

THE ENDING of one year and beginning of a new one should naturally draw the heart and mind of a consecrated child of God to praise and thank his Heavenly Father for the goodness and mercy He has shown toward us in the past year, and our anticipation for the same in the year to come. We trust that a consideration of Psalm 23, the Shepherd Psalm, will enhance our love, appreciation and confidence in the Lord.

David, “the sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Samuel 23: 1), wrote his psalms to be used in song. Psalm 23, consisting of six verses, was composed while he was a shepherd boy watching his father’s flocks, on the same field where one thousand years later the angels announced the birth of Jesus. This Psalm is the most loved chapter in the Old Testament, and has been the subject of countless sermons and commentaries.

The eastern shepherds have a love and care for their sheep, and this Psalm beautifully illustrates the love and care that the Lord has for His people. Let us consider each verse:

“The LORD is my Shepherd”

V. 1: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”: 

All the letters in the word “LORD” are in capital letters, indicating that God, or Jehovah, is being referred to. God is our Great Shepherd, and Jesus is our Good Shepherd (John 10: 11), under God. We note that the Lord chose sheep to symbolize His people in this Psalm. The chief characteristics of sheep are their meekness, docility and obedience to their shepherd. How wonderfully this pictures the characteristics that the Lord esteems and desires His people to develop and possess.

The second part of this verse, “I shall not want,” shows David’s, and our complete confidence that we will not lack anything necessary, that the Lord will supply our every need, temporal and spiritual. There may be times when we do not receive everything that we desire, but let us be content, and recognize that either our desire would not be good for us, or that we will receive our desire in due time.

The “Green Pastures” and “Still Waters”

V. 2: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.”

The pastures that David was familiar with were different from ours. They were vast with rich but scattered parts. The Hebrew renders “green pastures” as “pastures of tender grass.” David would lead his sheep to those pastures, and if a sheep would stray on the way, he would search until he found it, and bring it back to the fold. Likewise, the Lord leads us to the “green pastures” where we find the rest of faith and peace of heart. The “green pastures” represent our private devotions, study of His Word and fellowship with the brethren, and if any of His spiritual sheep go astray, He seeks them out.

The second part, “he leadeth me beside the still waters,” indicates that the Lord leads us away from the rushing torrent of worldly ambitions. These “still waters” are not stagnant waters however. The Septuagint translation gives a good rendering: “He hath fed me by gently flowing water.”

He Restores and Leads Us

V. 3: “He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

The Lord’s restoring of our soul does not refer to His restoring our physical body or providing us with good physical health. Instead, it refers to the Lord’s granting us tentative justification, which we received when we repented of our sins and accepted Jesus as our Savior. And as we went on to consecrate our lives to God, Jesus additionally became our Lord.

The Lord leads us “in the paths of righteousness.” The path that we take is marked out in the Lord’s Word and providences, which leads us on to spiritual maturity. At times the Lord allows us to take our own path, so that we may learn the lesson that His way is best. Life is like a maze, and without the Lord’s leading, it would be impossible for us to navigate through its complex network of paths.

The Lord leads us “for his name’s sake” – not because of our own worthiness, but because of His grace, for His honor is at stake. One appealing rendering is: “He helps me do what honors him most.”

His Rod and Staff Comforts Us

V. 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 thy staff they comfort me.”

Mankind has been walking through the “valley” of sin for over sixty-one hundred years. The “shadow” pictures the rigors of the curse, which eventuates in death for all men. But the good news is that the reign of sin and death is about to end, for mankind will soon enter into Christ’s Millennial reign of righteousness and life.

But even during this present reign of sin and death, the Lord’s people “fear no evil.” And why is that? Because “thou art with me” – the Lord is with and for His people. They recognize that even death does not affect their souls, for they trust in the Lord’s promise of a resurrection of the dead. David writes in Psalm 27: 1: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

The last part of the verse speaks of the “rod” and the “staff.” The shepherd’s rod was a club of hard wood used to defend the flock against any enemy. The staff was lighter and longer, like a cane with a crook at the end. The point was used to prod careless sheep, and the hook was sometimes used to help one that had stumbled into the ditch. Our Shepherd also has a “rod” to protect us against our enemies, and a “staff” for our relief, assistance and correction. They are surely a comfort to us.

He Prepares a Spiritual Feast for Us

V. 5: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”

As a good Host, the Lord prepares a spiritual feast for us in the presence of our enemies – Satan, the fallen angels and evil men. This spiritual feast is the Truth of His Word, which satisfies our heads and our hearts as nothing else can do. The Knox translation renders it: “Envious my foes watch, while thou dost spread a banquet for me.”

In this verse the “oil” that the Lord anoints our heads with does not refer to the holy anointing oil, but olive oil, which pictures the smoothness of the Lord’s Truth and the graces of Christian character.

Our “cup” that “runneth over” pictures our experiences of joy and sorrow, the sweet and the bitter. Even though both sets of experiences overflow, the joyful and sweet experiences are greater than the sorrowful and bitter ones. And as we mature spiritually, we are even able to rejoice in our untoward experiences, knowing that the Lord is using them to work toward our highest good.

His Goodness and Mercy Follows Us

V. 6: “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 literal rendering of “follow me” in the Hebrew is “pursue me.” Instead of being pursued by fears, terrors and being trapped and ensnared by the Adversary, by following our Shepherd and hearkening to His voice, we are assured that His goodness and mercy will keep after us, watch over us, assist us, care for us and uphold us amidst our trials.

And the grand summit of our course will be the gaining of eternal life in one of the “mansions,” planes of being, in our Heavenly Father’s “house.” But even now we may lay hold on eternal life through full assurance of faith and hope in all of God’s promises to the faithful.

Happy are we if we are one of the Great Shepherd’s sheep! By following Him and the experiences He provides for us, we will neither hunger nor thirst, but will enjoy His “green pastures” and “still waters.” His “rod” and “staff” will care for, correct, reprove and guide us. May we love and have confidence in our Shepherd and His guidance! Let us even take comfort amidst the afflictions and trials of life, knowing that they are permitted of the Lord and intended for our ultimate blessing. Finally, may we maintain full assurance of faith and hope in God and Christ, that the good work They have begun in us will continue unto a successful completion.