- Of all the psalms, this psalm of David is perhaps the most well known of all that he composed. Many songs in our songbooks have been composed around the words of this psalm. Today, this psalm is frequently used for comfort in eulogies and funerals.
- There are many ways to approach this psalm. There are so many great lessons contained in psalm 23 that we could study and analyze repeatedly and continue to find new truths and powerful messages each time we studied. Since most of us have the wording of the psalm nearly memorized I am going to use a new translation for our study of this psalm to keep the words fresh and that we do not dull our minds because we have heard these words before.
I. There Is Nothing I Lack
A. I shall not lack rest (23:2)
- The psalmist begins by declaring there is nothing he lacks since the Lord is his shepherd. From here on, David will describe all the things he does not lack because he is led by the Lord.
- First, David says, “He let me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside quiet waters.” Recall that David was a shepherd before he became king of Israel. Therefore, David is speaking from firsthand experience concerning what is necessary for sheep to live and necessary for a shepherd to provide. These images of shepherding are lost upon us and is therefore necessary on our parts to understand the shepherd/sheep relationship to make proper application of this psalm.
- Phillip Keller wrote a book called A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. As the title suggests, he was shepherd himself for eight years and recalls his experiences while studying this psalm. Keller says concerning this verse, “It is almost impossible for them (sheep) to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met. Owing to their timidity they refuse to lie down unless they are free of all fear. Because of the social behavior within a flock sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others of their kind. If tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down. Only when free of these pests can they relax. Lastly, sheep will not lie down as long as they feel in need of finding food. They must be free from hunger.”
- This knowledge captures what David is describing concerning with his relationship with the Lord. David is able to rest because all his provisions have been provided by the Lord. Verse 2 describes being in the green pastures where eating is plentiful. The sheep are beside the still waters where they can freely drink without fear.
- It is interesting that the psalm begins by describing the rest available in the Lord. The first aspect of the Lord being our shepherd is not some sort of activity, but that we have rest. We are able to release our burdens and our cares upon the Lord. “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Rest and release is available because God has promised to carry our burdens.
- It is sad to me when so many Christians do not let God carry their burdens. Instead, Christians remain burdened with worries, anxieties, care, struggles, guilt, and numerous other troubles that meet us daily. God is offering us rest but we have to hand Him the burdens. We must have the faith that knows God will take care of it. We do not need to think negatively that everything is going to go wrong. We are exhibiting a lack of faith, that we do not believe God will provide. If that is the case, we are have experienced the rest that God has promised to us now. Jesus will give us rest.
B. I shall not lack life (23:3)
- David says in verse 3, “He renews my life.” Other translations say, “He restores my soul.” To understand what David means by this, let us again here the words of a shepherd: “A heavy, fat or long-fleeced sheep will lie down comfortably in some little hollow or depression in the ground. It may roll on its side slightly to stretch out or relax. Suddenly the center of gravity in the body shifts so that it turns on its back far enough that the feet no longer touch the ground. It may feel a sense of panic and start to paw frantically. Frequently this only makes things worse. It rolls over even further. Now it is quite impossible for it to regain its feet.” The shepherd must comes and restore the sheep before the sheep dies in that position.
- I think this image brings great clarity to what David says the Lord is doing for His sheep. God puts us back on our feet. God is there to pick us up when we fall over. The image is extremely accurate to what happens to us in our lives. When we try to fix our own problems, we frequently create worse problems for ourselves. In our efforts to get back on our feet, we usually are turning ourselves over to a more precarious position. We need to Lord to set us on our feet. This is a similar image that we read in Psalm 18:16-19, “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He pulled me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my distress, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out to a wide-open place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.”
- How often we are like these sheep spiritually! We are spiritually on our backs and we are helpless. But our Lord has come to us in our lost spiritual condition and set us back on our feet through His mercy and grace found in the blood of Jesus. God can restore us when we have fallen down. With compassion Jesus took Peter back into the fold after Peter had denied the Lord three times. Our merciful Lord receives us back when we cry out to Him for help.
C. I shall not lack guidance (23:3)
- “He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake.” One characteristic of sheep that we do know if that they have the great tendency to wander away. Isaiah brings this concept out strongly in his prophecy, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). We are like sheep and we have gone astray like sheep. But the Lord is our shepherd and is leading us down the right path. God is offering guidance for our lives.
- Too often we do not look to God for guidance. Too often we refuse to look to God to know which is the right path of God. We are like sheep, simply looking at the here and now and not realizing that we are wandering far off the path of God. God can give us direction through the word of God. God will give us direction through answered prayer. But we have to pick up our heads to see the direction the shepherd is leading. The Christian should not feel lost and aimless in life because has given the true Christian purpose and direction.
D. I shall not lack safety (23:4)
- This is the verse that is often used to comfort those who are dying. While this passage can be used for such hope, the real point of the statement is the shepherd protects His sheep from danger. As a shepherd leads the sheep from the high pastures in the summer to the valleys of the lowlands in the winter, there are times where the sheep will pass through dangerous places. There are times when we are lying down in green pastures and there are times when we are led through the valley of the shadow of death. In either regard, God is leading us.
- The Christian life is not always a tranquil and easy experience. We must realize that we must go through the times of difficulty and trial. These passages must be crossed if we are to reach the destination of green pastures. We must pass through the valleys to develop our character and grow our faith.
- While going through these times, David recognizes that God is present with us and leading us through the valley. God is there to protect us and see us through the situation, as “Your rod and Your staff–they comfort me.” Knowing that God is with us will help us conquer our problem as we go through the valley of death: fear. David says, “I fear no danger for You are with me.” I was telling another preacher that I do not know how people in this world get through the trials and problems of life without God. God is my surety and strength in bad times that I can have confidence that God can work things out in my best interests and will always do what is best. Others do not have such hope. Without God, trials are traumas of life which have no value, make no sense, and does not have the greater power of God to deliver. The Christian has the confidence that God is working on their behalf will do what is best.
E. I shall not lack blessings (23:5)
- God also declares that those who will follow after the shepherd will have God’s blessings. Even in the presence of the enemies, God will make provisions for His sheep. God will glorify and honor us even though we may have the enemies of this life who try to ruin our reputations or destroy us.
- In biblical imagery oil and wine often represent joy and prosperity from God. Job, in recalling the days before the trial, said, “when the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me, when my feet were bathed in cream and the rock poured out streams of oil for me” (Job 29:6). Consider the prophecy of Jeremiah, “Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, streaming to the goodness of the LORD–for wheat and new wine and oil, for the young of the flock and the herd; their souls shall be like a well-watered garden, and they shall sorrow no more at all” (Jeremiah 31:12). Also Joel 2:24, “And the vats shall overflow with new wine and oil.”
- Therefore, when the Lord is our shepherd, we are chosen by God. Just as the anointing of the head indicated one was chosen by God for service, whether as a king or as a priest, so we are chosen by God to be His sheep and therefore to receive God’s blessings. So great and plentiful are God’s blessings that our cup overflows. The blessings pour out so greatly upon us that we cannot even realize all that we have in the Lord. God has poured out His blessings upon us.
F. I shall not lack a home (23:6)
- Everyone wants to have a home and when the Lord is our shepherd, we find that we do have a home. We have a home full of goodness and faithful love shown to us by God all the days of our lives.
- Another blessing that we receive is that we can dwell in the house of the Lord. If you were to search through the Old Testament for the phrase “the house of the Lord” you would see that this refers exclusive to the tabernacle or temple of God. The Old Testament is filled with commands of going up to the house of the Lord for worship as the priests would enter and offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. The house of the Lord was the dwelling place of God. David says that he will dwell in God’s house all the days of his life. We are at home with the Lord. Further, this is not a future condition, but a condition we experience now and will continue to experience forevermore.
- The concept of having a home with God encompasses all that we have spoken about in the lesson. A home represents safety, provisions, joy, security, rest, and family. We have all these things in the Lord. We now stand in the dwelling place of God as His children, as His heirs, and as His servants. We have our identity and our purpose with God. Home is where one always returns and we must make our home with God, the one whom we always are with and always return to.
- These are the great benefits we receive when the Lord is our shepherd. I believe we would be remiss to not consider Jesus’ words on the topic found in John 10. In John 10:1-18 Jesus declares that He is the good shepherd. Jesus, as the good shepherd, would lay down His life for His sheep.
- If we are truly His sheep, verse 5 says that we will never follow a stranger. We will never follow after other people and go down other paths because we know the voice of the Lord. I hope that we are listening to the shepherd’s voice. Our Lord is trying to protect us and nurture us as we go through life. We simply need to follow His voice as given to us in the word of God. Let us obey the shepherd today and receive the blessings of following Him. As we have seen, we will not lack in anything that we need while we are following Him.