By Jim Klubnik
After many years of walking with the Lord, David pauses to reflect on the benefits of his ongoing relationship with the Lord as his shepherd. Psalm 23 demonstrates the need for trusting the Lord through the dark valleys of life. Learning to rely on Him during the difficult times deepens our relationship with the Lord. The psalm is both a psalm of on-going trust and a glimpse of the believer in the future. David illustrates his walk with the Lord by using the metaphors of a shepherd, a Mideastern banquet, and a resident in God’s eternal home.
The use of twenty-seven personal pronouns in the psalm reveals the intensity of David’s personal relationship with the Lord. There are three statements in the psalm that use the pronoun “I” with the future tense. The psalm begins with a strong expression of a personal bond, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” In verse 4, the writer describes his movement or walk through life with his shepherd, “Even though I walk through dark valleys, I will fear no evil.” It concludes with a final relationship, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Thus, the 23rd Psalm is a psalm of growing trust. It speaks of a daily relationship with an unseen God that assures the believer of safety and protection, including provision for one’s basic needs, that carry the believer into eternity with the Lord. Sheep can’t take care of themselves. Neither can believers.
A. The Shepherd’s Provision for and Protection of His Sheep (vv. 1-4)
In verses 1-3, the shepherd guides, provides, protects, and corrects the sheep. He is their constant companion. David writes, “The Lord is my shepherd” (v. 1). The metaphor of a shepherd is commonly used throughout Scripture. In Genesis 48:15, Jacob said God had been his shepherd all his life. Ezekiel 34 is a chapter that speaks of false and true shepherds and spiritual leaders. In John 10, Jesus spoke of Himself as the good shepherd that gave his life for the sheep. In Psalm 78:52, speaking of the Exodus of Israel, the psalmist spoke of God leading His people like sheep and guiding them in the wilderness. In Isaiah 40:11, “He will feed His sheep like a shepherd…” Note the strong personal relationship, “The Lord is MY shepherd…”
Shepherding in the Mideast required a lot of a personal attention. On an open range, there were constant dangers from both wild animals and thieves. The long, hot summers and cold winters required a shepherd’s attentiveness over his sheep. This resulted in a strong personal relationship between the shepherd and his sheep. So the author could confidently say, “The Lord is MY Shepherd.”
As a result of King David’s faith in the Lord God of Israel, he could boldly say, “I shall NOT want.” This is because God had provided restoration of his soul. David was satisfied. He wasn’t anxious. He didn’t want anything. “I shall not want” is based on the the experience David had with the Lord. He literally says I “will” not want. He doesn’t say that he should not or might not want, He firmly declares, “I will not want.” A small boy once said, “The Lord is my shepherd, and that’s all that I want.”
God is always providing green pastures and still waters. Lying down in green pastures reveals that the sheep have finished eating. They can rest because their hunger is satisfied and they are not afraid. As the sheep are resting, time is given to restore the soul.
When the sheep are restored physically and spiritually, the shepherd is pictured guiding his sheep over the myriads of sheep trails. The shepherd knows exactly where he is going. Leading, providing, and protecting sheep has a way of earning a shepherd a valuable reputation.
In verse 4, the phrase, “paths of righteousness,” means that the shepherd leads his sheep into the shadows of the valleys. The valleys, or wadis, could contain wild animals or lurking thieves. Sheep don’t like shadows.
What provided comfort for David during this time was the shepherd’s rod and staff, a single stick with a double purpose. Its crooked end rescued straying sheep; its straight end, corrected undisciplined sheep. David said he needed both the shepherd’s rod and staff to comfort him. The concept of the believer’s discipline by the Lord is summarized in Hebrews 12:5-11.
The writer then describes the leading and moving of the flock, which includes traveling through dark valleys. In Psalm 27:1, David wrote, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?”
B. The Banquet Table (v. 5)
The next phase of David’s life is as king. The scene is a banquet room filled with guests. The Lord anoints the king and validates the king’s right to the throne. After a table was prepared, the custom was that the host anointed his guest with perfumed oil and filled his cup. The anointing with oil is a symbol of God’s choice and blessing.
What is unusual is that David’s enemies are also present at the banquet. The host abundantly filled his cup to overflowing so that the king was well provided for. We need to remember that our cup has been abundantly filled by the Lord.
C. David’s Future with the Lord (v. 6)
The third “I will” takes David into the future as a permanent resident in God’s tabernacle or home. The last days of David’s life were occupied with preparations for building the temple in Jerusalem. Following a lifetime of a shepherd-sheep relationship, two qualities are evident in David’s life. God’s provision for David meant that both goodness and lovingkindness followed or pursued him all the days of his life. He concludes the psalm by confidently asserting that he would never be separated from the Lord.
As David writes this psalm near the end of his days, he summarizes his life—as a shepherd, as a king, and as a man awaiting life in the eternal temple of the Lord. David views these three stages of his life from God’s viewpoint. In this psalm, the Lord is seen as a shepherd, a gracious host for the king, and the God who eternally lives in a heavenly temple.
The construction of the psalm motivates the believer into an on-going relationship with the Lord. The Christian life is not static and fixed. Life gets better and better with our Shepherd. It is one thing to enjoy the blessings of our Christian faith, it is another to walk through the dark valleys by faith. The antidote to fear is faith. The shepherd was David’s constant companion. He was not afraid, but he needed both the rod and the staff to comfort him.
We need protection in our lives, but we also need discipline. Our problem is not only straying off God’s path of righteousness. We also need correction of an uncommitted life. What a blessing it is to know that as our Shepherd, the Lord will guide us through the valleys of our lives.
Life is not merely resting in green pastures, but a daily walk of faith with our Shepherd—sometimes through dark valleys. As a result, goodness and lovingkindness pursue us throughout our lives, followed by spending eternity with the Lord. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”