Psalm 23:1-6: The Good Shepherd Who Leads Us To Heaven
No doubt the 23rd Psalm is the most recognizable of all the Psalms. One reason for that is the tremendous amount of comfort it gives us. It clearly and powerfully addresses so much of the human experience. It promises God’s great and sufficient care in all times of life. This passage does much to help keep us faithful in the darkest of days and gives us hope when we see none. Certainly we should with great regularity read this mighty passage from God.
Verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
David of course is probably the most famous shepherd that ever lived. In 1 Samuel 16 and 17 we read of him actually being a shepherd. In this great Psalm he changes the reality of his existence and lets it in figure form represent God. David becomes the sheep and God the shepherd. Of course as with all inspired text; the Holy Spirit is giving every word to David so credit for the illustration and comparison belongs to God, not David (2 Peter 1:20, 21).
With God as the shepherd, the sheep would never want. I do not know why so many of us are fearful in this life. Jesus repeatedly taught us to not fear, not be anxious and to trust Him completely (Matthew 6:33). In John 10:10 He promised to give us the abundant life. We know that all good and perfect gifts come from above. May this Psalm help remind us that while God is our Shepherd we will not want (never fail to have what we need).
Verse 2: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.”
The illustration is extended. The good shepherd has the sheep in excellent condition. This image is of sheep that are content. They are laying with all four legs under them totally content. The green pastures, spring and early summer grass, tender and good to eat. This good shepherd has led them by “still” waters. These days are easy and calm. Not troubled waters, or bitter waters, or rough waters, but still waters. Paul taught us about the peace of God, that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7)
Verse 3: “He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his names sake.
One of the jobs of a good shepherd is to provide for his sheep. As seen above the Lord does that. But He also takes the sheep (who follow wherever He leads) to the proper places so as to be nourished back to health “restored” if something is lacking in their diet. The idea “for his name’s sake” has to do with His reputation. If a shepherd couldn’t keep the sheep healthy and well nourished them he would have a bad name in the business. God however, always cares for us in a perfect fashion. His name is perfect due to the care He so lovingly provides.
Verse 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.”
The sheep has complete trust in the trails chosen by the shepherd. It might be along a cliff, or next to a river, both of which could spell doom to the sheep. But the animal has learned that if it stays with the shepherd it will be fine. Sheep are somewhat scared of shadows but if the master calls they will cross, trusting that he will keep them safe.
In our lives often we get into fearful situations, but we know as did David, with God’s care we will get through. As long as God is with us, it matters not who is opposed (Romans 8:31). The rod and staff were a comfort. It could be used to steady the shepherd.
It could be used to fight off an attacking animal. It could also be used (the crook) to rescue a sheep that was in trouble. God’s word is His guiding force in our lives.
Verse 5: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies: thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”
David now leans away from the sheep and shepherd metaphor and speaks more as a man with God’s help. Perhaps no king was as loved and despised as David. He had been a fierce warrior and also a king. He had political enemies within his borders; and lots of foreign enemies. The image is of a man who is being blessed by God in the presence of his enemies; A picture of virtual invincibility (as long as he has God’s blessing). The head being anointed with oil was a universal sign of favor and his cup was overflowing (totally satisfied).
Verse 6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Every passage in the Bible points us toward a consistent truism, life with God is good. The Holy Spirit through the hand of David is stressing this fact yet again. A good life, a blessed life; an entire life lived and blessed in and by God. This verse also paints a picture of one living in the house of God, not just a visitor. Friends, this Psalm should inspire us to serve the Lord fervently. It should encourage us in days of trouble. And it should center us in days of doubt.
Hopefully, this brief study has helped remind us of the universal nature of life. We sometimes feel sorry for ourselves due to a misperception that we have more trials than others or that our life is somehow not fair. Paul shows us the folly of this thinking in 1 Corinthians 10:13. May we read this Psalm and gain a greater appreciation for the guidance God provides to heaven.