I wish Psalm 23 wasn’t synonymous with funerals. There’s a lot of hope found in this passage, even from an everyday perspective.
Verses 1 – 3
In verses 1-3, it says, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
David, who wrote the 23rd Psalm, was well acquainted with the responsibilities of being a shepherd. He knew the shepherd’s resumé would include leading and guiding the sheep, taking them to pasture, and leading them to water. He knew that a good shepherd would protect his flock. David’s allegory is reflective of what Jesus does for us in everyday life.
This is what Jesus was saying in John 10:11, when He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” It was also emphasized in Matthew 6:25-34, when Jesus described God’s care and provision, using the sparrows and the lilies as examples.
Jesus is also the Living Water that sustains us. That very Living Water that He offered the woman at the well in John 4:4-42 is the water that our souls crave.
And in verse 3b, where it states, “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Our sinful natures don’t lend themselves to righteousness because nothing we do is good enough. But Ephesians 2:10 reads, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
God has good assignments for us. He has things for us to do to benefit the Kingdom of God. And we are to walk that journey with Jesus daily, so that through Him, anything good we do reflects Him for others to see.
Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
It’s common knowledge that in war, those who have a higher rank generally have an advantage over those who are below them. It’s in the valley that we feel the most vulnerable and at risk. Yet, we all experience time in the valley in the “shadow of death.” Whether that’s literal death, or a symbolic one—death of a relationship, marriage, job—those seasons in the valley leave us feeling exposed and at risk of attack. It’s in the valley where anxiety and fear linger.
Yet David wrote that he wasn’t afraid. He knew that no matter where the path took him, whether it was on higher ground or in the valley, God was his friend and walked with him. God’s words to Joshua were true for David, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
And they are true for us, too.
A shepherd’s resumé would also include the ability to use a rod and staff. These are tools a shepherd would use to guide his sheep, but also defend them. David’s reflection on these tools is reminiscent of God’s promise to guide and protect us. A promise we can depend on, too, because we know God has a plan for us.
Jeremiah 29:11 states,“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” We can take comfort in His guidance and protection, even in the valley.
Verses 5 – 6
Psalm 23:5 says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
David had his fair share of enemies. But he was a constant model of trusting faith in God. Let’s compare that verse to Romans 8:31 which reads, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” What others think of us is none of our business; and since we have God’s salvation and protection, we don’t need to worry about the opinions of others, even those who want to harm us in some way.
This verse shifts from the analogy of sheep and shepherd to that of a friendship. David had a friendship with God. Can we say the same about our relationship with Jesus?
Jesus, our Good Shepherd, states in Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
We are invited to the table of the King of Kings! And we know that a king’s table is abundant and overflowing with good things.
The final verse of the 23rd Psalm says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever”(verse 6).
David wasn’t perfect, but he was faithful, and he trusted God’s forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love! He trusted, even if he didn’t understand God’s ways.
In Romans 8:38-39,Paul writes,“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” With that truth, indeed, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”