Psalm 23: The Psalm of the Good Shepherd

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 8: Wednesday

Yahweh is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
Psalm 23:1 LSB

Psalm 23 is probably the most familiar of all the psalms. Even those who have never been to church or who don’t believe in God have heard of it, and can even probably recite parts of it. It has been the subject of music and writings, and has been used in films.

It’s also one of the most beloved psalms because of its reassuring words of God’s comfort and care. .and its theme of shepherd and sheep is found within both Old and New Testaments. David, the shepherd king, writes from his own life as he describes what it means for the Lord to be his shepherd. Derek Kidner writes,

“In the word shepherd, David uses the most comprehensive and intimate metaphor yet encountered in the Psalms…the shepherd lives with his flock and is everything to it: guide, physician and protector.”1

M’Caw and Motyer write:

“…all the facets of this lyrical gem are focused upon the Lord whose tender care, ceaseless vigilance and perpetual presence impart to life all its colour and satisfaction. Indeed the sevenfold activity of the Lord described in vv. 2–5 (He makes, He leads, He restores, He guides, Thou art with me, Thou preparest a table, Thou anointest my head) is framed within the name of the Lord (the first and final words of the poem).”2

1Yahweh is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
3He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
6Surely goodness and lovingkindness will pursue me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of Yahweh forever.
Psalm 23 LSB

Alec Motyer divides the psalm into three sections: The Shepherd (vv. 1–3) The Companion (v. 4), and The Host (vv. 5–6). He comments:

“Now note that each picture — Shepherd, Companion, Host — asserts a truth: for the continuous present, as long as this life lasts, shepherding care guarantees that ‘I will not lack’. This is the Shepherd’s respon­sibility and since he will not fail neither will the supply! For the adversities and threats of life, ‘I will not fear evil’. However black the next stretch of the journey through the valley may seem, verse 4 changes from the ‘he’ of shepherd-leadership (v. 3) to the ‘you’ of side-by-side companionship: ‘My shepherd is beside me.’ But now, the Bible dares to go the further step: what of eternity? Verse 6 traces the pathway forward: ‘all the days of my life’ are catered for by goodness and committed love, and then there awaits the great return, ‘I will return to Yahweh’s house for ever’, for the endlessly prolonged ‘days’ of eternal life.”3

Motyer has other comments that expand our understanding of Psalm 23:4

Verse 2: Motyer translates still waters as secure waters. “Lit. ‘waters of rest’, but the word has a wide range: rest, home, security, quiet.”

Verse 3: Motyer translates paths of righteousness as tracks of righteousness. “i.e. that match his righteous nature and lead to his righteous goals.”

Verse 3: For His name’s sake. “This is our security and confidence: his leadership does not arise from or correspond to anything in us or that we have done; it arises only from what is in his heart and nature.

Verse 4: Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. “Together they constitute the idiom of reduplication to express completeness: comprehensive protection from every danger.”

Verse 6: Surely goodness and lovingkindness will pursue me all the days of my life. “Whatever danger pursues there is always a greater pursuit afoot — Yahweh’s goodness and committed love.”

Verse 6: Forever. “Lit. ‘for prolongation of days’.”

This is who God was to David. This is who God is to all His people. Throughout the Bible God refers to Himself as a Shepherd. In John 10:1–18, Jesus says He is the good shepherd.

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
John 10:11 LSB

And one day we will see our Shepherd who is also the Lamb of God, sacrificed for our sins.

“THEY WILL HUNGER NO LONGER, NOR THIRST ANYMORE; NOR WILL THE SUN BEAT DOWN ON THEM, NOR ANY HEAT; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will shepherd them and will guide them to springs of the water of life. And GOD WILL WIPE EVERY TEAR FROM THEIR EYES.”
Revelation 7:16–17 LSB

For a brief overview of the structure and poetry of Psalms see my post, The Five Books of Psalms.
Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Psalm 23 (King James’ Version), frontispiece to the 1880 omnibus printing of The Sunday at Home. Public Domain. Click the image to enlarge.
1Derek Kidner, Psalm 1–72 (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1973) 109–110.
2Leslie S. M’Caw and J. T. Motyer, “Psalms,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 465.
3,4Alec Motyer, Psalms By The Day: A New Devotional Translation (Christian Focus Publications Ltd, Ross-shire, Scotland, U.K. 2016) 61, 59–60.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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