Praying the Psalms: Psalm 23

Is there a more comforting image of God than as a shepherd? God is a tender shepherd who loves his sheep. The sheep trust him and the shepherd loves his flock. He cares for us, leads us, protects us, and loves us. Psalm 23 is one of the best known passages of Scripture. It is quoted and memorized by many, and most people are familiar with it. Yet, because we are so familiar with the psalm, we become numb to its potent reminder of God’s love and affection for his sheep. Psalm 23 is a psalm of trust, whispered by generations in the anxious dark night of the soul. Though calamity surrounds, God’s faithful sheep preach this psalm to their own hearts as a always needed reminder that “The Lord is my shepherd”. Let’s take a look at the beautiful psalm with fresh eyes. Praying the Psalms

Commentary

v 1-3 - David is a sheep. As the psalm writer, he recognizes that the Lord is his personal shepherd. He is foolish, weak, and frail as a man. To call yourself a sheep is almost to call yourself an ignoramus. Sheep are not very smart. They stray away. They are stubborn. They are clueless. Yet, David has enough self awareness about his own heart, that he is prone to wander in to the dangerous thicket of sin. He needs a loving shepherd who can guide him and protect him. The Lord is his shepherd.

The Lord is the good shepherd, because he provides for the sheep. David does not want for anything. The shepherd makes sure his sheep are provided for and taken out to the safe and nutritious green pastures. God leads his sheep to a place of safety and of rest. He does restore our souls.

As we think about the work of Christ, our good shepherd he too restores our soul. He leads us down the narrow path of righteousness that leads to life. He guides us and shows us the way. He leads us the the fountain of everlasting waters. He takes to the comforting green grass into his presence where their is peace and enteral joy. We have a good shepherd who cares for the sheep, and his name is Jesus Christ.

v. 4 - As a sheep, not every day is spent in a beautiful green pasture on a gorgeous cool afternoon with rays of sunshine sparkling over your reflective fleece. Bad days come, even for little lambs. Everyone has moments where we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death. These moments of loss, grief, pain, and sadness distress the heart of even the most trusting sheep. Yet, the distress of the valley dissipates when we remind ourselves one the goodness of the shepherd.

David says that even though he walks through those valleys, he does so without fear. No matter what is lurking in the darkness behind the cleft, the Shepherd is with him. The Shepherd carries a rod and a staff to both protect and guide the sheep to safety. No matter what carnivorous wolves salivating in the darkness, the shepherd will protect his sheep from the blood lust of their enemies. He will make sure that his sheep pass through the valley safely and without harm. This is why David says that the shepherd’s rod and staff are a comfort to him. He knows that God is not an impotent God, unaware and caught of guard by the darkness. Rather, he is the courageous shepherd who is ready to defend at any moment.

What comfort for us as the people of God! God is not only all loving and all knowing, but he is all powerful. What voracious enemy threatens you when God is your shepherd? Who will be able to overcome the strength of the Almighty? God is the protector of his sheep. He does not disappoint, therefore the sheep can have utmost trust in their shepherd as one who is more than able to defend them from harm.

v. 5-6 - The image then shifts from one of shepherding to feasting. God is the host who prepares a table for his guests. He does this in the presence of the enemies. Though they swarm, God lavishes his protective love on his children.  To prepare a meal and eat a meal with another was a sign of intimacy, affection, honor, and love. God lavishes all of those on us as he prepares that table. He pours out the anointing oil on our head and he fills our cup till it overflows. The imagery of all this is clear; God lavishes his children with blessing, kindness, and love. It does not matter what enemies there may be, he delights in his sheep and he cares for them.

Because of God’s extravagant care, protection, and love for his sheep as the good shepherd, David knows that goodness and mercy will follow him all of his life. If God is for him, who can be against him? As we are recipients of God’s divine love we leave a trail of evidence of God’s goodness and mercy, no matter how long or dark the valleys may be. He is a God who brings us into his presence and we dwell with him for ever.

What a beautiful image of comfort and what an expression of trust! Yet, how much greater does the beauty of Psalm 23 increase as we dwell on the good shepherd Jesus Christ who lays down his life for the sheep? Jesus leads our soul by giving up his life for our good. God anoints our head with the lavish, priceless blood of his own son. He lavishes us with every spiritual blessing as our cup overflows into an ever growing ocean of divine grace.

Jesus stands in the upper room as his enemies surrounded him. He prepares a table for his disciples and says eat and drink the body and blood of the son. As Jesus set down his goblet of wine, he goes into the garden prepared to have the cup of God’s wrath poured out on him. The overflow of blessings we receive from God is only possible because the overflow of divine judgement was poured on Jesus. Judgement and wrath followed Jesus at the end of his life, so that you could have goodness and mercy follow you into eternal life. It is through the death of the good shepherd that we are brought into the house of God. The good shepherd becomes the lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

By the blood of Christ, we are brought into the permeant rest of vibrant emerald pasture and running crystal waters. We are lead into the great wedding feast of the lamb as we eat at that divinely prepared table of unending nourishment and celebration. We will pass through the valley of darkness through the blood of the protective shepherd; on that day when the valley of death is behind us, our shepherd will lead us to the land of rest and there we shall dwell with our shepherd in ceaseless joy and an ever expanding satisfaction forever more.

Prayer Guide

  • What situation has you stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed? Share that with the Lord.
  • Praise God for the ways he cares for you as your good shepherd.
  • Ask the Lord to help you trust in him, knowing that he will never let you down.
  • Thank God for the good shepherd named Jesus who by his life and death brings you into enteral rest.