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Psalm 23 - The Lord Is My Shepherd

INTRODUCTION: In this psalm, David, the shepherd called of God to become a king, sings praise to the chief shepherd of his soul, because he thoroughly understood that he needed care and leading from someone greater than himself. He knew from his own experience how he had taken great care with the family sheep of his father Jesse; and Jesus is the shepherd of the heavenly Father's sheep. Not one sheep was to be lost from the hand of either shepherd because they were willing even to lay down their life for their sheep. However, when Jesus laid down his life, he was able to take it up again, and his resurrection guarantees the eternal care for our souls that is obtainable in no other way. This psalm is rich with truth and comfort for anyone who has saving faith in Christ Jesus, the shepherd of our soul. John 10:11-13 "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep." Praise God that our shepherd cares for his own!

Psalm 23 in composite amplified paraphrase

1 A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; therefore, I shall not be in want.

COMMENTS: David was a faithful shepherd, who provided for and protected his sheep, before he became a king. 1 Samuel 17:34-36 "And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: and I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God." Jesus, from the line of David is our ever-faithful shepherd for all time, and is the king of all kings because he is the maker of all. Psalms 95:6-7a "O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice," Hearing and responding to his voice in faith makes us part of his eternal flock. John 10:27-28 "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand."

When God was preparing a nation of people to bear his name, the image of the shepherd was already applicable and was recorded in scripture. Numbers 27:15-17 "And Moses spake unto the LORD, saying, Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the LORD be not as sheep which have no shepherd." Moses made this request since he was going to rest with his fathers without entering the Promised Land, and Joshua was then appointed by the Lord to lead Israel into the land. It is interesting to note that both the Hebrew name translated as Joshua in English in the Old Testament; and the Greek taken from the Hebrew, translated as Jesus in English in the New Testament, mean Jehovah is salvation. The writer of Hebrews gave us another reference regarding the great shepherd who guarantees the absolute peace and safety of our souls that we might follow his leading while we are in the world, until he gathers us to himself. Hebrews 13:20-21 "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." If we are thinking clearly with the mind of faith, there is no significant want for us in the world, if we have the assurance of eternity. Mark 8:36-37 "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Therefore, we trust our great shepherd to meet our needs.

Psalm 23 in composite amplified paraphrase

2 He causes me to lie down in rest in pastures of tender green grass: he gives me guidance beside the peaceful quiet waters of refreshment.

COMMENTS: Pastures of tender and nourishing green grass are an aromatic delight, and a supply of health and growth for a flock of sheep. The metaphor portrays the comfort of being at rest in the midst of plenty, not restlessly seeking to fulfill our need. Even before this psalm was written, the LORD made a promise to Moses about his provision of rest for Israel, and Moses understood that Israel was set apart only by God's grace. Exodus 33:14-16 "And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest. And he said unto him, If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence. For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? is it not in that thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth." But they did not remain separated or set apart once they were in the land, so throughout the period of the judges, they had rest in his grace only during cycles of time when they returned to serving the Lord. David's reign as king finally made way for a period of great prosperity, peace, and national unity during the forty year reign of his son Solomon, whose name given by the Lord means "peace." That period was followed by centuries of two kingdoms divided in Israel, and most of the rulers in both kingdoms had divided loyalty to their God. Isaiah's prophecy came in the last century for the southern kingdom, while the northern kingdom fell first to captivity. Isaiah 48:17-18 "Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea:" God's desire was, and is, that we obey. But, the southern kingdom fell to captivity as had the northern kingdom, and even the temple was destroyed. Ezekiel spoke while still in the land of the captivity, of God's promises being ultimately fulfilled because God's plan cannot be thwarted in any way. Ezekiel 34:15-16 "I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment." The peace that God the Lord continually offered was only for those who would accept it by faith, followed by obedience to his word, and that is still the case in our day.

When Christ appeared, he made an open offer of rest to Jew and gentile alike, because all carry a burden of sin. Matthew 11:28 "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." And when we accept his rest, all our deepest needs will be met. Philippians 4:19 "But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." We can be confident when we accept by faith the Lord's promise of rest because it was settled for us by our almighty God before the foundation of the world. Hebrews 4:1-3 "Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world." This rest is reserved with absolute surety by grace through faith, so we must continue in the work of God's kingdom while we remain in the world, demonstrating our faith by our work for him. Hebrews 4:11 "Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief."

Psalm 23 in composite amplified paraphrase

3 He restores, renews, refreshes, converts, and gives new life to my soul: he leads and guides me in the straight paths of his righteousness and justice for the sake of his name.

COMMENTS: If I have many troubles in my life, may I learn from Job about the way God is faithful to restore those who in faith, confess sin and accept God's salvation. Job 33:27-30 "He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light. Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, To bring back {restore} his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living." There is no personal tempest in this life, that can disturb the rest we have reserved for us in eternity as revealed by the light from God. Psalms 116:7-8 "Return {be restored} unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling." Psalms 16:11 "Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore." Revelation 22:14 "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city." Our confidence in our salvation from the penalty of sin should be further bolstered because it is not based on our worthiness, but it is all for his glory, to preserve the honor of his holy name. 1 Samuel 12:22 "For the LORD will not forsake his people for his great name's sake: because it hath pleased the LORD to make you his people." The incomparable benefit we receive is grace for us and glory for the name of the LORD. Psalms 31:3 "For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name's sake lead me, and guide me." Psalms 79:9 "Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name's sake." Psalms 115:1 "Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake." Psalms 143:11 "Quicken me, O LORD, for thy name's sake: for thy righteousness' sake bring my soul out of trouble." 1 John 2:12 "I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake."

Psalm 23 in composite amplified paraphrase

4 Yes, it is so, though I walk through the valley of, and in the midst of, the shadow of death, I will fear no evil or harm: for you are with me; your rod and your staff give me comfort and encourage me.

COMMENTS: The imagery of the "shadow of death" can convey a multiplicity of thoughts: one important quality to consider is that when light completely surrounds an object, all shadows are eliminated. We should seek the light and life found in Christ Jesus, because then the ever-present shadow of death in the world will not be a threat to us. Psalms 107:13-15 "Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder. Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!" The light of the Lord in our life can dispel any fear we have of the shadow of death because the rod and staff of our strong shepherd Lord is our comfort and encouragement. Psalms 27:1 "A Psalm of David. The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" During dark days in Israel, another prophet sought to turn the people back to the one who can lead out of the shadow of death and into a new morning light of life. Amos 5:8 "Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name:" Jehovah is his name, and he should be our strength and our song. Isaiah 12:2 "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation." The Lord Jesus confirmed the consistent message of scripture as unchanging truth. John 16:33 "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."

Psalm 23 in composite amplified paraphrase

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

COMMENTS: The phrase "Prepare a table in the presence of my enemies" is unique to Psalm 23, and all who are in this fallen world as children of God are in the presence of the unsaved, who are the enemies of God and of his children. The children of Israel doubted God's ability to provide after he had brought them out of bondage in Egypt, and we should be careful not to allow that same doubt to arise in us after we have been brought out of the bondage of sin. Psalms 78:19-20 "Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people?" How much I need to accept the wisdom from the pen of Solomon, and be comforted by that truth. Proverbs 16:7 "When a man's ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him." And Jesus prayed for our protection while we remain in the world after our salvation from sin. John 17:15 "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil." Jesus stayed his course while his enemy shared his table, even with his perfect knowledge of the suffering he would endure. Luke 22:21 "But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table."

Anointing the head with oil can symbolize a sanctification or setting apart for a special office. In this context more likely, it conveys the feeling provided by personal grooming to "freshen up." The next two verses are used here to give example of a cultural custom. Luke 7:46 "My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment." Matthew 6:17-18 "But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly." Now, the "cup" can be either bad or good, depending on the context, and in Psalm 23:5 it is definitely overflowing with goodness, which has example in other scripture as well. Psalms 16:5 "The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot." Psalms 116:13 "I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD."

Psalm 23 in composite amplified paraphrase

6 Surely goodness, mercy, and lovingkindness shall follow and cling to me all the days of my life: and I will have a place in the house of the LORD forever.

COMMENTS: The Hebrew term translated as "goodness" in verse six is the same at that translated as "good" in other Old Testament passages; and the Hebrew word translated as mercy in the KJV, is translated elsewhere as lovingkindness, goodness, kindness, etc. Psalms 86:5 "For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee." Psalms 106:1 "Praise ye the LORD. O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever." Even extreme suffering while in the world cannot diminish the glory of being in the household of the Lord. Job 19:25-27 "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me." Even before Christ appeared, this seeming paradox of death to life was present in more than one area of Old Testament scripture. Proverbs 12:28 "In the way of righteousness is life; and in the pathway thereof there is no death." Proverbs 21:21 "He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life, righteousness, and honour." The death of our body that is inevitable because of our sin, is not cause to lose hope. Our identity as God's creation exists beyond the grave as promised by our Lord. John 11:25-26 "Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?" John 5:24 "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." And Paul reminds us again that we are to bear fruit while we remain because we are freed to eternal life as our end, and should now seek after holiness. Romans 6:22 "But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life."

--- Reflections in prayer ---

Lord, you are the shepherd of my soul, powerful and kind to supply as you determine, so I am confident that I will not be in want. You feed my soul in pastures of tender grass and guide me the streams of quiet waters. You give new life to my soul as you lead me in the straight paths of your righteousness for the sake of your name. Yes, It is so, though I walk through the valley of, and in the midst of, the shadow of death, I will fear no evil or harm: for you are with me; the rod and staff of my great shepherd give me comfort and encourage me. You prepare a table before me while I am still in the presence of my enemies: you anoint my head with oil to refresh my spirit; the cup of my salvation overflows. Surely, your goodness and mercy shall cling to me all the days of my life: and I will have a place in the house of the LORD forever. Amen.

Published 14 March 2006