“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. 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Psalm 23:1-6 ESV
Psalm 23 may be one of the most well-known passages of Old Testament Scripture, but do we actually know what it says and means? Many well-meaning Christians may read it to a troubled friend or at a funeral to comfort a grieving family, which is not a bad thing to do…but what is really at the essence of Psalm 23?
“The Lord is my shepherd…” This should immediately make us think of Jesus. Many times in the New Testament He refers to Himself as a Shepherd: “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice”
(John 10:3-4); “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
Because the Shepherd calls us, leads us and laid down His life for us, we can say together with the Psalmist, “…I shall not want…” Not being in want is not simply to have no fear, but also to be content and satisfied; not being in need.
Psalm 23 in no way promises worldly prosperity for the followers of the Shepherd. Words like “Even though…” at the start of verse 4 should give us a clue. The poetic imagery of verses 2-3 speaks rather of the peace, guidance, satisfaction and sanctification (becoming more like Jesus) that the Shepherd provides for His sheep “…for his name’s sake.” This underlines the American pastor, John Piper’s, words – “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him.”
How can God’s sheep “fear no evil” in the midst of darkness and death? The Shepherd is always with them; we have the Holy Spirit of Jesus indwelling us, comforting us with His “rod and staff”. These tools of Jesus, His “rod and staff”, are instruments used to protect and direct His sheep, ward off predators and to pull back sheep that have gone astray.
The last two verses of Psalm 23 speak of the abundant blessing God’s sheep will enjoy from God all the days of their lives and, ultimately, one day when they will “…dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Even in the presence of enemies and in the midst of tribulations, the sheep can have complete trust in the Shepherd’s overflowing providence, His “goodness and mercy”.
Are you completely satisfied in the Good Shepherd? Can you say with confidence: “I shall not want”?