The Twenty-Third Psalm
by multiple authors

March 22, 1976

Verse One

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (Psalm 23:1).”

 

P

ERHAPS NO SINGLE verse in the Bible has taken such a hold on the imagination and hearts of believers of all times as has Psalm 23:1.

To estimate its effect upon the Church through the centuries, both generally and individually, would be an impossible task. Doubts, fears, and frustrations have been driven away by its strong affirmation of faith in an absolute and eternal heavenly Father. The sorrowing have been cheered by it, and their weary steps have been strengthened in the journey of life. The troubled have been relieved and led into sweet peace as they have come to share the reality of its mes­sage. Questions of providence, foreboding ills, and the black brood of unbelief have been chased away by its power. It has served as balm to the wounded spirit and healing for the sick souls of multitudes of men and women. It has been the last words whispered by dying lips as the last utterance of faith, gratitude, and hope as men moved from time to eternity.

It has been said that “what the nightingale is among the birds, so is this divine ode among the Psalms.” It has rung sweetly in the ear of many in their night of weeping and has bidden them hope for the morning of joy. It is most inspiring.

“The Lord is my shepherd.” The breadth and depth of the message contained in this brief sentence must be looked at long and must be prayerfully pondered if one is to grasp its richness and receive the blessings it provides.

When one looks closely at this text, two wonderful words seem to stand up and demand the attention: “Lord” and “shepherd.” So vastly different in meaning, yet describing the same person, these words are in­separably linked together in the same sentence.

The word Lord is in reality the name Jehovah: the omnipotent, omniscent, and omnipresent God; the absolute and only eternal heavenly Father. There is no attempt to explain God or to argue His existence, but it’s just a simple yet profound declaration that He is. He always is. He is the great I am. He is changeless. He is not subject to the laws of change nor will He ever be.

This thought is brought over into the New Test­ament. The writer to the Hebrews caught a glimpse of this marvelous mystery and expressed it beauti­fully, “And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a gar­ment; And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail” (Hebrews 1:10-13).

James underscored the same theme when he said, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).

Now let us consider briefly the word Shepherd. On the one hand, we have the word Lord, a connota­tion of all that is infinite, unchangeable, and ever­lasting; all that is sufficient, wise, holy, and glorious. On the other hand we have the word Shepherd, a connotation of all that is tender, compassionate, self­-sacrificing, and much to be loved. The one represents all that is high and magnificent; the other, all that is lovely and condescending. The one is all glorious; the other, all gracious.

As Shepherd, He is the same ineffable, eternal, and infinite God, but He is One whom we mortals may comprehend and, by faith, have fellowship with.

The word shepherd has a number of meanings, all of which are important. It means “ruler,” so this makes Him my shepherd-ruler. He does not rule with a harsh and heavy hand, but is kind, considerate, gentle, and understanding. It means “friend,” so He is my shepherd-friend-“a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). It means “com­panion,” so He is my shepherd-companion-One who never leaves or forsakes (Hebrews 13: 5). It also means “keeper,” and in that capacity He gives whatever provision and protection necessary for my well-being.

This staggers the imagination to think that we mortals could be so privileged. It is not the language of nature, but of grace; it is not a right earned, but a privilege given.

Imagine: no more want! It is no small wonder that with this understanding of God and his goodness, the Psalmist could say, “I shall not want.” I shall not want for mercy, for “his mercy … endureth to all generations” (Psalm 100:5). I shall not want for re­demption, for He is my redemption full and free (1 Corinthians 1:30, 31). I shall not want for power, for all power in heaven and earth has been given into the hands of the great Shepherd (Matthew 28:18). I shall not want for grace, for his grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).

The full supply of all my needs is guaranteed by my relationship to Him as Shepherd, Savior, and Lord.

-J. Frank Spivey

 

 

Verse Two

“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters (Psalm 23:2).”

 

H

E MAKETH me” is an indication of lov­ing compulsion. The Good Shepherd says, “I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). When He finds the straying sheep, He lays it on His shoulder (Luke 15:5).

The Master does not want us constantly on the “go.” As He said to His disciples, so He says to us: “Rest a while” (Mark 6:31). If we refuse His loving admonition, He may just set us aside for a while to rest and get our priorities in proper perspective. We need time to consider the true meaning of abundant life.

A hungry sheep does not lie down. Those sheep who run from church to church need to pause and allow the Good Shepherd to lead them to a feeding place, where they may take their fill of the Word of God and have fellowship with the saints.

There is another lesson here. A true shepherd makes his sheep rest after eating. He gives his sheep time to chew their cud again and again, so they may get the full benefit of what they are eating. So many hear the good news, but don’t take the time to thoroughly savor the sweet and lasting benefits.

But Christ, the Great Shepherd, places His sub­missive sheep in such peaceful and serene surround­ings that they feel a compulsion to lie down. By faith, they are at ease in Him and find “rest” for their souls (Matthew 11:29).

God promised that He would do it for Israel:

For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scat­tered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will de­liver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them in good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pas­ture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God. . . . Thus shall they know that I the Lord their God am with them, and that they, even the house of Israel, are my people, saith the Lord God (Ezekiel 34:11-15, 30).

What God can do for a nation, He can do for His individual sheep.

The Lord will lead us into “green pastures.” The thought is one of an oasis of tender green grass where one can homestead in His presence. Feeding until we hunger no more, we lie down in total con­tentment, being “filled with all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:19).

The phrase “he leadeth me” speaks of a gentle guidance as distinct from forceful driving. “Still waters” are restful, quiet waters, rather than a gently, flowing stream.

Sheep will not drink from bubbling, gurgling waters or swift-running streams. They are animals of quiet disposition. The shepherd must find a serene pool in the hollow of some rocks.

The still waters by which our Great Shepherd leads us not only provide a cooling draught to our parched souls, but a reviving atmosphere for our weariness.

The order of this verse is important: feeding be­fore leading. Jesus said, “And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice” (John 10:4).

Often in the early morning, some sheep are not willing to leave the fold. So, the shepherd thrusts them forth-then goes before them, leading them into green pastures and beside still waters.

Sheep are animals easily disturbed. The bark of a dog or any kind of knowledge of the presence of another animal will cause them to huddle together, trembling and fearful.

God sets the atmosphere of calm, provision and protection. “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:9).

In such a restless age as ours, every believer could do no better than appropriate by faith the promises of Psalm 2 3: 2, then with gratitude say to their Shepherd: “So we thy people and sheep of thy pas­ture will give thee thanks for ever: we will shew forth thy praise to all generations” (Psalm 79: 13).

-Robert G. Graham

 

 

Verse Three

“He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (Psalm 23:3).”

 

O

NLY THE Good Shepherd has the power to restore. Others may encourage our heart and lift up our fallen hands, but only He can restore our soul. Restoration suggests the return to a state of invigoration and renewal; the soul once sinking in weariness and despair is lifted again to a place of strength and rejoicing.

The soul involves the totality of man, thus the whole being is again filled with life and light. Zeal now motivates and love controls. Pardon and peace becomes a reality in a heightened sense. The wise and compassionate Physician applies healing balm and the soul is well again; the meritlessness of our own being is forgotten and the unfaithfulness of our own nature is left behind, as He tenderly and pa­tiently draws with cords of love that are stronger than death and impervious even to the fires of hell.

Thus, “he restoreth my soul.” By His Word He instructs us; by His Spirit He renews us; by His love He heals us; by His wisdom He guides us; by His power He lifts us up; and by His untiring watchfulness He protects us.

“He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” It is for this purpose that restora­tion is accomplished. Before sheep can be led in right paths, they must be brought first from their wanderings. The heart of the prodigal must first be awakened before he can tread the path homeward.

Our leader is infallible and full of power; as His followers, we are weak and prone to err. But the paths of righteousness are His paths. He makes the steep places plain and across the chasm He builds a bridge so that though we be a wayfarer, and a fool, we may follow Him still.

The goal to which we aspire is reflected in the nature of the path we walk. The heavenly clime is reached only by the path that bears its nature. Only the right path leads home.

Not only a right path but also the right leader is necessary, for there are many other paths, which in our ignorance we might wander onto and be hopelessly lost. Therefore, “he leadeth me.” This task is not delegated even to the angels, but He per­sonally condescends to become our Shepherd. This He does because we need help and because of “his name’s sake.”

Since we are His children and bear His name, it is natural that He desires us to reflect His glory. For the sake of His name, He leads us in righteous paths. It has been said that the highest aim in all of God’s creation is man. If this is true, it must be man redeemed, led, and transformed into His like­ness for “his name’s sake.”

-Laud O. Vaught

 

 

Verse Four

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for though art with me; thy rod and staff they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).”

 

T

O APPRECIATE the import of this Psalm, we must comprehend the relationship of the sheep to the shepherd. In fact, the greatest spiritual blessing comes as we conceive of ourselves as sheep whose total welfare and existence depend upon the Shepherd.

Verse 4 is perhaps the one verse that heightens the immortality and genuine greatness of this di­vision of the Psalms. The key concept developed by the writer is refuge; whereas, in the other verses he speaks of (1) relationship, (2) rest, (3) restora­tion, ( 4) refreshment, and (5) reunion.

There are five divisions of verse 4, which are broken into a phrase structure. The first phrase uti­lized connotes that the psalmist was not speaking in abstract theological concepts, but was conversing on the daily life of all believers. The word walk is not intended to mean the physical act of movement, but to express a way of life. A case in point is Paul’s comment on walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Such a walk implies the life-style that we participate in on a daily basis.

Where do we walk or live? The psalmist developed his second emphasis in this verse by stating that a believer will be occasionally called on to go through the valley of the shadow of death, which literally translated means the valley of deep darkness or dark shadows. It is a valley of immediate danger, such as, robbers, beasts of prey, and even death itself.

Following this declaratory statement of danger in crisis, the strong affirmative statement was made by the psalmist: “I will fear no evil.” How is that possible with danger and death all around us? It is only possible because God is with us. Thus, the fourth aspect is enunciated clearly: God is continual­ly present with those who are His disciples.

The New Testament scriptures declare emphati­cally that perfect love casts out all fears (1 John 4:18). “When we are assured of the presence of God, an immediate calm prevails. The Word gives us confidence: “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Mat­thew 28:20). “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:18). The Comforter has come, and He is with the disciples of God.

Finally, the rod and staff of God comforts us who are believers. The rod is a stout club with which the shepherd beats off the foes of the sheep, but it is also the gentle discipline device that guides the sheep through dark and treacherous paths.

Do you have any rivers that you think are un­crossable? Are there any mountains you cannot tun­nel through? God specializes in things thought im­possible. And we know of a certainty that standing somewhere in the shadows of life, you will find Him; He is the only One who cares and understands. The words of these choruses express the sheep­-Shepherd relationship of Psalm 23: 4.

-Bob Lyons

 

 

Verse Five

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: though anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over (Psalm 23:5).”

 

T

HIS VERSE involves the promise of God’s provision for His own in times of adversity by a ministry of the Spirit that brings great joy. It is the pleasure of the Shepherd to give the benefits of His kingdom to His flock.

“Thou preparest a table before me.” God is the host. God is the provider. What higher source can there be? What greater supply can be found? What more can mortal man expect? The promise of God is enough for the children of faith.

“But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4: 19). “Your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. . . . Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:30-32).

Think of the banquet that He spread for Israel in the Wilderness by supplying quail and manna in abundance (Exodus 16:11-15; Psalm 105:40). Remember the feast that came from “five loaves and two fishes” (Matthew 14:15-21). In the hands of Jesus these seemingly small, insignificant things fed five thousand men beside the women and children. Whether it be physical or spiritual, our God can surely provide for His own.

“In the presence of mine enemies” indicates the fact that God’s people are in a conflict. There is adversity. There are opposing forces that will dis­courage and defeat the saints of the most High, if possible. All the forces of evil are set against the righteous. To impair, impede, and immobilize is the intent of iniquity. But opposition need not cause pessimism. God is our protector. God is our refuge and fortress, “for the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17:47). Opposition cannot stop the sustaining hand of God. When Jezebel, the wicked queen of Israel and the avowed enemy of Elijah, would have killed the prophet, God sent an angel to “prepare a table before him in the presence of his enemies,” and he went on the strength of one meal forty days (1 Kings 19:1-8).

“Thou anointest my head with oil” surely signifies a ministry of the Spirit in the time of trouble. Oil is symbolic of the Spirit. It is a proven fact that when Christians experience a confrontation with forces that would consume them, God’s Spirit somehow is richer and sweeter. His very presence covers them as the anointing oil poured on the head of the Old Testament priests covered their entire body (Exodus 30: 22-31; Leviticus 8:10-12). What consolation and peace to realize the abiding power of the Holy Spirit in a time of problems and perplexities! “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him” (Isaiah 59:19). The enemies of God’s children are helpless to stop the Spirit from ministering to the “sheep of His pasture” who fear the Lord and serve Him.

“My cup runneth over” speaks of joy in the midst of adversity, joy in the midst of conditions that are contrary. Our joy is not contingent upon conditions conducive to happiness. Our joy is of the Lord. This is the reason why saints of God can rejoice and have the witness of the Spirit even when bound by a terminal disease and even in the hour of death itself, because “God hath anointed [us] … with the oil of gladness above . . . [our] fellows” (He­brews 1:9).

“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?” (Psalm 27:1). “The joy of the lord is .. . [our] strength” (Nehemiah 8:I0).

The ability to prevail over adversity comes by the ministry of the Spirit, who gives joy as we walk by faith. God will provide; let us be glad and rejoice.

-E. C. Thomas

 

Verse Six

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (Psalm 23:6).”

 

G

OODNESS AND MERCY are personified as escorts in our earthly journey toward our eternal home. And lest any doubt arise that we are thus accompanied, David used the one word surely. The Holy Ghost must have deliberately impressed David to use this word. Surely speaks of God’s unchangeableness and His unfailing qualities. God has never failed us in the past, and this knowl­edge gives us confidence that He will not forsake us in the future. God has promised that goodness and mercy will follow us all our days. He who has prom­ised is sufficiently able to fulfill His promises (see Numbers 23:19).

The shepherd of the sheep goes before the flock, leading the way. In this instance David declared that escorts follow. By following, the escorts support us to keep us from going backward, and keep us prodded to prevent our lingering along the pathway.

Goodness and mercy comprise the rear guard to protect us against treacherous attacks of the enemy. Supplies are brought up from the rear to ensure that the front line always has sufficient ammunition to assure victory in every battle. Goodness and mercy also provide rear-guard protection to prevent any surprise attack, and to engage the enemy should he attack from the rear.

“We may be sure that these escorts will attend us during all of our earthly journey, all the days of our life. “All the days” encompasses youthful days, days of maturity, and days of old age. It includes days of trials, tribulations, and victory, as well as days of smiles and tears. It embraces days that are filled with storms and strife as well as days of sunshine and peace, days spent in the valley, as well as days spent exulting in mountaintop experiences. It com­prises the days of all seasons and all circumstances. “All the days” encircles all of our existence. And what a joy to know that always, at all times, our heavenly escorts, goodness and mercy, are our con­stant companions!

Our heavenly home is the destination of Christian pilgrims: “I will dwell in the house of the Lord.” What a home-the house of the Lord! Home is a place of light and laughter, of joy and love, a place of warm companionship and real care one for an­other. Home is a shelter from the storms, a place of safety and security. It is a place where the cares of the day arc laid aside and peace and serenity pre­vails. Home is the place where the believer will dwell forever (see John 14:2, 3; Hebrews 11:16; Revela­tion 21:2, 3).

The house of the Lord is the home toward which all Christian pilgrims arc drawn. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house arc many mansions” (John 14:2). The word mansions bespeaks dwelling places of mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers-the place which the Lord has prepared for all who love Him. It is this place of security, light, fellowship, joy, and satisfaction in which the child of God will dwell. Its riches, glory, and grandeur are beyond compare. ‘The house of the Lord” is where pain is abolished, sorrow never enters, and pain is unknown. This heavenly home is a place where every tear is wiped away forever and death never enters to separate. What a dwelling place for God’s people! (See Revelation 21:4.)

We humans possess an insatiable desire for per­manence. Our heart cries out for the eternal. All around us is change and decay. Those near and dear to us have been torn from us by death.

In the midst of vicissitudes of life David cried out with assurance, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” In effect, he was saying, “I will live in all ages to come. Eternal life will be mine.”

The house of the Lord will never succumb to the ravages of time, nor will repairs ever need to be made. Our home in heaven is eternal. To “dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” intimates that our loved ones, brothers, and sisters will also live with us forever.

What an honor is ours to be escorted by good­ness and mercy all of our life until we reach our Lord’s house, where we too “will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever”!

James A. Cross