“The LORD is my shepherd… So begins one of the most loved, and best known passages in all of the Bible. True to the saying, “it takes one to know one,” Psalm 23 was written about 3,000 years ago by a shepherd who later became a king, David, son of Jesse of Bethlehem.
After David’s bold opening declaration, he makes three statements expressing his complete trust in the LORD as his shepherd. “I shall not want” summarizes David’s confidence in the LORD’s ability to provide for his every need. “I will fear no evil” demonstrates his trust in the LORD to protect him, even in the darkest days of his life. “I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever,” articulates David’s faith that even in death, his Shepherd will care for him throughout eternity!
This beautiful psalm not only talks about David’s Shepherd, it talks to his Shepherd as well! In verses 2-3, David talks about all his Shepherd does for him and why. In verse 4 the pronouns shift from “He” to “You” and David now speaks to his Shepherd in a written prayer. David’s confidence in facing death is in his Shepherd’s presence and protection. In verse 5 he speaks affectionately of the LORD’s gracious provisions, even in the presence of his enemies. Finally, in verse 6 David concludes his thoughts by speaking about his Shepherd’s care “all the days of my life” and then even after his days come to an end and “forever” begins.
This poignant psalm is rich with word pictures! It starts with a Shepherd, and his flock of sheep, one of whom is King David himself. It pictures them lying down in green pastures and drinking from still waters. It paints sheep following the Shepherd on paths of righteousness and through the valley of the shadow of death. It draws comfort from a shepherd’s rod and his staff. It portrays a bountiful banquet table prepared in the presence of enemies. It visualizes the blessedness of an anointed head and a cup running over. It concludes with the (obviously magnificent) house of the LORD in heaven.
This psalm is so rich I have assigned aspiring preachers the task of writing multiple messages from this psalm, each one focusing on a unique truth, promise, principle, viewpoint, illustration or challenge contained within it. Though they would often complain about my assignment, invariably these students of God’s Word would fall deeper in love with Psalm 23 with each new message they wrote.
In my earlier years I wondered how a psalm with six verses and a little over one hundred words could be so special to so many people. But over the last twenty years I have studied it, memorized it, preached it and have recited it in so many difficult occasions, and in countless places. Its ability to move me and so many others is no longer mysterious! After all, like King David, we too are sheep in desperate need of a trustworthy Shepherd!