Summary: Reassurances in the valley, celebrations on the plateau, and hope for the future.
A SHEEP’S RESPONSE TO THE GOOD SHEPHERD
‘All we like sheep have gone astray’ (Isaiah 53:6). Yet when we know Jesus as our Good Shepherd (John 10:14), we have full bragging rights (Psalm 23:1-3). One of the distinguishing marks of the Good Shepherd is His compassion towards an otherwise leaderless people (Mark 6:34).
Having told the other sheep about the Good Shepherd, the sheep now addresses Him in person. “You” are with me; “your” rod, and “your” staff comfort me (Psalm 23:4). “You” prepare a table before me; “you” anoint my head with oil (Psalm 23:5).
Finally, just in case the sheep still has fears in the dark valley (Psalm 23:4), the Psalm ends with the reassurance of a personal reflection (Psalm 23:6). The Lord is our Shepherd (Psalm 23:1), we might say, and His compassions they fail not (Lamentations 3:22-24). ‘Thus far the LORD has helped us’ (1 Samuel 7:12).
In the valley, death is only a shadow (Psalm 23:4). Since I am walking in the paths in which the Good Shepherd is leading me (Psalm 23:2-3), I need not yield to fear, for He is with me; His rod, and His staff they comfort me (Psalm 23:4). Countless times in the Bible we hear the LORD, His angel, and Jesus saying ‘Fear not’ (e.g. Isaiah 41:10; Luke 2:10; John 16:33).
The “comfort” of the rod and staff is that they ward off enemies, but also keep me on the right path (Psalm 23:4). We have the ‘comfort’ of the Holy Ghost (John 14:26). This includes both direction and discipline.
The “table” is a place of feasting (Psalm 23:5). For the sheep, this is a plateau, previously prepared by the good shepherd. Cleared of noxious weeds, it is lush with the best grass.
There are both literal and spiritual applications of this concept for the believer. Just as the LORD provided manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16:31), so He provides our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). Yet in the Bible He also feeds us with His words, and they are a delight to us (Psalm 119:103); ‘the words that I speak,’ says Jesus, ‘they are spirit and they are life’ (John 6:63).
Enemies (spiritual predators) can only look on when I am in the care of the Good Shepherd (Psalm 23:5). Our adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, is pacing up and down, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Yet he can come no nearer than the Lord allows (Job 1:12; Job 2:6).
"Anointing" (Psalm 23:5) is salve for healing, and the application of oil to deter parasites. It is also grease for the rams’ horns, to stop them from battering each other to death! The Lord tends to our spiritual injuries, and daily applies the ministry of the Holy Ghost to our individual situations (Isaiah 11:2).
The “overflowing cup” (Psalm 23:5) speaks of the kind of medicine that the shepherd might administer to the sheep in times of chill. It is a metaphor for the abundance that the sheep finds when it rests under the good shepherd’s care. The concept of blessings ‘running over’ appears also in the New Testament, as a response to our obedience to Jesus (Luke 6:38).
The cup of Christ’s suffering, which he drank to the full (Mark 10:38; Mark 14:36), fills our cup with an abundant overflowing of spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3). Whatever we are suffering, He has been there already: rest in Him!
In the final verse, the sheep reassures itself that the mercy and love of the good shepherd have ‘got my back.’ David is saying, on our behalf, “my dwelling will always be with Him” (Psalm 23:6). This is a response of faith to all that has occurred so far, a response of confidence in the present, and a response of assured hope concerning all that is yet to come.