Summary: A reflection on the imagery of Psalm 23
Upon reading Psalm 23 (The NIV Study Bible) and reflecting upon the imagery found within the verses my thoughts immediately turned to King David. I thought not only of David as a young shepherd but my thoughts turned to the time of Absolom’s rebellion. I can see in my mind’ eye David praying this prayer as he fled Jerusalem and found himself in the desert pondering his fate and wondering what course of action should be taken to regain his kingdom.
I can see David praying to the Lord and turning to God for wisdom, comfort, and reassurance during this critical time in his life and reflecting on how God had seen him through the other crisis’s in his life. God showed David grace, mercy, and love and importantly God showed David that he could have peace in the eye of the storm.
“The Lord is my shepherd”. This passage is as strong today as it was in David’s time and shows his children how much our God cares for his children. As the shepherd cares for his sheep and the sheep’s wellbeing so God cares for his children. We are called to trust God in every area of our lives just as the sheep trust the shepherd for his ability to protect, guide, nourish, and lead them. The shepherd leads his flock to where the best food, water, and shelter are found located away from danger. The shepherd lived with his sheep and moved among them to care for them and provides for them as God does the same for his children seeing to every need of his sheep (shepherd).
“I shall not want”. With God as our shepherd all of our needs will be met. David compares himself to a sheep in this Psalm. A sheep is an animal which is weak; it cannot protect itself and it is in need of constant guidance and vigilance or it will stray looking for greener pastures where it can often find itself in a dire predicament. David also knows that sheep are the master’s property and were very often purchased with a high price as the Israelites depended on the sheep for food and wool for the garments they would make from the wool. We as Christians are also God’s property. God cares for us and as we follow and trust him as the sheep trust the shepherd God will provide all of our needs.
“He makes me to lie down in green pastures” is an image of a shepherd leading his flock to places of abundance where the sheep can find rich nourishment on bountiful food and rest peacefully. The same principle can be applied to Christians because as we follow God, our shepherd, he leads us to his word where our souls can find nourishment, fulfillment, rest, and peace.
“He leads me beside still waters” evokes images of the shepherd leading his sheep to calm pools of pure water where the sheep are able to quench their thirst. Sheep will not drink from a running water source but instead seek pools of still, calm, clean water to drink from (sheep). The imagery pictures a safe, secure, and calm setting in which the sheep can drink and rest. The same imagery can be applied to the Christian today. God leads us; he never forces us to follow his leadership and the Lord leads his people, his sheep, with love and compassion to a place where we can drink from his calm, still pool of living water and find peace.
“He restores my soul” evokes the image of sheep at rest, gathering up energy for the times ahead but it also a picture of a tired, burdened, broken body, and spirit experiencing renewal from the peaceful rest and ministration of his perfect love. Just as physical needs are satisfied through rest and nourishment our spiritual needs are satisfied through trusting God, drawing closer to him, and resting in his peaceful love and abundant grace. The needs of man have not changed from David’s time. We still need rest and nourishment for the body and we often need renewal for our souls which we are able to find in our Lord.
“He leads me in the path of righteousness for his name sake” evokes the image of the shepherd leading his sheep along the best paths which lead to safety, security, and to a place of refuge where the sheep are able to prosper. As we Christians follow our shepherd we are also lead to safe and prosperous places where we can feel safe and draw closer to him. As we follow our shepherd along his moral and straight paths we can live the prosperous and abundant life as we study his word and follow the teachings found within it.