Summary: This little psalm may be the most well-known passage in the Bible, and it is definitely the world’s favorite psalm. It is expressed in language that really spoke home to the country folk of that time.

May 16, 2014

Tom Lowe

Psalm 23 (KJV)


A psalm of David.

Psalm 23 (KJV)

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me

5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6 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.


This little psalm along with the Lord’s Prayer may be the most well-known passage in the Bible, and it is definitely the world’s favorite psalm, since it is the favorite of Jew, Eastern Orthodox, Western Protestant, and wistful agnostic alike. It is expressed in language that really spoke home to the country folk of that time. A long experience of trusting God lies behind these words. I am convinced that its message is timeless and that we will be blessed as we study it together.

David used the duel images of a humble shepherd and a gracious host. He reflects on the many benefits the Lord gave him even as he faced the dangers of life. His conclusion is that God’s persistent, loving protection is always with him.

Abel, the first Martyr, was a shepherd (Ge. 4:2) and so were the patriarchs of Israel. Moses spent 40 years caring for his father-in-laws sheep, and David, Israel’s greatest king, served his father as a shepherd.

In Psalm 22, David compared his enemies to animals that are clever and strong (22:12-16, 21{9]), but in this psalm, he pictured God’s people as lowly sheep. Why? So we could learn about the Shepherd and see how tenderly He cares for us. Sheep are defenseless animals that are prone to get lost, and they need almost constant care. You can’t drive sheep, as you do cattle; they must be led. The eastern shepherds know their sheep by name and can call them and they will come (John 10:1-5{10]).


1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

“The Lord” is Jehovah God, the covenant making God of Israel. “Is my shepherd” means “is shepherding me.” Eastern shepherds guarded their sheep, led them, provided food and water for them, took care of them when they were weary, bruised, cut or sick, rescued them when they strayed, knew their names, assisted in delivering the lambs, and in every way simply loved them.

Ezekiel from the early years of the Chaldean exile had given the finest portrait of the Lord conceived as Shepherd of the people of Israel to be found in the Old Testament: “I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick. . .” (Eze. 34:15-16). But our psalmist does not say that the Lord is Israel’s Shepherd, but the Lord is his Shepherd. For himself as an individual he claims the shepherding care of God.

The psalmist employed the figure of a shepherd to recall the blessings he enjoyed from the Lord (Also see Ps. 80:1{1]). The metaphor was a natural one for David, the shepherd-king. It was also a common metaphor in the ancient Near east, since many kings compared themselves to shepherds in their leadership capacity. In his prophesy of the coming Messiah, Isaiah incorporated the same imagery: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isa. 40:11). And in John 10:14{2], Jesus identified Himself as the expected “Good Shepherd.” He is also called the “Great Shepherd” (Heb. 13:20{3]) and “the Chief Shepherd” (1 Pe. 5:4{4]). David’s needs were met because “The Lord [was his] Shepherd.”

Our Lord called believers “my sheep” because He died for them (1 Pe. 18:19{11]) and because the Father gave them to Him (John 17:12{12]). The emphasis in verses 1-3 is that Jesus is adequate for every need the sheep may have as they are in the pasture. Primarily, they need food (grass), water, rest, and a shepherd who knows where to lead them. When God’s people follow their Shepherd they have all they need and will not lack the necessities of life (37:25; Matt. 6:33{13]; Phil 4:19).

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