Summary: One of the greatest of all the psalms gives us hope when venturing out of the sheep pen that a God of great love will accompany us in life's darkest valleys.
Psalm 23 is by far the most well-known of the psalms. Many people who are not Jewish or Christian can often recite it from memory. It has even made its way into popular films and TV shows (mostly in graveside scenes). Overall this psalm gives us a picture of God as provider, no matter what circumstance faces us. The Psalmist portrays himself as a sheep. When you are a sheep, you are pretty vulnerable. Sheep aren’t known for their smarts, and when it comes to facing the perils of this life and the enemy of our souls, Lucifer, we feel pretty vulnerable too. But we have a God who cares so much for us that He becomes our shepherd to guide us, protect us, and provide for us a place of safety and even joy amidst trouble.
There are two settings used in this psalm: a shepherd and his sheep, and the Lord’s house. Each has its place as we study the poem.
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The idea of shepherd was of course familiar to David as he was himself a shepherd as a young man. When Samuel the prophet came to anoint Israel’s next king, David was out in the field caring for the sheep. When presented with the enemy Goliath, David described to Saul how he had protected his father’s sheep from predators like lions and bears.
(1 Samuel 17:34-36) David answered Saul, "Your servant has been tending his father's sheep. Whenever a lion or a bear came and carried off a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it down, and rescued the lamb from its mouth. If it reared up against me, I would grab it by its fur, strike it down, and kill it.
A Shepherd’s main job is to protect and provide for his sheep. David’s first acknowledgement about the Lord (“Yahweh”) is that when you are in His flock you lack nothing. That doesn’t mean you get everything you think you want, it means you get everything God wants you to have—to begin with that means a relationship with a loving Father. In that relationship you are protected.
As Jesus prepared to leave His little flock and go the cross He prayed this:
John 17:11 I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to You.
Holy Father, protect them by Your name that You have given Me, so that they may be one as We are one.
Without green pastures and safe water, sheep will die. This suggests the richness of the relationship between sheep and shepherd. “He lets me” and “he leads me” tell us that it is God who finds places for us to be nourished and refreshed. Are you nourished and refreshed by your relationship with God? More importantly, what pastures and waters are you feeding at? If it is that which this world offers, you will not find true nourishment for your soul, but if it is God’s Word, the fellowship of the saints, your times of prayer and intense fellowship with God and the interaction between child and Father—then you will find what truly “renews your life.”
The idea of “leading me along the right paths” suggests that the way God leads our life is to become more like Him and His character.