Psalm 23: A Reflection

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His 
Name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever
 – Psalm 23, ESV.

Psalm 23 is arguably the most popular Psalm in the Bible. Most people know it so well that they can even recite it from memory. However, to paraphrase an old quote, “You might know the Psalm, but do you know The Shepherd? 

I’ve been reflecting on this Psalm recently, and it struck me just how centred it is on The Shepherd, God. The Shepherd is clearly the Star of this Psalm. In a sense, this Psalm is like a tapestry woven from beautiful threads, each thread showcasing aspects of who God, Our Shepherd, is.

The Psalmist, David, starts by introducing The Lord as the Shepherd of His life. Then he goes on to explore various aspects of His Shepherd’s character. His Shepherd is:

A Provider, that’s why he wants for nothing, he has everything he needs. This provision is all-encompassing. The Message (MSG) translation says, “You have bedded me down in lush meadows, You find me quiet pools to drink from.” God provides the meal, the water, the rest. True rest that does not leave him anxious. If he is anxious and opens his eyes, he will see the green pastures, and the lush meadows all around. He can experience true rest because he has the confident assurance that with his Shepherd, there is more than enough.

A Leader and Guide, leading and guiding him along the paths of righteousness. The Shepherd sends him “in the right direction” (MSG). The Shepherd knows the terrain through and through, and following the Shepherd allows him to benefit from this knowledge, wisdom, and direction. The Shepherd is a guide who is ever present, in both the green pastures and the valley of the shadow of death. 

A Protector, Restorer and Comforter, empowering him to live without fear, because of the presence of his Shepherd. His glorious light exposes the fact that death is but a shadow. The Shepherd’s rod and staff protect the sheep by chasing away predators, and having that protection is profoundly comforting. The crook of the staff can also draw the sheep out of dangerous situations and restore it to the right path, to its place among the fold; for it is safer in the company of the Shepherd and other sheep. The rod is used to count the sheep (Leviticus 27:32), reassuring it that it is part of the numbered fold, known by the Shepherd, not a stray.

Not only does the Shepherd exhibit all these characteristics, but He is also lavish. His nature is one of extravagance. He doesn’t just prepare a simple meal, He prepares a table, or as other translations put it, ‘a feast’, ‘a six-course dinner’, or ‘a banquet’. He doesn’t just dip his hands into a bowl of oil and dab it on the sheep’s forehead, He pours the oil generously, anointing the sheep’s head, and letting the oil flow to its body. This protects it from injury, disease, and pests; soothes the sheep and brings healing. He doesn’t just provide a half-full cup, He provides an overflowing cup. He is so full of goodness and mercy that they follow the sheep like a flood of water. The sheep can swim in it, bask in it, shower it on their fellow sheep, every day of their lives.

Like David, God is Our Shepherd. “We are His people, the sheep of His pasture” (Psalm 100:3b). As such, we can experience all the above! Isn’t that just heartening?

Why does the Shepherd, God, do all this though? For His Name’s sake. The Shepherd does all the heavy lifting, not because of anything special we sheep have done, but because it is in His nature as a Good Shepherd. His glory, His name, His reputation, and His honour as a Good Shepherd are at stake. It all rests on His shoulders.

What do we, the sheep, have to do? To dwell in the House of the Lord forever. To abide, to remain in the Presence of the Lord continually. Psalm 91:1 (NKJV) reminds us that “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” John 15:4 (CEV) says “Stay joined to me, and I will stay joined to you. Just as a branch cannot produce fruit unless it stays joined to the vine, you cannot produce fruit unless you stay joined to me.”

If we want to be all that we are called to be, If we want to truly experience the fullness of the Shepherd in all His glory, to benefit from and show forth evidence of His provision, guidance, leadership, protection, comfort, we need to dwell with the Shepherd, to abide in Him, to stay joined to Him. We need to trust our Good Shepherd and follow His leading. As John 10:27-28 (NLT) says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me”. How do we as His sheep get to know, listen to and follow Our Shepherd’s voice? Through constant prayer and study of His Word, hearing, reading, practising; over and over again. Staying close to Him, spurred on by the flock.

Alas, sheep are prone to going astray (Isaiah 53:6, Psalm 119:176). However, even when they do so, the Good Shepherd goes out of His way to embark on a search and rescue operation (Luke 15:3-7). Because as a Good Shepherd, it is in His nature to do so. He is not a hired hand that runs at the first sight of trouble (John 10:10-14). Every single sheep matters to Him. He loves and rejoices over every single one (Luke 15:4-5). He loves and rejoices over YOU (Zephaniah 3:17).

I pray that as we reflect on this Psalm, we will truly recognise how good and lavish Our God, Our Shepherd is. May we learn to dwell with Him all the days of our lives. In doing so, I pray that we will experience and enjoy the wisdom, direction, power, refreshing, lushness, goodness and mercy that come from continuous proximity to Our Good, Devoted Shepherd.

Liv is a Christian, not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but perfectly loved by God. In her walk with God, sometimes she stumbles, sometimes she skips happily, sometimes she feels like she’s just about dragging herself along. Writing is her way of sharing the little pieces of learning she picks up along the walk. She hopes that it encourages you, makes you ponder, and reminds you that you are not alone and that you are loved (oh so loved!) by God.

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