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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.
ESV and NIV verses follow the commentary
Psalm 23 Commentary
by Steve Howells
The 23rd Psalm is arguably the most well-known and possibly the most popular Bible passage of believers and unbelievers alike. King David’s poetic imagery invokes a caring shepherd, looking after the best interests of his flock with firmness, love and protection. An image of peace, comfort and provision in an admittedly hostile environment. Something 21st century Christians can increasingly relate to.
In verse 1 David declares his relationship with the living God. Although an earthly king himself, David describes God as his shepherd and thereby admits his own need of God’s guidance and provision. He’s saying that because God is his shepherd, he’ll not be needing anything from anyone else. He simply will not want. If we take that at face value, we might think that God is David’s source of everything he needs to live his earthly life, that he gets his food, clothing and shelter, and whatever else he desires, freely from God. And while we know that God is indeed our source, we also know that ours is a purpose-driven existence according to God’s will, and life’s needs are not just served up by God on a silver platter.
David qualifies his want of nothing by describing the nature of his dependence on the Shepherd. His relationship with God isn’t simply a means of getting everything he needs, its more complex than that. In verse 2 David speaks of green pastures and still waters. Sounds very pastoral and peaceful. But he uses the verbs, ‘makes’ and ‘leads’, suggesting that if God didn’t make him lie down in green pastures, he might not do so. Likewise, David must be directed to still waters because he can’t always find them on his own. Only by following God’s direction can we be assured of green pastures and still waters, and in the analogy of the sheep, we will indeed not want for rest and sustenance.
In verse 3 we learn that the Shepherd restores David’s soul. As Christians we’re very familiar with the concept. As lost sheep we fall short of the glory of God and His righteousness. We can never hope to achieve the level of perfection required to enter the presence of God, and can’t therefore expect to spend eternity with Him. But the Shepherd who loves His sheep has provided even for that. He allows us to take on the righteousness of Jesus Christ, who took upon Himself our sin. So when we accept God’s free gift of salvation by accepting Jesus Christ, He restores our soul such that we can be assured of eternal life in the glorious presence of the Shepherd Himself.
Verse 3 continues with the consequences of our salvation through Jesus Christ. Through the Holy Spirit we’re guided to paths of righteousness, and when we hold to those paths we do so for His sake, lifting Him up before the world, His name.
We know that life’s green pastures and right paths are not without peril. When we walk within God’s will for our lives as guided by the Holy Spirit, we’re bound to encounter the proverbial hills and valleys of this fallen world. Evil is there, but in verse 4 David acknowledges that if we’re on the right path, God is still with us. We need not fear that evil, and we can take comfort in the knowledge that the rod and staff of our Shepherd, the very power of God, will ensure proper outcomes according to His will, even to death. And when we consider that the love and protection of God ultimately prevails over evil, the image of a table set before our enemies in verse 5 is a powerful reminder that in our victory through Christ, we are looked after in spiritual abundance. Anointed with oil, an overflowing cup. We might also consider how Jesus Himself, on the eve of His crucifixion, broke bread and poured wine at such a table, poised to secure salvation, once and for all.
Verse 6 nicely summarizes our situation as sheep in the care of our Shepherd. While we roam the pastures, hills and valleys of this fallen world we can be assured that by following the directions of our Shepherd, God’s goodness and mercy will follow us every step of the way, providing for our needs, and protecting us from evil. And at the end of our journey, according to God’s promise in our salvation, we look forward to eternity with Him.
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Psalm 23 English Standard Version (ESV)
1: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2: He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
3: He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4: 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.
5: You prepare a table before m in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6: 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 New International Version (NIV)
1: The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2: He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
3:he refreshes my soul.He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
4: Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6: Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23 Commentary Copyright © 2017 Steve Howells, All Rights Reserved.