25/10/2017 | Psalm 23 | Favorite Psalm | Timothy Rist
1The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
3he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
4Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United
States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
- Psalm 23 is probably the most well-known Psalm, perhaps even the most familiar text of the Bible that both the “churched” and “unchurched” know. The frequent reference to 23:4 has led many to associate this psalm with death and mourning.
- Psalm 23 is a “song of trust,” [see also Psalms 4, 11, 27, 16, 62, and 131]. Songs of trust have two things in common: (a) a perceived crisis of some kind and (b) trust that the crisis or disaster will pass, and all will be well. In fact, as scholars often note, in these songs of trust it is the very crisis that instigates the psalmist to call out in trust – and not, as one might expect, to a cry of despondency or dejection [trust even when surrounded by flesh eating enemies, and the enemy army; 27:1-3].
- The precious nature of Psalm 23, for me, is not about crisis, but it is the reminder of the need for the relationship between God and his people; the psalm reminds me about the beauties of living life in the here and now even in the face of the darkness and fear that so often accompanies day-to-day life.
- It is important to remember the Psalmist understands suffering as being a part-and-parcel of life! A relationship with God is not an absence of suffering. The presence and favour of God bring “comfort and strength in suffering, not immunity from it.”[i]
- In all things “his names sake” means God is always true to his revealed character – God never changes, and this is a great security for the Psalmist.
Vs. 1: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” [see Deut. 2:7 “lack nothing” and Neh. 9:21 “lack nothing” the verb used here as “lack nothing” is the same as that used in the NRSV and translated “not want”!]. The reminder to us – that God was with his people in their wandering in the desert for 40 years and during that time they “lacked nothing” – God provided water, manna, quail. God took care of the people then as they wandered through the desert. Life wasn’t always easy – but it was life. Those 40 years might have contained a lot of grumbling and complaining, but they also witnessed manna from heaven, the birth of a new generation, and eventual progress to the Promised Land. God cared for the wandering people – and they “lacked nothing”. The value of a relationship with God is clear: have faith in the God who shepherds you through the wilderness, for history tells you that God will not let you lack what you need. God will lead you to the Promised Land, providing you green pastures (food), still waters (drink), and a straight path (protection).
Vs. 4: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff — they comfort me.” A continuation of the Shepherd metaphor; “darkest valley” is most accurate translation here. Find this very helpful because it shifts the focus of the Psalm away from reading it in the context of death and mourning – to the shepherd who encourages and protects the life of the flock!
God is shepherding and guiding his people through the dark times of danger and threat – keeping them safe. Psalm 23 is an encouragement to continue through life with hope and trust.
Vs. 5-6: The final two verses of the psalm move to the second metaphor: God is a gracious and generous host who prepares a banquet table for the psalmist (see also Psalm 92:10,11). This table is spread “in the presence of my enemies,” who seem to watch from the sidelines as God anoints the head of the psalmist and fills the psalmist’s cup to overflowing (23:5).
The psalm continues, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” The Hebrew word translated in the NRSV as “follow” is also found in many verses scattered throughout the biblical texts that deal with enemies, but then is always used as “pursue.” A few examples: Exodus 15:9; Psalm 7:5; Psalm 143:3. Wonderfully, Psalm 23:6 turns the image of an enemy who “pursues” – a frightening thought – into something wonderful, good, and life-affirming! It should read: “Surely goodness and mercy [hesed] shall pursue me all the days of my life.”
Vs. 6b: The psalm ends with yet another affirmation to life and living: “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long”; here the “house of the Lord” refers to the Temple (see Psalm 27:4). Again, the psalm emphasizes life in the present reality of the psalmist, and the ways in which life in the present with God can be joyous, a banquet! Especially if one trusts in the guidance and protection of the shepherd and the generous and gracious host of the banquet.
Psalm 23 reminds us that God sustains, provides, and cares for his flock not just once, but in fact time, and time, again! God, the shepherd, was there when the people fled from Egypt, when they returned from Exile, and he is with us, when we walk in our present time through darkness and fear. Psalm 23 reminds us that goodness and loving kindness can “pursue” us even as trouble, threat and fears so often seem to do. Psalm 23 is a call to live – to live in the face of danger, to live in the face of troubles and misfortune, to focus on life even when the shadows of darkness might surround us, and to know that in living, with God as shepherd and generous host, we will be sustained – and live!
[i] G.W. Anderson in “Peakes Commentary”; pg.418, para 366a; Thomas Nelson 1962
- Kelly J. Murphy; Commentary on Psalm 23; 2017; Michigan University.
- Artur Weiser; The Psalms; pg.226-231; SCM Press; 1996