A Psalm of David.
Text: Psalm 23:1-6
Theme: The Great Shepherd
1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4Yea, 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. 5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Everyone knows this Psalm and it is probably the first you ever committed to memory. This is indeed the pearl of the Psalms. No other pastoral poem is loved so well and is as highly prized as Psalm 23. Most scholars assign a Davidic authorship of Psalm 23; the subject matter and poetic style are clearly that of David. But at what period in David’s life did he compose this psalm? Only two possibilities exist: either in his early shepherd’s life or in his waning years. We cannot judge which it is for certain, but the question has no bearing on the spiritual impact of the psalm.
Let us look a little deeper into verse 1.It reads “The LORD is my shepherd.” Have you ever thought about this phrase as more than just a declarative sentence? The metaphor of the shepherd is frequently found in Scripture (Isa 40: 11; 49:9-10; Jer. 31:10; Ezekiel 34:6–19). And in John 10:11-19 Yahshua also chose to show His relation to His people by the figure of a shepherd. In John 10:11 He said 11 ”I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” If G-d be as a shepherd to us, we must be as sheep to Him, inoffensive, meek, quiet, silent before the shearers and even before the butcher too. We also find reference to the shepherd in Heb. 13:20; I Pet. 2:25; 5:4; Rev 7:17).
We also have to think at what condescension that the infinite YHVH Elohim would characterize Himself as a finite shepherd. But even more astonishing is an element in this phrase and that is the little word my. Do we have the right or even the Psalmist the right to call YHVH Elohim our Creator, “my shepherd?” The answer is found in the preceding psalm, which depicts the death of Yahshua the Messiah on the execution stake and recall what Yahshua said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” If we are believers we have the right, but no one has the right to consider himself a sheep of Adonai unless the Spirit of G-d has renewed his nature. Unconverted men are never pictured as sheep, but as goats.
I shall not want follows “The Lord is my Shepherd.” And more is implied in these words than expressed. They mean I shall be supplied with whatever I need; and if I have not everything I desire, I may conclude it is either not fit for me or not good for me or I shall have it is due time. In the same vein, each of us, if you are as old as I, should be aware of the four freedoms, enumerated by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt: the freedom from want, the freedom from fear, the freedom of speech, and the freedom of religion as inconclusive in these words of the psalmists. However, the psalmist goes one better. The sheep of the L-rd’s pasture possess five freedoms.
1. The first is freedom from want. Those who abide in the presence of the Shepherd never lack for temporal things (cf 50:10; 84:11; Phil 4:19). In continuing the thought that the Good Shepherd brings us freedom from want, the psalmist notes, He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. Interpretations of this phrase have generally followed along two lines. Some, like Spurgeon, have understood green pastures to be the place of most substantial feeding for the sheep. Others see a reference to the Lord’s rest in the phrase he maketh me to lie down in green pastures. Since the green pastures of Palestine are so few and far between, the sheep must be led from pasture to pasture. When once a pasture is found, it is there they rest before moving on to the next pasture. Coupled with the expression, he leadeth me beside the still waters, we can see the perfect balance between rest and activity.
The metaphor “He leadeth me beside the still waters” assumes the same role as that of the green pastures. Just as the grass of the green pastures is deep enough to lie in, so also we must understand that still waters run deep. Any deep experience with the Shepherd can only be accomplished by time spent with the Shepherd, as the words lie down indicate.
2. He restoreth my soul. Not only is physical sustenance provided by the Good Shepherd, but spiritual restoration is provided as well. When the soul becomes sorrowful, He revives it. When our spirit becomes weak, He reinvigorates it. We have freedom from depletion, for every time we would stray, as a sheep would, He brings us back either with the rod or the staff, depending on the circumstances. When after one sin, David’s heart smote him, and after another, Nathan was sent to tell him, Thou art that man, G-d restored his soul. Though G-d may suffer his people to fall into sin, He will not suffer them to lie in it.
The next sentence in this Psalm is: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness. It is He who instructs me by His Word, and directs me by conscience and providence. It is the work of righteousness that is peace. In these paths we cannot walk unless G-d both lead us into them and lead us in them. The word translated paths (Heb. ma’ga[) means the ways clearly marked by wheeled traffic. These are not rabbit trails to oblivion but are the paths of pleasantness and peace (Prov. 3:17). Why and for what purpose does the Good Shepherd lead us in the paths of righteousness? For his name’s sake. The leading of the L-rd is accomplished out of pure grace. It is to the honor of the Great Shepherd that we keep the commandments of the Word and walk in the narrow way of righteousness.
3. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. In the course of the late afternoon, the shepherd may find himself walking through deep ravines overhung with high cliffs, which cause intermittent shadows. The sheep would naturally have an aversion to this darkness as a cover for beasts of prey; yet with the shepherd to lead them, there is nothing to fear. For though I am under the arrests of death and have a death sentence upon my head and should consider myself a dying man, yet I am easy for the wicked are chased out of this world their souls are required of them, but the saints take a walk to another world as cheerfully as they take leave of this one.
I will fear no evil. The shadow of death is nothing to fear. As the shadow of the sword cannot kill, the shadow of death cannot destroy. Because Yahshua has taken the sting out of death, we can say with the psalmist, “I will fear no evil.”
But how is it that we do not fear evil? Previously, the psalmist referred to G-d as “He”; now here he refers to Him with a more intimate “thou”; For thou art with me. The intimacy of the statement The L-RD is my shepherd is now seen in his direct address to the G-d of heaven. When we come to know G-d personally through His Son Yahshua the Messiah, His living Torah, the death barrier is shattered. All who have trusted in Yahshua as their atonement are not only free from want, but have freedom from the fear of death as well.
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. The rod (Heb shebet) and staff (Heb. mish’enet) are symbols of the shepherd’s office. By them, he guides the sheep and chases away the enemies. These are the ensigns of the sovereignty of the shepherd over his sheep. When passing through the shadowy ravine, the sheep know that the gentle tap of the shepherd’s staff or of his rod is designed for their safe passage. Thus, they heed that gentle leading. In Psalm 110:2 Yahshua is called the Rod of YHVH’s strength sent out of Zion and is the One designated to lead us in safety and confidence.
4. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. Unlike the account of Gideon and his three hundred soldiers (Judges 7:6), the L-rd does not command us to hastily snatch a meal in the presence of our enemies, but actually prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies. Nothing is hurried; there is no confusion. We are with the Great Shepherd, and even in the midst of our enemies there is perfect peace.
5. Thou anointest my head with oil. The shepherd would carry a small flask of oil to anoint the scratched face of sheep that had to find their food among the thorns and thistles. But in the imagery of the psalmist, with relation to believers today, the anointing of our heads with oil must be taken to mean the filling of the Ruach ha Kodesh. It is by the Ruach that we have an unction (I Jn. 2:20) without which we cannot be a believer-priest but with which we are assured of His continued favor. .
My cup runneth over. This expressive metaphor means that not only has our cup been filled to the brim, but also it runs over the brim, indicating a state of bliss rarely experienced in this life. If this statement relates to the preceding one, in the life of the believer, it means that we may be continually filled to overflowing with the Spirit of G-d.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. So certain
is the psalmist that these twin graces will follow him that he begins his summary
statement with a heavenly “verily” or surely. Goodness and mercy will not
simply follow, but will pursue him. The verb used here (Heb. Radap) is used
elsewhere in a predominantly hostile sense. That it is given a benevolent sense
here makes it even more striking. These graces actively seek us out when we
follow the Good Shepherd. They are present with us in times of feasting as well
as when in times of fasting all the days of my life.
And I will dwell in the house of the L-rd forever. The prayer of 27:4 is a
certain reality to the psalmist. The house of the L-rd does not indicate a temple
or church, but rather communion with G-d. The fact that we shall dwell in the
house of the L-rd forever indicates sonship; for a servant never abides in the
house. As a child of G-d who walks in the path of the Good Shepherd, I am
always at home with G-d. This is the fifth of the five freedoms; freedom from
desertion. The Shepherd has promised me “… I will never leave thee nor forsake
thee (Heb. 13:15). Whether through the green pastures, the still waters, through
valley of death, or in the presence of mine enemies, I know He is always with me.
Adonai li, lo ira (The L-rd is with me; I am not afraid).
Rabbi Tamah Davis as taught by Rebbe Milchama ben David