Psalm 23 Commentary: The Lord is My Shepherd Explained

Psalm 23 commentary is a holy piece of work that exudes different kinds of emotions. It is a treasure chest filled with spiritual truths that encourage many. 

Almost everyone, whether religious or not, has heard Psalm 23 because it is quoted so frequently. It is a psalm written by David who grew up as a shepherd. In describing the Lord as a shepherd, David wrote out of his own experience because he had spent his early years caring for sheep. 

Psalm 23 distinctively stands out compared to other chapters in the Book of Psalms and receives a larger magnitude of respect. But, what makes it so compelling? Why is Psalm 23 one of the most well-known Psalms and the favorite biblical passage of many?  

In this article, we’ll be talking about the commentary of Psalm 23 and explore more about its meaning. 

What is the Main Idea of Psalm 23

The word PSALM literally means praise and it features works of various characters – the majority of which were written by David. The book of Psalms is so unique because it focuses on the character of God. It talks about humanity, our experiences, and even our emotions. The book of Psalms is the most quoted book in the New Testament, and Jesus would refer a lot to the Book of Psalms even in His claims and teachings.

The gist of Psalm 23 is that God is our shepherd who always provides and protects. It is a song of gratitude that resonates with the author’s heart and trust in God. The writer asserts their faith in God amidst trials and tribulations through this Psalm. 

Psalm 23 is written by David who grew up as a shepherd. This psalm is so personal, with the pronoun “I” or “My”, being used commonly. In Psalm 23, we are compared to sheep who do not have a sense of direction, are hopeless, and are weak who need a Shepherd. 

The Analogy of God and the Shepherd in Psalm 23

The writer of Psalm 23 makes an analogy between God and the shepherd. The primary responsibility of a shepherd is to ensure the well-being and safety of the flock. Shepherds feed the flock and herd them to good forage areas. They also keep a vigilant and watchful eye out for poisonous plants and wild animals. Psalm 23 is an explicit metaphor that displays the relationship between God and His people. He is the Shepherd that tends to His flock. 

Who Wrote Psalm 23

The anointed writer of Psalm 23 was King David. He was the son of Jesse and a direct descendant of Abraham. Jesus the Messiah was also a descendant of King David. 

David’s former occupation was a humble shepherd. He was faithful in caring for his flock and never complained about his responsibilities. Psalm 23 symbolizes the human race as a flock and God as their Shepherd.

Why was Psalm 23 Written

Most scholars account this Psalm to David’s maturity that contains vivid reminiscence of his youth as a shepherd. Psalm 23 is a song of gratitude that tells David’s relationship with God as his shepherd. David wrote Psalm 23 based on his experiences with God. He wanted to depict the marvelous work of God in his life and encourage many believers with his testimony. 

When was Psalm 23 Written

It is a bit difficult to ascertain the exact time Psalm 23 was written. However, many scholars believed David wrote it during his kingship (around 1000 BC to 993 BC). Countless experts also argued that David wrote it during the later years of his kingship because of its nostalgic and tranquil tone. 

Psalm 23 Commentary

Let’s look at the meaning and significance of each verse written in Psalm 23.

The Lord As A Shepherd Who Provides (Verse 1)

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

In verse 1, David expresses his thoughts about God. God is like a shepherd to David. In the ancient Near East, the shepherd was a royal metaphor. The analogy of a king as a shepherd is common in ancient times and is not unusual. 

The idea that the LORD is a shepherd to His people is also prevalent throughout the Bible. The concept dates back to the Book of Genesis when Jacob referred to the LORD as the Shepherd and the Rock of Israel (Genesis 49:24).

It’s also of paramount importance to recognize that the shepherd in this psalm connotes more than someone who merely herds the flock. To call God a shepherd is to acknowledge His sovereignty over their lives and submit to His will. It’s evident in this verse how David recognizes God’s lordship over his life. David could say God is “my” shepherd because of his personal experience. God wasn’t just a shepherd to others in a theoretical sense, but He was David’s shepherd. 

A sheep is an object of property, not a wild animal; its owner sets great store by it, and frequently it is bought with a great price. It is well to know, as certainly as David did, that we belong to the Lord. There is a noble tone of confidence about this sentence. There is no ‘if’ nor ‘but,’ nor even ‘I hope so;’ but he says, ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’” (Charles Spurgeon)

It’s interesting to note how David used the word shepherd in this psalm instead of a more distant term like a king or a deliverer. David knew the uniqueness and intimacy of this metaphor. As someone who worked as a shepherd before, David knew that shepherds live with their flock and are everything to it: guide, protector, and source of provision. 

“I shall not want” can translate to “I have no lack”. It implies that the Lord is the only thing needed in life and that God’s shepherding care provides all of our necessities. Regardless of destitution, famine, storms, and other uncertainties, God’s flock is well-provided for in all seasons. He is the shepherd that provides and His people will lack no good thing. God refuses to let the godly go hungry. (Proverbs 10:3) 

David could confidently write the second phrase because he experienced the provision and providence of God in his life. The rest of the Psalm exhibits the shepherding care of God that is essential to life.  

The Lord As A Shepherd Who Guides (Verses 2-3)

“He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.”

God as a shepherd knows where to lead His flock to rest. However, the sheep do not easily lie down. They will not lie down if they are afraid. They will not lie down when there is conflict among the sheep. When flies or parasites annoy them, it’s hard for them to be at rest. When the sheep are hungry or are anxious about food, they can’t lie down peacefully. (Philip Keller

Just like the sheep, it’s difficult for us to be at rest when life throws a lot of problems. When faced with destitution, famine, pressures, financial difficulty, and depression, it’s hard to remain calm and tranquil. But, God as our shepherd provides peace that transcends all understanding. 

The shepherd recognizes when the sheep require green pastures and when they require still waters. The image exudes a sense of rest, comfort, and care.

“He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”

God as our shepherd not only leads but restores as well. God’s shepherding care from the previous verse brought restoration to David’s soul. 

The word restore implies the notion of a rescued one. It may portray the straying sheep brought back. (Kidner)

The shepherd is also a guide who leads the flock on the right path. Because the sheep have this tendency to wander and get lost, a shepherd must always guide them in the right direction. The sheep didn’t know where the green pastures and still waters were. Likewise, we also need God to guide us to the right places and opportunities. 

The shepherd’s guidance not only comforted and restored David but also led His sheep to righteousness. David’s guidance from God has a moral component. God’s motivations for treating His people rightly stem from the perfection and goodness of His nature. 

The Protection And Comfort From God’s Presence (Verse 4)

“Yea, 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.”

Verse 4 has a dark tone that embodies the possibility of traversing through the valley of death even in the presence of the shepherd. David wrote this while remembering his fearful experiences. He was aware of the potential dangers that may befall him. However, he was confident that God is with him all the time. 

The shepherd certainly did not remove the presence of evil but removed the fear of evil. God’s presence removed the fear in David and comforted him. The instruments used by the shepherd comforted David. Shepherds use the rod and staff to guide the sheep and protect them from potential predators. 

God does not eliminate the risks and hazards but will illuminate His presence. The light shines the brightest in the dark. Notice how in times of trials, we become more aware of God’s presence. We seek more of God and depend on Him further when we encounter problems. 

The Blessings of God Amidst Danger (Verse 5)

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.”

David envisioned God as a benevolent host who prepared a grand banquet. The image portrays that God has the power to feed and protect David. God’s presence enables David to feast in perfect security. 

However, God’s care for David doesn’t remove the presence of his adversaries. But, it does entitle David to experience God’s provision and providence in their midst. 

God anoints His people with oil just like how shepherds anoint their sheep with oil. The anointing of oil to the sheep isn’t just a meaningless ritual. It is a necessary method to protect the sheep. 

Sheep are easy targets for parasites, lice, and flies. A sheep unoiled is an easy target for the infestations of such pests. However, the oil does not just protect the sheep from nuisance. Pests would crawl through the ear canal of an unoiled sheep and lay in its brain. The sheep would experience excruciating pain that they would bash their heads against trees and rocks for relief. 

The sheep may crack their skull just to ease the suffering to get rid of the brain-eating parasites.

When God anoints us with His oil, He guards us against the parasites of this world that seek to destroy us. 

The word “my cup runs over” indicates that David not only had the necessities but also enjoyed abundance. God longs to bless and prosper His people. 

God’s Future Blessings and Promises

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

The mercy here comes from the Hebrew word “Hesed” which depicts God’s covenant faithfulness. David claimed that the same God who faithfully rescued the Israelites from Egypt and provided guidance and provision in the wilderness is the same faithful God he served. 

David experienced the goodness and mercy of God from His tender care. He lived in the confident hope that it would continue for the rest of his life. 

Key Concepts of Psalm 23

God Provides

Psalm 23 mainly illustrates God as a caring shepherd. He is the source of life and a great provider. He will sustain and provide for all of His people’s needs.

God Leads

God leads His people into the green pastures and still waters. He is a great leader who leads people to righteous living. 

God Protects

God protects His people and His presence brings comfort to eliminate the fear of evil. 

God Blesses

God does not withhold anything good from His flock. He wants to genuinely bless His people and live in the abundance of His grace. 

How to Apply Psalm 23 in Your Life?

God ultimately protects and provides for His flock and does everything in His power to care for them. To experience the care and guidance of God as a shepherd, we must identify ourselves as His sheep. In light of all these truths, we must respond promptly. If God is our shepherd then we must obey Him wholeheartedly. We must surrender our desires and follow where He leads no matter the cost. 

The Relevance of Psalm 23 Today

The world is now experiencing a dreadful pandemic. Many people succumb to their hopelessness and fear. A lot of people are suffering mentally, emotionally, and financially. What humanity needs now is the restoration of hope and joy. People need comfort and encouragement. 

That’s why Psalm 23 is crucially relevant even today. People need to know this beautiful Psalm of David to reorient and renew their thinking. Psalm 23 brings encouragement and a great reminder that God is our shepherd and He will never abandon us. 

Final Thoughts

The intimate portrayal of God as a shepherd is what makes Psalm 23 unique and unforgettable. The psalmist genuinely expressed his understanding and experience with God as his shepherd. 

The profound way of weaving David’s testimony to bring glory to God through this Psalm is utterly magnificent. Psalm 23 is a wonderful masterpiece of David that contains encouragement and awe-inspiring spiritual truths. 

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Alex Shute
EDITOR
Alex Shute
Alex is a family man and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. His passion is to serve the global Church and bring people of diverse backgrounds together to learn & grow.

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