"The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 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. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 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." (Psa 23:1-6)
Let's unpack this psalm together.
The Lord is my Shepherd
The Hebrew says, "Yehova Rohi" meaning Yehova (or the Lord) is my Shepherd. If you know the Lord Jesus Christ, then He is the Shepherd that you follow, and you realize that He is the One who laid down His life for you on the cross and paid the price for sin. You believe that He rose from the dead and that He lives in your heart. He is the Lord of your life, which means He makes the decisions. You enjoy all the blessings that brings, which the psalmist goes on to enumerate.
I Shall Not Want
This is another way of saying I shall lack nothing. When the Lord is your Shepherd, He provides for all your needs, so that there is no lack.
Green Pastures (Rest)
Still Waters (Refreshment and Restoration)
David said, "He leadeth me beside the still waters." When I read this I think of waters that are flowing gently and quietly, not turbulently. Or I think of the kind of waters where the surface is clear and placid, still and tranquil, reflecting the sky, the trees, and the mountains around it. When the waters are still like that and you come up alongside them, you can drink and find refreshment. It's a beautiful place to be, and you can drink of the living waters to your heart's content.
That's a place where the Lord restores your soul. David said, "He restoreth my soul." We all need these times of restoration, because we go through things in life that wear us down, test us, try us, and can leave us feeling anxious, frustrated, or weary. I'm glad that the Lord leads me beside still waters and restores my soul there.
Paths of Righteousness
David said, "He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake." As I follow Him, He leads me in paths of righteousness, which result in me experiencing His righteousness in my life by faith. It also means that I am led to practice my righteousness according to His Word (Mat 6:1). The path of righteousness is the path of life that leads to heaven. It grows brighter and brighter like the light of dawn until it reaches the full day (Prov 4:18). That means my life will reflect His righteousness more and more the longer I walk with Him. He leads me that way for the sake of His name, so that He might receive the glory, by enabling me to walk in righteousness, holiness, and truth.
Thou Art With Me
David said, "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." At times we all have to go through valleys in life, some of which can be rather dark or even cast shadows over us, and eventually we all have to go through the valley of the shadow of death. There are low points in life and sad times, too. There may even be sickness or close scrapes with death for us or our loved ones. In fact, sometimes we experience the loss of our loved ones. Certainly there is that appointed time for each of us when we too must die and then face the judgment (Heb 9:27).
But we never have to go through any of these experiences alone, because the Lord is right there with us always. We can say to the Lord as David did, "Thou art with me," because Jesus promised us, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." (Heb 13:5). He also said, "And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Mat 28:20).
That's also why we fear no evil, even though there are times that may seem scary, because the devil is trying to frighten, threaten, and intimidate us. But if the omnipotent Lord whose name is above all names is with us, we have nothing to fear, because He is watching over us and defending us. He carries both His rod and His staff in His strong hands to protect us from those ferocious wild beasts. For that reason it's comforting to me to know that He carries His rod and His staff, but there are even more reasons why they are a comfort to me as well.
Every sheep that passes under the rod is counted and watched over with great care. The rod that comforts me also represents the Lord's discipline in my life. The shepherd uses the rod and so does the Lord to bring discipline, so that He may lovingly bring me back into line when I go astray. It's called the rod of correction (Prov 13:24; 29:15). He reminds us,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Heb 12:5-6, NIV)
The staff or "shepherd's crook" comforts me, because He uses the staff to direct me where I should go and to redirect me when I wander or stray. It's a comfort to know He is taking the lead to keep me on the path of righteousness. And He always brings comfort to me whenever I need it, especially when I go through the valleys. I can say with the apostle:
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ." (2 Cor 1:3-5, NIV)
A Table Prepared Before Me
David, said, "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies." The picture here is one of the Shepherd preparing a meal for the sheep while there are lions, tigers, wolves, and serpents all around. Even in the presence of my enemies, the Lord prepares a table. They look on as I eat to my heart's content. While they would like to eat me for lunch, they stand back and watch me enjoy what the Lord my Shepherd has provided for me.
Eating can put animals, especially sheep, into a vulnerable position, because while they are looking down at their food, a predator could sneak up and pounce on them. But I don't have to fear what man may do to me or fear the devil, because I know the Lord my Shepherd, who laid down His life for me on the cross, prepares a table for me right in front of my enemies, so that I may feast on His abundance without a single care or worry. He will show the wicked that He loves me and is with me all the time, taking good care of me. He's got my back at all times. This is a sign of His goodness to me that my enemies may see it and be put to shame.
Anointed with Oil
David said, "Thou anointest my head with oil." The picture here is the Shepherd pouring oil on the sheep's head to bring healing to a wound, such as a scratch from a close scrape with the enemy that happened during an attack, or perhaps sustained from getting tangled up in briers through its own waywardness. When David said the Lord anointed his head with oil, this speaks to me of the anointing of the Holy Spirit that He pours out upon me and in my life. The Holy Spirit is so precious and His ministry in my life is indispensable, because He brings healing, comfort, guidance, wonder-working power, and guides me into all truth.
Baptism with the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised (Lk 24:49; Ac 1:4,8; 2:4), and you will never regret that you did.
Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow Me
David said, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." Since the Lord is my Shepherd, His goodness and mercy always follow me. Even when I sometimes fail, I am reassured of His loving goodness and mercy to me, so that I can get up and keep on going. His mercy follows me, because "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 Joh 1:9, NIV). His goodness follows me, because "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Rom 8:28, NIV).
A wonderful illustration of this is the true account of how my friend Michael Thomas Sambo miraculously escaped from terrorist assassins that kidnapped him, and was taken care of by two angels called goodness and mercy. Perhaps you have never thought before of goodness and mercy as two angels, but that is what their names were. You can read about that in my article Angelic Escape from Terrorist Assassins.
Eternal Life in the Shepherd's House
David said, "I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever." This is what I am able to look forward to all because of Jesus' finished work on the cross. I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever, because He promised to give eternal life to those who believe in Him. He said, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand." (Joh 10:27-29, NIV). He also said, "“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and he who lives by believing in me will never die." (Joh 11:25-26, NIV).
A Special Blessing for All Sheep
I hope this has encouraged you in your walk with the Lord today. In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer, Jesus has overcome the world! Now I pray this blessing upon all the Shepherd's true sheep who have read this post:
"Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (Heb 13:20-21, NIV)
Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version. Other quotes from Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the other posts in this blog available through the Home page, such as Fullness, Baptism with the Holy Spirit, A Tale of Two Kings, The Servant of the Lord, The Shepherding Role of Elders, Success in God's Eyes, Accountable, correctable, and teachable, A Personality Profile of the Apostle Paul, Persecuted or Popular?, and Having a Servant's Heart. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org