One of the dangers involving “familiar” passages of Scripture is that we think we know everything about them. The risk of operating under those assumptions is that we could miss some pretty important truths the Lord may have for us; one such passage is Psalm 23. We’ve heard it loads of times, and many likely have it memorized. Perhaps, our tendency with this great passage is to relegate it to a funeral service, or a children’s story, or maybe even a greeting card. That’s not good; we need to guard against doing that, as this is perhaps one of the most theologically rich passages in all of Scripture, and maybe, just maybe, there are some things you may have never gleaned from it before.
As simple as this psalm may appear, this is a supremely profound theological treatise written on the Divine sovereign care of God.
First of all, I want to point out two major components of this Psalm. Number 1: it is written from the perspective of a sheep; yes, a sheep, a simple dependent sheep. David is writing this from the standpoint that he himself is a sheep, and this sheep has identified and embraced Yahweh as his Shepherd – “The Lord is my Shepherd.” As a result, of having the Sovereign God of all creation as his Shepherd, there are very clear benefits which will be communicated in the subsequent verses. Component Number 2: this sheep is constructing a very clear dissertation on the sovereign shepherding care of the Creator, and he, the sheep presents his very clear thesis statement at the end of verse 1 – “I shall not lack!”
Many versions of the Bible have translated this as “I shall not want.” A better translation might be “I do not lack,” or “I lack nothing.” Actually, want has very little to do with it, as no emotion of desire is communicated here in the Hebrew. The statement is more one of an epistemological reality, an affirmation of a truth; that there is no want because there is no lack, no need.
Verse 1 sets the stage describing the life of one who has Yahweh as his shepherd. Simply put, David confirms that a sheep of the Divine Shepherd lacks absolutely nothing. The subsequent verses describe the many ways in which they indeed “lack” nothing. In other words, “The Lord is my shepherd; therefore, I lack nothing in the following ways”:
“He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:2).
Sheep need proper provisions to physically survive: food and water. It is incumbent upon the shepherd to make sure they get it. Yahweh makes the sheep to lie down in “tender” grasses; grass which is green, soft and luscious–plump with moisture. Because of their ability to swim like a rock, sheep are instinctively afraid of running water. The shepherd must find calm waters, still waters…unthreatening waters, or the shepherd must pick up a few large stones and dam up a place in the stream, causing the rushing water to slow its current and create quiet waters to facilitate drinking.
The Lord is my Shepherd; I lack no Divine provision.
“He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness;
For His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3).
The Lord doesn’t stop at the provisions for physical sustenance, but nurtures the soul as well. Restoration implies that the soul was in need of restoration; it was broken. Notice that He restores, and He does that by guiding His sheep in the ways of righteousness. And, He does this to lift His name high.
The Lord is my Shepherd; I lack no Divine peace.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
In the midst of the darkest of concerns and threats, Yahweh is identified as Divine Protector. Our peace, our security is held in trust by His presence. His rod identifies the ability to defeat the most severe of threats; the staff His sovereignty to retrieve the sheep from self-inflicted perils.
The Lord is my Shepherd; I lack no Divine protection.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5).
Feasts! The picture of feasts and meals in the Bible depicts relationship. Abraham dines with the Lord at the Oaks of Mamre. Moses and the 70 elders dine with Him at the base of Sinai. Jesus seeks to dine with His apostles, and with the lost. He desires to eat with every one of us. But, we have to ask the question, why do I have to eat surrounded by individuals who desire to do me harm? The answer is, we live in a hostile world; that’s the reality. Our focus is not to be on our enemies, but upon the sure and certain joy that God is there with us. As sheep in the midst of wolves, bears, lions, bugs and snakes, the Lord ensures we are still safe in the presence of His company.
The act of anointing is the picture of the Shepherd’s care as each individual sheep is inspected. Oil, which had been mixed with spices, would salve cuts, scratches and bites. The picture of oil, I believe, is a picture of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. And in that level of intimacy, my blessings are in greatest measure.
The Lord is my Shepherd; I lack no Divine presence.
“Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6).
God’s goodness and lovingkindness, His grace and mercy will actively be in pursuit of me, all the days of my life. Chasing. Seeking. Finally, the sheep has eschatological hope. Not that any sheep could even pronounce the word, but the reality of one of God’s sheep is the certain future prospect of eternal occupancy in the house of the Lord–The crescendo of a conclusion.
The Lord is my Shepherd; I lack no Divine promise.
The Lord is my Shepherd; I lack nothing.
I lack no physical needs, as He is my Shepherd provider.
I lack no spiritual needs, as He is my peace.
I lack no insecurity in times of fear, as He is my Shepherd Protector.
I lack no loneliness, as He loves me.
I lack no hope, …a future, my eternal relationship with God is assured because He is my Shepherd.
Profound words from, of all things, a sheep; a submitted, obedient sheep who has placed himself under the sovereign care of Yahweh.
To those who can, and do rightly identify Yahweh as their Shepherd, abundant blessings are in store. This truth resonates upon all those under His Sovereign care. This is a psalm, not to one individual, but to all those sheep who call Him “Lord.”
Look around you; what do you lack? If you didn’t say, “Nothing,” look again.
We do well to listen to the words of this wise sheep–to receive his counsel of wisdom regarding the Good Shepherd–every which way we turn, He has us covered.