Read: Psalm 23:1 – 2; Matthew 6:33; John 10:9 – 11; Philippians 4:19
Jewish tradition ascribes the composition of this psalm to that period of David’s life when he was fleeing from Saul and hiding in the forest of Hereth (1 Samuel 22:5). “Hereth” means “baked earthenware,” and indicates that the forest was normally a parched, desolate place. But in his time of great need, David found that God provided for him by turning the parched land into a green pasture with abundant water. A very ancient Jewish commentary (Midrash Shocher Tov) comments on this verse, “There is no occupation more degrading and lowly than that of a shepherd who trudges about all day carrying his stick and his knapsack. Yet David dared to call God his Shepherd, following the example of his ancestor Jacob (Genesis 48:15).
Think About It: What are some possible reasons that Psalm 23 is so well-known and beloved? What does the picture of God as a Shepherd teach me about God? What experiences have I had of God’s provision for me?
Prayer: Praise God for His faithful provision.
Read: Psalm 23:3; Psalm 19:7; Psalm 51:12; Psalm 85:6; Isaiah 57:15; Revelation 7:17
“He restores my soul.” The Hebrew word for soul is nephesh, which literally means breath and figuratively refers to the essence of our life, our deepest passions and emotions. The Hebrew word for restore is shub, which means to bring back, to return. In ancient times the shepherd went over each of his sheep every evening with his hands, looking for cuts, ticks, and burrs, cleansing and binding up wounds. He thereby maintained and restored the health of the sheep.
Think About It: What causes souls to need restoring and revival? How has my soul been infested with pests, cut, or wounded? How have I experienced God calling me back to Himself, and restoring me?
Prayer: Lord, revive me again.
Read: Psalm 23:3; Psalm 25:9, 11; Psalm 31:3; Psalm 143:10 – 11; Ezekiel 20:9, 14; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Acts 4:13
God leads us in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. God leads, He doesn’t “drive.” When we walk in righteousness and justice, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus. He leads us “for His name’s sake.” God’s reputation is reflected by those who call themselves by His name. If the sheep are full of brambles and mud, ill-fed and sick, that doesn’t reflect well on the shepherd. God provides for us and leads us in such a way that we grow and are full of health and reflect well on His glory.
Think About It: Does my life reflect the glory of the Lord? Can people tell that I have been with Jesus? What are some practical ways that I can reflect God’s glory?
Prayer: Lord, help me to live in such a way as to reflect Your glory, and to bring You glory.
Read: Psalm 23:4; Psalm 27:1; Psalm 118:6; Isaiah 43:2; Romans 8:15; 2 Timothy 1:7
God is with us in the valley of the shadow of death. The Hebrew word translated as “shadow of death” is tsalmaveth– meaning death-like shadow, blackest gloom. The same word is used in Psalm 44:19 and 107:10 and 14. David knew from his personal experience as a shepherd that life was not all green pastures and still waters. The only way home for the sheep might lead through a dark, narrow canyon where predators lurk. David also experienced the threat of death at the hands of Saul in the wilderness of Zif (1 Samuel 23:19 – 29). As David’s sheep took comfort in is presence, so David was comforted by God’s presence when his life was threatened. The 19th century Hungarian Rabbi Yalkut Eliezer commented on Psalm 23:4, “David’s heart was so filled with the fear of God that there was no room left for the fear of anything else.”
Think About It: What am I afraid of? Have I ever sensed God’s comforting presence in the midst of a frightening situation? Based on the Scripture references for today, what would help me be unafraid?
Prayer: Lord, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.
Read: Psalm 23:4; Psalm 138:7; Micah 7:14; Isaiah 53:6; Matthew 9:36; Luke 15:4; 1 Peter 2:25
God comforts us with His rod and staff. The rod (Hebrew shebet) was a stick used as a weapon for protecting the sheep, or as a prod for disciplining the sheep, to keep them on the path when the way was narrow and treacherous. The staff (Hebrew mashenah) can also be translated “support”; it refers to the shepherd’s staff with a crook at one end. Thomas De Witt Talmage, an influential 19th century preacher and reformer, wrote that this staff “was an absolute necessity in olden times – bringing back the lost sheep, finding one wandering out in this direction, pulling him back. . . All we like sheep have gone astray, and if the Lord had not dropped His crook upon our back long ago, we would have fallen over the precipices into ruin” (Talmage’s Sermons¸ p. 214). God’s rod and staff teach us that God will defend us, discipline us, and rescue us.
Think About It: When have I experienced God’s dropping His crook upon my back – when has God pulled me back from the edge of the precipice? Have I ever experienced God’s intervention in the form of protection from attack? Have I ever experienced God’s discipline? How did I respond?
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for Your protection, Your discipline, and Your willingness to rescue me.
Read: Psalm 23:5; Isaiah 61:1 – 3; Ephesians 1:3; 1 Peter 2:9; Hebrews 1:9; Philippians 4:11
David praised the Lord for blessing him with abundant blessing. David describes that blessing in three phrases: the Lord preparing a table for him in the presence of his enemies; the Lord anointing his head with oil; his cup overflowing. The reference to the table is similar to Psalm 78:19. The unbelievers in Israel, and also Israel’s enemies, doubted that God was able to provide for His people in the wilderness, but God confounded them by raining down manna from heaven. This verse may be a prophetic reference to the blessings of the Lord’s table, symbolic of the broken body and shed blood of Jesus (John 6:51), the propitiatory sacrifice which saves us against all odds. The Hebrew word used for “anoint” (dashen) indicates saturation, referring to the reality that David’s anointing as king never lost its efficacy, not even during the years that Saul pursued him through the desert wastes. God has promised a similar blessing, a kind of endless anointing, to those who have faith in Christ (John 7:38) through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The overflowing cup is a picture of the contentment produced by the abundance of God’s provision. Psalm 23:5 has prophetic implications in reference to the “Son of David,” the Messiah Jesus, through whom all who believe receive the abundant blessings referred to by the psalmist.
Think About It: What are some of the ways that I have received blessings from God’s table? Have I learned to reckon God’s provision for me as “abundant”? When my cup overflows, what is my responsibility (2 Corinthians 9:10 – 11)?
Prayer: Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.
Read: Psalm 23:6; Psalm 26:8; Psalm 36:8; Psalm 61:4; Romans 8:28; 1 John 5:11 – 13
One reason Psalm 23 is used so frequently at funeral services is v. 6, which pictures the life of the believer blessed by the goodness and mercy of God, and expresses confidence in the promise of eternal life. The believer has life-long experience with God’s goodness and mercies. The pagan moans, “If it weren’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all.” But for the Christian, even bad things are opportunities to experience God’s goodness and steadfast love. The Hebrew word translated “dwell” is another form of the verb shub, which was translated in v. 3 as “restore.” At the end of our lives, we are “brought back” to God’s house – we are called to our eternal home. In God’s house we will be welcomed to our one true eternal home, of which Augustine wrote: “Let us come home at last to You, O Lord, so that we shall not be lost. . .There we will be still and see; seeing we shall love; seeing and loving, we shall praise Him. This will come to pass in the end, in that kingdom which shall have no end.”
Think About It: How have I experienced God’s goodness and mercy in the midst of pain and great difficulties? What can we say heaven will be like, in light of Isaiah 65:17 and 1 Corinthians 2:9? How can I be sure that one day God will call me home to heaven?
Prayer: Praise God for His unfailing goodness and mercy, and for the promise of eternal life.