AN EXPOSITION OF PSALM 23
A Psalm of David
Unlike many of the other Psalms, Psalm 23 is not united to any special event which allows it to be a universal passage of Scripture for every Christian to embrace. Sitting under a spreading tree, with his flock around him, we can picture David singing this song with a heart as full of gladness as it could hold. The Bible exhorts all Christians to sing make melodies in the heart. (Eph. 5:19)
The position of this psalm is worthy of notice. It follows the twenty-second psalm, which is peculiarly the Psalm of the Cross. There are no green pastures, no still waters on the other side of the twenty-second psalm. It is only after we have read, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” that we come to “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
By way of personal application, Christians must know something about the value of blood-shedding, and suffering, in order to appreciate the Sweetness of the good Shepherd’s care.
Note the last words of the psalm—”I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
These are celestial notes, fitted for the eternal mansions which we shall one day enjoy according to promise. (John 14:1) With the hope of heaven in our hearts we read, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
It is with great condescension that the infinite Lord assumes towards His people the office and character of a Shepherd! God allows Himself to be compared to somehing which will set forth His great love and care for His own people.
David had himself been a keeper of sheep, and understood both the needs of the sheep and the many cares of a shepherd. David compares himself to a creature weak, defenseless, and foolish, and he takes God to be his Provider, Preserver, Director, and, indeed, his everything.
Of course, no person has a right to consider themselves the Lord’s sheep unless their nature has been renewed by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. The scriptural description of the unconverted does not picture them as sheep, but as wolves or goats. 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 good for a Christian to know, as David did, that we belong to the Lord. There is assurance of salvation that the Lord gives His own.
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.” We as Christians must cultivate the spirit of assurance of salvation, and also an assured dependence upon our heavenly Father.
The sweetest word of the verse is, “My.” David does not say, “The Lord is the shepherd of the world at large, and leadeth forth the multitude as his flock,” but “The Lord is my shepherd.” If Jesus is a Shepherd to no one else, He is a Shepherd to me. Jesus cares for me, watches over me, and preserves me. The words are in the present tense. Whatever the believer’s position, may be, every child of God is even now under the pastoral care of Jehovah.
The next words are a sort of inference from the first statement. They are positive words,
“I shall not want.” Without Jesus, I might want many things that would be harmful to me, but when the Lord is my Shepherd He is able to supply my needs, and He is certainly willing to do so, for His heart is full of love, and therefore “I shall not want.”
As a Christian I shall not lack for temporal things. Does the Lord not feed the ravens, and cause the lilies to grow? How, then, can he leave His children to starve? I shall not want for spiritual nourishment for I know that His grace will be sufficient for me. By resting in the Lord, He will say to me, “As thy day so shall thy strength be.” I may not possess all that I wish for, but I shall not want. Others who are far wealthier and wiser than I am may want, but “I shall not.” “The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.” (Psalm 34:10)
It is not only “I do not want,” but “I shall not want.” If famine should devastate the land, or calamity destroy the city, I shall not want. Old age with its challenges shall not bring me to want, and even death with its gloom shall not find me destitute. I have all things and abound; not because I have money in the bank, and not because I have skill and wisdom, but because “The Lord is my shepherd.”
The wicked always want, but the righteous never; a sinner’s heart is far from satisfaction, but a gracious spirit dwells in the palace of content.
Now Psalm 23:2. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.” The Christian’s life has two main parts in it, the contemplative and the active, and both of these are richly provided for.
First, the contemplative. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” What are these “green pastures” but the Scriptures of truth, always fresh, always rich, and never exhausted. Oh let the Christian go to the place where the grass is long enough for the flock to lie down in it. Let the Shepherd lead you to the Word of God. Sweet and full are the doctrines of the gospels. They are fit food for our souls, as tender grass is natural nourishment for sheep. When by faith we are enabled to find rest in the promises of God through His Word, we are like the sheep that lie down in the midst of the pasture; we find at the same moment both provision and peace, rest and refreshment, serenity and satisfaction. All of this comes because the Good Shepherd “maketh me to lie down.”
It is the Lord who graciously enables us to perceive the preciousness of His many truths, and to feed upon His Word. How grateful we ought to be for the power to appropriate the promises! Now, there are some sheep who are distracted. They do not lie down as they should because they are restless. They do not enjoy the “green pastures.” They are anxious about many things like Martha. Jesus will have to come afresh to them and make them to lie down.
The Good Shepherd might use different means to accomplish this, such as some form of suffering, sickness, personal rebuke, or financial setback. As important as a contemplative spiritual life is, the second part of a vigorous Christian’s life consists in gracious activity.
Christians are not only to think, but we are to act.
We are not always lying down to feed, but are journeying onward toward perfection which is why we read, “he leadeth me beside the still waters.” What are these “still waters” but the influences and graces of the Lord’s blessed Spirit? His Spirit leads us to many watersto cleanse, to refresh, and to enjoy.
They are “still waters,” for the Holy Spirit loves peace, and quiet. He does not draw attention to Himself, but to Jesus. The Spirit may flow into our soul, but not into our neighbor’s, and therefore our neighbor may not perceive the divine presence. It does not matter.
“In sacred silence of the mind
My heaven, and there my God I find.”
Our Lord leads us beside these “still waters;” we could not go there of ourselves, we need his guidance, therefore it is said, “he leadeth me.” Jesus does not drive us. Moses drives us by the Law, but Jesus leads us by love and by His example.