Psalm 23: A Psalm of David

The Twenty-Third Psalm was written by David during a difficult period of his life. Many of his friends, including David’s counselor, Ahithophel, had proven themselves unfaithful, and his son Absalom had stolen the hearts of the people with a view to supplanting his father as king. Though dearly beloved by David, Absalom would commit patricide to obtain power and wealth.  To avoid this fate, David fled from Jerusalem into the wilderness. In his flight, David had no army to protect him. He had no extra provisions of clothing, food, or water. For the moment, it seemed as if David had lost everything, his crown, his palace, his wealth, his friends, and his power to rule. Yet, because David understood spiritual realities, he had lost nothing, for it is the Lord who gives and who takes away.

“The things that I love,
and hold dear to my heart,
are just borrowed, they’re not mine not mine at all.
Jesus only lets me use them to brighten my life.
So, remind me remind me dear Lord.

Roll back the curtain of memory now and then.
Show me where you brought me from and where I could have been.
Just remember I’m a human, and humans forget.
So, remind me, remind me dear Lord.

Nothing good have I done to deserve God’s own son.
I’m not worthy of the scars in his hands.
Yet He chose the road to calvary to die in my stead.
Why He loved me I can’t understand.

Roll back the curtain of memory now and then.
Show me where your brought me from and where I could have been.
Just remember I’m a human and humans forget.
So, remind me, remind dear Lord.”

—Dottie Rambo

As David made his way over the Brook Kidron, up the Mount of Olives, and into the wilderness of Judah, the Spirit of God filled his heart with renewed courage, and comfort. In twelve lines of Hebrew poetry, David was able to express his boundless faith in the love, mercy, goodness, and grace of the Lord God. The Sweet Singer of Israel began to sing.

The Shepherd and the Sheep

Psalm 23:1-4

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Because sheep are notoriously dependent, they need a shepherd. Sheep have no sense of direction. They need someone to guide them around rocky places and pitfalls, and led them to an area of clear water, and good grazing ground. Sheep cannot cleanse themselves, or protect themselves. They are easy prey for wild animals.

The helplessness of sheep is a perfect metaphor for the Christian. It aptly applied to David. “I am a sheep of God’s pasture,” said David in his soul. “The LORD is my shepherd.”

To all who believe, the Lord is the Good Shepherd who provides salvation. As the Good Shepherd, the Lord gives His life to, and for, His sheep. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

To all who believe, and advance in grace, knowledge, and faith, the Lord is the Great Shepherd who brings His flock to a state of maturity in order to perform His will. “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, 21 Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Heb. 13:20-21).

To all who believe, the Lord is the Chief Shepherd who provides eternal rewards. One day Jesus will give crowns of glory to those who are faithful to Him. “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 5:4).

The question comes, “Do you believe in Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?” To believe in Christ means that you accept as true, that He died at Calvary as your substitute, was buried, and rose again from the dead. This is the good news which you are called upon to believe. This is the gospel by which you are saved.

“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. 3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1-4).

To all who believe, there is an intimate relationship with the Lord to the point the heart can say, “I shall not want.” Those who are in Christ do not have any needs, for the Lord provides all that is necessary physically, and spiritually. Even in dark days, faith cries out, “My God shall supply all of my needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). With such faith in the heart, the Christian can enter into a period of rest and contemplation.

2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

The Good Shepherd knows that rest is an important part of spiritual maturity. Sometimes individuals can become so busy in the work of the Lord, they exhaust themselves to the point of ineffectiveness. One day Jesus said to His disciples “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat (Mark 6:31, ESV).

The Good Shepherd will cause His sheep to lay down in green pastures, or pastures of choice grass. Spiritually, Christians will find their greatest pasture of rest in the Word of God. While much study is a weariness to the soul, meditation upon the Lord through His Word brings freedom from fear of anything, or anyone. Joshua, Christian, “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success:” (Joshua 1:8).

The believer must feed on the “choice grass” of God’s Word, which is sound doctrine. There is much unsound doctrine in the Church that promotes sensationalism, emotionalism, empiricism, rationalism, universalism, and humanism. A calm and consistent study of Scripture will enable the believer to know the truth, and be set free from doctrinal error. “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; 32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).

Consider

The Greek word translated “shall make” is eleutheroo (el-yoo-ther-o’o); to liberate, i.e. (figuratively) to exempt (from moral, ceremonial or moral liability.

When the believer feeds on the “choice grass” of God’s Word, the Lord shall lead the soul to “still waters” or, waters of refreshment. This is a reference to the happiness and tranquility of the heart as a result of quenching one’s thirst by applying the principles of the Bible to the circumstances of life.

Applying the Principles of God’s Word

When  You Are / Read

Afraid / Psalm 56:3-11; Jeremiah 29:11
Angry / Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8
Confused / 1 Corinthians 14:33
Depressed / Psalm 43:5-11
Hopeless / Psalms 34:17-20
Hungry / Luke 9:12-17                      
Lonely / Hebrews 13:5
Sick / James     5:13-16
Sinful / Isaiah 55:7-9
Tempted / 1 Corinthians 10:13
Unforgiving / Matthew 6:9–15
Unhappy / Philippians 4:8-9
Weary / Matthew 11:28-30; Isaiah 40:31
Wisdom (in need of) / James 1:5
Worried / Philippians 4:6; 1 Peter 5:7

*Continue the list through your own personal time with the Lord and His Word.

3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

While resting in the green pastures of faith, and drinking from the refreshing waters of the Living Word, the Lord will restore the souls of His sheep.

One way the Lord restores the soul of His sheep is by forgiving sin. The Bible teaches that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Even after salvation, there is the lingering residue to sin. If anyone says they no longer have sin, they are self-deceived, and the truth is not in them (1 John 1:8). However, despite being stupid and sinful, the Lord is willing to restore every soul to fellowship through confession. The promise of the Lord is given. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

“Come, every soul by sin oppressed,
There’s mercy with the Lord;
And He will surely give you rest,
By trusting in His word.
Only trust Him, only trust Him,
Only trust Him now;
He will save you, He will save you,
He will save you now.

For Jesus shed His precious blood
Rich blessings to bestow;
Plunge now into the crimson flood
That washes white as snow.
Come to Jesus, come to Jesus,
Come to Jesus now.

Yes, Jesus is the truth, the way,
That leads you into rest;
Believe in Him without delay,
And you are fully blest.
Don’t reject Him, don’t reject Him,
Don’t reject Him now.

Come then and join this holy band,
And on to glory go,
To dwell in that celestial land,
Where joys immortal flow.
I will trust Him, I will trust Him,
I will trust Him now.”

—John H. Stockton

Once sin is confessed, joy and peace will be free to flow in the soul, and the Lord can lead the believer in the paths, or tracks, of righteousness.

A path is not the destination, but marks the way. In the ancient world, wagons followed the course of least resistance. Their wheels cut a rut into which others followed, eventually leaving a trail from place to place.

In the Christian’s journey in grace, there are various paths along which believers are often led. One such path was found by J. Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission.

After years of striving and struggling to be a good person, after years of discouragement and defeat, he came to the realization that life is more abundant in Christ. He wanted the Lord to lead him. Taylor called this path, The Exchanged Life. Dr. A. B. Simpson understood the concept and wrote a poem entitled, “Himself.”

“Once it was the blessing, now it is the Lord;
Once it was the feeling, now it is His Word;
Once His gifts I wanted, now it is the Giver I own;
Once I sought for healing, now Himself alone,

Once ’twas painful trying, now ’tis perfect trust;
Once a half-salvation, now the uttermost;
Once ’twas ceaseless holding, now He holds me fast;
Once ’twas constant drifting, now my anchor’s cast;

Once ’twas busy planning, now ’tis trustful prayer;
Once ’twas anxious caring, now, He has the care;
Once ’twas what I wanted, now what Jesus says;
Once ’twas constant asking, now ’tis ceaseless praise,

Once it was my working, His from now shall be;
Once I tried to use Him, now He uses me;
Once the power I wanted, now the Mighty One;
Once for self I labored, now for Him alone.”

There is a reason the Lord will led through paths of righteousness, and that is for His name’s sake. The Lord’s name, His character is Holy. Day and night, throughout eternity, the angels will cry one unto another saying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). God the Father “hath chosen us [every believer] in him [in Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph. 1:4).

Dying, Discipline, and Deliverance

4 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.

Believing in the electing love of God, and the Lord’s divine faithfulness, the heart of David was encouraged to the point that he feared no evil, or calamity in life, including the prospect of death. The Bible teaches that it is appointed unto men to die. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). Death is the wages of sin. “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

The specter of death can be terrifying in the extreme. “However, when Jesus comes into a person’s life, and leads that individual into the paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake, something wonderful takes place as the heart grows to love the Shepherd, and trust Him. Perfect love casts out fear.

The heart remembers that Christ died for our sins and took our place so that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The Good Shepherd speaks and says something important about His relationship with His flock. “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

By believing the Good Shepherd, the sheep can walk through the valley of death because it is only a shadow, and can do no real harm. The shadow of a candle cannot burn. The shadow of a dog cannot bite. The shadow of death cannot hurt the Christian. Faith becomes the means to enjoy victory over fear of death. “I will walk through the death shadowed valley,” said David, as Jesus walked through the Kidron Valley to Calvary. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2, Berean Study Bible).

As God the Father appointed the hour and means of the death of Jesus, so, in His sovereignty, God will decide the time, manner, and place of our death. The journey may be slow and arduous. It may be sudden, and without lingering pain. Whichever path the Lord decrees a person to walk will be consistent with His own loving wisdom and sovereign will. Blessed is the Christian who kisses the hand that strikes the blow.

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? … thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55, 57).

From Dying grace, David returns to living grace, even when it involves Discipline. He speaks of the Shepherd’s rod and staff.

The shepherd’s rod was usually a long stick with a knob or handle on one end. It was used to discipline a wandering sheep. For its own protection and benefit, the shepherd would strike the sheep. How hard the sheep was struck depended on how it responded to the shepherd’s rod.

Many times, Christians stray from the paths of righteousness and come under the smarting rod. The Good Shepherd smites His own, and they suffer for making wrong decisions, for performing acts of human good apart from holy motives, or for blatant behavior contrary to righteousness. The smarting rod of the Good Shepherd will strike out against arrogance and willful behavior in the sheep. There are those “whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things)” (Phil. 3:19).

Those whom the Lord loves, He will discipline. The Lord disciplines His own that it should be a source of comfort. Cursing is turned to blessing. The Psalmist said, “thy rod and thy staff comfort me”, not in the moment of discipline, but upon reflection of God’s great love. “For whom the Lord loveth He disciplines, and scourges every son whom He receiveth” (Heb. 12:6, NASV).

After the Discipline comes comfort in knowing the joy of divine Deliverance. “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” The staff was another long stick with a hook or prong on one end. It was used to snag and deliver a sheep that might have become entangled in a bush, or fallen over the side of a hill only to land in a hard-to-reach place.  The staff would be used to deliver the sheep. That is what the Good Shepherd does. He delivers His own.

“In loving-kindness Jesus came,
My soul in mercy to reclaim,
And from the depths of sin and shame
Through grace He lifted me.

From sinking sand, He lifted me,
With tender hand He lifted me;
From shades of night to plains of light,
Oh, praise His Name, He lifted me!

He called me long before I heard,
Before my sinful heart was stirred,
But when I took Him at His word,
Forgiv’n, He lifted me.

His brow was pierced with many a thorn,
His hands by cruel nails were torn,
When from my guilt and grief, forlorn,
In love He lifted me.

Now on a higher plane I dwell,
And with my soul I know ’tis well;
Yet how or why, I cannot tell,
He should have lifted me.”

—Charles H. Gabriel

Once a person is delivered from the power and pollution of sin and placed once more on the paths of righteousness, there is comfort in growing in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

The Host and the Guests

Psalm 23:5

5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

In addition to providing Dying Grace, Loving Discipline, and Deliverance from the power and pollution of inappropriate behavior, the Psalmist remembered how the Lord prepared a table for him involving an anointing, and a cup. These were the basic components of hospitality in the fabric of society in the ancient world. Emphasis was not focused on the guest, friend or foe, but on the host. What preparations the host made for the guest was of great importance reflected in the first miracle Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. When Mary realized the wine was running low, she appealed to Jesus to do something lest the host be embarrassed. Study John 2:1-12

Appealing to the analogy of Psalm 23, the Lord Jesus is the Host who has prepared a spiritual banquet through Bible doctrine in the soul. The believer is invited to “eat” the Bread of Heaven, and dine on the rich “meat” of the Word (Heb. 5:14). The sincere “milk” of the Word is to be desired and consumed (1 Peter 2:2). On the table is “water” to quench the spiritual thirst. “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).

There is a reason the Lord provides a table in the presence of enemies, and that is to signal to all that strength and victory comes from the Lord.

Remember that David is caught up in the Absalom Revolt. His son has become his enemy, to the point of death. After 40 long years to be promoted to the throne, Absalom grew weary of waiting and decided to promote himself. In doing this, Absalom was foolish, and sinful. He was also a failure. A principle is established. If the Lord does not promote you, you are not promoted. Divine promotion is always predicated on grace orientation, humility, and teachability. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).

The lesson to learn is simple. As the Good Shepherd, as the Perfect Host, the Lord will adequately prepare every resource needed to win the victory. David would receive divine nourishment, and live after the Absalom Revolt to be restored to power. The prepared table indicated that was going to happen.

In like manner, the Lord Jesus has prepared a table for every Christian, to indicate the believer shall receive nourishment to prevail against the world, the flesh, and the devil, during the sojourn on earth, despite being caught up in the Angelic Conflict. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). The Christian’s Prepared Table is a signal to all that the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against the Church (Matt. 16:18).

Not only did the Lord prepare a table for David in the presence of his enemies, the Psalmist said, “thou anointest my head with oil”. Historically, anointing with oil was included in the ceremony of installing a person to high office. Kings were anointed, and so were priests. Study 2 Samuel 1:1-11; Leviticus 8:12

David was certainly anointed by the Lord, and so is ever believer. “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know” (1 John 2:20, NASU).

Let the word go forth throughout the Church. Every believer has been made, and anointed, a “king” in the sight of God, and a “priest” as well. “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, 6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:5-7). This is what the Good Shepherd who is the Host of the Table, has done for His “guests”.

But the Host of the Table does not stop there. He does more for His guests. He fills their cup to overflowing. David said, “my cup runneth over.” The cup of blessing is something the Host of the Table continues to provide. That is the testimony of every believer, upon reflection.

“When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.”

—Johnson Oatman

Christian, does your own cup run over with the grace and goodness of God? Is the testimony of David your testimony as well?

The Triumph of Faith

Psalm 23:6

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

In the final verse of Psalm 23, David speaks of the grace, mercy, and blessings of God that shall come to him all the days of his life, and then throughout eternity. Anticipating the heaven to come the heart can sing.

“I’m satisfied with just a cottage below,
A little silver and a little gold;
But in that city where the ransomed will shine,
I want a gold one that’s silver-lined.

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop,
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old;
And someday yonder we will never more wander,
But walk the streets that are purest gold.

Tho’ often tempted, tormented and tested
And, like the prophet, my pillow a stone,
And tho’ I find here no permanent dwelling,
I know He’ll give me a mansion my own.

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop,
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old;
And someday yonder we will never more wander,
But walk the streets that are purest gold.

Don’t think me poor or deserted or lonely,
I’m not discouraged, I’m heaven bound;
I’m just a pilgrim in search of a city,
I want a mansion, a harp and a crown.

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop,
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old;
And someday yonder we will never more wander,
But walk the streets that are purest gold.”

—Ira F. Stanphill

At the end of Psalm 23, David is not focused on himself, or Absalom, or the difficult circumstances of life. David looks to the future with the eye of faith, and his heart is encouraged. David sees God, not Absalom pursuing him with great blessings to bestow. There is no doubt about the coming blessings of the Lord. “Surely, truly” they will come. As an army will pursue its stated objective, so the Good Shepherd will pursue His sheep wherever they go, to bless them. The momentum of action is initiated, and sustained, by the Lord. The result will be permanent fellowship in the House of the Lord, forever. Forever means for all eternity.

The blessings of God are not limited to monetary wealth, social success, or physical health. The blessings of God reach beyond the body to touch the soul, bringing joy, peace, and tranquility of mind. Christian, keep this in mind. God will pursue you all the days of your life to bless you, because He is faithful to His own covenant promises. “This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. 22 It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lam. 3:21-23).

“Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father.*
There is no shadow of turning with thee.
Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not.
As thou hast been thou forever wilt be.

Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed thy hand hath provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon, and stars in their courses above,
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow;
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!”

—Thomas O. Chisholm

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