Many of David’s psalms are full of complaints, but this one is full of comforts. It consists of expressions of delight in God’s great goodness and dependence upon Him. It is a Psalm which has been sung by Christians down the ages and will be while the world stands. David here claims relation to God, as his shepherd. As in the previous Psalm it represents Christ dying for His sheep and so it represents Christians receiving the benefit of all the care and tenderness of that great and good shepherd. The Lord, the shepherd of His people.
Psalm 23 – A Psalm of David – The Lord is my shepherd
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures and leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul and leads 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 You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.
Henry says – From this Psalm we can draw several conclusions. We are saved by hope, and that hope will not make us ashamed, because it is well grounded. It is the duty of Christians to encourage themselves in the Lord their God. We are directed to take that encouragement from the experiences we have had of His goodness.
We must be as sheep
God is our Shepherd and we may call him so. David infers that he shall not lack anything that is good for him, Ps. 23:1. There was a time when David himself was a shepherd, so he knew by experience the cares and tender affections of a good shepherd towards his flock. He remembered what need they had of a shepherd, and what a kindness it was to them to have one that was skilful and faithful. He even once risked his life to rescue a lamb. This illustrates God’s care of His people.
Our Saviour seems to refer to this when He says, I am the Shepherd of the sheep; the Good Shepherd, John 10:11. He is the shepherd of every believer, (Isa. 40:11 He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, And carry them in His bosom). He takes them into His fold, takes care of them, protects them and provides for them, with more constancy than a shepherd can. If God be as a shepherd to us, we must be as sheep, inoffensive and meek. We must know the shepherd’s voice, and follow Him.
If God be our feeder
We may have confidence in this: “If the Lord is my shepherd, my feeder, I may conclude I shall not lack anything that is really necessary and good for me.” David had as much reason to fear being in want as any man. Once he sent his men a begging for him to Nabal, and another time went himself a begging to Ahimelech. Yet when he considers that God is his Shepherd, he can boldly say, I shall not want. If God be our feeder then we shall not fear starvation. Not only I shall not want but, “I shall be supplied with whatever I need. If I do not have everything I desire then I may conclude it is either not fitting for me or good for me or I shall have it in due time.”
In performing the office of a good shepherd David infers that he need not fear any evil even in the greatest dangers and difficulties, Ps. 23:2-4. He experiences the benefit of God’s presence with him and care of him now, and therefore expects the benefit of them when he most needs it. A living saint can be in many comforts. God is his shepherd and his God—a God all-sufficient to all intents and purposes. David found Him to be so, and so can we.
The Word of life is nourishment
As sheep of God’s pasture we are well placed: He makes me to lie down in green pastures. We have the support and comfort of this life from God’s good hand, our daily bread from Him as our Father. The greatest abundance is but a dry pasture to a wicked man. He relishes only in that which pleases the senses. But to a godly man, who tastes the goodness of God, though he may have but little in the world, it is a green pasture, Ps. 37:16; Prov. 15:16, 17.
God’s ordinances are the green pastures in which food is provided for all believers. The Word of life is the nourishment for the renewed man. It is milk for babes, pasture for sheep, never barren, never parched, always a green pasture for faith to feed in. God makes His saints to lie down; He gives them quiet and contentment in their own minds, whatever their lot is. Their souls dwell at ease in Him, and that makes every pasture green.
This is our rest forever
Are we blessed with the green pastures of His ordinances? Let us not think it enough to pass through them, but let us lie down in them and abide in them. This is our rest forever. It is by a constancy of the means of grace that the soul is fed. They are well guided and well led. He leads me beside the still waters. Those who feed on God’s goodness must follow His direction. He leads them by His providence, by His Word, by His Spirit. Their affairs are coordinated for their best, according to His counsel. He directs their eye, their way and their heart, into His love.
The still waters by which He leads them gives them many a reviving drink when they are thirsty and weary. God provides for His people not only food and rest, but refreshment and pleasure. The comforts of God and the joys of the Holy Ghost, are still waters, by which the saints are led. These are streams which flow from the fountain of living waters. God does not lead His people to standing waters which corrupt and gather filth, nor to the troubled sea or rapid rolling floods, but to the silent, babbling waters. Still but running waters agree best with those spirits that flow silently towards God.
The way of duty is the truly pleasant way
(Ps. 23:3): He leads me in the paths of righteousness. He instructs me by His Word and directs me by conscience. These are the paths in which all saints desire to be led and kept, and never to turn aside from. The way of duty is the truly pleasant way. In these paths we cannot walk unless God lead us into them and lead us in them. Saints in these paths are well helped when anything troubles them: He restores my soul. “He restores me when I wander.” Sheep are apt to go astray and usually struggle to find the way back. The best of saints are aware of their proneness to go astray like lost sheep (Ps. 119:176). They can miss their way, and turn aside into by-paths. But when God shows them their error, gives them repentance, and brings them back to their duty again, He restores the soul. If He did not do so, they would wander endlessly and be undone.
After one particular sin, the prophet Nathan was sent to David to tell him, You are the man, God restored his soul. Though God may allow His people to fall into sin, He will not allow them to lie still in it. “He recovers me when I am sick, and revives me when I am faint, and so restores the soul which was ready to depart.” He is the Lord our God who heals us, Exod. 15:26. Many a time we should have fainted unless we had believed, and it was the good shepherd that kept us from fainting.
His name is my strongtower
(Ps. 23:4): “Having had such experience of God’s goodness to me in my troubles, I will never distrust Him. He has done all this for me, not because of any of my own merit, but purely for His name’s sake, in performance of His promises, and for His own glory. His name shall continue to be my strongtower. I am assured that He who has led me and fed me, all my life long, will not leave me at the end.”
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, that is, though I am in peril of death and in the midst of dangers as dreadful as death itself,” or “though I have received the sentence of death within myself, and be a dying man, yet I am at ease.” Those who are sick or old in years have reason to look upon themselves as in the valley of the shadow of death.
It is but a walk in this valley
There is one word which the sound of is terrible; it is death. Something we can all count on. Yet there are four words which lessen the terror. Death is indeed before us, but in the shadow of death there is no substantial evil. The shadow of a serpent will not sting nor the shadow of a sword kill. The valley of the shadow may be deep and dark but the valleys are fruitful for they are often near a water source. So death itself is fruitful as a comfort to God’s people.
It is but a walk in this valley, a gentle pleasant walk. The wicked are chased out of the world, and their souls are required of them. But saints take a walk to another world as cheerfully as they leave this one. It is a walk through it; they shall not be lost in this valley, but get safely to the mountain of spices on the other side of it.
None of these things move me
Death is a king of terrors, but not to the sheep of Christ. They tremble at it no more than sheep do that are appointed for the slaughter. “Even in the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil. None of these things move me.” A child of God may meet the messengers of death, and receive its summons with a holy security and serenity of mind. The sucking child may play upon the hole of this viper and bid a holy defiance to death. Just as Paul said, O death! where is your sting?
There is no evil in death to a child of God. Death cannot separate us from the love of God, and therefore it can do us no real harm. It kills the body, but cannot touch the soul. Why should it be dreadful when there is nothing in it hurtful? The saints have God’s gracious presence with them in their dying moments. He is then at their right hand, and therefore why should they be moved? The good shepherd will not only conduct, but convoy, his sheep through the valley, where they are in danger of being set upon by the ravening wolves. He will not only convoy them, but comfort them when they most need comfort. His presence shall comfort them: You are with me.
Underneath are the everlasting arms
His Word and Spirit shall comfort them—His rod and staff, alluding to the shepherd’s crook, or the rod under which the sheep passed when they were counted (Lev. 27:32). The staff was also what the shepherds used to drive away the dogs that would worry the sheep. It is a comfort to the saints, when they come to die, that God takes notice of them (He knows those who are His). He will rebuke the enemy and guide them with his rod and sustain them with his staff. The gospel is called the rod of Christ’s strength (Ps. 110:2). There is enough in that to comfort the saints when they come to die, and underneath them are the everlasting arms.
David magnifies God’s gracious security to him (Ps. 23:5): “You prepare a table before me; You have provided for me all things pertaining to life and godliness. All things needed both for body and soul, for time and eternity:” God is such a bountiful benefactor to all His people. It befits us to be grateful for all His goodness, as David was here. That he had a table spread, a cup filled, meat for his hunger, drink for his thirst. He had it readily provided for him. His table was spread and prepared before him. He had an abundance: “My cup runs over, enough for myself and my friends too.”
Whom God loves He loves to the end
You anoint my head with oil. Samuel anointed him king, which was a certain pledge of further favour. Plentiful provision is made for the bodies of the saints and for their souls. Provision for the life they live now and for that which is to come. David confidently counts on the continuance of God’s favours, Ps. 23:6. He had said (Ps. 23:1), I shall not want; but now he speaks more positively and comprehensively: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. His hope rises, and his faith is strengthened, by being exercised.
David promises himself—goodness and mercy, all the streams of mercy flowing from the fountain, pardoning mercy, protecting mercy, sustaining mercy, supplying mercy. It shall follow me, as the water out of the rock followed the camp of Israel through the wilderness. To all places and conditions it shall be always ready. It shall follow me all my life long, even to the end, for whom God loves He loves to the end. All the days of my life, just as day follows night it shall be new every morning (Lam. 3:22, 23) like the manna that was given to the Israelites daily.
Where there are many mansions
David had a certainty of it: Surely it shall. It is as sure as the promise of the God of truth can make it and we know Whom we have believed. Here is a prospect of the perfection of bliss in the future state. “Goodness and mercy having followed me all the days of my life on this earth, when that is ended I shall be removed to a better world, to dwell in the house of the Lord forever, in our Father’s house above, where there are many mansions. With what I have I am very pleased, with what I hope for I am more pleased.” All this, and heaven too! We certainly serve a good Master.
He resolutely determines to cleave to God and to his charge. We read the last verse as David’s covenant with God: “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (as long as I live), and I will praise Him while I have a being.” Those who would be satisfied with the fatness of God’s house must keep close to the charge of it.
Adapted from the Matthew Henry Commentary
[Swipe left to right] You anoint my head with oil What troubles you, My son? Why are you so confounded? Draw close to the Shepherd and let Him Apply the oil of the Spirit to your anxious mind. You need have no fears This nor any other day For His supply of oil Is not limited in some way. Do not stand defeated As though ready to give out a final sigh. Remember He draws from a cup That never runs dry. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows. See the darkness becomes light, A light that forever glows. By the late Andrew Feakin [passed away 16th March 2019]
Prayer for the Day
Father I come to You. May I encourage myself in You. To take encouragement from all the experiences I have had of Your goodness. You are my Shepherd and like David I shall not lack anything that is good for me. Thank You for Your promise to shepherd me. You have taken me into Your fold, have taken care of me, have protected me and provided for me. May I be like a true sheep to You, inoffensive and meek. Cause me to hear Your voice with constancy, and follow after You.
As a sheep of Your pasture I am in a pleasant place. Thank You for Your support and comfort from Your good hand. I have tasted of Your goodness and it is a green pasture. Your Word of life is mynourishment. You give me quiet and contentment in my own mind, whatever I face. Thank You that my soul may dwell at ease in You. Cause me to lie down and abide in the green pastures of Your ordinances. For this is my rest forever. Instruct me by Your Word and direct me by conscience.
May I never turn aside
May I never turn aside from Your paths, but to follow the way of duty for this is the truly pleasant way. Help me in all my troubles, for You restore my soul. I am prone to go astray. I know I can take a wrong turn. But I thank You that in the past You have shown me my error, given me the gift of repentance, and have brought me back to my duty again.
Though You may allow me to fall into sin, You will not allow me to continue in it. Recover me where I am sick, and revive me where I am faint. For You are the Lord who heals me. You comfort me when I need it most. I thank You for all Your goodness and for Your very presence. May I seek after You more and more. May my goodness to You be like the sun in full strength. Help me keep close to the charge You have discharged to me. In Jesus Name I pray. Amen.