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David compared Yahweh to a shepherd as he reviewed His blessings on his life (cf. Psalms 28:9; Psalms 80:1). This was a familiar role for David who had been a shepherd of sheep as a youth and who later became a shepherd of God’s people as their king. Other ancient Near Eastern kings also described themselves as the shepherds of their nations. [Note: E.g., King Hammurabi. See James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, p. 164.] Even some pagan gods were spoken of as shepherds. [Note: Ibid., p. 388.] Isaiah later referred to Messiah as a shepherd (Isaiah 40:11). This title was one that Jesus Christ claimed for Himself (John 10:14) and that the New Testament writers used for Him (Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 5:4). As David’s shepherd, the Lord provided all David needed. [Note: See Thomas A. Golding, "The Imagery of Shepherding in the Bible, Part 1," Bibliotheca Sacra 163:649 (January-March 2006):18-28.]
1. God as leader 23:1-4
David reflected on God’s many blessings to him and concluded that God would continue to be faithful to him and grant him fellowship in the future. This is a psalm of trust and confidence in God’s goodness in the present and in the future.
"Depth and strength underlie the simplicity of this psalm. Its peace is not escape; its contentment is not complacency: there is readiness to face deep darkness and imminent attack, and the climax reveals a love which homes towards no material goal but to the Lord Himself." [Note: Kidner, p. 109.]
As his shepherd, God provided David with spiritual rest and nourishment. Food for the soul is the Word of God (Hebrews 5:12-14; 1 Peter 2:2) that the Lord’s under-shepherds are responsible to give His people (Ezekiel 34:1-10; John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2).
The Lord also provides spiritual refreshment and restoration. These benefits come to us as we take advantage of God’s provision of the water of life, which is the living and written Word of God (John 4:10-14; Ephesians 5:26). God renews our strength and cleanses us through these instruments.
God also gives His sheep guidance in the proper path of life so we do not wander aimlessly. He does so in part for the sake of His own reputation, as One who has promised to direct His people.
Protection is the fourth blessing for which David gave God praise. The promises of the Lord’s presence assure us of His protection in times of danger when we fear (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5). The shepherd’s rod (a cudgel worn at the belt) beat off attacking animals, and his staff (walking stick) kept the sheep away from physical dangers such as precipices. [Note: See ibid., "The Imagery of Shepherding in the Bible, Part 2," Bibliotheca Sacra 163:650 (April-June 2006):158-75.] Likewise, God comes to the defense of His people when our spiritual enemies attack us. He also prevents us from getting into spiritually dangerous situations that would result in our destruction (cf. Matthew 6:13).
2. God as provider 23:5
In this verse, David described God as a host rather than as a shepherd. As a gracious host, God provides hospitality for His people. He supplies us with what we need and desire lavishly, and He does so, not by removing us from the presence of our spiritual enemies, but in their presence. In the ancient East, a thoughtful host would welcome an honored guest into the protection of his home by pouring some oil on his head (cf. Psalms 45:7; Psalms 92:10; Psalms 133:2; Amos 6:6; Luke 7:46). This refreshed and soothed a weary traveler. Anointing with oil in Scripture pictured God’s bestowal of His Holy Spirit on the believer (Exodus 40:9-16; Leviticus 8:10-12; 1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Samuel 16:13; 1 Kings 1:39; et al.). [Note: John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit, pp. 21-22.] David’s cup symbolized his lot in life that overflowed with abundant blessings.
3. The believer’s response 23:6
David realized that God’s good loyal love (Heb. hesed) would pursue him throughout his life. To follow here does not mean to bring up the rear but to pursue vigorously (cf. Psalms 83:15). [Note: Kidner, p. 112.] The phrase "goodness and lovingkindness" (NASB) or "goodness and love" (NIV) is a figure of speech (hendiadys) that we could render "good lovingkindness." Dwelling in the Lord’s house (i.e., the sanctuary in Jerusalem) was a picture of enjoying full communion and fellowship with the Lord.
"Yet it is not the place but the vitality of the relationship which transforms." [Note: Brueggemann, p. 156.]
The word translated "dwell" in the Hebrew text implies dwelling after returning there, rather than dwelling already being there. Evidently, David was not in the sanctuary when he composed this psalm, but looked forward to returning to it again and often.
"It is . . . unlikely that Psalms 23 refers to an afterlife in God’s presence, though Psalms 23:4; Psalms 23:6 in particular have sometimes been so understood. Psalms 23:4 refers to the divine shepherd guiding his lamb (the psalmist) through a dangerous dark valley (a symbol for the danger posed by his enemies, cf. Psalms 23:5). In Psalms 23:6 the psalmist expressed his confidence that he would have access to God’s presence (the ’house of the Lord’ refers to the earthly Tabernacle or Temple; cf. Judges 19:18; 1 Samuel 1:7; 1 Samuel 1:24; 2 Samuel 12:20; 1 Kings 7:12; 1 Kings 7:40; 1 Kings 7:45; 1 Kings 7:51) throughout his lifetime. NIV’s ’forever’ translates a Hebrew phrase (’orek yamim, lit. ’length of days’), which, when used elsewhere of men, usually refers to a lengthy period of time (such as one’s lifetime), not eternity (cf. Deuteronomy 30:20; Job 12:12; Psalms 91:16; Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 3:16; Lamentations 5:20). . . .
"While the psalmist may not have been speaking specifically of an afterlife in God’s presence, in the progress of revelation his words come to express such a hope for God’s people, who now understand the full ramifications of the psalm’s affirmation that God protects His own. In the same way the statements in Psalms 17:15; Psalms 49:15; and Psalms 73:24 become, on the lips of a Christian, a testimony of faith in God’s final vindication of the righteous, even beyond the grave." [Note: Chisholm, "A Theology . . .," pp. 287, 288.]
The Lord’s goodness to His people, as seen in His leading and providing for us, should motivate us to appreciate our security in Him and to abide in fellowship with Him. [Note: An excellent brief booklet (61 pages) to give someone in need of the comfort spoken of in this psalm is Haddon Robinson’s, Psalm Twenty-Three. See also Swindoll, pp. 67-82; and Allen, Lord of . . ., pp. 71-86.]
If you anticipate or are presently doing pastoral ministry, try putting your name in the place of the shepherd as you read this psalm. This exercise will help you evaluate your effectiveness.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Psalms 23". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12