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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 23

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-6

Psalms 23



Among the Psalms of David this is "The Pearl of Great Price." The toddling child learns to lisp it before his steps grow steady. He repeats it most often as he grows up, can recall it best as he grows old, and when his throat begins to rasp, his voice grows weak, and his eyes grow dim, it is this he repeats as angels of death hover near. For three thousand years it has been learned and repeated by little children at mother’s knee.

Scholars with hoary heads and shoulders stooped, bend over the Blessed Book examining this Psalm, word by word, seeking rich meaning from the Hebrew text. The minister may read this Psalm in Prayer Meeting on Wednesday night, Devotions Sunday morning or at the Funeral hour. In each instance there is rapt attention from the audience. Perhaps no psalm brings more comfort, peace, trust, and assurance in times of sorrow, distress, and to the aged as the hour of death draws nigh than this "Pearl of Great Price," among the psalms. This is one of the Pearls in the Psalms.

In this psalm the Shepherd is pictured as giving his life for the sheep, leading them in green pastures, beside still waters. Rough rugged paths that the righteous are to tread are described. He provides food for us while enemies crouch about us. The shadow valley of death is viewed ahead, but the rod and the staff of the shepherd who goes before causes ones fears to be driven away Two faithful guardians "goodness" and "mercy" are Shepherd servants who shall follow each of us all the days of our lives and our permanent tenting shall be in the "House of the Lord forever." Hallelujah! What a Hope! A verse by verse examination of this Psalm tells of:

Verse 1 , A Person

Verse 2, A Provision Verse 3, A Pathway Verse 4, A Peril

Verse 5, A Preparation Verse 6, A Prospect

The psalm tells of dangers, rough ways, enemies, sorrows, distresses and death. But, best of all, it tells of a Shepherd who goes before and has two servants to follow us behind, to lead us to rest, food, shelter and the house of the Lord forever. With Him there is security and one need not walk in need, fear, or discouraging paths. The Shepherd has gone before, He knows the way. David had been such a shepherd to his father’s sheep. Then in old age he wrote of his "Shepherd-God," the Good Shepherd, as a means of comforting and cheering others when he had gone to be with The Shepherd.

John 10:11 reads, "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." Jesus Christ is the good Shepherd. All that have come before Him or shall come hereafter claiming to be the saviour, are but thieves and robbers. He willingly sacrificed His life for His sheep and lives to defend them from the varmints of hell. Seven things are obvious concerning the Good Shepherd:

1. He Giveth His Life for the Sheep.

John 10:10-11; John 10:18; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25

2. His Sheep Hear His Voice.

John 10:16-17; 1 John 2:2

3. He Knows His Sheep.

John 10:14; 1 Corinthians 8:3

5. His Sheep are Owned by Him.

John 10:14-15; 1 John 5:20; 2 Timothy 1:12

6. He Cares for His Sheep.

John 10:13; 1 Peter 1:7; Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 28:20

He Shall Gather His Sheep Into One Flock.

John 10:16; Genesis 49:10; John 14:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 4:18; Psalms 23:6

Verses 1-6:

The Shepherd and His Flock

Verse 1 describes the Jehovah "Shepherd-God" as one’s protector. David is bold to declare that he "shall not want," or "I do not want." He shall not want food, shelter, water, protection or anything. His Shepherd shall go before him and two servant body guards "goodness" and "mercy," shall follow him. All his wants should be supplied. To His sheep Jesus said, "Ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you," John 15:7. Again He said, "If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it," John 14:14. One need not go through life in fear and dread. It is the Shepherd’s delight to help His sheep - every need if they will only trust in and call upon Him according to His Word and will.

Verse 2 asserts that the Shepherd brings rest and refreshment to His sheep. Green-pastures seem to indicate satisfaction for hunger and still waters seem to indicate oases for refreshment from thirst. David seems to describe in Palestinian shepherd’s language how God leads, feeds, and brings His Children to rest in spite of rough ways. Their food and rest are matters of His concern. In this age of distorted ideas of "independence" it is well that men reconsider the source of their dependence for spiritual safety and provision. It is a dependence that must be wholly upon the Shepherd who said to His disciples, "For without me ye can do nothing," John 15:5. Our rest and refreshment are from the Lord. His leadership is progressive, 1 John 1:1-7. He "leadeth," as men permit Him to lead. Do you need food, clothing, rest, healing, comfort, strength? Then call upon the Shepherd.

Verse 3 tells of restoration. "He restoreth my soul." David’s life had met tragic reverses. More than a year of sorrow and shame and guilt brought brooding over his soul until his "bones did burn within him." His life of an adulterous, murderous, backslider brought him to deep repentance. He had lost peace of mind, the joys of salvation, and remorse hovered like a Monday cloud over his soul. He went to the Shepherd, sobbed out his confession as recorded in the fifty-first Psalm, had the joys of salvation restored, and heaven’s joy-bells rang in his heart again. O the joyful testimony of David to the backslidden and the duty-neglecting child of God! "He restoreth my soul." Following Him leads one in paths of righteousness, Mark 8:34-37.

When temptations sweep down upon His sheep, when His sheep wander away, or go stubbornly away, they are sheep-of-will. They can wilfully commit presumptuous sins and stay away from the Shepherd’s peace, joy, and provisions. Or, best of all they can return, confess their sins, and find restoration of soul-peace, joy, gladness, and usefulness. The joy is then three-fold: (1) The Sheep that has strayed may rejoice. (2) The Shepherd rejoices, and (3) The other sheep of the fold rejoice, too. Thank God for the Shepherd who takes His straying sheep back in, wounded, bleeding, hungry, trembling, in shame and sin. He pardons their sins, washes them clean, feeds them and protects them again. 1 John 1:9. O that men who have wandered from the fold might say:

"I’ve wandered far away from God; Now, I’m coming home; The paths of sin too long I’ve trod; Now I’m coming home; Coming home, coming home never more to roam; Open wide thine arms of love; Lord, I’m coming home!"

For truly, "He restoreth my soul." John 6:37; Matthew 11:28; Jeremiah 3:22-23. His disobedient suffer.

Verse 4 teaches that one need not fear future sorrows, rough places of peril, if only he trusts and follow His Shepherd Guide. After one has been rested, fed, watered, and restored, he is not to lay down and die! The "Shadow-valley-of-death," of which David spoke were the perils the sheep face along the rocky ways of life. No sorrow or danger or peril shall be so great but that the Shepherd God’s presence should dispel the sheep’s over-anxiety. Life has its struggles, pitfalls, and snares for each sheep, but the Shepherd has gone this way before and has promised to stay before and beside His sheep all the way. He is so near that any cry or call in His name may be heard, so that one may be helped in any need, Hebrews 4:15-16.

Note the comforting words, "Thou art with me." In life and in death the Shepherd God, who "never leaves or forsakes," is nearby, Hebrews 13:5. Here is fellowship and comfort to be drawn by the nearness of the unseen Shepherd in every trial. "Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me," refers to the protection and source of comfort one may have through the omni presence of the Shepherd.

The rod was used as a weapon against vicious beasts and snakes, to ward off enemies. While the staff was used by the Shepherd to reach out and hook around a straying sheeps’ neck and pull him from wayward paths back into the right path: When a lamb or sheep fell into a ravine the staff was used to hook about the animal to lift him from the danger. Thus God’s Word is used to put Satan to flight while His Spirit brings remorse to His straying sheep and seeks to draw them back to the Shepherd. The protection and sufficiency that brings children of God comfort comes by trust in and obedience to the Lord. Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-4; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Isaiah 26:3; Isaiah 43:1-2. There is a glorious union of attachment that grows between the Shepherd and His Sheep.

The Banquet Set

The Shepherd now turns to serve as Host to His sheep. The Host is a king with servants whom he desires to honor at His table while His enemies watch. The banquet is spread in the midst of conflict. "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies," Verse 5a. Unlike the soldier on the battlefield that snat­ches a bite and eats with tension and fear, God, The Shepherd-Host, provides for His guests a bountiful meal, protects them from harm and fear as they feast to their heart’s content.

To God’s house we go in times of war as in times of peace, with enemies of the cross on every hand, and there we are fed with a satisfying bounty unknown to the unsaved.

Then David continued, "Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over." Anointing was an oriental custom at special feasts. It symbolized joy and abundance. Thus David was saying that the Lord had brought to him joys that made his cup to run over. Are not Joy and Peace fruits of The Spirit which is given to us? God, our Host, has lavished upon us the riches of heaven in redeeming and caring for us, 2 Corinthians 8:9. Can we become an occasion for any one to stumble or fall in the way, remembering that we are guests of the King? On His bounties we are feasting and living. Adequate provi­sions are promised for our daily cares, to bring daily joys, Philippians 4:13; Philippians 4:19.

Verse 6 reads, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever." There seems to be assigned two shepherd-servants who follow His sheep, not to spy upon, but to help them in time of any need as they follow their Shepherd. Their names are "goodness" and (Heb Hesedh), "mercy." David was certain that they should follow him ’the days of his life," and he should dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

One day the Shepherd shall take His sheep, not to the fold, but to His own house to live forever. Having qualified to lay down His life for His sheep He promised to go away to prepare in His Father’s house a dwelling place that where He was there His sheep might be also. O the thought of it! O the anticipation! One day we shall be carried away from the rough ways, dangers, perils, and distractions of this life! One day the Shepherd shall come to "receive us to himself, to go home with Him to stay."

Do you have a home here on earth? Many of us do not. If you have a home, thank God for it and let Jesus be the Host. But if you have no home, look up! Look up through faith, and if need be, through tears. "For we know if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved we have a building of God an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens," 2 Corinthians 5:1. Thank God, I know one day, "I’m going home to die no more." At home I shall dwell "in the house of the Lord forever." I’ll have no selfish longings then. Every depraved desire shall be driven away. Have you this Blessed Hope?

This assurance of dwelling with the Lord forever can come to a lost soul on grounds that God has provided. First, one must recognize and acknowledge that he is a lost sinner. Second, he, must have a regret for his sins and desire to have them pardoned. Third, he must believe that Christ will and can pardon them. And fourth, he must personally call upon or ask, with strong desire, in words audible or inaudible, for Jesus to save him, trusting Christ with his sins and accepting Christ as his personal Saviour and Guide for life. Such brings one everlasting life and brings him under the Shepherd’s care.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Psalms 23". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/psalms-23.html. 1985.
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