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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 23

Kingcomments on the Whole BibleKingcomments

Verses 1-4


This psalm is the best known and most beloved of all the psalms. In Psalms 23:1-Numbers :, it gives us a full picture of the shepherd’s the full time activities, in whom we recognize without any difficulty the picture of the Lord Jesus. In Psalms 23:5-Joshua : the picture of a feast is added.

It is remarkable that the emphasis is on the personal/individual relationship with the shepherd, as with Jacob in Genesis 48 (Genesis 48:15). In the other psalms and the rest of the Old Testament, God presents Himself as the Shepherd of His people. This psalm begins with and emphasizes the personal relationship: the LORD is MY Shepherd. Very personal. David, the king, puts his trust not in himself or in his position or in his army, but in the LORD, his Shepherd. The middle part of this psalm then says, For You are with me. From this point on, the form of address changes from the third person singular to the second person singular. He no longer speaks of the LORD, but to the LORD.

In Psalm 22, the reconciliation is established. In the following psalms we see what the consequences of this are for David and for all who have come to know and partake of the atonement. It is about living in fellowship with God and being led by Him on the basis of the atonement. We can also see this in the life of the Lord Jesus, though obviously not on the basis of the atonement, for He did not need it. For the believer individually, in the midst of life’s greatest difficulties, there has come peace and confidence in their relationship with God. That is what is described in Psalm 23. In Psalm 24 we see the effects for the future.

The Lord is the Shepherd of the remnant. Several times in the Old Testament He is presented as the Shepherd of His people (Psalms 80:1; Ecclesiastes 12:11; Isaiah 40:11; Jeremiah 31:10; Ezekiel 34:12; Ezekiel 34:23-Jeremiah :). He is also the Shepherd of us, Christians, for the way through the wilderness. We go that way in the power of reconciliation. He, Who gave His life for the sheep, now sets Himself to work for the sheep (Hebrews 7:25). Faith in the nearness of the Lord takes away all fear. It is as if the Lord says to us: “Fear not.” Fear in the Lord’s nearness is equivalent to unbelief.

We can add here the closing words of the letter to the Hebrews: “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, [even] Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom [be] the glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-Ecclesiastes :). We recognize Him, Who rose from the dead (Psalms 22:21), already now as the good Shepherd Who is close to His own and cares for them.

The LORD Is My Shepherd

For “a Psalm of David” (Psalms 23:1) see at Psalm 3:1.

The psalm is composed by David when he was a simple shepherd boy. In his simplicity, he had fellowship with God and experienced it deeply. An intimate, deep fellowship with God is not dependent on social status, but on fearing God.

The psalm begins with the LORD Himself, and then not with what He gives, but what He is (Psalms 23:1). He is not ‘a shepherd’, or ‘the shepherd’, not even ‘our’ shepherd, but “my shepherd”. This can be said by anyone who has come to know Him as the good Shepherd of Psalm 22. It speaks of the continuous, uninterrupted and unfailing care and protection He has taken upon Himself for us. What all that means is said to us in detail in the following verses.

In those verses we see that the Lord Jesus provides rest, food, water, refreshment or restoration, guidance, preservation, comfort, fellowship, oil, an overflowing cup, goodness and lovingkindness and finally an eternal dwelling place in God’s house. The Shepherd’s care for all these needs and circumstances is the guarantee that the believer will arrive at his destination.

From all of this speaks a deep trust in the complete and unfailing care, providence and protection of God in all things. A mother cares for her baby in everything, but for only a short time. A father and mother devote parental care to children, but also for only a limited time. But a sheep completely depends on the care of the shepherd from birth to death, who does everything for the sheep, as the rest of the psalm shows. That is what God is to each believer personally. Therefore, it does not say, as already said, ‘our’ shepherd, but “my shepherd” (cf. Genesis 48:15).

Those who can say that the Lord is their personal Shepherd can also say: “I shall not want.” There is, through fellowship with God, the assurance that He will give enough for today. Also there is the confidence that He will continue to do so in the days to come.

Psalms 23:2 is the response of a believer’s heart to the Lord’s promise: “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9). The first thing He provides is rest and food (cf. Song of Solomon 1:7). Rest and food are needed to regain strength. The food is the Word of God (Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 2:2). Rest for a sheep is more than just resting. A sheep is a clean animal; it takes time to chew food. So a believer takes time to ‘keep the Word in the heart’ by pondering over the Word over and over again in the presence of the Shepherd.

Nor does the Shepherd drive His sheep (cf. Genesis 33:13), but gently leads them to thirst quenching waters. The water is a picture of the Holy Spirit, from Whom the believer may drink (1 Corinthians 12:13; cf. John 7:37). This means that the Holy Spirit is given the opportunity to strengthen him inwardly in order to follow the path behind the Shepherd.

The Lord Jesus is an example for those who are shepherds in God’s church. He has given these shepherds to His church (Ephesians 4:11), that they may care for the believers, who are seen as a flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2; cf. Ezekiel 34:1-2 Samuel :; John 21:15-Esther :). Those who shepherd and are faithful in it will be rewarded by Him when He has appeared as the chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4).

A subsequent blessing is that He restores the soul of the believer (Psalms 23:3). That is, the Lord brings us back from wrong ways, a thought supported by the parallel, “He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’ sake” (cf. Jeremiah 6:16). This is necessary to remain attuned to the voice of the Shepherd. Then we remain in fellowship with Him, because sin removes us from Him. That is why our feet must be washed by Him each time, so that we can walk close to Him (John 13:10).

The Shepherd knows the right way. A sheep has no orientation, but is completely dependent on the guidance of the shepherd. Therefore, the sheep must listen to him. The same is true for a believer. And this is only possible if we are brought back from the wandering ways of sin and are close to Him.

The Shepherd guides the believer “in the paths of righteousness”. This is not the same as the easiest paths. It is not the path where righteousness is obtained, but where righteousness is done, where everyone is given his or her due, and above all, where God is given His due. It is the path marked by righteousness, the path according to God’s thoughts. “He guides me” means that He Himself walked that path.

It is the straight path, the right path, to the destination: the house of the LORD. The Shepherd guides the believer in that path not because of him, but “for His name’s sake”, that is, the Name of God. That is, the honor of God is involved. It can be compared to the honor Solomon receives from the Queen of Sheba because of what she sees of the walk of his servants (1 Kings 10:4-Deuteronomy :).

In addition to providing guidance, the Shepherd also provides protection. He knows that the path may well lead “through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalms 23:4). The path to the eternal dwelling place with God can lead through dangerous territory; all kinds of difficulties and worries can loom up, casting the shadow of death. There are spiritual enemies at every turn who are out to harm the believer.

The shadow of death is the threat of death. The Shepherd is the Light. Whoever follows Him “will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12). Therefore, the believer who confidently calls the Shepherd “my Shepherd” is not frightened by a shadow. Nor does the reality of death frighten him, for the Shepherd has overcome death because He was laid in the dust of death (Psalms 22:15). The Shepherd here does not so much go before the believer but walks beside him, causing him to experience His nearness. As a result, he goes his way without fearing any evil.

Because of this nearness to the Shepherd, the psalmist suddenly speaks not of, but to the Shepherd and says to Him: “For You are with me” (cf. Isaiah 43:2; Hebrews 13:5). Herewith he expresses his full confidence in the Shepherd that He is always with him. It is good not only to know it, but also to express it. What danger or trouble or enemy is stronger than Him? No one is, right? There is only fear if we do not fix our eyes on the Lord (cf. Matthew 14:29-Amos :; 1 Kings 19:1-Leviticus :; 2 Kings 6:15-Esther :).

The Shepherd has a rod and a staff with Him. The rod is a club with which the lion and the bear are defeated; it is the weapon with which He drives out the enemy. The staff is the means by which the Shepherd guides the believer. It is both a ruler’s staff and a staff to lean on, a staff for support while walking, as someone leans on a staff. Among other things, the Shepherd uses the staff to discipline an erring or self-willed believer to keep him in the path of righteousness or bring him back.

Of both of these means, of which the use of the staff sometimes causes the believer pain, he says they comfort him. The comfort is that through these means he experiences the care of the Shepherd, Who wants to keep him in fellowship with God.

Verses 5-6

The LORD Is My Host

From Psalms 23:5 on, it is no longer the picture of a shepherd, but of a Host Who invites, in this case on the occasion of the appointment of a King. This is evident in Psalms 23:6, where David says: “I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

The believer going through trial and discipline sees that a table has been prepared for him (Psalms 23:5). The table here is an altar on which the peace offering is brought. In the Old Testament, a festive meal is held with peace offerings that are brought on the occasion of the appointment of a king (1 Samuel 11:15; cf. Isaiah 25:6). The guests are the afflicted of Psalm 22 (Psalms 22:27).

The adversaries, who were out for his destruction, see it gnashing their teeth. It is the only remark in this psalm about the believer’s enemies. They can do nothing against him, as, for example, at the coronation of Solomon (1 Kings 1:41-2 Thessalonians :). After all, the Shepherd is with him. In Him he is an overwhelmingly conqueror, by which he knows that nothing can separate him from the love of Christ and the love of God (Romans 8:35-Malachi :).

The believer goes on by speaking of what the LORD is doing to him. The LORD anoints his head richly with oil. Anointing with oil is a tribute to a guest (Luke 7:46; cf. Matthew 26:7). It says that the believer is valuable to the Shepherd. Also, the Shepherd gives him a cup so full that it overflows (cf. Psalms 116:13). This speaks of the overflowing blessing that the Shepherd gives. His care is so rich and overflowing.

In Psalms 23:6, the believer expresses the assurance that during all the days of his life, only goodness and lovingkindness will follow him. They will be there constantly (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:4). It concerns life on earth. God shows His goodness in His abundant care. His goodness He shows in His promises to bless His own.

David, or the believer, expresses his deep trust in God’s faithfulness. Instead of being persecuted by enemies who seek his destruction, he is “followed” by God’s goodness and lovingkindness. Here he does not follow the Shepherd, but the Shepherd follows him through life with His loving care. God’s benevolence will be our lifelong companion.

The psalm concludes with the assurance that every believer pronounces with great joy: “I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” This is the deepest desire of every believer. He wants to be there, where God dwells (Psalms 26:8; Psalms 27:4). For the Christian, that is ultimately the Father’s house (John 14:2). For the Old Testament believer, that is the realm of peace, where he may live in the atmosphere of the temple.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 23". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/psalms-23.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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