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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 23

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Psalms 23:0


The Lord, the Psalmist's Shepherd The Lord the Shepherd of His People An Expression of confidence in God's Protection (A Song of Trust) The Lord Our Shepherd The Good Shepherd
MT Intro A Psalm of David.
Psalms 23:1-3 Psalms 23:1-3 Psalms 23:1-3 Psalms 23:1-4 Psalms 23:1-2a
Psalms 23:2-3
Psalms 23:4-6 Psalms 23:4 Psalms 23:4 Psalms 23:4
Psalms 23:5-6 Psalms 23:5-6 Psalms 23:5-6 Psalms 23:5
Psalms 23:6

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. This is possibly the best known passage in the Bible by the general public; the other ones being John 3:16 or “the love chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13:0.

This is the biblical worldview of a faithful follower. The focus is on YHWH and His presence, care, and provision!

B. It uses three distinct cultural metaphors to describe the close personal aspect of biblical faith (i.e., “I,” “me,” “my”).

1. God as Shepherd; His people as needy sheep, Psalms 23:1-2

2. God as Guide; His people as needy pilgrims, Psalms 23:3-4; Psalms 23:3-4

3. God as Host; His people as welcomed guests, Psalms 23:5-6

C. This Psalm has ten imperfect (ongoing action) verbs. God is present every day, not just in crisis times. This is the OT counterpoint of Matthew 6:11.

1. I do not lack BDB 341, KB 338, Qal negated imperfect, cf. Psalms 34:9, Psalms 34:10

2. He makes me lie down BDB 918, KB 1181, Hiphil imperfect

3. He leads me BDB 624, KB 675, Piel imperfect

4. He restores my soul BDB 996, KB 1427, Polel imperfect, cf. Psalms 19:7

5. He guides me BDB 634, KB 685, Hiphil imperfect, cf. Psalms 5:8; Psalms 31:3

6. Even though I walk BDB 229, KB 246, Qal imperfect

7. I fear no evil BDB 431, KB 432, Qal imperfect, cf. Psalms 27:1

8. They (i.e., rod and staff) comfort me BDB 636, KB 688, Piel imperfect

9. You prepare a table before me BDB 789, KB 884, Qal imperfect

10. Goodness and lovingkindness will pursue me BDB 922, KB 1191, Qal imperfect

11. I will dwell/turn BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal perfect with waw, cf. Psalms 27:4-6

D. The UBS Handbook (p. 230) notes that this Psalm does not have synonymous parallelism. The poetic lines do not have symmetry (i.e., same length). It is a climactic progression in succinct wording. Its brevity accentuates its message and power!

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 23:1-3 1The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 3He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake.

Psalms 23:1 The opening line is literally “YHWH is the one shepherding me.” The only verbal is the Qal active participle (BDB 944, KB 1258). The concept of YHWH as Shepherd was a royal title in the ANE (i.e., Hammurabi). In the OT it is used in the sense of

1. a description Psalms 78:52; Ezekiel 34:11-13

2. a covenant title Psalms 80:1

3. a metaphor Isaiah 40:11; Jeremiah 31:10

4. the Messiah as Shepherd John 10:11; 1 Peter 2:25

It is such powerful imagery because of

1. the close and constant presence of the shepherd with the sheep

2. the sheep's need of an ever-present caretaker and protector

“I shall not want” This is a simple but comprehensive phrase. It cannot refer to every want or need. It denotes that which is necessary for sheep to be healthy. The worst thing God could do for most fallen humans is answer positively their selfish, worldly requests. The Shepherd of our souls will do and give that which is best for us!

Psalms 23:2 This verse describes Psalms 23:1. The Shepherd knows that sheep need

1. rest

2. food

3. water

He provides these in ways that the sheep can accept (i.e., the right food, water they can drink from easily). We are not alone (cf. Psalms 139:0)! There is purpose in our lives, even in a fallen world. This is not meant to imply a pain-free, problem-free life experience. It does affirm that He is with us, and for us (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13).

Psalms 23:3 “He restores my soul” This verse addresses and acknowledges the fallen human condition (cf. Isaiah 53:6). We need “restoring.” This verb (BDB 996, KB 1427) is the very verb used of “repentance,” see Special Topic: Repentance in the OT. This same verb is used in Psalms 23:6 of returning to the tabernacle/temple for lifelong fellowship. Faithful followers, motivated by God's Spirit, must turn from self and sin, and to God. Biblical salvation is

1. a reversal of the fall

2. restored intimacy with God

3. turning from known sin and forgiveness for unknown sin (cf. Psalms 19:12-14)

4. purposeful turning to God (i.e., in fellowship, obedience, and worship, cf. Psalms 23:3b)

The Hebrew term “soul” is nephesh (BDB 659, KB 711, see note at Psalms 3:2 and Genesis 35:18) and can refer to

1. human beings Genesis 2:7

2. animals Genesis 1:24; Genesis 2:19

NASB, NKJV“in the paths of righteousness” NRSV, TEV, JPSOA, REB“in right paths” NJB“in paths of saving justice”

In context this refers to the safe paths that lead to food and water. The word “right” or “righteousness” (BDB 841, see Special Topic: Righteousness) basically has an ethical, moral aspect and surely it is implied here (cf. Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 2:10). To know God is to live in obedience to His revealed will. This implication is reenforced by the last phrase of Psalms 23:3, “for His Name's sake” (see Special Topic: “THE NAME” OF YHWH). He “leads” so we may “live” for Him. We as faithful followers reveal Him! He saves us to save others. We are saved to serve!

For the phrase “for His name's sake,” see Psalms 25:11; Psalms 31:3; Psalms 79:9; Psalms 106:8; Psalms 109:21; Psalms 143:11. We live to reveal His character and purposes. Often Israel did not (cf. Jeremiah 14:21; Ezekiel 20:9, Ezekiel 20:14, Ezekiel 20:22; Ezekiel 36:22-38).

Verses 4-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 23:4-6 4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. 6Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalms 23:4

NASB, NKJV“the valley of the shadow of death” NRSV“the darkest valley” TEV“the deepest darkness” NJB“a ravine as dark as death” LXX“death's shadow” JPSOA, REB“a valley of deepest darkness”

This is a construct of “valley” (BDB 161) and “darkness,” “deep shadow” (BDB 853). Many scholars think צלמות comes from צל and מות.

1. shadow, gloom, darkness BDB 853, KB 1024

2. death, dying BDB 560, KB 563

It is used eighteen times in the OT (ten in Job) for

1. death Job 10:21, Job 10:22; Job 38:17; Psalms 107:10, Psalms 107:14

2. distress Job 16:16; Job 24:17

3. often in context with contrast to light Job 3:5; Job 12:22; Job 24:17; Job 28:3; Job 34:22; Jeremiah 13:16; Amos 5:8

It is used figuratively of the fearful, distressing, and fatal experiences of fallen humanity in this fallen world. Life is fearful but God is with us (cf. Psalms 23:4b,c; Deuteronomy 31:6, Deuteronomy 31:8; Matthew 28:20; 2 Corinthians 4:9; Hebrews 13:5).

“fear. . .comfort” What a contrast! Faithful ones face trials with confidence because God is with them (i.e., symbolized with the Shepherd's rod and staff, His instruments of care and protection).

Problems will come! We never face them alone! Never! He will never forsake us or leave us (cf. Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5).

Psalms 23:5 Not only is God with us and for us, He will vindicate us in the very presence of those who would harm us. The culturally expected hospitality is used to demonstrate the extravagant abundance of God's love.

1. table prepared

2. anointed head

3. overflowing love

“overflows” This is a rare word (BDB 924, “saturated”) found only here in the OT. Psalms 66:12 has “place of abundance” (slightly different spelling). The LXX translates it as “Your cup cheers me like the best wine” or “Your cup was supremely intoxicating,” which obviously takes the idea from “saturated” as “intoxicated.”

Psalms 23:6 “goodness” The verb (BDB 373), adjective (BDB 373 II), and noun (BDB 375III) all denote that which is “good,” “pleasing,” “beneficial.” They are used extensively in Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. This is what God wanted to do for His covenant people (i.e., Deuteronomy 30:9, Deuteronomy 30:15).

NASB“lovingkindness” NKJV, NRSV“mercy” TEV“love” NJB“faithful love” JPSOA“steadfast love” REB“love unfailing”

This is the special covenant noun hesed (BDB 338), which denoted YHWH's faithful, undeserved covenant loyalty (see Special Topic: Lovingkindness). The covenant loyalty is all the more striking in light of Israel's disobedience (cf. Nehemiah 9:6-38).

NASB, NKJV, NRSV, REB“follow” TEV“will be with me” NJB, LXX, JPSOA“pursue”

This verb (BDB 922, KB 1191, Qal imperfect) has a more aggressive sense than “follow.” It denoted active pursuit. Just think, God's covenant love chased the Israelites. It is a

1. military word

2. hunting word

3. judicial word

Stop! Turn around! Look who is pursuing you, yes you!

The last line in this OT context does not denote eternal life (other texts do, cf. Revelation 21:3-7; Revelation 22:1-5) but a life of covenant goodness (cf. Deuteronomy 30:3, Deuteronomy 30:15, Deuteronomy 30:19). This was to be lived out in daily life and regular tabernacle/temple worship.

The verb (BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal perfect with waw) can denote

1. to sit down with (ancients)

2. to return (Hebrew)

“forever” See Special Topic: Forever.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. How is YHWH like a shepherd?

2. How do the verbs of Psalms 23:1-3 apply to the daily life of faithful followers?

3. Define “the valley of the shadow of death.”

4. Does this Psalm foreshadow an afterlife?

5. Why is the Psalm so meaningful to believers of all ages?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Psalms 23". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/psalms-23.html. 2021.
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