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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary
Psalms 23

 

 

Verse 1

Psalms 23:1

I. The beauty and power of this verse lie very much in its composure. There is a calmness in it which almost reproduces itself in the mind whenever we say it. The calmness lies in the assurance. It is a fact, and a conclusion which springs out of that fact by a mathematical consequence; that is, it is a child's faith, and that is assurance.

II. In this calm confidence there is wrapped up the sense of devolved responsibility. Devolved responsibility may be abused. But the abuse of a thing is no argument against it. Was ever any man made idle or presumptuous by leaning too much upon God? Lean we must; every man leans somewhere; the strongest-minded always lean the most. And the reason why leaning has come to be thought a foolish thing and wrong is because so few lean on the Rock and so many lean on the reed, where they have found only a fracture or a thorn.

III. David brought together here the grandeur of God and the minuteness of God, His Deity and His care for little things, the God of the heaven of heavens and the God of our everyday, common life.

IV. The most telling word of the whole passage is the little word "my." For what would it benefit me to say, "The Lord is a Shepherd"? It would mock me. Should not I rather feel my own destitution and desolation the more if I felt that He was a Shepherd to others, and not to me, and that I could not put the seal of property on it and say, "my Shepherd"?

V. "I shall not want"—for food, for drink, for grace and beauty, for quietness, for companionship, for guidance, for a welcome back again when I have wandered. Want is the excess of the desire beyond the possession. But he whose heart is right with God, as David's was, will not desire what it is not in God's providence that he shall possess.

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 7th series, p. 111.


I. This verse states a fact in David's experience: "The Lord is my Shepherd." In studying this statement, we must (1) endeavour to identify the personage it sets forth. Two titles are included in his appellative: "Lord" and "Shepherd." Who is He? Let us enter "the house of the Interpreter" and ask Jesus Christ. If we do, we shall hear Him say, "I am the good Shepherd, and I know My sheep, and am known of Mine." Only when we know God in Christ do we know Him as at once Lord and Shepherd. (2) Notice the mediatorial office which this statement sets in view. Jesus has saved the life of His sheep. By His representative obedience, by His death and by His life, by His sacrifice consummated on earth and by His eternal ministry in heaven, by His work as the Saviour from death and His work as the Preserver of the life which He saves, feeding it and guiding it until brought from the perils of the wilderness and folded amidst the felicities of Paradise, Jesus has achieved the right to the title of "Shepherd." (3) Mark the language of appropriation conveyed in this statement. "The Lord is my Shepherd." Distinguish between the knowledge and the appro priation of a fact. In religion the difference between mere power to use the language of theory and the power to use language of immediate proprietary application is an infinite difference; it makes all the difference between the saved and the lost.

II. This sentence not only records a fact, but the inference drawn from it. "The Lord is my Shepherd." What then? "I shall not want." (1) With regard to this inference, you are requested to study its argumentative value. Not as a believer only, but as a reasoner, does the Psalmist speak; and his language is that of fair logical induction. (2) Notice the special application of this argument to the facts of actual life. If you can use David's words, you mean to say, (a) I shall not want for appropriate food; (b) I shall not want for needful rest; (c) I shall not want for restorative mercy; (d) I shall not want for guidance in the right paths; (e) I shall not want for consolation in the valley of the shadow of death.

C. Stanford, Symbols of Christ, p. 119.


References: Psalms 23:1.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. vii., p. 146; J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii., p. 195; G. Bainton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 401; G. H. Hepworth, American Pulpit of the Day, p. 23; Bishop Thorold, The Presence of Christ: Lectures on Psalm XXIII., p. 3; J. M. Neale, Sermons on Passages of the Psalms, p. 21.


Verses 1-3

Psalms 23:1-3

The whole sentiment and scenery of this poem seems to prove, by accumulative evidence, that it was written at the time when the forty-second Psalm was written: when David had taken refuge from Absalom among the wide uplands which lie around the city of Mahanaim.

I. This poem is impregnated with one feeling: the feeling of trust in God. The illustration of this trust is taken from pastoral life. The case of the Oriental shepherd and the trustfulness of the sheep furnish a symbol to David of the mutual relations between himself and God. (1) In the first verse we find two of the activities of faith. First, it appropriates God. "The Lord is my Shepherd." (2) It sees the invisible in the visible. For other men the scenery and life which moved round Mahanaim was merely scenery and life, and no more; to David the whole was a parable of which God was the interpretation. The veil of the phenomenal was lifted up, and he beheld the spiritual. (3) We find in this Psalm the childlike simplicity of faith. One of the most remarkable effects of intense grief is that it brings back to us the simplicity of childhood. By sorrow such as this, David had been made in feeling a child again. So it happened that the expression of his grief was soft and sweet rather than sublime. I have been through the valley of the shadow of death, yet the Lord is my Shepherd. That was all childlike sorrow, childlike trust.

II. We can account still further for the simplicity of this Psalm because David had really returned, through the power of association, to his childhood. He saw himself leading his sheep with staff and rod through the gloomy gorges of the hills to shelter them at noon and water them at even; and now, with the faith of the man and the child combined, he represented to himself in simple words a like relation between himself and God. Through this retrospective faith David learned three things. (1) Me learned that the intervals of rest in trial are the kindness of God. God concentrates joy for the weary of heart. That which is spread for the happy over a large surface is poured by God in its quintessence into a day or an hour for the suffering. (2) It is not only keen joy which God gives us in trial; it is also strength. "He restoreth my soul;" i.e., He gives me back my vitality, my force of life. (3) God is teaching us in trial to walk after Him in a straighter path. In my sorrow, by my sorrow, He is leading me into paths of righteousness. "Before I was chastened I went wrong, but now have I kept Thy word."

S. A. Brooke, Sermons, p. 73.


References: Psalms 23:1-4.—J. F. Haynes, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 387. Psalms 23:1-6.—J. Wells, Bible Echoes, p. 247.


Verse 2

Psalms 23:2

We have now to do only with Christ in waters of quietness, those which He makes for us, which He chooses for us, and to which He—only He—guides us.

I. You have had to do with painful changes. Faces have altered; many are gone. There have been strange removals. There have been reversals of fortune. Everything has been shaken. You can scarcely be sure of anything. Let Jesus take you up and make you to converse a little while with the grandnesses of the unchangeable and the undying; with the eternities of truth; with the calmnesses of the invisible; with Himself.

II. Or you have had a great joy, and it is too much for you. Even the tideway of your happiness is too high. You feel oppressed with your mercies. Let Him add composure to your delight, and make the rivers of rapture what they ought to be, "waters of quietness," for a quiet mind is essential to the pureness of the joy. A future of great expectation may be almost as disquieting to the mind as a future of fear, unless He mingle His peace with the full flow of the incoming life. Many waters sparkle, but only His waters are always still.

III. Notice one or two ways by which you may cultivate a quiet mind. (1) Do not seek quietness. Do not seek peace. But seek Christ. (2) Follow Christ wherever He takes you. He is leading you to quietness, and you will only get to it by following Him implicitly. (3) Yield yourself to His leadings. (4) As you go, realise yourself undertaken for in everything, both spiritually and temporally. (5) Christ is peace. You have become partakers of His nature. Your being identifies itself with His. And you are peace simply because He is peace.

J. Vaughan, Sermons, 10th series, p. 29.


References: Psalms 23:2.—Bishop Thorold, The Presence of Christ, p. 39; M. G. Pearse, Some Aspects of the Blessed Life, p. 213. Psalms 23:2, Psalms 23:3.—G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 67; G. Bainton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 5.


Verse 3

Psalms 23:3

It is very pleasant to walk on the bank of the still waters. But still waters have their dangers. He who wrote this Psalm had found one "in an evening tide." Therefore no one need be surprised at that otherwise strange order of thought. "He leadeth me by the still waters; He restoreth my soul."

I. It is a true and high name of Jesus—the Restorer. When this earth became the wandering one of the flock of worlds, it was He who travelled after it so far, and went so deeply into all its wretchedness, and brought it back into the favour and the smile of its Creator.

II. The life of the Christian is made up of restorations. It is always straying and coming back. Much that is called conversion is restoration. When God restores, He puts us back to a better point than the one from which we had fallen. Restored life is sweeter than life which has never been clouded.

III. God's children could tell of very various methods by which He restores souls. Very often it is by thorns planted just outside the hurdles, for this very end, that the sheep may feel their hard points and be glad to run back. All afflictions are restorative processes, and very few indeed retrace their steps without afflictions. Some are brought back by the word. Or an inward voice will do it, as Elijah found it in the desert. When the whole map is laid out, you will be astonished to see how providence worked with grace, and grace worked with providence, all ranging to one end—to correct your strayings, and bring you at last safe home.

IV. What shall the restored do? Rest, and not doubt. Love Jesus dearly. Like Him, be a restorer of the lost. Be every wanderer's friend.

J. Vaughan, Sermons, 10th series, p. 37.


References: Psalms 23:3.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix., No. 1149; Bishop Thorold, The Presence of Christ, p. 83; J. H. Evans, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 185.


Verse 4

Psalms 23:4

I. The place where the words come in the Psalm would of itself be sufficient to refute that interpretation. The Psalm is a series of pictures of a believer's life and confidences, and after "the valley of the shadow of death" come the prepared table, and the anointed head, and the mantling cup, and goodness and mercy following to the end, and then the death, or rather no death at all, for it is leapt over, or left out as almost a thing which is not. "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;" and then, without one break, "I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever." These greatly misunderstood and too limited words mean times of mental suffering and spiritual dread, and so they rightly fit in with the resolution not to fear.

II. Hope is the right attitude of a Christian's mind. And the difference between fear and hope is this: fear looks at circumstances; hope looks at the God of the circumstances: fear deals with the visible, hope with the invisible: fear at the best gives only the obedience of a slave; hope is the animation of the heart of a child of God.

III. We are indebted to David for the suggestion of the greatest, the only real, preservative from fear—the realisation of a Presence. "I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me." "Presence" in the Old Testament was "God for us." In the Gospels it is "God with us." In the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles it is "God in us." Thus our whole life is hid with Christ in God.

J. Vaughan, Sermons, 15th series, p. 13.


I. Mark with what exquisite simplicity the anticipation of the valley is introduced. It is part of the Psalmist's religious forecast and provision. The godly man never forgets that the course of life leads that way. But the anticipation, while it does full justice to the gloom and horror of the coming change, is not one that discomforts or even troubles the soul. This thought will give to life a certain solemnity and pathos which nothing else will give. It disenchants earthly life of its illusions, and aids the soul's detachment from all created things. It teaches every period, from youth to extreme age, its one lesson: to "remember the days of darkness."

II. The singer sings his way into the valley that he had predicated for himself. The language of his poetry blends wonderfully the future and the present. "I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me." (1) Notice, first, that the pilgrim is guided into the valley by the Shepherd Himself. The blessedness of all our religion, whether in life or death, is union with Jesus. (2) The Pastor's crook, the Shepherd's rod, is no other than the Redeemer's mediatorial sceptre swayed over one special region of His vast empire: that which is under the shadow of death. He extends His jurisdiction in a special manner over all the accesses, preparations, and circumstances of the final hour of His saints. If we live under His sceptre as the Lord of the living, we shall enter the mystical and sacred region of death under His sceptre as the Lord of the dead and dying. (3) The Redeemer's presence in the valley is also the pledge of the last sanctification for heaven of the pilgrim-spirit. "Thou anointest mine head with oil." The emancipated soul is sealed for the day of redemption, when the body will be restored, and goes on its heavenly way rejoicing with this oil of gladness of its head.

III. And now our hymn suddenly and abruptly leaves the valley. There is a blank, a pause, an omitted verse, then suddenly "I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever." The resting-place of the pilgrim is the eternal temple. To dwell in the temple of God, to go no more out—that is the highest strain of the Christian hope.

W. B. Pope, Sermons, Addresses, and Charges, p. 36.


References: Psalms 23:4.—W. Lindsay Alexander, Christian Thought and Work, p. 289; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii., No. 1595; Ibid., Evening by Evening, p. 99; Congregationalist, vol. viii., p. 227; S. Baring-Gould, One Hundred Sermon Sketches, p. 25; T. Birkett Dover, A Lent Manual, p. 36; A. C. Tait, Lessons for School Life, p. 161; R. Collyer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 206; G. Bainton, Ibid., vol. xii., p. 21; Bishop Thorold, The Presence of Christ, p. 129; J. Service, Sermons, p. 243.


Verses 4-6

Psalms 23:4-6

I. David's refuge in the valley of the shadow of death was faith in God, the ever-near. David had entered the valley of the shadow of death of the heart. He had been betrayed, insulted, exiled, by the one whom he had loved best. It was enough to make him disbelieve in Divine goodness and human tenderness, enough to harden his heart into steel against God, into cruelty against man. In noble faith he escaped from that ruin of the soul and threw himself upon God: "I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me." This verse sprang from the heart of a Hebrew king. It has found an echo in the heart of all humanity.

II. The next verse, on the supposition that the Psalm was written at the time when David was at Mahanaim, is at once comprehensible. It is a thanksgiving to God for the blessings of friendship which were given him in his exile. One of the sad comforts of trial is that it is the touchstone of friendship. We realise then who are true gold. We often lose in trial what is calculable; we often gain what is incalculable. Precisely the same principle holds good in the spiritual world. The blessing of all trial is that it disperses the vain shows of life on which we rested, and makes Christ, the eternal certainty, more deeply known, more deeply ours as the Friend who loveth at all times.

III. The last verse combines the retrospect and the prospect of faith. David glances over his whole life, and declares that it has been very good: "Surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life." That is the expression, not of a youthful shepherd's, but of a man's, experience, and it is an expression of triumphant faith.

S. A. Brooke, Sermons, p. 71.



Verse 5

Psalms 23:5

I. The table here comes in after the valley of sadness. Is there not a preparation even in that fact? When do we so want the table as when we have just been through severe experiences? It is true spiritually, as it is physically, and it is the law of God's government, "If any man do not work, neither let him eat." The table follows the valley.

II. What is the prepared table? I should by no means exclude from the answer the ordinary supply of our daily meals. There is the anticipatory mind of the Infinite everywhere. It is well to forget the material callings, the buying, and the ordering, and the preparing, to see nothing but a prearranged, and complicated, and accurate gift of God, and to feel only, "Thou preparest a table for me."

III. The whole of the twenty-third Psalm, however, is essentially spiritual, and David's prepared table was certainly a holy one. And to this every child of God will set his seal and add his witness, that God does most surely and most strangely provide spiritual food for us, just what, and just when, and just where we need. One day you may have felt a more than usual emptiness of heart and a craving after you knew not what, only it was an unsatisfied sense that something was wanting. Your soul was hungry. That very hunger was a part of a great preparation. It was that day that you opened your Bible, and it is astonishing what a power it carried, a thing hardly to be accounted for. It fitted into your thoughts; it suggested the ideas that you wanted. Was not that a table prepared?

IV. There is another table yet to be, when a prepared people shall meet at a prepared banquet and the appointed ones gather round their appointed King.

J. Vaughan, Sermons, 6th series, p. 133.


References: Psalms 23:5.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi., No. 1222, and vol. xv., No. 874; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xx., p. 13; Bishop Thorold, The Presence of Christ, p. 167. Psalms 23:5, Psalms 23:6.—T. Hammond, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 123; J. F. Haynes, Ibid., vol. xxi., p. 409.


Verse 6

Psalms 23:6

(with Isaiah 52:12)

These two passages are the expression by different men, in different ages, of the same religious confidence, namely, confidence in an unseen Presence shielding from harm and ensuring blessing, in an unseen Presence encompassing the weak during their exposure to danger and that might be depended upon for protection and support, whatever threatened, from whatever quarter, in an unseen Presence covering unguarded points and accompanying unguarded moments.

I. Notice the ugly things that are lying in wait for us sometimes when we are wholly at rest and quiet, like ambuscades towards which, all blindly, gay troopers ride, carolling love ditties or exchanging jests, and are suddenly cut down. How sometimes ugly things have lurked in our path, big with sorrow for us, that could so easily have been avoided, and would have been had we only known. We little dream of the number of instances in which we have run carelessly along the edge of dark pits within an ace of engulfment, of the terrible pursuers that have been at times at our heels and on the point of seizing us.

II. Again, may we not say that goodness and mercy are frequently following us to our salvation from threatening mischief in the truer thoughts, the better feelings, that start up behind our frequent false inclinings and prevail against them, in the wiser mind that presently awakes to arrest and scatter the foolish, in the wholesome heart that rises to check the unhealthy? St. John of the Apocalypse beheld a door opened in heaven, and heard a voice inviting him to ascend. Have we not on occasions beheld in our own breast a door opened in hell and then suddenly shut to, as by an angel's hand?

III. True as it is that every day bears upon it the fruit of yesterday's sowing, that we are constantly inheriting, whether for good or evil, what we have been, and have been doing—true as this is, yet are we not often conscious that we are spared reaping the full harvest of a foolish or unworthy past, that there is a withholding in part of what we might have suffered from it, of what it might have inflicted upon us? It must have seemed to us all at times that goodness and mercy were following our transgressions in some mitigation of their consequences, that we were not receiving from them all the stripes that we might have looked to receive.

S. A. Tipple, Sunday Mornings at Norwood, p. 233.

I. Look, first, at these companions of our life: Divine kindness and Divine grace. These companions accompany us. It is Jehovah's goodness and Jehovah's mercy that are with us. These companions are Divine, pleasant, useful, sympathetic, everlasting, unchangeable, and familiar.

II. Notice the period of this companionship: "all the days of my life." Life is made up of days—not so much of years as of days. (1) Goodness and mercy have been our companions through past days. Their hands held us up in childhood; they have been the guardians of our youth; they have been ministering angels in our manhood; they have been a refuge and strength in old age. (2) Goodness and mercy are our companions today. To-day we walk with them and talk with them; today we receive their benediction. (3) And to-morrow goodness and mercy will accompany us. There is nothing in any day or days of life to separate us from goodness and mercy. The day is not too long, the day is not too dark, the day is not too stormy, the days are not too many, for these Divine companions. Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, sends us these good angels, and secures for us their services. He would have us continually rejoice in their presence. He would have us "be quiet from fear of evil."

S. Martin, Comfort in Trouble, p. 170.


The earthly and the heavenly sanctuary.

I. Exactly in proportion as we recognise the worth of the institution of the Sabbath, we shall recognise the necessity that there is for a public provision for its right use and improvement. A Sabbath in a land without churches would be a day, in all likelihood, of open licentiousness rather than even the appearance of devotion. Preaching is the appointed ordinance of God, by and through which He gathers in His people. The solemn setting apart of places for Divine worship is not of human device, but possesses all the sanctions which can be derived from the known will of our Creator.

II. The words of David may be regarded as referring to a future life as well as to a present. The Evangelist saw no temple therein, for he adds, "The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it." Observe then what a change must have passed on our present condition ere churches can be swept away without injury, nay rather with benefit, to vital religion. (1) If a man could safely dispense with churches as being able safely to dispense with Sabbaths, then must he be where everything around him breathed of Deity, where every creature with whom he held converse served and loved the Redeemer, where there was no exposure to temptation, and where nothing that defileth could ever gain entrance. (2) The words of John also tell us that in heaven we shall be free from every remainder of corruption, that we shall no longer need external ordinances to remind us of our allegiance and strengthen us for conflict, but that, "made equal to the angels," we shall serve God without wavering and worship God without weariness. (3) It shall not be needful, in order to advance in acquaintance with God, that the saints gather themselves into a material sanctuary; they can go to the fountain-head, and therefore require not those channels through which living streams were before transmitted. Present with the Lord, they need no emblem of His presence.

H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1848.

References: Psalms 23:6.—G. Bainton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 85; Bishop Thorold, The Presence of Christ, p. 217; W. Cunningham, Sermons, p. 1; T. T. Munger, The Appeal to Life, p. 67.

Psalm 23

This Psalm falls into two halves, in both of which the same general thought of God's guardian care is presented, though under different illustrations, and with some variety of detail. The first half sets Him forth as a Shepherd, and us as the sheep of His pasture. The second gives Him as the Host and us as the guests at His table and the dwellers in His house.

I. First, consider that picture of the Divine Shepherd and His leading of His flock. It occupies the first four verses of the Psalm. There is a double progress of thought in it. It rises from memories of the past and experiences of the present care of God to hope for the future. Then, besides this progress from what was and is to what will be, there is another string, so to speak, on which the gems are threaded. The various methods of God's leading of His flock, or rather, we should say, the various regions into which He leads them, are described in order. These are rest, work, sorrow; and this series is so combined with the order of time already adverted to, as that the past and the present are considered as the regions of rest and of work, while the future is anticipated as having in it the valley of the shadow of death.

II. Consider God as the Host and us as the guests at His table and the dwellers in His house. (1) God supplies our wants in the very midst of strife. Before it was food and rest first, work afterwards. Now it is more than work—it is conflict. And the mercy is more strikingly portrayed, as being granted, not only before toil, but in warfare. Life is a sore fight; but to the Christian man, in spite of all the tumult, life is a festal banquet. (2) Upon the experience of the past is built a hope which transcends that in the previous portion of the Psalm. As to this life, "goodness and mercy shall follow us." This is more than "I will fear no evil." That said, Sorrow is not evil if God be with us. This says, Sorrow is mercy. Higher than all rises the confidence of the closing words; "I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever." This should be at once the crown of all our hopes for the future and the one great lesson taught us by all the vicissitudes of life.

A. Maclaren, Sermons Preached in Manchester, p. 341.


I. The keynote of this song is, God's servant finds his all in God.

II. The true end of every man's life is to become one of God's flock.

III. Knowing generally that God's sheep shall not want, the Spirit leads us into the pastures to note some of the supplies. (1) Provision is made both for the active and contemplative side of man's life. (2) Provision is "made for restoration. Here we see restoration under three phases: (a) forgiveness; (b) rest and refreshment; (c) care in times of sorrow. (3) "He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake." God seeks to make His children right for their own good, but primarily for His glory; for their highest good is involved in His being glorified. (4) Where He most needs Him, God's child finds the Shepherd with His rod and staff (ver. 4). (5) The relation of the Shepherd settles every minor relation (ver. 5). (6) The future is no less secure than the present. "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life."

M. R. Vincent, Gates into the Psalm Country, p. 53.


References: Psalm 23—A. Maclaren, Life of David, p. 37; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 419; I. Williams, The Psalms Interpreted of Christ, p. 421. Psalms 24:1.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xiv., p. 84.



 


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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 23:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/sbc/psalms-23.html.

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