Skip to content

Psalm 23 – The Lord is My Shepherd

The Old Testament Book of Psalms contains 150 psalms (songs) which were used by the Israelites for praise, contemplation, and other reasons. Do you have a favorite psalm? This morning we are going to look at one of the most well-known psalms from the Bible. It is one that gives comfort to those who know the Lord. When someone is in the hospital or has gone through a difficult time, this psalm brings comfort to those who know the Good Shepherd. It is Psalm 23. This psalm is comforting because of Who it talks about and what He does.

As we go through the psalm, we will attempt to answer three questions: (1) Who is my Shepherd? (2) what does my Shepherd do? and (3) how should I respond to my Shepherd?

  1. Who is my Shepherd? (Psalm 23:1a)

    What does it say?

    David stated that the Lord was his shepherd. In other words, David likened God’s care for him to a shepherd taking care of a sheep.

    What does it mean?

    He is the Lord.

    When David used the name “the Lord,” he was referring to God. God is the One who created everything and who holds everything together. He is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. He is sovereign over all Creation and the One who loved us despite our sinfulness. He is the One who wants to have a close relationship with us. This is amazing.

    He is my Shepherd.

    A shepherd was someone tasked with taking care of a flock of sheep. This involved being with the sheep for long periods of time, day and night, and everywhere they went. The shepherd made sure that the sheep were fed and watered, protected, and kept in the right place. Good shepherding required a lot of time and effort. David knew what this was like because he had shepherded his father’s flock when he was young.

    When David stated that God was his shepherd, he meant that God was the One who was taking care of him as a shepherd took care of his sheep. God was always there watching over him, leading him, protecting him, and providing for his needs. And this was something that David had experienced personally. David viewed the Lord as his own Shepherd.

    How does it apply?

    Be amazed that the Lord wants to interact with you.

    Spurgeon says, “What condescension is this, that the Infinite Lord assumes toward his people the office and character of a Shepherd!”9 That is amazing. Why would the Almighty Lord who has created everything want anything to do with little old me? I don’t know. But I am glad that He does.

    Be sure that you are one of His sheep.

    While this psalm has given comfort to many, it should only be comforting to those who are His sheep. David had put His trust in the Lord and was actively involved in a relationship with God. If you have become a child of God through faith, you are one of God’s sheep. But if you do not know Him, this psalm does not apply to you.

  2. What does my Shepherd do? (Psalm 23:1b-5)

    What does it say?

    In verses 1b-5, David explains how the Lord acts as his Shepherd. He talks about God’s care (1b-2). He had no needs because the Lord provided for his daily needs. He talks about God restoring his soul (3a). He talks about God’s leading (3b). He was always directed in the right way that matched God’s name and character. He talked about God’s presence (4). No matter how bad the situation, he was not afraid because the Lord was with him and comforted him like a shepherd who protects with a rod and staff. He talked about God’s provision (5). While his enemies watched, God provided for his food and care.

    What does it mean?

    God cares for His sheep (1b-2).

    David confidently stated that he would not want. Here the word want doesn’t mean something you desire. It means something you need. David was confident that the Good Shepherd would meet his every need because He cared for him. A shepherd makes sure that the flock has a safe place to eat and drink. Here David thinks of green fields and still water that sound very peaceful. In a similar way, David was confident that God would care for his needs as well.

    God restores His sheep (3a).

    David states that God restores his soul. What exactly does this mean? First, if you look at the context, this could be linked to the previous verses. A sheep that is hungry and thirsty needs to be restored. After eating his fill and satiating his thirst, he can sit down and finally feel refreshed. Second, it could be tied to the next statements in verse 3. If a sheep has gone off the path and gotten into brambles, he needs to be brough back and restored to his former right place.

    But David says that God restores his soul. The soul is a person’s innermost being. When someone is walking with the Lord, he has peace. But things can happen that take away that peace. For instance, David was chased by Saul who wanted to kill him. David struggled with anger against Nabal and almost killed him. David also sinned against the Lord when he committed adultery. All of these events would have affected David’s soul in different ways. But God was able to restore his soul and bring him back to where he needed to be—trusting in the Lord.

    God leads His sheep (3b).

    David stated that the Lord led him in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. The first part deals with God’s leading. A shepherd leads his flock down paths that will take them to the right place. There they will have food, water, and protection. But here David speaks of God leading him in the paths of righteousness. This means that God was leading him toward thoughts and actions that were righteous according to God’s perfect standards. God always leads His sheep in this direction.

    The second part deals with His name’s sake. What exactly does this mean? Leupold puts it this way. “Since ‘name’ is the equivalent of ‘character’ or ‘reputation,’ this beautiful little phrase means: He does all this because He has a reputation among His saints for faithful dealings with them, a reputation which must be cautiously upheld.”8 God has a reputation for being righteous. He has no desire to lead his sheep into unrighteous activity of any kind. He does this because it is His character and He wants His sheep to be like Him.

    God stays with His sheep (4).

    As a shepherd led his sheep from one place to the next, he was always with them. He didn’t just send them off without him going there too. To help them to get there safely, he carried with him a rod and staff. These items were used to prod and protect the sheep from their own poor choices or from predators. Even if the way was difficult, the sheep would feel safe because the shepherd was there to guide and protect them.

    This is the picture David painted with verse four. He stated that he was not afraid when walking through the valley where death seemed to be casting its shadow over him. He was not afraid because the Lord was with him. That was the key. God’s presence gave him comfort despite the perils he sensed were very near.

    God provides for His sheep (5).

    Do you think that David is still talking about sheep here? Talk about a table, enemies, oil, and an overflowing cup seem to be something that doesn’t apply to sheep. But whatever the case, it is clear that David was acknowledging God’s provision for him. Instead of sheep eating at a table, he seems to be using the illustration of “a victory celebration, where the enemies are present as captives.”7 David seems to be saying that after all the troubles he went through, God made provision for him (a table), victory (in the presence of my enemies), refreshment (anoint my head with oil), and abundance (my cup runs over). David was excited to share how God had personally provided for him.

    How does it apply?

    Are you following the Good Shepherd’s lead?

    We all know about God’s leading. We read the Bible, hear Bible messages, and have the Holy Spirit in us. But what do we do with all of that? Are we listening to what God is trying to teach us? Are we doing what He wants us to do? Are we responding when God’s Holy Spirit convicts us about sin in our lives? As one old preacher said, “He leads but we must follow.”3

    John 10:27 – “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”

    Jesus said that His sheep will not only hear what he says but will also follow Him. If you are one of His sheep, you must learn to not only listen but to actually follow through. This is what God wants of all His sheep.

    Are you aware that God is with you?

    We all have gone through times where we thought we were all alone. But as you go through those times, it is very helpful to remember that God is with you. If you are one of God’s sheep, through faith in Jesus, God has promised to always be with you. As one commentator has said, “Believers are never in situations the Lord is not aware of, for He never leaves or forsakes His people.”1

    Heb. 13:5 – “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.'”

    This is the promise of God. He will be with us. And when we recognize that, it will make a big difference in how we handle the difficult times of life. When bad health has us in the hospital, when finances are tight, and when you are under pressure make a difficult decision—in all of these things—God is with you. And if He is with you, you are not alone.

  3. How should I respond to my Shepherd? (Psalm 23:6)

    What does it say?

    In this last verse, David shows his response to all that the Lord did for him. God’s care for him led David to expect only goodness and mercy from the Lord. And in gratefulness for all of that, David wanted to stay in the presence of the Lord forever.

    What does it mean?

    Expect God to be good (6a).

    After all that he had written about the Great Shepherd, David almost seems overwhelmed with thankfulness toward God. He was so sure of the Lord’s care for him that he expected God’s goodness and mercy to accompany him all of his life.

    Note that David went through some very difficult circumstances (Goliath, Saul, the Philistines, Michal, Absalom, etc.), so he was not expecting God to make his life easy. However, David was sure that God’s goodness and mercy toward Him would always continue no matter what he went through.

    Serve God with gratefulness (6b).

    After all that God had done for him, David wanted to stay with the Lord forever. At the time, the house of the Lord was the tabernacle. Was David saying that he wanted to become a priest and live in the tabernacle? I don’t think so. But have you ever been so overjoyed with what you have heard in a Bible message, what you heard in a Christian song, or what God taught you in the Bible that you wanted to just stay there and think about nothing else? This seems to be what David was thinking. His gratefulness led him want to stay with the Lord forever.

    How does it apply?

    Do you believe that God is good?

    David did. He saw God’s hand in his life and knew from experience that God loved him and would always be good and merciful toward him. But how about you? Do you believe that God is good and that he wants what is best for you? Don’t let your circumstances take away your joy. Remember that God loves you and has your best in mind.

    Rom. 8:38-39 – “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    Will you show your gratitude to the Lord by serving Him with the rest of your life?

    David wanted to stay in God’s house forever. While we wouldn’t be very useful if we stayed in the church building all day, there are ways to show our gratefulness to God in daily life. We can tell others what God has done for us. We can keep doing right when everyone is against us knowing that God is with us the whole time. We can start being thankful by noticing what God has done instead of complaining all the time. How will you show your gratefulness to the Lord this week?

Conclusion

Today we have looked at a psalm that is very well known. The Lord is my Shepherd. If He is your shepherd, I hope that you will go home thanking Him for all that He had done for you. And if He is not your shepherd, I hope that what you have heard will make you want to be one of the sheep that He cares for.

Footnotes

1 Ross 812.
2 McGee 711.
3 McGee 712.
7 Kidner 112.
8 Leupold 212.
9 Spurgeon 353.

Bibliography

Kidner, Derek, Psalms 1-72, Leicester, Tyndale, 1973.

Leupold, H. C., Exposition of the Psalms, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1959, reprint 1977.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. II, Joshua through Psalms, Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Ross, Allen P., “Psalms” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1985.

Spurgeon, Charles H., The Treasury of David, Vol. I, McLean: MacDonald, n.d.