339 – Psalm 23 – Introduction

Psalm 23 is such a familiar Psalm that many people have it either memorized or almost memorized. Those who know it have heard it so many times that they simply remember all or most of this popular poem set to words. It’s a popular “go-to” Psalm when a person is experiencing dark times or debilitating fear. I’ve heard it referred to as one of the “confidence” Psalms, which of course communicates a confidence in YHWH. 

Many years ago my grandmother was on her deathbed. As I remember it, toward the end she wasn’t very lucid. Her youngest daughter was sitting with her in her hospital room. Grandma suddenly started quoting Psalm 23. My aunt picked up a Bible and having recognized Psalm 23 turned to it and read along as Grandma quoted it, then died.

We are familiar with this short six-verse Psalm. Most of us would even say we know it well, but I wonder, do we? Let’s spend a few minutes together and see what else we may discover about this wonderful little song.

Psalm 23:1-2 (NKJV)

           1       [YHWH] is my shepherd; I shall not want.

           2       He makes me to lie down in green pastures;

    He leads me beside the still waters.

To begin with, I’ve quoted the first two verses because together they make up David’s first sentence in this ancient song, but I could have just as easily just quoted the very first word, “YHWH”. I know that we all recognize this famous poem as beginning with, “The LORD is my shepherd”, but this mistranslation hides a very powerful truth. By using God’s actual proper name David is demonstrating intimate knowledge and a close relationship with the One who is the source of life because he has life in Himself as the Self-existent one! This God is the one whom David trusts, not some impersonal “LORD”. 

We understand the metaphorical nature of this Psalm almost instinctively, but our minds drift away from the picture a little too quickly to appreciate the truth being communicated. Think about it. If David is saying YHWH is his shepherd, then to continue the metaphor means David is thinking of himself as YHWH’s sheep. What do sheep “want”? They just put their heads down and eat grass. But they have to have grass to eat, so they need to be led to where grass is available. They also need a source of fresh water. Sheep need protection from predators because they have no natural defenses to rely upon.

You may have noticed I switched from using “want” to “need” in our discussion. But that’s because the Hebrew translation of “I shall not want” is actually more accurately translated, as “I will experience no lack”. 

In verse two this sheep David (metaphorically remember) is made by YHWH to “lie down in green pastures”. To lie down in green pastures would mean sleeping where or dwelling in the place of provision. All you have to do to eat again is to rise and start chomping. David recognizes that to dwell in the presence of YHWH is to dwell in the place of His provision. Does David need to worry about thirst or cool refreshment? No, YHWH leads him “Beside the still (calm, drinkable, sustaining, refreshing) waters.” Of course the words in parentheses are my understanding and verbal embellishment of this passage.

Psalm 23:3 (NKJV)

           3       He restores my soul;

    He leads me in the paths of righteousness

    For His name’s sake.

“He (YHWH) restores my (David’s) soul”? Think about the start of verse three in light of the first two verses. It is an easy comment to make that your soul has been restored after you’ve had a good meal, satisfying drink, and sweet sleep while your protector watches over you. 

I will leave the remaining portion of verse three for next time because it transitions nicely into the truths of verse four. I hope your understanding of this six-verse Psalm has been enhanced. But beyond understanding it better I hope you will embrace the truth of who YHWH is and the blessed life available to those who are in a close relationship with Him.

YHWH truly is Good. He is worthy of all Praise, Worship, Adoration, Obedience, and Service!

1 Reply to "339 - Psalm 23 - Introduction"

  • Terry Kern
    December 25, 2023 (3:55 pm)

    Nice job of expositing this familiar and beautiful Psalm, Mark. Really nice work. Thanks!

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