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Psalm 23

I have a bookmark in my Bible with my grandmother’s obituary on one side and the 23rd Psalm on the other. Apparently this is something funeral homes do as a remembrance. Our modern memento mori. I look at it often when I think of things I wish I could tell her or when I’m reminded of the beautiful legacy she left in my life but it’s the Psalm that has become more of a treasure as I go along. 

This is one of those Bible passages that even non-Christians know. It’s been quoted in movies and prayed on countless battlefields. And because it is so well known, I feel like we miss the details in studying it. We feel we know it but do we see the true beauty of David’s words? As I was reading through the Bible several years ago, I put special intention on truly getting the bits and pieces of what I was reading. I marked stuff up like a textbook the week before a final exam. I wanted to get more than the passages I’ve known since childhood. I wanted the depth of the truth in those pages. 

If you look at my Psalm 23 now, it’s a bit hard to read. So much circled, underlined and written in the margins. And this is what stood out to me…

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

The Lord is whose shepherd? Mine. That fact is the basis for everything else in this passage being true. If He isn’t my shepherd I am very lost and not going to make it. Sheep need shepherd’s for their security, provision, safety and health. He is my shepherd, my Jehovah Roi. 

If you learned the old school translation then you will know part two of this verse as, “I shall not want” which is also a great view. We lack for nothing with the Father which can seem strange in this broken world but our ultimate provision is taken care of by our Shepherd. However, don’t confuse wants and needs. 

    He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,

To force an animal to lie down, is to give it rest. Shepherds know the temperament and needs of their flock which includes the rest that often we avoid. There’s no mistake in David saying “He makes me…” because David had moments of forced rest just like us but that rest doesn’t come in the barren valleys but in green pastures. This isn’t being left behind exhausted and defeated. This is a true rest with pastures to feed our souls and waters to quench our thirst. 

    he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. 

Other translations say, “He restores my soul” which is such a beautiful picture of what takes place inside every time we approach the Throne of Grace. Restoration, healing, refreshment and more. I don’t know about you, but at times my soul feels more worn out than my body. I need that refreshing from the Father. 

I love that David reminds himself that God is guiding him on the right paths and that He is doing it for His glory. We sometimes forget that our lives are part of the elaborate tapestry of God’s glory. Amazing and overwhelming at the same time. Ultimately, this life isn’t about us. 

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

This is the moment that so many people quote in fear and in jest but this is where David shifts from talking about God to talking to God. From reminding himself of who the Lord is, to crying out to God over some pretty relatable concerns. 

“Even though…” Not “If I walk through the valley” but “Even though”. David understood the darkest valley, sometimes called the valley of the shadow of death. He had seen grief and pain in his life that breaks your heart and, like us, much of it was self-inflicted. He knew the truth of John 16:33 centuries before Christ spoke that encouragement. “I have told you these things so that in me you will have peace. In this world you will have trouble but take heart. I have overcome the world.” Not if but when. 

That may seem disheartening to you in this context. No one wants to walk through a dark valley but I’m comforted by several things. First, it says as I walk not as I stay which tells me that the valleys of life are not permanent. Of course, the mountains of life aren’t permanent either but still that’s a reassuring reminder. 

Also, the fact that we aren’t in those valleys alone. We don’t have to fear evil because we are being led by the Mighty Warrior but it has to be our choice. “I will fear no evil” not “I fear no evil”. David is making that decision before he’s faced with it, a wise example for us to follow. It’s one you see him reiterate over and again, like in Psalm 25:1-2. 

His trust in his security is based on his companion. The Lord is our guide and our protector which is seen in David’s comments on the rod and staff. Remember, David was a Shepherd before he was a king so of course he would know the importance of such instruments being used to save, protect, guide and correct sheep. Just like David, we can be comforted knowing we walk with an able and very ready Shepherd. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

This part of the Psalm seems so personal to me. David is speaking of the Father as an intimate friend. He knows the Lord is preparing a table for him specifically. It is the Lord doing the preparation and the anointing. It’s the Lord doing the blessing. While we don’t understand the culture this speaks to we can understand that David sees honor and favor from the Lord. More than that, this is a table of plenty which continues his beliefs from verse 1. 

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I have the word “surely” highlighted in bright pink in my Bible because to me it is a reminder of promises to come. Biblical expectation at its finest. David hasn’t seen the full goodness and love or mercy as some put it but he is believing he will. It has nothing to do with him or his merits but rather God’s righteousness. The love or mercy shown to David and us is summed up in the word picture painted by Isaiah 53:6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” That’s it. That’s the Gospel in one sentence. And long before the birth of Christ, David understood the Father’s heart and believed that His promises were faithful and true. 

After studying this passage, I was sorry that I always viewed it as a “funeral thing”. Something quoted when a plane goes down or when a hurricane roars. No, Psalm 23 isn’t a reminder for the bad times but rather a blessed picture of the future hope we have in every step we take when we walk with the Father.


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