Psalm 23 has been called one of the psalms of trust in which pray-ers proclaim their confidence in the goodness of God despite the very real difficulties of present experience (see also Psalms 11; 27:1-6; 91; 121). Because of this reliance on God even in the midst of distress, these psalms mirror Paul's understanding that the believer walks by faith rather than by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
The image of God in the first part of the psalm (vv. 1-4) is the shepherd--the one who faithfully leads and tends the flock (see also 28:9 and 80:1). Similarly, God's people are God's sheep, kept and protected by the Lord (also 95:7; 100:3). Sometimes in the Psalms it is not particularly a good thing to be a sheep--sheep are vulnerable (44:11) and go astray (119:176)--but here the image is positive, depicting one of God's beloved creatures. The good or loving shepherd--a royal image as well as a pastoral one--will become one of the most enduring and comforting pictures of God and Jesus in the Bible (Isaiah 40:11; John 10:11, 14).
The mood of Psalm 23 is hardly idyllic. This is no fantasy world where all is sweetness and light. The psalmist fears no evil--though evil is real--even in the midst of the darkest valley (or the valley of the shadow of death), only because of God's care.
The psalm moves in part two to a different picture (vv. 5-6). Now God is host at a meal, providing overflowing blessing, goodness, and mercy, even though here, too, real enemies remain. The scene may be of the meal associated with the thank-offering in the temple. It is one of many biblical texts that portray life with God as a banquet of abundance, where cups overflow (v. 5) and twelve baskets of leftovers remain (Mark 6:43).
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;*
3 he restores my soul.*
He leads me in right paths*
for his names sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,*
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely* goodness and mercy* shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.*
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org