Psalm 23 – The Lord Is My Shepherd
SummaryBecause God is a faithful shepherd and protector, the psalmist is confident that life will be filled with goodness and mercy.
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).