The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Psalm 23

I know that Psalm 23 has often been used for funerals and feel good preaching. I am not suggesting that Psalm 23 should not be used for funerals, but it is a Psalm about life and not death. In order to fully understand the Psalm I have had to do some research. There is more to Psalm 23 than what we read on the surface. I want to recommend some books that go beyond the surface understanding of the text. Psalm 23 should encourage you, but very few people fully understand the text. If you love Psalm 23, please, study diligently. I want to encourage my readers to diligently study all of the Bible. It is never safe to assume that we know what the text is saying, especially if we don’t study. On a regular basis I hear the Bible taken out of context, please don’t do that. And I will also avoid taking the Bible out of context.

He Leadeth Me: Shephed Life in Palestine by C.W. Slemming

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller

Trusting in the Shepherd, Insights from Psalm 23 by Haddon W. Robinson

The main point of David’s psalm is explanation for why he is no longer “in want” (I shall not want.) Psalm 23 is a Psalm about life, and then eternal life. It is very positive, despite dangerous valleys, the shadow of death, and enemies; the main focus of the Psalm is about the Lord’s consistent and faithful blessing. We can see the Lord’s personal relationship, preservation, protection, and blessing. In verse five David writes about provision and protection.

Before the shepherd takes the sheep into the field to graze he inspects the area. He is looking specifically for brown adder (viper) holes. Brown adders are poisonous vipers and their bite will kill the sheep. When he finds a viper hole he will pour oil around the hole. Since the oil is slick the viper cannot move beyond the oil. The shepherd also pours oil on the head of the sheep. Robinson writes that the the smell of the oil will also deter vipers from coming near the sheep. (p. 93) I have also read elsewhere that the oil on the head will prevent sun burn. As you can see, the vipers cannot get near the sheep, yet they remain in the vicinity. Hence, Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. 

During David’s life he was no stranger to enemies. With the Lord’s help he defeated his first enemies, a lion, a bear, and Goliath. As a young man David was hunted by Saul, and as an old man David was hunted by his own son Absolom. There is no way for us to be sure which enemy that David was writing about, but we do know that whoever it was couldn’t prevent the Lord’s blessing.

How does Psalm 23 help us in the 21st century? We also face adversity and we have our own kind of enemies. Neither adversity nor our enemies can prevent God’s blessing. We can read about David’s reflection on his life (Remember, Psalm 23 is a Psalm about life.), and understand that David was able to recognize the Lord’s blessing and faithfulness. He is only one of many who celebrate and commemorate God’s faithfulness. Therefore, we can trust that God’s faithfulness and blessing will continue despite the adversity that we face. We may not see or understand His protection, provision, or blessing, but we can rest in the reality that He is always working. Trust Him.