Commentary | Psalm 23:1-3

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:1-3 (ESV)


The Lord is my shepherd;” – The phrase, “the Lord is my shepherd,” in the Hebrew language is Jehovah Rohi, one of God’s many titles. Jehovah, or Yahweh, is the most common name for God used throughout Scripture and appears in the English translations as LORD, all capitalized. Jehovah (or Yahweh) is the one name in Scripture that God gives to himself, during his encounter with Moses in Exodus 3. Moses asks God’s name and God responds saying, “I AM WHO I AM” (Jehovah). Thus, God reveals himself as the great “I am.” For he is all there really is; nothing exists without him. He is the eternal creator of the universe, and he has chosen to reveal himself to us. The second title, Rohi, is the Hebrew word for “shepherd.” When we say “the Lord is my shepherd,” we are really saying Jehovah Rohi. To call God, Jehovah Rohi, is to call him the Chief Shepherd; the shepherd of our souls. He is our ultimate caregiver and protecter; He is our shepherd.

i shall not want.” – To ‘not want’ is to have, and to have is to not lack. We say “I shall not want,” because we lack nothing (in fact, the NIV writes this verse to say “I lack nothing”). We can rest assured that we lack nothing as long as we have Christ in our life, at the center of our life. Christ is the Good Shepherd, and “the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11). Christ has never once failed to show his love and provision for us. He has given his life in exchange for ours; there is nothing that we should want more than Christ.

When we have Christ, we have meaning and purpose. When we have Christ, we find satisfaction and fulfillment in life. When we have Christ, we have everlasting life. Thus, if we truly have faith in Christ, then we will find contentment. For the hallmark of our faith in Jesus is our contentment in life, because we know that “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to him.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.” – Remember that this is the “Shepherd’s Prayer”, and that it is our prayer that we offer up to the Good Shepherd – meaning that it is we who are the sheep. The nature of sheep is that they are foolish, stubborn, and timid. Sheep are no good at leading themselves, they are slow to listen, and they are often overruled with fear. That is, unless their shepherd is in their midst, proving to them that they are secure. We are all like sheep, and we refuse to lie down; rest; be content unless we are free from all fear, worry, and anxiety. It is through Christ that our fears are cast away.

Therefore, it is a necessity for us all to gain a keen awareness of his presence, knowing that he is always with us. Christ has told us, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). Or as another Psalm says, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety” (4:8). Despite our worldly struggles, our souls are in the hands of the Creator, and it is he who “chooses the greenest of pastures for your rest.”[1]

He leads me beside still waters.” – It is only by Christ that we can come to know peace and serenity through the trials of life. James 1:2-4 says “Count it all joy, by brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds. For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, and let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” It is only through the trials that our faith is refined, and that we begin to reap the benefits of putting our trust in God. Although our earthly body may face temptation or pain, it is our soul that finds rest in the presence of God.

One way to soak in the presence of God is to obey the command that is given to us in Luke 22:26: “Rise and pray.” There is much power in rising each morning to meet with God and to soak in his presence. Phillip Keller, the author of A Shepherd looks at Psalm 23, notes that “those who are often the most serene, most confident, and able to cope with life’s complexitites are those who rise early each day to feed on God’s Word. It is the quite early hours of the morning that they are led beside the quiet, still waters where they imbibe the very life of Christ for the day. . . The biographies of the great men and women of God repeatedly point out how the secret of the success in their spiritual life was attributed to the “quite time” of each morning.”[2] Rise and pray, meet with God, and you will discover the still waters that satisfy the thirsting of the soul.

He restores my soul.” – Although our soul rests in the care of the Creator, there are still times that we find ourselves feeling spiritually dry or downcast. David, the author of this Psalm, admitted to a time of spiritual dryness. In Psalm 42:11 he cries out, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” This term, “cast down” is a term that a shepherd, like David, would know. It alludes to the state that sheep find themselves in when their wool coats are weighed down, and they are unable to get back onto their feet. There is a parallel in this truth that reflects the life of the Christian.

When a sheep’s wool becomes long and begins to accumulate added weight from the “mud, manure, burrs, and others debris, it is much easier for a sheep to become cast, literally weighed down with its own wool.”[3] Wool is significant in Scripture because it symbolizes the old life of the Christian. Our flesh wants us to remain attached to our old life, our previous lifestyle, our prior ideas about the world, and all of our possession and worldly desires. And there are times that we feel cast down and spiritually dry when our focus is on those things. It is only once we regain our focus on God that he reveals to us, once again, the new life that he has given us and called us to walk in. He shears the wool that ties us to the world and weighs us down, and in exchange he gives us a new “coat.” He gives us a new life. It is the life that is free from our old self, free from our past fears and anxieties, free from the weight of this world, and free from the bondage of sin. Therefore, if we find ourselves feeling “cast down,” then perhaps it is a call to redirect our focus back to Christ.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” – It is God who leads and we who follow. As Philippians 2:13 says, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” It God living within us, the Holy Spirit, that grants us power to overcome ourselves and lead us into paths of righteousness. This is the counterintuitive nature of the Christian life: only once we begin to deny our own power do we begin to find the true power of God. As Christ says in Luke 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself.” “Deny himself” is the key that we use to unlock our true potential. It is only through God that we can come to walk in paths of righteousness, for the path is narrow. When we attempt to walk this path with our own strength, we discount the readily avaible power of the Holy Spirit and we begin to waver.

God calls us to obedience. For obedience towards God is really our only mission in life. And why does he call us to obedience? He does it “for his good pleasure.” He does it because, he being our Maker, is the only one who can lead us into the abundant life that we are called to. God’s mission is to save the lost and to grant us life and “have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10). Christ says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11). He lays his life down for us, he offers us redemption and restoration, and he calls us to walk in abundant paths of righteousness that are paved with his love. He does it for “his name’s sake,” for when we abide, we give glory back to God. When we abide, our light shines before others, and God’s name is glorified. Our mission is to abide, and to allow our life to shout the worthiness of Christ; the Good Father; the Good Shepherd.

[1] Evans, Tony. The Power of God’s Names. (Eugene, OR.: Harvest House Publishers, 2014), pg. 119.

[2] Keller, Phillip W. A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 2007), pgs. 47-8.

[3] Keller, Phillip W. A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 2007), pg. 58.

Photo is an edit from the original Beside Still Waters by Greg Olsen

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