Psalm 23 is a comforting psalm which is the reason so many Christians cherish it. I once read of a minister who, when asked what he would tell people if he could one day come back from heaven to comfort Christians in their journey, responded: “I would tell them Psalm 23 is true.” So let’s take a closer look at some of David’s soul sustaining psalm this week.
The first verse says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd in John 10. In his role he is unique as the good shepherd. He is the only one who can lead us to God. He lays down his life for his sheep; he defeats their enemies; he gives his word of truth; and leads them down the proper path.
His people “shall not be in want.” They will one day be completely blessed in the knowledge and fellowship of the Lord, but on their journey they shall not lack anything necessary. Christ himself will be their provider, protector, and physician. His people are warned of hardships in their journey. His promise is he will uphold them through difficulties. His grace will be sufficient for them.
Verse 2 has the tranquil expressions, “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.” This is the Savior of your soul giving you tastes of the heavenly gift, which is life with God. The “green” pasture reminds us of God’s gift at creation giving every “green” plant for food. It also cautions us that the world we live in is not the world as God made it. It is under a curse due to sin… where death, restlessness, and sorrow dominate.
The vision of green is Christ leading people back to a perfect relationship with God and a perfect environment to live. The still waters represent an absence of the strife and restlessness we know all too well here. The Holy Spirit gives us foretastes of future bliss that are restorative to our soul. The place he is leading his people to will be better than Eden. They will know fully God’s redemptive mercy and the depth of love Christ demonstrated in his sacrifice. To comprehend this now, to rejoice in it, is to drink from the living waters promised in Christ.
Several years ago a minister told me of devastating anxiety attacks he suffered for a period of time. He was told by his physician they were from stress, and he needed to learn to control it. He was at first somewhat embarrassed as a minister to have such an issue. Then he realized bodily and mental strain is part of the journey, and the Lord was still with him. He commented he was glad when the attacks ceased but he actually had times during them he had never been closer to the Lord. He learned what the Lord restoring your soul meant through patient endurance.
Verse 4 gives us the familiar, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Notice how this promise of the Lord being with him in the valley follows his walking with the Lord in paths of righteousness (verse 3). The sign of one of Christ’s sheep is that in view of the Good Shepherd’s salvation, he sets out on paths of righteousness with his shepherd. The focus of his journey is always the Lord as his sovereign leader and guide.
Ralph Davis in his commentary makes an astute observation. He points out that in verses 2 and 3 David speaks of the Lord in the 3rd person: “He makes me lie down, He leads me, He restores my soul…” However when David writes of walking through the valley of the shadow of death, he switches to the 2nd person: “for you are with me.” Davis says, “It is though the trouble in the valley drives him closer to the shepherd and brings a deeper intimacy with him.”
The promise isn’t just for facing death. The walk through dark valleys is part of the path of righteousness the Christian has been placed. We don’t know what is around the next bend in our lives. Tomorrow can bring something unexpected and troubling. Never, however, is the Christian alone. The Good Shepherd, who laid down his life, walks along with his people. Always.