This is probably one of the few chapters from the Bible that we know by heart. But do we actually know what it means or is it just part of our Sunday school memories? I am not sure that even King David understood it completely as he was simply writing about his life experiences. But unbeknownst to him, God was using David to give us the greatest assurance that we would ever need that He is our Shepherd.
You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.John 11:50
The above words were uttered by Caiaphas callously when he was plotting to kill Jesus. He was the high priest during the time of Jesus and God used him to deliver the greatest prophecy ever that even Caiaphas himself, could not fully comprehend. He wanted to kill Jesus to save himself but Jesus wanted to die to save everyone.
Similarly, if we look from the perspective of David, some of these verses in this chapter will seem trivial and easy to emulate in our lives. But we should always read the scriptures through God’s perspective and understand what He wants to accomplish in our lives, not in the life of a king who reigned more than three and half millennia ago.
The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.Psalms 23:1
Being a shepherd, David used a metaphor that was close to his heart. He cared for his sheep and even risked his own life for the sake of his flock. He is able to relate to God in the same way, putting himself in place of his sheep. David calls God his Shepherd, the one who provides him with everything he needs. A similar transference is seen in Jesus’s interaction with the centurion where the commander was able to relate to Jesus’s authority by comparing with his own earthly authority. But the question that lingers in a believer’s mind is that if we accept Jesus as our Good Shepherd, will we really lack nothing?
A sheep has limited wants and is only concerned with not getting killed and following its shepherd to greener pastures. The shepherd takes care of all the needs of its flocks. There is a huge difference between needs and wants and unlike sheep, we are not satisfied with our basic needs being satisfied but crave for the things of this world. Whatever the sheep needs for its growth is taken care of by its shepherd.
Similarly, our shepherd knows exactly what we need in our lives and fills us with His grace so that we lack nothing that is required for our spiritual growth and sustenance on this earth. We must leave our lust for the world and completely put our trust in our Good Shepherd. Jesus kept calling himself our Good Shepherd and compared us to sheep.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,Psalms 23:2-3
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
A shepherd looks for the best pastures for his sheep to graze, the greenest of pastures besides the calmest of waters. What is that we consider our green pastures? Is it our reward in heaven or something else concerning the afterlife or is it doing the will of our Shepherd while we are still on this earth?
The coast will belong to the remnant of the house of Judah; there they will find pasture. They will lie down in the evening among the houses of Ashkelon, for the LORD their God will attend to them and restore their captives.Zephaniah 2:7
Much like the above promise of greener pastures to the house of Judah, we too keep expecting greener pastures in the form of land and wealth on this earth. The sheep don’t question but wherever their shepherd takes them to graze on a particular day, to them, those are the greenest pastures in the whole world. They completely trust their shepherd and are assured that he would have done everything to find them the greenest of land to graze on.
Do we have such faith on our Shepherd, or do we question His every move? Remember that He guides us along the right paths for His Name’s sake. I think we keep forgetting for his name sake part in all our prayers and ask God to guide us on the path for our name sake. When we call someone to a healing meeting, we are not thinking about God’s name but our own name to be glorified or at the very least avoid the embarrassment if our guests don’t receive the healing that we promised them. Everything we do should be like the sheep, fully trusting on our Shepherd and His will for our lives.
The Rod and the Staff
Even though I walkPsalms 23:4
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
Suddenly the author replaces the peaceful imagery of green pastures and still waters with a dark valley. For the sheep to reach the green pastures, they have to be led through these dark valleys filled with uncertainties. The fear of predators would be on their minds. But the sheep which have complete confidence on the protection that their shepherd provides will find comfort in the rod and the staff of their master.
Does this mean that God will protect us from all harm? Evil will come our way, trying to deviate us from the path that God is leading us in, but if we keep focus on our Saviour and His rod and staff, i.e. the cross that was used to defeat sin, we can overcome our fear of predators that surround us.
The sheep are not naive, thinking that no one will try to attack them but are confident that their fearless leader will do everything to save them once they call out to him. Do we have such a relationship with our master that we feel free to call out His name or do our problems lead us away from Him? What is our source of comfort during our darkest hours? Our friends and family who do not understand what we are going through or Jesus who has gone through everything that satan threw at Him and conquered sin on the cross.
You prepare a table before mePsalms 23:5a
in the presence of my enemies.
We have always tried to imagine this picture of us at the table of the Lord with our enemies on the other side of the chasm similar to the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. But do we really understand what is this table. If we have the same love as Christ shouldn’t we want our enemies to also be at the same table with us?
Who all are our enemies? Most often we consider the people who torment us as our enemies. We like to use the above verse in a vengeful manner, like David, praying for harm to befall on our enemies. What we don’t realise is that, it is our enemies who bring us closer to God. We seek God’s intervention when being tormented and as a result grow more closer to God. If you think about it, it is actually our friends and families who separate us from God. We have misunderstood the meaning of this word enemy because Jesus called us to love one another. David might be talking about his enemies when writing this psalm, but God has used the verse to enlighten us about something else.
Just like the chief priest Caiaphas, who spoke about assassinating Jesus to avoid the spread of His Gospel, but unknowingly prophesied about Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, David’s vengeance against his enemies has been used to give us these verses. Our enemies are not our fellow beings but our enemy is the evil one, who uses the people around us to either distract us from connecting with Christ or uses them to torment us so that we may abandon the path of Christ.
You anoint my head with oil;Psalms 23:5b
my cup overflows.
God anoints us with overflowing joy not mediocrity in contentment. If we get satisfaction or contentment by doing something for God like donating our time or money to a cause or by taking part in a fellowship, remember that contentment is not from God but from satan.
God does not give us contentment or satisfaction, rather He gives us overflowing Joy and unexplainable Peace. We should not settle for contentment and satisfaction as these are the tools in the hands of satan, to stop us from coming closer to God by giving us good vibes to make us think we are doing something for God. Our desire must be for our cup to be overflowing with God’s joy.
Surely your goodness and love will follow mePsalms 23:6
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
We all want to believe that once we have put our trust on God, nothing bad will ever happen to us. However, Christ told us the opposite that in this world we will have trouble. But He continues saying, “Take heart! I have overcome the world”. He is always in control and nothing that happens in our lives, happens without His permission.
His Goodness is the Grace that He has given us through the cross and no one can take that away from us. His Grace will be with us all the days of our lives and He will reside in our hearts. We don’t need to look for God in giant buildings and monuments as He is the living God who resides in our hearts, we are cohabitants with our Saviour as our bodies are His Holy temple.