Here’s Marie’s Inductive Bible Study for Psalm 23:
Psalm 23:1-6, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me besides still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His names’ sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Verses 1&2: The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me besides still waters.
Psalms 23 comes in the middle of what we might call the “shepherd trilogy.” Psalms 22 is a picture of the good shepherd dying for his sheep (John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”) Psalms 24 is a picture of the chief shepherd coming for the sheep (1 Peter 5:4, “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”) Sandwiched in between is Psalms 23, a picture of the great shepherd caring for the sheep (Hebrews 13:20&21, “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.”) I like how Warren Wiersbe puts it in one of his commentaries, “In other words, Christ died for us (Psalm 22: the past), Christ lives for us (Psalm 23: the present) and Christ will come for us (Psalm 24: the future).
This psalm teaches us a lot about the Lord’s love for us. I don’t think we understand the role of shepherd the way they would have understood it during bible times. When I read about a shepherd of that time, I read about a caretaker that knew each of his sheep by name. He would go before the sheep and make sure the way was safe. He would protect them and provide for them and they never needed to worry or be fearful. What a beautiful picture the Lord paints for us. John 10:27&28 says, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.”
“I shall not want” is the echo and theme of this entire chapter. It is reiterated in each verse. My interpretation of wanting may be a little off, since I am fleshly. This isn’t a matter of wanting material items however. It is more on an emotional level. I won’t be lacking in anything. I won’t be without. I won’t have any needs unmet. Because the Lord is MY shepherd, I won’t have any “wants.” I should add that this isn’t talking about wants that are not good for me. Just as a shepherd isn’t going to give his sheep anything that will actually harm them, the Lord isn’t going to fulfill any sinful wants of mine. The key here is that I shall never be found wanting in the things necessary for my provision, safety, comfort and well being.
In verse two, the Lord provides two things: green pastures and still waters. In other words, I won’t be found wanting rest. Instead my Shepherd will lead me to a place where I can safely lay my head and rest my body and my soul. He will lead me to a place of green pastures. I also won’t be found wanting refreshment. He will lead me to a place of still waters where I can drink my fill. We may be talking about a literal need for water, but I find it interesting that this is the same Hebrew word that we get “living water” from. Either way, it is try that the Lord provides for my physical need for refreshment but He also provides for my spiritual need of refreshment. (John 4:14, “…but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”)
It is a beautiful psalm and a beautiful beginning. I think it might be one of the most memorized and quoted psalms. Yet where does that leave me? I won’t be sleepy and I won’t be thirsty? I am not saying that in itself isn’t powerful, but personally I think we can take it to an even deeper level. It leaves me thinking about my “wants.” They sound like they are mine to decide…but are they really? The verse says, “I shall not want” and then provides things like rest and water, even living water. He doesn’t provide what I think I want or what I think I need – – He provides what He knows I need. Do I trust the Lord to fulfill my wants, needs and desires? Do I trust the Lord that if something isn’t fulfilled, I don’t need it and therefore don’t need to want it? That is a pretty hard concept for me to grasp, I think!
Verse 3: He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His names’ sake.
The soul is big. If you, like me, were born in the eighties and nineties, I am not sure we really grasp the concept of the soul. It’s just too vague for us these days. However in bible times, references to the soul meant quite a few things. The soul is the very breath of life. It is the inner being, the living being of a man or woman. It is my appetite, my mind, my desire, my emotion and my passion. It is what makes me an individual and what makes me myself. Now those are all words we understand today. And here in this verse, we are told that the Lord, my Shepherd restores my soul. Restoration is the idea of returning something to its original condition or the condition it was designed to be. We get the concept of conversion from this word, restoration.
We weren’t meant to be sinful beings. We weren’t designed that way but instead we were designed to be perfect like our Heavenly Father. It was in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit that the condition of our souls were altered forever. Romans 5:12 explains this, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”
This leaves our soul wanting more. It leaves us wanting for restoration, cleansing and yes, righteousness. Here is the promise, however. I shall not be found wanting for restoration and I shall not be found wanting for righteousness! Restoration literally means, “He brings back my soul” and then praise the Lord, He puts His life in us. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” This verses is explaining the powerful relationship of God who sent his son, Jesus to shed the final blood on the cross for us (sinners through Adam) so that we might have our souls restored and our lives made righteous.
Verse 4&5: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Verses 1-3 are often grouped together and referred to as “the glen” or perhaps “the secret of a happy life.” I read in one commentary that verses 1-3 describe a shepherd that takes care of our frailty. Basically, they are the transformation of new life that Jesus gives us. Verses 4 and 5 bring up a different issue, which could be compared by referring to them as “the gorge” or “the secret of a happy death.” These are the verses that teach us about a shepherd that takes care of our foes. This is the “tough times” that come as we walk the straight and narrow. They still contain the promise, however, of “I shall not want.”
Verse 4 tells us that we shall not be found wanting protection in times of trouble. We will walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I find it interesting that in verses 1-3, David is singing the praises of God, talking about his Shepherd in third person, “He makes…,” “He leads…,” “He restores…” Then suddenly, in verses 4 and 5, David switches to calling out directly to his Shepherd, “You are with me!” Notice, however, that this is simply the “shadow” of death. Can the shadow of a sword really inflict any pain? When we walk through the valley of death as non-believers, the sword of death, so to speak, can and will inflict pain and ultimately death. The promise we have received, is that when we walk through the valley of death with our Savior, everything becomes a shadow and no longer can inflict pain and death upon us. What a powerful promise that is! The result of walking through the valleys with our Savior is this, “I will fear NO (not even a little) evil!”
“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me” is once again bible times shepherding language that we need to understand in our culture today. A staff is what we most likely picture when we think of a shepherd. It is the long pole with a crook at the top. It wasn’t used, however, to help the Shepherd walk the way we picture it. Instead, it was used to guide the wayward sheep. Sheep are not considered smart. They tend to stray for no good reason, which is when the shepherd could stretch out his staff and use the crook to catch the sheep by the neck and bring them back into the flock. The rod was more of a straight wooden pole that the shepherd used for protection. He would fight off wild animals with it and might even discipline the sheep by whacking them with it. What is interesting however is that these two instruments were used to correct, protect and discipline us and David considers this “comfort.” What a challenge to trust in the Lord that correction and discipline are comforting! On the other hand, I have seen children in the foster system come into our home and literally calm down and become happier in an environment guarded by rules and correction. David had come to a place of realization that protection, correction and even discipline were not a nuisance but in actuality were comforting and rewarding.
“You prepare a table before me” is a way of describing provision. “Table” here is referencing food and provision but even more, it was a way to describe a feast fit for a king, literally the king’s table. The king’s table was private and intended for a specific person. What is even more interesting, is that y Lord is preparing this table intended only for me in the presence of my enemies. I think from reading this psalm that David had learned a lot, because he has come to a place of acknowledging God’s protection. Many of David’s psalms show his confusion about his enemies, lamenting that they are succeeding and defeating him. In this psalm, however, David has come to a place of realization that the Lord is not only able to protect him and provide for him, but the Lord is able to do it amidst the very enemies that were plaguing David. What a reassuring concept that is, that even when we feel weighted down and worn down by people that hate us and persecute us, the Lord is going to provide rest, comfort and food right there in the thick of it. On the other hand, it provides a challenge because even though I am provided for and comforted, I am still amidst my enemies. Philippians 2:15 reminds us that we are still living in this world of sin” “…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”
The final promise in these verses is that my head is anointed with oil and my cup overflows. These symbolize blessing and abundance. 1 Samuel 16:3a tells us, “…then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward.” Anointing one with oil is a way of consecrating them unto the Lord. James 5:14 also teaches us, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” Anointing with oil symbolized power in the name of the Lord and here David realizes that he is consecrated unto the Lord all the days of his life. From that comes this picture of abundance and prosperity, a cup being filled to the point of spilling over. What a great reminder that through it all, even amidst trials and tribulation, amongst enemies and discouragement, we are still anointed unto God and our cup of blessing and abundance is to the point of overflowing!
Verse 6: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. The final verse in this chapter brings us to the third “phase” so to speak. If the first section was the “glen” or the secret of a happy life and the second section was the “gorge” or the secret of a happy death, then verse six would be a picture of the “glory” or the secret of a happy eternity. If you remember, as John Phillips teaches, verses 1-3 are a picture of the shepherd taking care of our frailty, verses 4&5 are a picture of the shepherd taking care of our foes and finally verse six is a picture of our shepherd taking care of our future. Basically, this is the reward of faithfully serving and obeying our Shepherd while we are here on this earth. This is the promise of eternity with our Lord.
The Lord promises goodness and mercy to be with us every step towards eternity. C.H. Spurgeon used to refer to goodness and mercy as “God’s footmen.” Goodness would come alongside us and help smooth the steps in front of us. Mercy would be there to pick us up if we stumbled. Goodness and mercy are hurrying ahead of us, smoothing our journey home. What is the end result? Why did we trek through the glen (green pastures and still waters) and the gorge (valley of the shadow of death)? We did it t get to glory, to forever live and dwell in the presence of our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ!
As I said in the beginning, this psalm is really about having to “wants” left unmet. I shall not be found wanting but will have rest and refreshment in verse two. I shall not be found wanting but will receive restoration and righteousness in verse three. I shall not be found wanting but will have protection in times of trouble in verse four. I shall not be found wanting but will know protection in the wilderness in verse five. Finally, I shall not be found wanting but will receive the prize of a home to go to at the end of my life in verse six. These are my true “wants” and the Lord has already gone ahead of me and taken care of all of them. Wow!