King James Version
23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 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.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 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.
This Psalm is one of the most beloved pieces of scripture in the entire Bible. Many have committed this Psalm to memory, and that’s a very good thing, because I’ve often said that it is difficult to “stand on the promises of God” when you don’t know what the promises actually are. This lovely chapter is chock-full of them. We are going to take this song lyric (because that’s what it is, the lyrics to a song) and explore God’s promises that are found here.
The verses can be divided into two parts – verses one through four and six are God’s promises to you specifically and personally. Verse five is God’s promise for actions He provides on your behalf in front of the rest of the world. This mirrors the Christian life in that most of it, like the verses in part one, are about that relationship that you have with God. The rest is about how you relate to the rest of the world, and how God cares for you there, too.
Let’s start with the first verse. It acknowledges that God is our shepherd, and by extension, that we are His sheep. Sheep are very valuable animals to shepherds. Sheep provide wool, meat, milk, and money (wealth) to their shepherd. They are also warmth and companionship. In Morocco, I visited a farm in the countryside and explored a house that was built above a “basement” sort of structure that formed the first floor, and that space was the sheep fold for the family’s flock of sheep. Sheep are secured at night to protect them from predators, both four and two legged. The neat thing about this particular arrangement is that the body heat of the sheep in the first-floor fold helped to heat the house where the humans lived on the second floor. Shepherds who roamed the hills with their flocks were a common sight in that country, and the shepherd was continually with the flock, leading them during the day and bedding down with the flock at night. Sheep are known to be foolish creatures, needing the protection of their shepherd. I don’t know about you, but that truth about sheep applies very well to me as well as a follower of Christ. I’ve been known to do some boneheaded things that my Shepherd’s had to rescue me from, too. Scripture makes multiple references to believers as God’s sheep all throughout Christ’s ministry on Earth.
It’s the second part of verse one that has special insight for us. It says, “I shall not want.” Now, there’s two ways to take that statement, and the first, most obvious way, is pretty clear and a marvelous promise of God to provide for our needs. I will want for nothing. God will provide what I need. Hallelujah! There’s backup in other Bible verses for this promise, too – it does not appear just here in this Psalm. In Matthew 6:25-34 it says (in red letters, too – just listen to these promises):
25 Therefore I say unto you, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? 26 Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto [a]the measure of his life? 28 And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 For after all these things do the Gentiles (or those with no knowledge of God) seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34 Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
Now there’s some promises, straight from the Almighty! I can get excited about that!
The second meaning to this phrase, “thou shall not want,” has to do with your relationship with God, your maturity as a Christian, and your dependance on God. See, God supplies our NEEDS. He does not, in any way, shape, or form, promise to supply our foolish, fleshly, greedy, sinful DESIRES. Those are unholy wants, and our God is a holy God. So, basically, ya ain’t gettn’ em.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Another amazing, wonderful, uplifting promise from God.
In the next verses of this Psalm, we see all the blessings God promises to believers who are earnestly seeking Him and working to be obedient. Let’s look at them:
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: doesn’t that sound lovely? I can rest in the Lord, in lovely places and in unlovely places, both. My rest is in God’s green pastures.
he leadeth me beside the still waters. Calm – peaceful. God promises us His peace in John 14:27: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
3 He restoreth my soul: I am no longer a slave to sin and death, He has restored my soul!
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. The Holy Spirit will guide me in what’s right, if I will listen to Him and obey Him. That’s my choice and God help me to always choose the right path He’s showing me.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: WHY? for thou art with me! I don’t have to be afraid – Hey, worst-case scenario, I get to go to HEAVEN!!
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. The Shepherd’s staff is a tool of rescue. What’s the rod? Remember hearing “spare the rod and spoil the child?” That’s a Proverb of Solomon, and the rod is a tool of chastisement. It says here that the tool of chastisement will COMFORT ME. This right here is another one of those mature Christian relationship sort of things that doesn’t immediately make sense to our humanness. Who gets comfort from chastisement?
Well, think about it this way. I used to tell my children that if I didn’t love them, I wouldn’t care how they behaved. But, because I do love them very, very much, I cared how they behaved, and I sought to correct their mistakes and misbehavior. Guess what? God is our FATHER. He does the very same thing – pruning off our bad branches so we are better – like His better plans for us. It probably won’t mean we LIKE being chastised and corrected, but it ought to be serious comfort that God loves us enough to want to help us fix our rough spots. Our part in that process is to understand that God is pruning us because he LOVE US and wants to help us to become better – more like Jesus. We have to ACCEPT his chastisement, LEARN from it, and grow to be better Christians because of it. Doesn’t mean it’s fun. I can tell you that it isn’t fun when God is doing that in my life. But it IS necessary, because GOD IS DOING IT, and He does not play nasty games. He does what I need.
Verse five says, 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointeth my head with oil; my cup runneth over. This is a promise God makes that He will provide for us even under the very noses of our enemies. He anoints us with blessings when we are persecuted. He promises our blessing cup will be so full it won’t be able to contain all of it! No enemy can take us from the hand of God. No weapon formed against us will prosper. He will take what is meant for evil and will turn it for good. He protects us all the way to the Pearly Gates. That’s a promise!
Finally, he promises us that: 6 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. Since He is with me always, like it says in Matthew 28:20, OF COURSE goodness and mercy will be with me! Like. . .DUH!! And then, I get to go to HEAVEN! I win! And so do you.
So now, you’ve got a cupful running over of promises from God that you can count on, all the days of your life, from this one short Psalm. Take those promises with you today and spread them around – share them with others who need them.