Psalm 23:1 (ESV) … “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
This is the psalm of the Great Shepherd who cares for His sheep and equips them for ministry (Heb. 13:20–21), the “great High Priest” (Heb. 4:14) who “ever lives to make intercession for us” (Heb. 7:25). Certainly this psalm has a message for the sorrowing, but it’s unfortunate that it’s used primarily at funerals, because Psalm 23 focuses on what Jesus does for us “all the days of [our] life” and not just at death (v. 6). It’s also unfortunate that people tend to spiritualize the psalm and fail to see it in its true setting. They see David, a “young shepherd boy,” lying on his back in the pasture and pondering the things of God, when he probably wrote this psalm late in his life, possibly during the rebellion of Absalom (2 Sam. 13–19). In it, David deals with some of the difficult things he experienced during his long walk with the Lord. While people of all ages love and quote this psalm, its message is for mature Christians who have fought battles and carried burdens.
Abel, the first martyr, was a shepherd (Gen. 4:2) and so were the patriarchs of Israel. Moses spent forty years caring for his father-in-law’s sheep, and David, Israel’s greatest king, served his father as a shepherd. The image of God as Israel’s shepherd begins in Genesis 48:15 (niv) and 49:24 and continues throughout Scripture (Pss. 28:9; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3; Isa. 40:11; 49:10; Jer. 31:10; Ezek. 34:11–15; Matt. 10:6; 15:24; Mark 6:34). The promised Messiah was seen as a shepherd (Ezek. 34:16, 23; Mic. 5:4; Zech. 13:7; Matt. 2:6; 26:3; Mark 14:27; John 10). In Psalm 22, David compared the enemy to animals that are clever and strong (22:12–16, 21), but in this psalm, he pictured God’s people as lowly sheep. Why?
So we would learn about the Shepherd and see how tenderly He cares for us. Sheep are defenseless animals that are prone to get lost, and they need almost constant care. You can’t drive sheep, as you do cattle; they must be led. The eastern shepherds know their sheep by name and can call them and they will come (John 10:1–5). The sheep were kept, not for food but for wool, milk, and reproduction. In this psalm, David explains that if we follow the Lord and trust Him, He will meet our every need, no matter what the circumstances may be.
“The Lord” is Jehovah God, the covenant making God of Israel. The compound names of Jehovah in the Old Testament reflect the contents of this psalm.
“I shall not want”—Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord will provide” (Gen. 22:14)
“still waters”- Jehovah-Shalom, “the Lord our peace” (Judg. 6:24)
“restores my soul”—Jehovah-Rophe, “the Lord who heals” (Ex. 15:26)
“paths of righteousness”—Jehovah-Tsidkenu, “the Lord our righteousness” (Jer. 33:16)
“you are with me”—Jehovah-Shammah, “the Lord is there” (Ezek. 48:35)
“presence of my enemies”—“Jehovah-Nissi, “the Lord our banner” (Ex. 17:15)
“anoint my head”—Jehovah-M’Kaddesh, “the Lord who sanctifies” (Lev. 20:8)