Skip to Main Content

Psalms Lesson 3: 23.1-6

SSL 3 - Psalm 23:1-6

Prayers & Announcements

LAST WEEK: We covered Psalm 78, which basically retold Israel's history, specifically, the history of its relationship with God, from the Exodus all the way up to the reign of David. The principal truth of the lesson is that history-a history characterized by breaking covenant with God-must not repeat itself. ASK: As 21st Century Christians, what lessons should we take from this? 1. We must teach. As much today as 3,000 years ago, we are responsible for teaching future generations about God, both in terms His love and compassion for humanity and His righteous wrath against the sins of humanity. It is not enough to simply get people into church and save them, we must teach them and equip them to make disciples who in turn, will make disciples. 2. Repentance. We all sin: it's an inescapable fact of our human nature, and for that, we need to repent, daily. But what does true repentance involve? First, conviction-you must know what is right before you can know what is wrong, and to do this, you must be grounded in God's Word. Second, contrition, which means you're not only ashamed of your sin (i.e., ashamed of being caught) but are truly sorry for grieving God. You must agree with God-that He is right and you are wrong. Third, change-a change of attitude, character, and behavior. In the Greek, it's called metanoia, which literally pictures a 180-degree turn away from sin and toward God, that is, completely repositioning your life in regard to any sin still in it.

THIS WEEK: We cover the 23rd Psalm, probably next to the Lord's prayer, the best-remembered verses of all Scripture. The six verses of this Psalm, penned by David, have probably comforted more people than all rest of the philosophy of the world put together. Millions of people have memorized it, even those who have learned few other Scripture verses. Pastors and Christian counselors have used it over the ages to reassure people going through severe personal trials, suffering illness, or dying. For some, the verses of this psalm were the last words they uttered in this life.

INTRODUCTION TO LESSON: Psalm 23 is categorized as a psalm of confidence in God's care. Its language portrays two images: the LORD as a shepherd who cares for His sheep (vv. 1-4) and the LORD as a host who cares for his guest (vv. 5-6). David, the author, had been a shepherd in his youth (1 Sam. 17), and in this psalm, depicts his relationship with God in terms a shepherd and his sheep. It is obvious that David drew from his own experience of what his sheep needed and how he cared for them. Just as he gave sustenance, shelter, and protection to his sheep, he saw God, as a guide and protector, meeting the same needs for him.

Read Ps. 23:1-3 - God Provides

¹ The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

v. 1a: " shepherd" - David knew this in a personal sense. It wasn't that the LORD was just a shepherd over all the people in the metaphorical sense; He was a real, personal shepherd for David as an individual. It's also obvious that David felt he needed a shepherd. In contrast to self-reliance, the psalm speaks for those who acutely sense their need for a shepherd, like the "poor in spirit" Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:2). Spurgeon said that in order for any one of us to call God "my shepherd," we must first feel ourselves to be a sheep by nature, because as sheep, God must relate to us in our foolishness, dependency, and the often warped nature of our wills.

v. 1b: "I shall not want." - David makes this statement both as a declaration and a decision. It means that all my needs are supplied by God, and I decide not to want more than what the LORD, my shepherd, chooses to give to me.

v. 2a: "makes me lie down in green pastures:" - The LORD, as a shepherd, knew how to make David rest when he needed it, implying, by analogy, that a sheep doesn't always know what it needs or what's best for it, and needs guidance from the shepherd. Also notice that the shepherd knows the best places-"green pastures"-to make a resting place for his sheep.

v. 2b: "leads me beside still waters." - In an image rich with a sense of comfort, care, and rest, the shepherd also leads his sheep to a place of refreshment-the "still waters." Notice that he "leads" rather than "drives" them to the place, because his sheep trust him and instinctively follow him. Jesus told us that the Good Shepherd calls His sheep by name and they follow Him. Jn. 10:4.

v. 3a: "restores my soul" - As a result of the care provided by the shepherd in vv. 1 and 2, David's soul was restored. "Restores" also might picture the rescue of someone gone astray, like a missing sheep being brought back to the flock. The same Hebrew word, nāham, is used for "repent," as when fellowship with God is restored.

v. 3b: "leads me" - Here, the shepherd is portrayed as a guide. The sheep didn't need to know where the green pastures or still waters were located; they only needed to know where there shepherd was, and he would guide them to wherever they needed to go. See that?

v. 3c: "in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake" - The shepherd's leadership not only comforted and restored the sheep but led them to safety the right way. For David, it meant moral righteousness, the way of obedience in which the obstructions of sin were removed, allowing him to walk in the paths of God's commandments. For Christians today, God's Word provides a detailed roadmap that shows not only the correct path but also gives ample warnings of the dangerous roadblocks and detours along the way. God, as shepherd, guides His sheep down this path for the credit, glory, and the character of the shepherd's name.

Read PS. 23:4 - God Guards

4 Yea, 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.

v. 4a: "walk through the valley of the shadow of death" - David used this phrase to express some kind of dark, fearful experience. While the phrase itself is sort of vague (i.e., what valley?), the poetry of it makes perfect sense. Here we see David accept that under the shepherd's leading he may have to walk through that valley, but note, it wasn't his destination or his dwelling place, just a waypoint in the journey. The "shadow of death" is not facing death itself, and like David, we might say that all of life is lived under the shadow of death. However, as Christians we can rightly proclaim that we face only the shadow of death because Jesus Christ took the full reality of death in our place on the cross.

v. 4b: "I will fear no evil;" - Despite the dark picture of the valley of the shadow of death, David could decisively affirm that the presence of the LORD, as his shepherd, guarded him from the fear of evil. This does not mean that the shepherd's presence eliminated the existence of evil (in the world, evil exists everywhere), but it did eliminate the fear of evil.

v. 4c: "For You are with me" - This emphasized how the presence of the shepherd eliminated the fear of evil for his sheep. No matter where he was in his life, David, and ourselves as well, can rely on the fact of being protected and guarded by God's shepherd-like presence (if we are following Him).

v. 4d: Your rod and staff, they comfort me." - The rod and staff, one instrument actually, was a sturdy shaft of wood that could be used, alternatively, to guide and direct the sheep on their path or to beat off predatory animals. To David, this rod and staff was a symbol of comfort, knowing that God was using it guide him, even in the instances when God used it as a rod of correction. Like David, it is a great comfort to know that God will correct us when needed-keep us on His path.

Read Ps. 23:5-6 - God the Host

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

v. 5a1: "You prepare a table before me" - Here the second image of the Psalm unfolds: We see a picture of a magnificent banquet laid on by a generous and caring host. The word "table" suggests an out-and-out feast, "prepare" implies careful planning beforehand, and "before me" makes a personal connection to His guest, David.

v. 5a2: "in the presence of my enemies;" - The LORD, as host, not only prepares a bountiful table for His guest, but provides the power to protect him. Although surrounded by enemies, David is able to sit at the table with confidence, knowing that he can partake of the food in perfect security. As Christians, we can enjoy God's bounty-His great provision to us each day in perfect peace, although the enemy-the world and its temptations-are right outside our door.

v. 5b: "anointed my head with oil...cup overflows" - Despite the dangers surrounding him and the presence of enemies, David enjoyed the magnificence of his host's generosity, his head refreshed by the anointing of oil and his cup filled to overflowing. Spurgeon made this comparison: What if God filled your cup in proportion to your faith? How much would you have in your cup? Would it overflow like David's?

v. 6a: "goodness and mercy...follow me all the days" - David moves the image of God-as-host from present to future. The host's care had already brought the "goodness and mercy" of God to David, but also allowed him to live in faithful expectation that it would continue "all the days of his life." Yet, we must understand that "goodness and mercy" are identified as an attribute of God's nature, not the good behavior of David or anyone else. In other words, God's goodness and mercy does not protect us from the consequences of sin which breaks fellowship with Him. Does that make sense?

v.6b: "dwell in the house of the LORD forever." - This doesn't suggest that David is moving into the Temple (it didn't even exist at that time), but represents the place where God dwells with His people. David understood, as we do, that no structure made by human hands can contain God. As Spurgeon put it: "the whole world shall be His house to me." We might go as far to say the whole universe.


1. In order for us to call God "Our Shepherd," like Spurgeon said, we need to take on the mindset of a sheep. Sheep, unlike humans, are conformists. They enjoy being in a herd and find comfort in numbers. Humans, on the other hand, are not conformists by nature. They often challenge the system and test the authority placed over them. I think we can all agree that we need that we need Almighty God as our shepherd, but are we prepared to do what it takes to be a not just any sheep, but God's sheep?

2. The Good Shepherd controls, protects, and provides for his sheep. He does everything within his great powers to care for and nurture these sheep-all while allowing them to grow, flourish, and prosper. However, he can't control the "free will" of every sheep. If a rebellious sheep decides to take a detour from the path and leave the herd, the shepherd can no longer provide for or protect the errant sheep. The errant sheep, out of fellowship with the shepherd and other sheep, is now a prime target for a predator.