Psalm 23- The Lord is my Shepherd
Psalm 23 - A Psalm of Trust
The Hebrew for Psalms is Tehilim and the Hebrew for an individual Psalm is a Mizmor
There are other references of Shepherd in the bible, Forty-five in the old Testament and Eighteen in the New. This is probably the most well-known Psalm and I still remember singing it on a wet windy Monday morning whilst at Grammar school whilst stood in assembly
Under what circumstances was it written?
David composed this in one of his most dangerous and discouraging periods of his life when he was fleeing from King Saul and his army. Saul wanted to kill David and he hid in the Forest of Heret (Heret in Hebrew means to ‘cut in to’)
1 Samuel 22:5: But the prophet Gad said to David, "Don't stay in the stronghold. Leave, and go to the land of Y'hudah." So, David left and went to the Forest of Heret
Also, some identify it with the Forest of Horesh as in 1 Samuel 23:15 and it is a very parched and dry area close to the desert. Some commentators say God fed it and nourished it so David could eat. The analogy here is during a fight for survival God still provides for us.
What is it about?
Jewish commentators say that this Psalm is about “David praising God for him supporting the Israelites in the Forty-year sojourn in the wilderness.” i.e. when Moses led them through the Desert to the promised land.
Some Interesting points to note about this Psalms
Within the Jewish prayer book, this but it is customary for Jewish people to recite this Psalm whilst washing hands and blessing the bread in the form of a Kiddush: A Kiddush is literally a blessing recited over wine or grape juice to sanctify the Shabbat and Jewish holidays.The Jewish alphabet has a number word equivalence and Jewish commentator Arizal says it contains fifty-seven words which in numerology is the numerical equivalent of the word “Nourishes”. It contains two hundred and twenty-seven letters which is the numerical equivalent of ‘Blessing’.
This Psalm can also be a journey i.e. from green pastures through valleys of ‘shadow of death” and urging the sheep to trust in their shepherd. John Gills Christian commentary believes David is referring to Christ as the shepherd within this Psalm. Verses 1 to 4 show God as a shepherd and verses 5 and 6 show the Lord as a host.
Verses 1 -4 show Adonai as a shepherd, as a supreme provider of man’s needs and is referenced in other Psalms as in :
Psalm 80:1 - Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock.
“The Talmud contains the teachings and opinions of thousands of rabbis on a variety of subjects, including Halakha (law), Jewish ethics, philosophy, customs, history, lore and many other topics. The Talmud is the basis for all codes of Jewish law and is much quoted in rabbinic literature” It sees there being seven shepherds who led the world on the path of righteousness.
The Seven Shepherds of Israel
But they are also referred to in the prophesy of Micah 5 v 5 as seven leaders.
There is also a complete reference to shepherds in the book of Ezekiel:
Ezekiel 34:11-15-For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.
12 As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered ; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.
13 And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country.
14 I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel.
15 I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD.
Shepherds are also referenced in the New Testament where John 10 talks about sheep and the Lord Jesus as our shepherd
John 10:26-29 26. But the reason you don't trust is that you are not included among my sheep.
27. My sheep listen to my voice, I recognize them, they follow me,
28. and I give them eternal life. They will absolutely never be destroyed, and no one will snatch them from my hands.
I believe this to be an amazing verse that nobody can take from your Fathers hand and once you are his, you are his. I shall not want “in the CJB this translates as “I shall lack nothing” i.e. His shepherd will provide all his needs.
Another Jewish expansion of the scriptures the Targumim (paraphrases and explanations used in conjunction with the bible.) which believes this Psalm refers to the Israelites in the wilderness as in
Deuteronomy 2:7 – “these forty years the Lord thy God hath been with thee; thou hastlacked nothing.”
In the term “green pastures”, David likens God to a shepherd seeking out the choice grazing grounds for his sheep. Some versions as in the CJB use grassy pastures as there is not much grass in much of Israel. In the New Testament there are reference pastures as places of rest.
John 10:9 - I am the gate; if someone enters through me, he will be safe and will go in and out and find pasture.
This is a Messianic Prophecy and unfortunately most Jewish people do not see this, and they still await their saviour, their Messiah.
The phrase “Still waters” refers to the sheep not rushing where they can fall in or get excited, but one of calm and stillness.
David was a shepherd in Ein Gedi which has Wadi’s in it. This is a valley which can get flooded quickly and Israeli soldiers and tourists were killed there some years ago. The sheep rush to water in the dry spell and can drown. There is also danger from the Dead Sea where the water is poisonous to life due to the salt content.
We drink as Gods flock from the Holy Spirit who cleanses and refreshes us.
Christ leads his flock as in and the image is clear in.
Isaiah 40:11 - He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
“He restoreth my soul” translates in the CJB as “my inner person”. Christ heals and revives our backslidden and weary soul and he also sanctifies it when we are sinful. The Hebrew word for soul is Nefesh and God revives our spirit. Messianic Jewish commentators believe “He causes my soul to repent”
“He leadeth, me in the paths of righteousness;” is referred to in Proverbs as in.
Proverbs 8:20 - follow the course of righteousness along the paths of justice
This is about following the right paths in life.
The word “Walk” is used to emphasise, walking with God, and not running in the eventuality and certainty of death, but knowing the road ahead is calm and composed with a sense of calm and composure.
The word “Valley” is not a door but passage,
“Shadow” within this verse is not the Valley of death itself, the substance of it has been removed and the shadow cannot harm us. Behind a shadow lies light not utter darkness.
“I will fear no evil” Yalkut Eliezer commentates “Even though I go through the most threatening valleys overshadowed with death, “still I cannot possibly fear any evil for the fear of God is constantly with me “ as in
1. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
3. Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.
4. There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most high.
In addition, in
Isaiah 9:2 (CJB) The people living in darkness have seen a great light; upon those living in the land that lies in the shadow of death, light has dawned
“For thou art with me” means “You will always stand by me.” I for one struggle with the thought of dying and I don’t like to think about suffering and pain but this reverses that and this study has shown me that the Lord walks with us in the things we fear the most. I like to think about the image of walking with God holding your hand. Give the things in life to my heavenly Father that I fear, and I worry about, for he knows the very number of hairs on your head.
“Thy rod and thy staff “ Some Jewish commentators see it the following where the shepherd would use the one stick for 2 purposes one to beat the sheep into place and one with which to lean upon i.e. to provide rest.
“they comfort me” the two together are affliction and support for God to achieve his effort in us. Christ does not beat his sheep, the Lord chastens, and John Gill expounds
“means of reclaiming backsliders, and of preserving the flock from the ravenous wolves of false teachers: in a word, the presence, power, and protection of Christ,”
The overall mood now changes, and David talks of Adonai as a host as in “Thou preparest a table before me”. Some Jewish commentators see this as a reference to Psalm seventy-eight when David is talking about the Israelites in the wilderness when they questioned God by questioning Moses. Again, within this verse there is assuredness and no hurrying
“in the presence of mine enemies” - There are two lines of thought here it could refer to Saul who was chasing him or Satan.
“Thou anointest my head with oil” There are several lines of thought here:
it means to saturate his head and David stresses that the oil when Samuel poured it upon him had not become dry.
Also, some commentators see this verse meaning that some of his enemies saw David’s sins as invalidating Gods choice of him as King hence the reference to his anointing.
Other commentators do not see this as this was a Middle Eastern custom at feasts to anoint the head of guests with oil.
The main thrux of many commentators is to see this as the anointing of the Holy Spirit and as a perfume of the soul.
There are three qualities of oil.
laevor which is a smoothness to the touch
nitor is the brightness to the sight
odour is the fragrancy to the smell, and so, gratifying the senses, it must cause delight to those anointed with it
“my cup runneth over “This may signify David’s heart which overflowed with love and appreciation of God and is a cross reference to;
Psalm 16:5 - The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot.
There is also a reference to cup here which Christ drank for us in;
Matthew 26:39 - And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed , saying , O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will , but as thou wilt.
The cup here signifies either;
Gods overabundance of love, so much that other people get the benefit from that which is overflowed.
In the Matthew reading, it is the Lord wrath which Christ at that point may have been tempted prompting him to verbalise these words. When the cup was empty and all he could see were the dregs of human sin. Christ drank the cup of divine wrath.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” - Jewish commentators see this that God promised David that even if his descendants were to sin, they would be punished and temporarily removed from the throne, but the monarchy would never be removed from the house of David.
2 Samuel 7:13 – 16
13. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever.
14 I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men:
15 But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee.
16 And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever
The words here are indisputable, there is no ambiguity, and we know the Lord will be with us on our lightest and darkest days, i.e. my good and bad ones. What is interesting about this word is the Hebrew translation for follow, this is usually associated with a hostile intention as in Genesis 14:14 to follow as in a hunter would follow his prey.
Genesis 14:14 And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan.
Here it is used to show Gods goodness and mercy pursuing to bless him and think about your life when you have felt that he isn’t listening, goodness and mercy are right behind you even though you might see them.
“and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
Jewish writers see this a meaning David talking about his royal line will dwell in the house of God for all times and as Christians we see this as dwelling in the Lords house for all eternity.
When you are going through commentaries there are many different shards of wisdom like prism of light in a crystal and each gives you differing viewpoints. Christ is our shepherd in life and a sheep is an object of property and we are our Lord Yeshua’s, and it is bought at a great price, i.e. His blood like in the children’s song ‘What can wash away our sin, nothing but he bloods of Jesus. Our Lord Guides us through life as a shepherd watches over his sheep and he protects us in our daily lives .He allows us to be corrected whether through our own folly or by his guidance and leads us home to be with his Father Adonai where he sits as our intercessor at his right hand:
1 John 2:1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous
Ask yourself today who is your shepherd? Is it Jesus Christ? If you do not know Jesus Christ as your shepherd today, then ask yourself who is? I think of my life and the times I have wandered, and he has guided me back into the fold, here I have strayed and gone away from the care of my eternal Father.
Did you know the Bedouin shepherds who used to tend their flock and at the end of each day they would inspect each sheep, looking for cuts and bruises and anoint them with oil and with a stone cup, feeds them water individually. It reminds me of my Father who looks after me daily, he looks after me and knows what’s best for me and as the supreme shepherd he made the ultimate sacrifice where he took mine and your place on the cross. He suffered physically, was humiliated, spat upon was hated and ultimately put to death. But our Shepherd rose, he rose and conquered death so you would not have to die, and I know Jesus is my shepherd, my rock, and my salvation.
I sometimes think of the sheep that wandered and left the safety of their shepherd or the people who I see wandering aimlessly in life who have no shepherd. The sheep who have wandered off through pride, arrogance or attraction of greener pastures that bring nothing but sorrow and ultimately that go to an eternity without our Lord Jesus. The sheep that are led astray by Satan. In Spain, there are eagles that drag sheep and goats off cliff faces as they graze on the mountains and Satan is always there ready to knock you off balance but again as in;
Psalm 121:3 - He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber (The CJB translated, He will not let your foot slip, your guardian is not asleep.)
Hebrews 13:20 - Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,