A Powerful Psalm
The 23rd Psalm is a powerful psalm of David. As a shepherd of his father’s flock, David was well acquainted with sheep and all their characteristics. In the 23rd Psalm, David skillfully draws the parallels of God as the Good Shepherd Who faithfully leads, protects and refreshes us, His sheep.
Sheep are significant in the Bible as sacrificial lambs for our sins in the Old Testament, and character portrayers in the New Testament. We can learn a lot about God and ourselves by learning about the characteristics of sheep and their shepherd.
The Lord is My Shepherd
“The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack.” ~Psalm 23:1 AMPC
“Although speaking in terms of sheep, the actual subject of this psalm is the people of Israel (and by application all who love the Lord). [Moody 781]
There are several psalms that refer us as God’s sheep:
“So we Your people and the sheep of Your pasture will give thanks to You forever; to all generations we will tell of Your praise.” ~Psalm 79:13 NASB
“For He is our God and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.” ~Psalm 95:7 AMPC
“Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful singing. Know that the Lord Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” ~Psalm 100:1-3 NASB
The Lord Leads Us
“He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters.” ~Psalm 23:2 AMPC
“To lead gently. You cannot drive sheep. The sheep hear the shepherd’s voice and follow Him, just as we listen to Christ in His Word and obey Him. If a sheep goes astray, the shepherd leaves the flock in charge of his helpers and goes to find the lost animal.” [WBC OT 902]
“I shall not lack food for my soul or body because He makes me lie down in green pastures. I shall not lack refreshment either because He leads me beside the still waters.” [MD 527]
The Lord’s Refreshment
“He refreshes and restores my life (myself); He leads me in the paths of righteousness [uprightness and right standing with Him—not for my earning it, but] for His name’s sake.” ~Psalm 23:3 AMPC
“The word paths means ‘well-worn paths, ruts.’ When sheep start to explore an exciting new path, it will lead them into trouble. ‘Do not be carried about by varied and strange teachings’ (Hebrews 13:9). God cares for us because He loves and wants us to glorify Him.” [WBC OT 902]
“David was not asserting here that God always provides for the believers’ physical needs, but rather that He will always supply what is necessary for the believer’s spiritual well-being.” [Moody 781]
The Lord Comforts Us
“Yes, though I walk through the [deep, sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me; Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort me.” ~Psalm 23:4 AMPC
“The valley of the shadow of death is the phraseology used to convey a perilously threatening environment. Your rod and Your staff speak of the shepherd’s club and crook [which] are viewed as comforting instruments of protection and direction.” [MA 613]
I appreciate Wiersbe’s thoughts on this verse:
“This is the central verse of the psalm, and the personal pronoun changes from he to you. David is not speaking about the shepherd but speaking to the shepherd.”
“In the valley, He is not before us but beside us, leading the way and calming our fears. The darkness represents any difficult experience of life that makes us afraid, and that includes death. Sheep lack good vision and are easily frightened in new circumstances, especially where it’s dark; and the presence of the shepherd calms them.”
“The rod was a heavy cudgel with which the shepherd could stun or kill an attacking beast, and the staff was the shepherd’s crook, which he used to assist the individual sheep. It gave the flock peace knowing that the shepherd was there and was equipped for any emergency.”
“Through life, as we follow the Shepherd, we will have many and varied experiences, some of which will be very trying, but none of them can take the Lord by surprise. We may trust Him and have peace. The closer we are to our Shepherd, the safer we are and the more His peace will fill our hearts.” [WBC OT 902]
The Lord Provides
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my [brimming] cup runs over.” ~Psalm 23:5 AMPC
“It is difficult for those living in a temperate climate to appreciate, but it was customary in hot climates to anoint the body with oil to protect it from excessive perspiration.”
“When mixed with perfume, the oil imparted a delightfully refreshing and invigorating sensation. Athletes anointed their bodies as a matter of course before running a race.”
“As the body, therefore, anointed with oil was refreshed, invigorated, and better fitted for action, so the Lord would anoint His ‘sheep’ with the Holy Spirit, Whom oil symbolizes, to fit them to engage more freely in His service and run in the way He directs—in heavenly fellowship with Him.”1
“The able protector is also the abundant provider.” [MA 613]
“The Shepherd prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies. On the table are spread all the spiritual blessings which He purchased for us with His precious blood. The table pictures everything that is ours in Christ. Though surrounded by enemies, we enjoy these blessings in peace and security.” [MD 527]
The Lord Himself
“Surely or only goodness, mercy, and unfailing love shall follow me all the days of my life, and through the length of my days the house of the Lord [and His presence] shall be my dwelling place.” ~Psalm 23:6
“David’s confidence in this future inheritance, guaranteed by God’s unshakable goodness and lovingkindness, brings him comfort in this life, regardless of the situation. The fatherly aspect of the relationship between the divine Shepherd and His sheep is underscored by the verb follow. Under God’s care, His followers will be constantly pursued or faithfully followed after by His goodness and lovingkindness.” [Moody 781]
“Under the old covenant, the sheep died for the shepherd, but under the new covenant, the Shepherd died for the sheep – and we shall meet our Shepherd in heaven!” [WBC OT 903]
“They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any [scorching] heat; for the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of the waters of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes [giving them eternal comfort].” ~Revelation 7:16-17 AMP
“God first compared [His People] to sheep and later applied that label to all who are called by His name. God’s people are compared to sheep because sheep have no defense system and because sheep are helpless without a shepherd. Sheep are prone to wander away from the flock which leaves them susceptible to predators. The same is true for us, isolated we can become easy prey for the enemy.” [GQ]
“Now may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep with the blood of an eternal covenant, our Lord Jesus, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” ~Hebrews 13:20-21 WEB
Worthy is the Lamb (of God which is Jesus) Worthy is the Lamb – Strength with Dignity
Wander Wonderment Wander Wonderment – Strength with Dignity
1 Psalm 23:5 Footnote from the AMPC. Published by Bible Gateway. Retrieved June 1, 2022, from Psalm 23 AMPC – Psalm 23 – A Psalm of David. The Lord – Bible Gateway
Amplified Bible (AMP) Copyright 2015 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA 90631.
Amplified Bible, Classis Edition (AMPC) Copyright 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation.
MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Commentary. [MA] Thomas Nelson, 2005, page 613.
MacDonald, William. The Believer’s Bible Commentary. Thomas Nelson, 2016, page 527.
New American Standard Bible 1995 (NASB 1995), copyright 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.
The Moody Bible Commentary. General Editors: Michael Rydelnik and Michael Van Laningham. Moody Publishers, 2014, page 781.
What is the Significance of Sheep in the Bible? Updated January 4, 2022. Retrieved from Got Questions [GQ] on February 3, 2022, from https://www.gotquestions.org/sheep-in-the-Bible.html
Wiersbe, Warren B. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: The Complete Old Testament. [WBC OT] Published by David C. Cook, 2007, pages 902-903.