(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)
It is the best loved Psalm! It is perhaps the best loved Scripture in the whole Bible! Here is Psalm 23:1 through 6:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Jehovah-Raah (the LORD my shepherd). The word ‘is’ appears in several translations in italics, which means it is not in the original manuscript, but was added to make the phrase more understandable. In Hebrew, the word for my shepherd is רָעָה meaning “…to pasture, tend, graze, feed…to shepherd….” It can be applied to animals and to people. (Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew Definitions).
This Psalm is the testimony of a sheep, one of many under the Shepherd’s care! What does a good shepherd do for his sheep?
- Verse 2 – “He makes me to lie down in green pastures….” He picks out the best pastures for the sheep to feed. This means he has to know the territory well! But it says the sheep lies down!
✡ This speaks of contentment, that the sheep has found enough to eat to satisfy its hunger. ✡ It also speaks of proper provision. In some lush areas of Palestine (Galilee in particular) an aggressive sheep might jump from place to place overeating! But if the shepherd makes the sheep lie down, that sheep will eat only the grass reached from that relaxed po- sition!
- Verse 2 – “…He leads me beside the still waters.”
✡ Sheep are afraid of rushing waters, which could carry them away and they could be drowned. ✡ Whether by himself or with other shepherds gathered to refresh the flocks with water, a ditch is dug several inches to a foot wide, and a few feet long. Rushing waters are then allowed to fill the ditch, and after settling, the waters are still for the sheep to drink!
- Verse 3 – “He restores my soul….” A good shepherd will give such provisional care for his flock, every sheep’s whole self will be restored to the full, and ready for the next day’s adventure!
- Verse 3 – “…He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”
✡ During planting and growing seasons, fields are strictly off limits! If the sheep stray into the fields from the narrow paths between them and damage the crops, the shep- herd could be held liable, and his reputation (which is very important to a shepherd) would be tarnished! ✡ So the shepherd leads his sheep, never driving them from behind, and they follow his distinctive call, never stray- ing from the narrow path into the field! And so, for his name’s sake his reputation is protected!
- Verse 4 – “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear now evil; for You are with me…”
✡ The shepherd might have to lead his flock to the next pasture over a rugged mountian trail as twilight falls. He will continually give his distinctive call or strike his rod on the rocks, making a sound that can be heard at a distance, to let the sheep know he is leading, even if they have lost sight of their shepherd around a rocky prominence! ✡ The sheep can then follow with no fear, because they know their shepherd is with them, leading them to their next pasture, and protecting them along the way!
- Verse 4 – “…Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
✡ The rod is a short hardwood club, the rounded head of which is covered with driven nails or pieces of metal. That club is a potent weapon that can be used against the enemy, from snakes to “...a lion or a bear...” (I Samuel 17:34). But the rod is also a disciplinary tool for unruly sheep. And the sheep will remember such discipline, and will act accordingly! ✡ The staff is not like the staff we see in western Christ- mas scenes (like the picture above), with a big curved head. The Palistinian staff is about six feet long with a short cut-off branch sticking out about four inches in an upside down ‘V’. If a sheep or lamb has slipped off the mountain path and is on a ledge below, the shepherd will extend his staff into the sheep’s wool, and twist it, securing the staff in the wool, so the shepherd can pull the animal to safety!
- Verse 5 – “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies….”
✡ A sheep’s enemies would be anything that might be a danger – snakes, predatory animals, sharp rocks, poisonous plants! ✡ The shepherd goes into the ‘table’ (the feeding area) before the sheep to remove any dangerous ‘enemies’!
- Verse 5 – “…You anoint my head with oil….” A container of olive oil is part of a shepherd’s necessary equipment. Any cut, bruise or sore a sheep might acquire is cleaned and then anointed with olive oil for healing!
- Verse 5 – “…My cup runs over.”
✡ It could refer to the abundance procured for the flock when they follow a good shepherd! ✡ It also can refer to a stone drinking trough by a well. A good shepherd will scoop out water from the well into the trough continually, even over- flowing it, until the flock finishes drinking!
- Verse 6 – “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life….” Even through trouble, enemies, injuries (or whatever might challenge a sheep’s life) that sheep is content to be under its shepherds care!
- Verse 6 – “…and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” How does this apply to a sheep? In II Samuel 12:1-4 Nathan the prophet told King David a story about a rich man and a poor man. The story was designed to point out to David his terrible sin concerning Bathsheba and Uriah, her husband! But let’s concentrate on verse 3:
But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup, and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him.
Some people in America treat their dogs or cats like their children. This lamb was a household pet! It was a special pet who enjoyed the blessings of being treated like one of the children!
Notice that I did not start above with verse 1. That’s because if my Shepherd does all for me that a good Palestinian shepherd will do for his sheep, “…I shall not want…”! And He does…and He does much more than any human shepherd could do!
Jesus, (relating to Psalm 23) says this in John 10:
- Verse 11 – “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
- Verse 10 (I know it is out of order) – “The thief [Satan] does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
- Verses 27 through 30 – “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall any one snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.”
Jesus came to be our good Shepherd ! He is my good Shepherd? Is He yours? Are you under His care? If you are, then also for you…
He is Jehovah-Raah!
He is “the LORD [your] shepherd ”
You shall not want!