Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is a beautiful picture of trust in God’s constant care and tender love. Notably, it does not include any complaints or supplications. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, David rests in the unwavering provision of God.  Follow along as we explore these verses.

VERSES 1-3

“The Lord is my shepherd.” What gentleness, familiarity, safety and peace we enjoy under the guardianship of our loving Lord! “Shepherd” is a lowly, common title – David was taken from being a shepherd to the exalted position of king. 1 Yet God does not disdain to stoop so low for our sake, because of the tenderness and depth of his love for us. 2

In seasons of peace and comfort, it’s often easy to trust in ourselves and forget God. But David reminds us, “He makes, He leads, He restores, He leads.” God is directly responsible for all the abundant blessings we enjoy. True happiness consists in living under his governance; material pleasures alone cannot satisfy. God does all these things for his own name’s sake – not for anything of our own merit, but entirely from His free and sovereign goodness. 3

  1. 1 Samuel 16:11 (ESV): Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest,[a] but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.”

    2 Samuel 7:8 (ESV): Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel.

    The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

  1. Philippians 2:6-7 (ESV): [Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

    The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

  1. Isaiah 48:11 (ESV): For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.

    The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

VERSE 4

Here we find the difference between false security and the peace which true faith produces. David does not promise himself continual pleasures; instead, he fortifies himself by the help of God to courageously endure even the valley of the shadow of death. Exposed to the worst of dangers, David trusts in the defense and protection of the pastoral care of God. He overcomes his fear by fixing his eyes on his Savior. 4

  1. Hebrews 12:2 (ESV): Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

    The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

VERSES 5-6

God continues to prepare grace upon grace for his children, 5 despite those who would attack and steal the joy of his blessing. The oil and overflowing cup denote the abundance which goes beyond the mere necessities of life, once again provided directly by God.

David has complete confidence that God’s grace will never cease. His undoubting persuasion is made possible because he does not measure the goodness of God according to the flesh. The concluding sentence reveals that David’s thoughts are not confined to earthly pleasures, but that the mark at which he aims is fixed in heaven. 6 The inheritance for which he longs is the permanent presence of God. 7

  1. John 1:16 (ESV): For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

    The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

  1. 1 Peter 1:3-4, 13 (ESV): Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you … Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

    The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

  1. Psalm 27:4 (ESV): One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.

    The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Translator's Tip

The traditional translation of Psalm 23:6 says, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." However, the Hebrew verb translated "follow" conveys an even stronger idea. It is usually translated "pursue", often in the context of soldiers chasing down their enemies to complete their defeat. David's point is not simply that we go through life with goodness and mercy tagging along behind. Rather, as we go through life, goodness and mercy will relentlessly hunt us down, never stopping until they find us!


Note: Many of the thoughts in this post were shaped by John Calvin’s Commentary on Psalms.We encourage you to continue exploring the psalms by reading his work!

Emily Moore