Psalm 23 is one of the most well-known passages in the Bible and arguably the most famous Psalm. It’s become so familiar that we often don’t give it a second thought. But I think this powerful passage deserves a closer look. We are going to look at the meaning of Psalm 23 and how it applies to our lives.
What Psalm 23 Says
Psalm 23 was written by David as he reflects on how God has cared for him. He pulls images from his life and writes this incredible psalm.
Before we get further into the Psalm 23 meaning I think it would be best if we actually read it. Again, I know you’ve read these verses before. But I would encourage you to not rush through it, take some time to think about the words in this passage.
A Psalm Of David
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul, He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
These words are often read in church, quoted in movies, and hang on our walls. They are everywhere. Yet few people ask what Psalm 23 means and how it actually applies to their life. We know them, but we rarely apply them.
We are going to look at what these words mean in just a minute. After we do that I would encourage you to come back and read this passage once again. Spend a few minutes meditating on how this passage should affect your life.
Alright, let’s dive into the meaning of Psalm 23 and see what it holds for us today.
The Meaning Of Psalm 23
The 23rd Psalm is found in the Old Testament and was written by David. This beautiful Psalm is not only famous it contains practical and powerful lessons for us today.
Psalm 23 is full of powerful imagery that paints an incredible picture. What I want to do is allow you to pause and gaze at this picture. Breaking this passage down verse by verse will help us further understand how it applies to our life.
We are going to look at each of the six verses in Psalm 23 and unpack the picture that David is painting. Again, after we do I would encourage you to go read the full passage again.
Let’s dive into the meaning of Psalm 23.
1. Psalm 23 Meaning: The Lord Is My Shepherd
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Psalm 23:1
King David starts this Psalm off with a powerful picture. God is our shepherd. The rest of Psalm 23 follows through this image. This first verse sets the tone for the next five to follow.
The duties of a shepherd were difficult and burdensome. They were charged with caring for an entire flock of sheep and that was no easy task. A shepherd would lead the flock back and further to pastures to feed. Protect them from animals and thieves. Rescue them from dangers. And keep watch of them day and night to keep them from wandering.
To make the job more difficult, sheep aren’t exactly the smartest animals. They tend to wander and get themselves in sticky situations quite frequently. It was a demanding and exhausting job.
For a greater understanding of what a shepherd did in ancient times check out: Shepherds In Bible Times
David knew this life well, he spent much of his young life working as a shepherd. When David says that the Lord is my shepherd he’s picturing God caring for him as he cared for the sheep in his flock.
This image is powerful. God is caring for us, protecting us, providing for us, and leading us just as a good shepherd tends to their flock. It’s a come picture that is used throughout the Bible to describe how God cares for his people. (Isaiah 40:11; 44:28, Jeremiah 25:34, Jeremiah 25:35, Nahum 3:18, John 10:11, John 10:14, Hebrews 13:20, 1 Peter 2:25; 5:4)
The meaning of Psalm 23 is tied to the opening verse, the Lord is my shepherd. The next few verses are built of this first one. Because God is our shepherd he:
2. Psalm 23 Meaning: He Makes Me Lie Down In Green Pastures
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters. Psalm 23:2
David starts his list of how God provides as our shepherd with rest and nourishment. It’s an idyllic picture of a place of peace and rest. You can picture it can’t you? A calm babbling brook running through rolling green hills with wild animals wandering through.
This is a picture of calm and peace. And what David is saying is that this is what God does for his people. He provides rest in green pastures and beside still waters.
David had experienced this first hand. After he was anointed king of Israel he spent years running for his life from Saul who refused to step down as king and continually tried to kill him. Throughout that time God continued to guide and direct David. He provided rest and nourishment.
I don’t think it’s by mistake that this is the first thing David lists. He’s experienced the burdens of life and knows the relief when they are lifted. God lifts the burdens for his flock. He provides rest and green pastures from the toil of life.
The meaning of Psalm 23 is that God will provide for our rest and nourishment. That doesn’t mean our life will always be easy. Instead, it means that he will be with us helping us along the way.
3. Psalm 23 Meaning: He Restores My Soul
He restores my soul, He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Psalm 23:3
This next verse builds on the previous. The Lord provides spiritual restoration and renews our strength. Once we are restored he leads us to the right paths so that we do not wander aimlessly.
Take note of the order of events here. We often work first, rest second. But God does the opposite with us. He allows us to rest, to be restored, and then he leads us into what he has for us. The goodness of God is on full display here.
God isn’t a slave master that demands his flock work till exhaustion. Rather he provides rest and then leads us into what he’s created us to do. He’s a good shepherd that does what is best for his flock.
The meaning of Psalm 23 centers on God’s goodness. He cares for us and restores us.
4. Psalm 23 Meaning: Though I Walk Through The Valley Of Death
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
This is where the 23rd Plasm takes a little bit of a turn. The shepherd leads not only to still waters but also through troubled valleys.
There’s a false belief that’s been floating around for years that if you are a child of God you will have an easy life. But that’s not what Jesus promised. Rather, he promised he’d be with us in the dark valley.
The great shepherd is with us in the green pastures and in the valley of the shadow of death. His rod and his staff protect us, guide us, and comfort us. He will not abandon us and he will guide us through it.
The message of the Gospel is not an absence of pain and trials. Rather that God will not abandon us in them. This psalm of David reminds us that even in the darkest valley of life God is still with us and we can have hope.
You might also like: Why Does God Allow Suffering? and What Does The Bible Say About Death? (7 truths you need to know)
5. Psalm 23 Meaning: You Prepare A Table Before Me
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5
In this verse, David switches the description of God from a shepherd to a host. God is not only providing for our needs but also our desires. David says his cup overflows with blessings. It’s not just what he needs, it’s more than he needs.
What’s interesting about this verse is that all this is done in the presence of our spiritual enemies, not in the absence of them. It’s in the midst of conflict that we can find not only God’s provision but his abundant blessing.
Tom Constable says it this way, “As a gracious host, God provides hospitality for His people. He supplies us with what we need and desire lavishly, and He does so, not by removing us from the presence of our spiritual enemies, but in their presence. In the ancient East, a thoughtful host would welcome an honored guest into the protection of his home by pouring some oil on his head. This refreshed and soothed a weary traveler. Anointing with oil in Scripture pictured God’s bestowal of His Holy Spirit on the believer David’s cup symbolized his lot in life that overflowed with abundant blessings.”
This verse from the 23rd Psalm reminds us of God’s provision and the abundant blessing that he has for us.
6. Psalm 23 Meaning: Surely Your Goodness And Love Will Follow Me
Surely goodness and love shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6
David ends this incredible Psalm by painting a picture of how God’s goodness and love (Hebrew word: hesed) will go with him for the rest of his life. The idea that he’s trying to get across is not that God’s love follows behind, rather that God’s love passionately pursues him.
But the goodness of God isn’t just for this life. David boldly proclaims that he shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. This picture is one of enjoying full communion, unhindered fellowship, with God. A glorious time that will never end.
This Psalm found its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. He pursued us, paid the price for our sins on the cross, and brought us back into his house. Because of the work of Jesus we can dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
This last verse of the 23rd Psalm is filled with hope. It’s a hope that’s found time and time again in the word of God. We are secure and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Applying The Psalm 23 Meaning In Our Life
Psalm 23 paints this incredible picture of how God cares and provides for his people. Since it’s one of the most well-known Psalms we often just glance through it. But it deserves a deeper look.
I would encourage you to go back and read this passage a few more times throughout this week. Consider what it means for God to be your shepherd. Meditate on these words. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you through applying it in your life. This is an incredible passage that we should keep coming back to and allow it to encourage and strengthen us.
The meaning of Psalm 23 is still powerful today. God is with you. He will provide for you. He will walk with you through the storms of life. And he will bless you. Hold onto him.
Thanks for reading this blog post! I hope that you enjoyed it and that it brought greater insight into the Psalm 23 meaning. If you found this post helpful would you share it with a friend or on social media? That way more people can benefit from it as you have.
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