“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want…You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” – Psalm 23:1 & 5, ESV
Perhaps one of the most quoted passages of the Bible, Psalm 23 has brought comfort to countless people throughout the centuries. This psalm has been read at funerals, in fox holes, and during times of national and personal crisis. It is one of the passages that I personally flip to and read when I am considering a new Bible translation to see if I like the feel of the new translation. The fact that it has been enjoyed by both believers and unbelievers alike shows something about what this psalm reveals about the Lord that people long for. In his Confessions Augustine writes, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”* Psalm 23 is one of those passages of scripture that helps to draw in the restless soul, to find their ultimate rest in the Lord.
The old saying is true that “familiarity breeds contempt.” The more we are familiar with something, the more likely we are to take it for granted. I think this is also true of Psalm 23. Yet the beautiful thing about the Bible, is that we can read a familiar passage many times and never fully mine its depths. Each time we read it, the Holy Spirit can illuminate something new that we have never seen before. Let us look afresh at this familiar psalm. Most people think of sheep and their shepherd when thinking of Psalm 23, and rightly so. Yet in this psalm we see that David uses two images in describing his relationship with the Lord.
Our Faithful Shepherd (v. 1-4)
First, we see that the Lord is a faithful shepherd. This imagery would have come quite naturally to David, who worked as a shepherd before assuming the role of Israel’s king. This metaphor, while somewhat foreign to modern readers, would have been very familiar to those who would have sang this psalm in ancient Israelite corporate worship. Most human societies, until very recently in history, were agrarian. The original readers of this psalm would have fully understood David’s imagery. He describes the Lord as providing for his physical needs (v. 1-2), as well as his spiritual needs (v. 3).
In one of the most famous passages of Psalm 23, we see the Lord’s faithfulness on full display. David says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…you are with me” (v. 4, ESV). This verse can also be rendered, “Even when I must walk through a dark ravine…” (NET). While physical death is certainly a reality, this verse brings solace that the Lord is with his people through all seasons of suffering, not just through suffering that leads to death. Considering the shepherd metaphor, this verse brings to mind times when a shepherd must lead his flock through dark and narrow places. Physical death may be threatened because of the danger presented in desolate places, yet the shepherd is there to guide his sheep through these seasons. The Lord is no different. He is with us each step of the journey.
Our Generous Banquet Host (v. 5-6)
Changing imagery, David describes the Lord as a generous banquet host. As Israel’s king, David would have hosted countless royal banquets. The ability for a king to host a banquet “in the presence of enemies” indicates that their military was able to keep any potential threat at bay during the banquet. As with any good banquet, the host is able to provide a lavish feast and allow his guests wine cup to never run out, they have everything they need (v. 5). This imagery of a banquet brings to mind another banquet described in the Bible, namely the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation 19. The banquet described in Psalm 23 foreshadows the banquet of Revelation 19. For then the people of God will truly be able to feast in peace because the Enemy has been defeated by the blood the Lamb. On that day, the people of God will “dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6).
This familiar psalm takes on a new significance in light of the full revelation of God as found in the person and work of Jesus. He is truly the Good Shepherd who ensures the safety and wellbeing of his sheep. He is the better king who has defeated his enemies and placed them under his feet. He is greater banquet host who is able to provide for all of the needs to his invited guests. As children of God, we long for this day, even now, in the midst of many trials on this earth. We trust that he will lead us through safely until the day that we can be with him forever in the new Jerusalem. “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20, ESV). We, like the Apostle John, cry out “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Ibid).
Hymn of Worship
*Augustine, Confessions, 1.1.1.
Zach Kendrick is the editor of Reading For The Glory.
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