Psalm 23 – The Eternal Psalm
The 23rd Psalm, a Psalm of David, is perhaps the most beloved of all the Psalms. The beauty that is contained within its lines testifies to its canonization among the greatest works of poetic literature. Simply from an academic and secular perspective, this Psalm merits the highest accolades. When we consider the great spiritual truths that it contains, we cannot but be affected by its words of guidance and wisdom.
Many have turned to this psalm for comfort in time of bereavement and rightly so. This psalm has provided guidance to the poorest serf and to the highest noble. It transcends all societal boundaries in its scope and application because it speaks to the core of the human condition. We humans are folks who need both comfort and guidance because we toil in ignorance and suffer from our mortality.
This condition compels us to seek a higher, better, and greater explanation; such we find in God. Paradoxically, then, this Psalm couches God’s reply to our query in human, humble, yet hopeful terms. This psalm promises that despite our failings, shortcomings, ignorance, worry, anxiety, and fear, that for those who humbly trust in the guiding staff of the saving Shepherd, all will be well both in this life and in the life to come.
Consider Isaiah 57:15 in relationship to this Psalm: “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
Our attitude of humility before The Great I Am engenders a favorable response. Yet God’s response comes in an equally humble way.
Being a shepherd in the ancient world wasn’t all that dignified an occupation. Both David’s father and his brothers were content to permit him, the youngest, to tend the sheep. It was lowly work. How fitting, then, that God, the infinitely humble One, be described as being involved in such work. How God stoops low to serve His people! The metaphor typifies God’s patience, longsuffering, providence, love, mercy, grace, and comfort in relationship to His creation. Oh that the world could know these great attributes of God!
The metaphor rightly forecasts the eventual role of the God-Man, Jesus. His humility and hardship reflect the Shepherd’s work – toiling, suffering, and dying for the sake of the flock. He is the Shepherd who seeks the sheep who have gone astray (Luke 15:4). He is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). He is the great Shepherd of the sheep (Hebrews 13:20). He is the chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4).
Properly appointed pastors would do well to know this Psalm and to imitate the characteristics of God in their shepherding of the local flocks. Grief counselors would do well to have this psalm framed and appropriately displayed so as to bring to their mind the human condition it conveys. Husbands and wives would do well to consider this psalm as a model portrait of a loving and tender relationship that fosters and encourages personal support and development. Parents would do well to apply this psalm as they seek to lead and guide their children in the home. Preachers and teachers of God’s word would do well to both know and regularly teach this psalm to their hearers.