Updated: Nov 18, 2019
This is the most famous of the 150 Psalms in the Bible and of the 75 written by David. It was written during the rebellion of his son Absalom while fleeing into the wilderness. It serves as a great outline of our Christian life from the beginning to the end and these following studies are going to examine the Psalm from that perspective, beginning with our faith in the Lord Jesus.
The first stage of our Christian life is at the beginning when we are born again. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”. The word Lord is translated from the word Jave, a word or title that is used often in the Old Testament. It is what we would often think of as Lord, one to whom we bow down to, one to whom we submit and turn over our lives to for care and keeping. It is not going to be difficult to know who is the Lord and our Shepherd as the Lord Jesus announced Himself, “I am the good shepherd (Jn. 10:11). We are born into the family of God when we believe on the Lord Jesus (Jn. 3:7,16). Believing is more than just accepting the facts as being true, it is a commitment to Jesus as Lord. This is where the analogy of a shepherd and sheep comes in, because we see sheep are totally dependent upon their shepherd for their protection and care. Therefore, we move from lordship to the relationship between the shepherd and his sheep. When we believe on the Lord Jesus we enter into a relationship of a servant to his lord and of a sheep to his shepherd. This is significant because the creator of all the things, the almighty God has made it possible, for we little creatures of dust to enter into a close and intimate relationship with Him. This is seen in the wording, my shepherd, it is personal and intimate between me and my shepherd. We could be saved by faith and our relationship be remote, that God is way up there somewhere with a great distance between us and that would be appropriate and still a blessing. But instead, we who were a far off have been brought close through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus. Now the key here is that He is my shepherd, it is a personal relationship, we cannot enter into this relationship on the coattails of others. Just because our parents are believers or just because we go to church or because we live in what once was a “Christian country” will not suffice, we must individually place our faith and the keeping of our souls into the hands of the great shepherd, so that now we can say The Lord is my shepherd. This is how we know for sure that we have eternal life. Because the God of the whole universe is my shepherd, I shall not want. The great shepherd will care for me and He is all sufficient for all things and in every stage of my life.
Vs 2 As the shepherd He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. The word peace is often used in connection with our great salvation as in Colossians 1:20. The word peace can be defined as the “bringing together of two estranged parties with the result of the cessation of hostilities and tranquility of mind”. We who once were alienated and enemies to God have now been reconciled by the blood of His cross, the war between us is over and now we are at rest as in green pastures with still waters. The turmoil of our life as it was lived contrary to the grace of God is now put to rest and we can delight is this pastural scene of peace.
Vs 3 “He restores my soul; He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” This obviously assumes that we will be in need of restoration. David had sinned and was paying for that sin with consequences which included the rebellion of his son Absalom. We have not been saved by the grace of God that we may continue in sin, but rather by faith and by yielding to the Holy Spirit we have been delivered from the bondage of sin and we have daily victory over sin. However, there may be times when we sin or are overtaken in a fault. At such a time we have one who makes intercession on our behalf, our Lord Jesus Christ and when we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. As our great shepherd, he restores our soul and then sets our feet back on to the right path.
Vs 4 “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.” David once said when he was fleeing from Saul, that there was but a step between him and death. Even as he wrote this Psalm, it looked like once again he was going to be in that position. During the times of our lives, things happen where it seems that we are walking through the valley of death. This might be an illness, a serious accident or we might be in a dangerous position. I know of many times during my ministry in the inner city when I felt like I was in the shadow of death. Regardless of where we find ourselves during the course of our lives, we can take comfort that our shepherd is with us. The position of the shepherd changes from being out front to being alongside. The rod was a club attached to the belt and the staff was the one we usually picture with a shepherd which may have a large crook to it. Both of these were used to fight off beast that might be trying to kill and destroy the sheep. We have the Holy Spirit within us and the promise that the Lord will never leave us or forsake us. “And we know that all things work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28). Therefore, we will fear no evil.
Vs 5 “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.” There are diverse views here of what is meant. One view is that the table is actually table land or mesa where the shepherd would take the sheep for better pasture and safety. The shepherd would go before the sheep and prepare the mesa for their arrival. Another view, is to depart from the analogy of a shepherd and sheep and see the table as a place for communion. This is the common view of a table and eating throughout the Scriptures. To have a table prepared in the very presence of our enemies is significant in that one would usually not sit down and have a feast while the enemy was approaching nearby. Also, it was customary to have a victory feast after an enemy had been conquered. In any case, we see our Lord’s provision and His protection even in the presence of our enemies. Those who oppose us, grow in number and in influence by the hour. Our Lord’s answer is to sit down in communion with Him at a table that He has prepared. We read of our Lord’s table in I Corinthians 10:16-21 and we read of a victory feast for the bride of Christ in Revelation 19:9. David was being pursued by his enemies, the solution to the problem was to be in communion with the Lord. Regardless of where we find ourselves in life, being in communion with our Lord, sitting at His table, is the most important and the most effective thing that we can do to solve any problem or situation.
The second part of this verse is that He anoints our head with oil. Oil was used for at least two purposes. The first was to anoint either a priest or a king, such as when David was anointed with oil and declared to be king. Oil was a sign of blessing and of love. Our Lord was anointed with oil by a woman who loved much (Luke 7:36-50). In that account our Lord pointed out how it was a common practice for a host to anoint his guest, which that host had failed to do. We see then, how the anointing of oil is a sign of blessing. The second use of oil was for medicinal purposes. When the good Samaritan came upon the man who had been beaten, he used oil for the man’s wounds. In our text it is most likely that the anointing of oil has to do with the blessing and love that our Lord has for us, because the next statement is that our cup runs over. We not only have what we need as in verse one, but we have over and above what we need.
Vs 6 “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This last verse of the Psalm takes us to the end of our journey. The first statement gives us the overview of our life, that goodness and mercy will follow us. There is a declaration of the Lord’s people which is most appropriate, “God is good all the time, all the time, God is good.” Regardless of what happens during the stages of life, God is good, He is always working all things together for our good Romans 8:28. Along with His goodness, we see His mercy. The word mercy has to do with not receiving what we deserve. In the Scriptures the word is often used to speak in general of all that we have in Christ, particularly in the Psalms. Our Lord does not maintain a relationship with us based upon what we deserve or what we have earned, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;” (Psalm 103:10-11). We never want to receive from the hand of the Lord what we deserve.
At the end of our lives, after all has been said and done, I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. This is what it means to believe and have everlasting life (Jn 3:16,36), what is meant when our Lord spoke of preparing a home for us (Jn 14:1-3). We may end our lives suddenly through an accident or by way of an illness or we may live to see and feel our bodies gradually decay; in either event, the same promise holds true, I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Therefore, we are to live our lives in view of eternity rather than of this present life and circumstance, eternity is infinitely longer than our life now in time.