Psalm 23, found in the Christian Old Testament and in the Jewish sacred book, has been a source of comfort to millions through the generations. This poem was written by King David, one of the most famous kings that ever reigned in Israel. He guided his people through hard times, was victorious in time of war, and was known as being “a man after God’s own heart”. His sentiments in this poem have resounded with people around the world since the words were first spoken in ancient Israel.
Psalm 23 Analysis
The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want
Throughout the Jewish sacred book, the people of Israel are compared to sheep, and God is there Shepherd. Later, in the Christian New Testament, Jesus Christ refers to his followers as sheep, and he is the shepherds. This metaphor is referred to throughout the Bible to allow readers to understand the relationship of God to people. The Shepherd takes care of his sheep, protects them from wolves and other wild animals, and guides them. This paints a picture of people and God. God cares for them and guides them. For this reason, the speaker in this Psalm is certain that he “shall not want”.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures
A Shepherd would often guide his sheep to new pastures, where the grass was green and soft and cool. The grass was the source of food and comfort for the sheep, and the sheep depending entirely on the shepherd to guide them to green pastures.
He leadeth me beside still waters
This line is again another comparison between God and a Shepherd. A Shepherd was responsible for guiding his sheep to water so they could drink. Again, without the shepherd, the sheep would die of thirst. In the same way, King David believes that if not for his God, he would not have food or drink.
He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths
of righteousness for his name’s sake
In these lines of Psalm 23, the speaker reveals that his Shepherd and his God not only provides for his basic needs, but is also his source of comfort and peace in his soul. King David claims that he walks in righteousness only because his God leads him in those paths and restores his soul.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the
Shadow of death, i will fear no evil:for thou
art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me
In these lines, the speaker reveals that he trusts his shepherd. He trusts him not because he has always been provided for and always had comfort. Rather, he reveals that even though he has been through very difficult times, he was not afraid. In fact, he claims that what he has been through has been “the valley of the shadow of death”. King David knew what it was like to be face to face with death. Many times, he had been near death especially prior to his becoming king, when he was running from King Saul who intended to kill him. Indeed, King David knew what it was like to face incredibly hard times. He knew what it felt like to face death, and still he claims that he would “fear no evil”. He then gives the reason for this confidence in the face of trials. He says, “for thou art with me”. He doesn’t need to be afraid of the dangers and perils of this earth, because he has an almighty eternal being by his side, and he knows that once his life on earth was over, he would go to be with the God that he spent his life serving. He has no reason to fear because he knows that his God is in control of his life.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence
of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with
oil; my cup runneth over
In these lines of Psalm 23, the speaker again alludes to his belief that his God is the provider of his food and all of his needs. In line 9, King David suggest that God has provided for him in front of all his enemies, so that his enemies could see that King David was taken care of by his God. The speaker then claims that God is the one who “anointest [his] head with oil” thereby giving him the position of King. In the Israeli tradition, the one who was to succeed the king would have oil poured over his head to seal his kingship. King David says that God himself anointed him with oil and made him king of Israel.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the
Days of my life: and I will dwell in the house
Of the Lord forever
These last lines of Psalm 23 have spoken comfort into the lives of many. Although King David has already established that he was been through hard times and that he has even faced death, he has no doubt that “goodness and mercy” will follow him wherever he goes. This is because he knows that even when he experiences loss, suffering, and even times of war, God would always show him mercy, and goodness would always follow these times of difficulty.
King David of Israel Background
King David authored many Psalms that are found in the Old Testament of the Bible and the Jewish sacred book, such as Psalm 23. His poems are known for being wildly emotional. At times, he questions God and calls out to him, asking why his prayers are not being heard. In other poems, he seems assured of God’s presence and answers to his prayers. Although his poems can at times seem contradictory, they reveal the inconsistencies of the human heart. David has been recognized as one who was real with God. He never tried to hide his true feelings or thoughts from his God. Rather, he poured out his heart to his God and sought Him earnestly. For this reason, King David of Israel has been named “A man after God’s own heart”. Followers of Christianity and Judaism have long turned to his poems as sources of comfort. Readers can easily identify with King David’s feelings toward God. King David was not without his share of suffering. Knowledge of David’s life gives this particular poem an even greater depth of meaning. David suffered the loss of a child, the guilt of having committed adultery, and the tragedies of war. Even so, he continued to turn back to God even when he sinned. David’s story is one that suggests that God is a God of forgiveness, and thus many people can identify with David’s poems.
- The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York: American Bible Society: 1999; Bartleby.com, 2000.