A Study of Psalms 23

A verse by verse outline study of the Shepherd's Heart

Text: Psalm 23:1-6

A shepherd's life also required him to spend a great deal of time alone out in the countryside. With no one to talk to, the shepherd had time to think about many things. He could (if he so desired) just allow his mind to wander aimlessly from thought to thought or else he could utilize the time to develop his thought processes and to draw near to God. The shepherd life gave great opportunity for a person to use the time to become a man of great devotion and prayer.

Obviously David spent his time doing just that. Psalm 23 is a testimony of David. Every verse of it testifies of a truth about God and the relationship David had developed with Him. In Psalm 23, David painted with words, a picture of God as the Great Shepherd of his life. What David was to his sheep, he considered the Lord to be that and even more to himself as one of God's sheep. 

As we study this Psalm, I pray that we too will want to say as David said:

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside still waters.
He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of
righteousness for His Names's sake.
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.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of
mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil;
My cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall
follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the
house of the Lord forever.   
Psalm 23

Text: Psalm 23:1, "The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want."
Verse one speaks three truths about David's Shepherd.

Truth #1: "The Lord" denotes He is A Glorious Sovereign.

A sovereign is defined as a person having supreme rank and power; superior to all others.

God claimed to be the sovereign majesty of the universe. Isaiah 44:6, "I am the first and the last; there is no other God."  Isaiah 45: 21-22, There is not other god beside me, a righteous God and a Savior, there is not one besides me. Turn to me and be saved all the ends of the earth! For I am God and there is no other."

David believed what God said of Himself and testified to it in 2 Samuel 7:22 (NLT), "How great you are, O Sovereign Lord, there is no one like you, there is no other god. We have never even heard of another God like you."

In Scripture the word Lord is the Hebrew name Jehovah. It is the personal name for God that distinguished Him from all the false gods that people worshipped.

 Egypt, for example, was a land of many false gods. They had 360 primary gods, one for each day of the Egyptian calendar. A false god in its simplest definition is anything that is esteemed, loved, feared, or served more than the God of Scripture. If we set up anything that is a rival interest in our hearts and minds that absorbs the love and service which belongs only to the true God our creator, then that thing becomes another god to us.

Fact: Whatever the heart clings to  - that becomes our God.


The proud man who idolizes himself makes of himself his god.


The ambitious man who pays homage to popular applause makes his ambition his god.


The covetous person who hoards possessions makes possessions his god.


The immoral person who craves sex makes sex his god.


The glutton who craves food makes eating his god.


The doting lover  - whether husband, wife, mother, or father - who sets his supreme affection on the person loved more than upon God makes that person his god.

David kept himself from the folly of embracing false gods. He refused to honor or worship any idol made of his own or any other person's imagination or hands. He understood this: Psalm 115:4-8, "Idols are silver and gold, the work of man's hands. They have mouths, but they speak not, eyes have they, but they see not: they have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: they have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is everyone that trusteth in them."

God had warned in Exodus 20:3-5, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me; thou shalt not make unto thee any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve them, for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God..."

The choice as to whom David would claim as his Shepherd in life was not difficult for him to make. It would be the God that created man and not the god that man created. It would be "the Lord" the only true and living God.

Note:  David used the personal pronoun "my." He did not say "the Lord is the Shepherd of the world in general." He is saying, "The Lord is a Shepherd to me. He cares for me. He watches over me". He made it personal.

Fact: Our experience with God can never be vital until it is personal.

Truth #2:"My Shepherd" denotes He is A Gentle Shepherd.

The ministry of Jesus as the "good" shepherd reveals this to be true. The word "Lord "speaks of His deity.. The word shepherd speaks of His humanity. As the Sovereign Lord He is able. As the sympathetic shepherd He is approachable. 

Fact: In the New Testament the Sovereign Lord that was David's Shepherd has revealed Himself in Jesus. The Jehovah Shepherd of the Old Testament is manifested as the Jesus Shepherd of the New Testament.

What kind of Shepherd is Jesus?

bullet He is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11). As such He died to pay the penalty for our sin 2.
bullet He is the Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20-21).As such He rose to save us from the power of sin. 
bullet He is the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). As such He is coming again to save us from the presence of sin. 
bullet He is the Savior Shepherd that came to save the lost (Luke 19:10), "For the Son of man came to seek and save that which was lost."
bullet He is like the Concerned Shepherd of Luke 15 who goes seeking for the lost sheep until he finds it. "And when he hath found it, he laid it upon his shoulders, rejoicing...and when he cometh home, he calls together his friends and neighbors saying unto them; "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost" (Luke 15:4-6).
bullet He is the Shepherd who is touched by our infirmities (Hebrews 4:15).
bullet He is the Shepherd who comforts us in all our tribulation (2 Cor.1:4).
bullet He is the good Shepherd who knows His sheep by name (John 10:14,27).
bullet He is the Shepherd who can weep over His sheep (John 11:35).

So we see that Jesus is truly the Gentle Shepherd

Truth #3: ""I shall not want" denotes He is a Gracious Sufficiency.

Fact: Only when you can say, "The Lord is my shepherd", can you say, "I shall not want". David took the sacred name "Jehovah" and linked it with the word "Shepherd". This was a daring thing, but he did it by the leadership of the Holy Spirit. That name is Jehovah Rohi.

Names have meanings. They reveal the nature and character of God - who He is and what He wants to do in our lives (Character - determines - Conduct) The verb "is" was in the present tense. David was telling us what God meant to Him at that present moment! Note that David used the personal pronoun "my". Our experience with God can never be vital until it is personal.

There are seven times where the name "Jehovah" is linked with another word. Each time it reveals to us the reasons why "I shall not want."

  1. Psalm 23:1, Jehovah Rohi - The Lord is my shepherd.

  2. Gen. 22:13,14 - Jehovah Jireh - The Lord will provide.

  3. Exodus 15:26, - Jehovah Rapha - The Lord that healeth.

  4. Judges 6:24, - Jehovah Shalom - The Lord our Peace.

  5. Jeremiah 23:6 - Jehovah Tsidkenu - The Lord our Righteousness.

  6. Ezekiel 48:35 - Jehovah Shammah - The Lord ever present.

  7. Exodus 17:8-15 - Jehovah Nissi - The Lord our banner.

The Lord Jesus, our Shepherd, tells us that we shall not want. He has Gracious Sufficiency for His children.

The above names fit this Psalm perfectly. Note how each name is in this Psalm.


Jehovah-Rohi The Lord is my shepherd.


Jehovah-Jirah (The Lord will provide) I shall not want.


Jehovah-Rapha (The Lord that healeth) He restoreth my soul.


Jehovah-Shalom (The Lord our peace) He leadeth me beside still waters.


Jehovah-Tsidkenu (The Lord our Righteousness) He leadeth me in paths of righteousness.


Jehovah-Shammah (The Lord id present) I will fear no evil, Thou art with me.


Jehovah-Nissi (The Lord our banner) Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

Just think of all we have when we say, "The Lord is my shepherd."

  1. Green pastures speaks of provision.

  2. Still waters speaks of peace.

  3. The restoring of my soul speaks of pardon.

  4. Leading in the paths of righteousness speaks of providence.

  5. His being with me in the dark valley speaks of presence.

  6. His rod and staff speaks of preservation.

  7. The table in the presence of my enemies speaks of protection.

  8. The anointing of my head with oil and overflowing speaks of plenty.

  9. Dwelling in the house of the Lord speaks of paradise.

Conclusion: David had not only a "theology" of God, he had a "testimony" about God. 




Psalm 23, Part 2

Text: Psalm 23:2,  "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters."  "He maketh me...He leadeth me.." is A Testimony of Satisfaction.

This satisfaction came because David had an intimate relationship with Jehovah God. A sheep without a shepherd is in a very insecure position. Isaiah tells us, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way;..." (Isa. 53:6). Human beings are very much like sheep. Psalm 100:3 lets us know that we are the sheep of his pasture. 

When we study sheep we find that they are dumb, defenseless and directionless. No Christian deliberately determines to get away from God, but how like sheep we are. Sheep are very disturbable and dependant.

The distance between the shepherd and the sheep determines the potential for danger. The greater distance, the greater danger.

What is the nature of the shepherd? Notice the characteristics of the shepherd which the Scriptures compare to a type of Christ.

bullet A shepherd is compassionate. See Matthew 9:36.
bullet A shepherd gives gentle care to his flock of sheep. See Isaiah 40:11.
bullet A shepherd displays much courage. See John 10:11-13.

So we see that the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd in the Bible is a picture of the relationship between Christ (the shepherd) and the believer (the sheep).

The knowledge of the shepherd's care for us gives us a deep sense of security and satisfaction. "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: ...". Sheep graze from about 3:30 in the morning until about 10:00. They then lie down for three or four hours to rest. It is almost impossible to make sheep lie down while they are hungry. They will mill around and nibble on bits of grass until they have eaten sufficiently. Only when their stomachs are full will they find a quiet place and lie down.

Sheep lying down in green pastures is a picture of contentment and satisfaction.

"He leadeth me beside the still waters". Sheep will not drink from swiftly running water for a good reason: they are poor swimmers. If their wool coat became soaked with water the weight will pull the sheep under water. Instinctively sheep know this, so they will not go near swiftly running water.

Sheep resting beside the still waters is a picture of peace and rest. The phrase "still waters" means waters of rest. This picture reminds us of Jesus who said, "Come unto me all you that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

Sheep need a time of serene quietness to ruminate - to chew their cud. When the sheep does this he is meditating on what he has eaten just as we meditate from the Word of God that we have eaten. We need to learn to cultivate the art of quietness. See Isaiah 30:15 and Psalm 46:10a.

Conclusion: Verse 2 of Psalm 23 is a testimony of the satisfaction that comes as a result of the "provision" and "peace" that comes from our sheep/shepherd relationship with God.

Psalm 23, Part 3

Text: Psalm 23:3, "He restoreth my soul...He leadeth me" is A Testimony of Sovereignty.

Sheep are not very smart. They have a predictable inclination to lose their way. They can be in a pasture with plenty of grass and adequate water and still wander aimlessly until they have nothing to eat or drink. Once lost they can't find their way back. Many animals seem to have inborn compasses - not so with sheep. Once lost, the shepherd must go and find them.

Spiritually, people are like sheep. Isaiah the prophet wrote, "All we like sheep have gone astray.." (Isa. 53:6). I once saw a cartoon that pictured two sheep grazing in a pasture. One commented to the other, "All we like people have gone stray." Sheep are like people. People are like sheep. Both are easily lost.

We have a profound tendency to desert what is good for us. The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. So often we go away from God into sin. There are three wonderful truths in Psalm 23:3 that David testified to:

  1. The Ministry of the Shepherd - "He restoreth my soul...".
  2. The Mastery of the Shepherd - "He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness...".
  3. The Majesty of the Shepherd - "for His name sake".

The Ministry of the Shepherd: "He restoreth my soul..."
We are saved by grace, restored by grace and kept by grace. There are three kinds of sheep that need to be restored to fellowship with the shepherd. The first is the straying sheep who are restored by the rod. The rod us used as protection against the wild animals, but also used as a means to discipline the stubborn sheep (See Hebrews 12:11).

Discipline is more than punishment. It is preventative development. There is a danger in no discipline.

The rod served at least for two purposes. To keep us from danger and to help develop us.

The second is the staff which is sometimes call the shepherd's crook. The hook was just the right size to fit around the neck of a large sheep, or around the body of a little lamb. The shepherd would use the staff to draw sheep to him, guide the sheep or lift a fallen sheep.

The third kind of sheep that need to be restored are the sick sheep. The sick sheep are restored by administering them with the oil. The shepherd would bring his sheep into the fold one at a time calling them by name. He thoroughly examined the sheep for thorns, bruises, scabs and raw places. To bring a healing the shepherd would pour a healing and soothing oil on the sheep. This "oil" speaks to us of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The Mastery of the Shepherd: "He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness...."
When He has restored us, He is not finished. He restores us that He might lead us and guide us into the right way once again. Sheep have poor eyesight. They cannot see more than fifteen yards ahead of them so they need to be led. The word "righteousness" is used here in a moral sense. The problem with so many of us is that we stop with restoration, we don't want to go on to righteousness. If we are only restored, we will be right back in the same condition. The wayward sheep who is back where he should be will be in trouble again if he does not immediately begin to follow the shepherd closer than ever. It is important therefore that the sheep stay very close to the shepherd.

The reason for restoration is that there might be a return to righteousness.

With such poor eyesight the sheep must stay close so they can observe the shepherd and listen so they can be obedient. See John 10:27.

The Majesty of the Shepherd: "for His name sake".
He leads us in paths of righteousness for our sake and for His name's sake. The Good Shepherd's name is judged by the behavior, condition and welfare of His sheep. God has connected His name and His glory with the walk and conduct of His people. Only if we walk in paths of righteousness can we uphold the reputation of the Good Shepherd.

Note: Respect - Restoration - Righteousness - Reputation

Conclusion: The Good Shepherd ministers to His sheep in such an excellent and majestic way that His sheep cannot help but give their love back to Him.  1John 4:19, "We love Him because He first loved us".

Psalm 23, Part 4

Text: Psalm 23:4, "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"  is A Testimony of Security.

There is a valley called The Valley of the Shadow of Death in Palestine. It is located beyond the hills of Bethlehem and toward the Dead Sea. A spring breaks forth at the foot of the Mt. of Olives 2700 feet above sea level, about 1/2 mile high, and starts a valley that through the centuries has cut deep into the earth. It goes all the way to the Dead Sea, 1300 feet below sea level. Today, it is called the "Wadi Kelt" on the maps. When we visit Jerusalem, we were able to travel on the narrow road that was cut through this valley. Believe me, it is forlorn and scary. One would not want to be there alone.

It is really a little Grand Canyon, 1500 feet deep in some places. In Bible times, the bear, the lion, the leper, the hyena, and robbers waited in the shadows and the caves to spring upon the flocks and the shepherd. It was a treacherous valley   - a dark valley of perpetual shadows and dangers.

It was a valley through which all shepherds had to lead their sheep. In the winter, they would pasture at Jericho. When the spring rains came in the Judean Desert, the hills would break forth with flowers and green grass. The shepherds would turn their flocks out of the lowlands into the mountains to the spring pastures, through this, the valley of the shadow of death. They named it "Shadow of Death" because the possibility of danger and death was always present when they entered   it.

This valley could just as well be named the "Valley of Worry and Fear." The uncertainty of what they might encounter could very well produce both in the hearts and minds of those who entered.

David did not worry about nor fear this valley as he entered it. He knew who his Shepherd was and he knew what He was able to do. For David, it was a walk in the park. He knew he wasn't walking alone. "...I will fear no evil for Thou art with me: Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me."

What About the Valley Experience? Each one of us at some point in our Christian walk will encounter a valley to pass through that will try to produce worry and fear in us. What will be a comfort to us when this happens? The answer is the promises of God and the Holy Spirit. They become His presence - His rod and His staff that will be a comfort to us when this happens.

1.  Does your valley cause you to be worried, anxious, afraid, or troubled?
     God will give you peace. "Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God: trust also in Me...Peace I leave with you, My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14: 1,17).

2. Does your valley cause you to be worried about the future?
    God will guide you. "I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you" (Psalm 32:8).
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5).

3.  Does your valley cause you to be afraid of feeling alone?
     God will never leave you.
"Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you:" (Deut. 31:6).
"I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you:" (John 14:18).

4.  Does your valley cause you to be depressed?
    God will comfort you.
"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18).

5.  Does your valley cause you to worry because you face opposition?
God is with you.
"If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31).

6. Does your valley cause you to worry about your safety?
God will protect you.
"The Lord will keep you from all harm; He will watch over your life; The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore" (Psalm 121: 7-8).

7. Does your valley worry you so much you can't sleep?
God will ease your fears.
" When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when  you lie down,  your sleep will be sweet" (Proverbs 3:24).

Psalm 23, Part 5

Text: Psalm 23:5, "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies. Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over,"  A Testimony of Safety.

With this verse the image of the Psalm suddenly changes. We are no longer in the field but in a palace. The Lord is now the gracious host. He prepares a table. He anoints the head, and He pours a cup. Our perception of God will determine our personal relationship with Him. God wants us to know that He has welcomed us and that He loves us. In this verse we see three marks of God's great love and hospitality.

1.  The Preparation of The Table - How important and special we are to Him. He prepares the table.
2. The Anointing of The Head - A wealthy home would have had an expensive vessel of perfumed oil by the door. It would be used for special occasions when distinctive company came to visit. If a wonderful friend from far away, or a loved one dear to ones heart would pay a visit, they would be greeted at the door, hands The host would  dip his hands into that precious ointment and the head of the incoming guest anointed. This act meant that they were very special. This is truth: you are special to God!
3.  The Overflowing Cup - In Bible times, there were no motels and restaurants. It was the custom if a traveler stopped at ones house, they were to be given entrance and a meal prepared for them. However, no other obligation was expected from the host. Only a meal and then the traveler could be sent on his way. If the person dining with you were quite interesting, or you really wanted him to stay, you would tell him in so many words. You would fill his glass to overflowing. When he saw it he would look up and smile and thank you for the invitation. However, if you wanted him to leave, you would fill his glass half full. That meant that after dessert - hit the road traveler! The host in verse five is a picture of Jesus and of the blessings we receive from Him.

The Fullness We Have in Jesus: "Thou preparest a table..." Full sheep are happy sheep, but the sheep must have a table land prepared for them because of their enemies. The shepherd would go ahead from time to time to seek out and prepare safe feeding places. Think of the times when the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus prepared the table. Read Psalms 78: 19-22 and note the four different tables.
1.  A table of Replenishment.
2. A table of Restoration
3. A table of Remembrance
4. A table of Rejoicing

The Freshness We Have in Jesus: "He anoints my head with oil.." David remembered how he would anoint the heads of his sheep.The oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit. 2 Corinthians1:21-22, "Now He which stablisheth you in Christ, and hath anointed us is God; who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts." Thank God for the freshness of that anointing. See Psalms 92:10 and Psalms 45:7.

The Freeness We Have in Jesus: "My cup runneth over." Our God is the God of more than enough. John 10:10, "...I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."

Psalm 23, Part 6

Text: Psalms 23:6, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever," A Testimony of Surety. 

Satan has no old happy people. We need to learn this principle: Satan gives his best first and his worst last, but Jesus gives the best first and even then it gets better. Everyone of us could write two volumes. One on the goodness of God and on on the mercy of God. We could write about the goodness of God which has met our failures. His goodness is His provision for the good times and His mercy is His provision for the bad times. Goodness takes care of my steps and mercy takes care of my stumbles. Yet, all of our days must come to a close - "all the days of my life." Yet, when our days are over we can still say, "The best is yet to come! To die is gain. We will dwell in the House of the Lord."

The Certainty of It - "Surely.....I will." Jesus reinforced the certainty that David spoke of in John 14:1-3, "Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." Heaven is a real place. It is not just a state of mind or condition. Jesus said, "I go to prepare a place." Where is heaven? The Bible says that heaven is up. Yet, up seems to be a different place around the globe. But there is one place that is always up no matter where you are on the face of this globe. North is always up. See Isaiah 14: 13-14, Psalms 75: 6-7.

The saved go to this place immediately upon death. There is no soul sleep. See 2 Cor. 5: 6-8. We read in Acts 7:56 that Stephen saw the Lord and asked Jesus to receive his spirit. The kind of place to which we go is a place where there is no sin, sorrow, suffering death or disease or doubts. See Rev. 21:4. The presence of all that is good and the absence of all that is evil will be the Christian's final abode. It will be all the loving heart of God can conceive and the omnipotent hand of God can prepare. It will be a place of meaningful service. See Rev. 7:15.

The Company of It  - "The house of the Lord." Jesus said that heaven is a place of many mansions or dwelling places. Think of all the saints who will be there. Mark Twain was reported to have said, "I will take heaven for climate and hell for society." How wrong he was.

Will we know our loved ones in heaven? Remember the story of David's little boy? See 2Samuel12:8-23. The disciples recognized Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration. They had never previously met either of them. Our fellowship will surpass anything we have ever known on earth. All around will be that shining cloud of witnesses - the redeemed of all the centuries serving the same Savior. There will be such a crowd there and so much to do that eternity will seem too short to fellowship with all of them. Most of all, Jesus Himself will be there. After all, it is His house, the "House of the Lord." 

The Consistency of It - "forever." Sheep are continually moving. They never settle down and stay in one place very long. The word "dwell" means to settle down and be at home. The "House of the Lord" is a state of constant joy; no more sorrow, no more separation. It will be for eternity   - a long time. We'll be "dwelling in the house of the Lord." What a happy ending!

Conclusion: Can you testify, "The Lord is my Shepherd?"

A pilgrim was I and a-wandering
In the cold night of sin I did roam.
When Jesus the kind Shepherd found me
And now I am on my way home.

He restoreth my soul when I'm weary.
He giveth me strength day by day.
He leads me beside the still waters,
He guard me each step of the way.

When I walk through the dark lonesome valley;
My Savior will walk with me there.
And safely His great hand will lead me
To the mansions He's gone to prepare.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days - all the days of my life.
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever,
And I shall feast at the table spread for me.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days, all the days of my life.
                                                  (John W. Peterson   - Alfred B. Smith)


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