Lessons From Psalm 23: The Lord Is My Shepherd

Psalm 23

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Psalm 23 is one of the most dearly loved, soul-comforting passages of Scripture. The inspiring text is often quoted at funeral services and memorial events. The passage begins with this familiar reassurance: "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want."

Psalm 23

(English Standard Version)
A Psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even 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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Verse by Verse Lessons From Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is a psalm of King David expressing confidence and trust in the Lord. At every turn, it reveals the close relationship David shares with his God. 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

David portrays God as a loving shepherd, a role the psalmist would have been deeply familiar with, as much of his boyhood was spent caring for his father’s sheep.

The imagery of God as a shepherd is common throughout the Old Testament. It emphasizes the Lord’s personal care, guidance, and protection of his people. We can rest assured in the hands of the Ruler of the Universe. With God as our shepherd, there is nothing we will ever lack. 

He makes me lie down in green pastures. 

Green pastures represent sustenance and plenty. God cared for the children of Israel with manna in the desert, and we can lie down and rest knowing God will provide abundant nourishment for us as well.

Green pastures also relate to the Word of God. When we spend time meditating on God's Word, we find rest and nourishment for our souls.

He leads me beside still waters.

Still or quiet waters, represent rest, refuge, safety, and security. We can trust our lives to the Lord’s safekeeping. 

He restores my soul.

At times sheep stray from their shepherd. But the loving shepherd will leave the fold to find even one lost sheep. Sometimes we stray from the Lord, too. We find ourselves in need of God's forgiveness and restoration, which he offers freely to those who repent and return to him. We can never stray so far that God's long arm of grace can't reach us.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

The Lord promises to lead us in paths of righteousness, in keeping with everything his name represents: holiness, love, faithfulness, wisdom, and more.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

David acknowledges the reality that life sometimes takes us to dark and desolate places. But the Lord walks with us through seasons of darkness and despair. Even in the bleakest, blackest times of life, we don’t have to fear harm because our God is with us. 

Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Shepherds use tools (rod and staff) to lead and guide their sheep. Here these tools represent God’s protection, care, and guidance, and not symbols of discipline as elsewhere in the Bible. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

In Psalm 23 David also portrays the Lord as a gracious host. In ancient times, hospitality involved more than merely providing a meal for guests. Hospitality included the responsibility of protection. As guests of the Lord, we can dine safely, even in the presence of our enemies.

You anoint my head with oil;

Another ancient custom of a host was to anoint the heads of guests with oil as they prepared to eat.

My cup overflows.

The overflowing cup symbolizes God’s open-hearted generosity. The Lord not only supplies our needs but blesses beyond the measure we can contain. 

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

God’s goodness and mercy are never-ending. We can count on his unfailing love every day for as long as we live. 

And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

The Lord’s covenant with us will last for all eternity. His gift to us is eternal life, and we will be with him forever.

Compare Psalm 23

Compare in several popular Bible translations:

Psalm 23

(King James version)
A Psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name'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
(New King James Version)
A Psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake.
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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs 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
(New International Version)
A Psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even 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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Psalm 23
(New Living Translation)
A Psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
He leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life,
And I will live in the house of the LORD forever.