The Shepherd’s Psalm

Discovery for Students

The Shepherd’s Psalm

OVERVIEW
DAYBREAK

SOURCE FOR QUESTIONS
Psalm 23:1-6

KEY VERSE FOR MEMORIZATION
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1)

BACKGROUND

Psalm 23, frequently referred to as “The Shepherd Psalm,” is one of the most well-known passages in all of Scripture. Bible scholars and believers through the ages have acclaimed its inspiration, literary beauty, and depth of spiritual insight, viewing it as unexcelled in religious literature. Authored by David, this psalm evidences both the psalmist’s early vocation as a shepherd and his close personal relationship with God.

There is no indicator of exactly when in David’s life the psalm was composed. Christian writer F. B. Meyer wrote, “There is no question as to who wrote it — David’s autograph is on every verse. But when and where did it first utter itself upon the ear of man? Was it sung first amid the hills of Bethlehem, as the sheep were grazing over the wolds, dotting them like chalk-stones? Or was it poured first upon the ear of the moody king, whose furrowed brow made so great a contrast to the fresh and lovely face of the shepherd lad, who was ‘of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to?’ It may have been. But there is a strength, a maturity, a depth which are not wholly compatible with tender youth, and seem rather to betoken the touch of the man who has learned good by knowing evil, and who, amid the many varied experiences of human life, has fully tested the shepherd graces of the Lord of whom he sings.”(1)

One outstanding feature of this psalm is the skillful use of contrasted imagery. David’s words describe both pastoral peace and passage through peril, the potential of evil and the prospect of good. Through these six verses, the concept of the complete supply of every need is developed. The psalmist concludes his beautiful meditation with the thought that after a lifetime filled with goodness and mercy, he will dwell forever in the presence of God.

Three thousand years have passed since the sweet singer of Israel first sang this psalm about the shepherd care of God. However, it is still traditionally sung by Jews in Hebrew at their Sabbath meal on Saturday afternoon.

QUESTIONS

  1. The first words of this beautiful psalm are “The Lord is my shepherd.” The word translated “Lord” in this passage refers to the self-existent nature of God, the great I AM who is unchangeable and all-powerful. How do you think this understanding of God’s nature enabled the psalmist to state the remainder of that verse, “I shall not want” (suffer deprivation), with such profound assurance?
  2. In verse 2, David said that his Shepherd “maketh me to lie down in green pastures” and “leadeth me beside the still waters.” Personalize this portion of the psalm, and write a brief description of how the Good Shepherd accomplishes this in your life.
  3. The psalmist went on to assert, “He restoreth my soul” (verse 3). One meaning of the word translated restore is “to refresh.” We are well acquainted with the need for regular restoration and refreshment of our physical bodies. In this verse, however, David said that his soul was restored — a statement that points to spiritual restoration and refreshment. How does God provide for that need in our lives?
  4. In the second part of verse 3, the psalmist stated, “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Two individuals are mentioned in this verse: “He” and “me.” The role of the Shepherd is stated — He leads. What action is required of us, as sheep of the Good Shepherd? What steps can we take to make sure we do our part successfully?
  5. Verse 4 is probably one of the most familiar in all of Scripture. Why was the psalmist able to face the prospect of walking through the valley of the shadow of death with such assurance?
  6. In David’s day, the shepherd’s rod and staff referred to in verse 4 served multiple functions. It could be used to defend the sheep from predators, guide the flock by gentle nudges, extricate wandering animals from peril, or correct a wayward sheep. Given those uses, why do you think the psalmist referred to the rod as a source of “comfort”?
  7. In verse 5, the setting of this psalm transitions from the pasture to the home, and from the Shepherd to the Divine Host who presides at a feast where David is an honored guest. (Anointing a guest with oil was done at banquets in David’s day as a mark of hospitality and honor.) This verse contains the psalm’s only reference to the enemies who arrayed themselves against David at various times in his life. The psalmist seems to be saying, “I am not only Jehovah’s sheep, but also His beloved companion and guest, and that fact is apparent even to my opponents.” Based on this word picture, what conclusion can we draw about what our attitude should be toward those who oppose us?
  8. David closed his beautiful psalm by stating that his cup was running over — an expressive metaphor describing God’s fullness and blessing — and then declaring that the goodness and mercy of God would follow him “all the days of my life.” The word all in that phrase is fully encompassing. Consider what you know of events in David’s life. What were some of the types of “days” he experienced? What does this teach us about God’s presence in our daily lives?

CONCLUSION

When considering how simply Psalm 23 shows God’s care, protection, and love for us, it is no mystery that it is one of the most frequently recited, referenced, and memorized groups of verses in all of Scripture.

1. F.B. Meyer, The Shepherd Psalm, Kindle Edition pgs.77-78