The Meaning of Psalm 23
What does Psalm 23 make you think of? Do you imagine green fields straight from a Windows screensaver? Is there a sparkling creek, maybe some happy trees like in a Bob Ross’ painting?
We want to take you on a journey through the desert lands of Judea. As we do so, we want to explore the meaning of Psalm 23 and how it relates to each one of us.
Raw Psalm 23
This particular psalm may be one of the most memorized passages of the Bible. In fact, it is probably right up there, with the outstanding John 3:16. Do the sentences below sound familiar?
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures,
Leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. (Psalm 23:1-3a)
Usually, our idea of green pastures is very picture perfect. The knee-high grass reaches as far as the eye can see. The pleasant temperatures and soft blue skies right above could make us fall right asleep.
But let’s pause for a minute and think of David and the land he called home. David spent his entire life in the land of Israel. When he was young, he was a shepherd in Judea. Later on, he became king, ruling from Hebron and Jerusalem. But before the nation put him on the throne, David spent many years hiding in the desert.
Rely on the Shepherd
David wrote Psalm 23 having a good understanding of the life of a shepherd. However, he wrote this song from a perspective of a sheep. The land of Judea is a great reminder of how desperate any sheep would be for a shepherd.
Dependent on a leader and a protector, sheep can feel pretty vulnerable without someone to rely on. David knew that, and he turned his eyes to God. Looking around this land we may ask ourselves the question: what pastures was David writing about?
Psalm 23 is a beautiful picture of who God is and who He wants to be for us. In Israel, it is easier to notice how much more depth and meaning there is to these comforting verses. We need God to guide us even simply to survive.
Psalm 23’s Pastures in the Desert
Think of a tuft of grass growing in the desert. At night, warm air from the Mediterranean Sea blows across the desert. And when that warm humid air hits the side of a hill or rock, a tuft of grass can pop up overnight.
Such a clump of grass is just enough for one mouthful, not more. Then, the sheep has to look to its Shepherd for more. Where’s the next mouthful? The shepherd patiently leads His sheep, caring that they have enough to sustain them.
I’m afraid that in the movie-like green pasture we would have no need for a shepherd. In a culture that is so focused on self-sufficiency, God is calling us to be dependent on Him. We can trust our Shepherd even in the desert to lead us to every mouthful.
A Psalm-like Trust
Have you ever had such confidence in someone that you wrote a Psalm about them? David depended on God with everything he needed to survive. He did not write about his status or other relationships. Because he knew God would lead him on the right paths.
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. (Psalm 23:3b-4)
The Hebrew word for ‘paths’ used in Psalm 23 is the same word used to describe someone walking in a circular way. I don’t know when the last time was you were in a rocky desert. But to walk down from a steep hill, you can’t just run straight down.
The shepherd leads the sheep down the mountain almost circling it around. Over the years, the sheep have worn these paths into the side of hills. This is what the Bible is referring to when it speaks of paths of righteousness. Psalm 23 says this is how the sheep walked safely down the mountain.
Following the Lead
We assume that the paths of righteousness must be very clearly marked. We would like for the right thing to be the obvious thing. But more often than not, there are a lot of different paths, options and choices, to choose from.
Maybe you are wondering today, what is the right step for you? That is exactly why we have a shepherd to lead us. He knows the right choice in every circumstance. Learn more about Psalm 23 from the video below: