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Deeper Commentary

Psa 23:1 A Psalm by David. Yahweh is my shepherd: I shall be in need of nothing- There is a repeated Biblical theme that the believer's relationship with the Father  is essentially mutual. David was a shepherd, but Yahweh was his shepherd (Ps. 23:1), and he was to shepherd Israel (2 Sam. 5:2 Heb.). It seems this Psalm was written when David was on the run from Absalom, having fled Jerusalem for his life, and now making his way along the banks of the river Kidron into the wilderness (2 Sam. 15:23), to be surprised by the feasts prepared for him in the desert (:5) by Ziba (2 Sam. 16:2) and Barzillai (2 Sam. 17:27-29). With no clear plan or course of action apart from to get away from Jerusalem, wandering in the desert... David felt all the same that God was his shepherd and was leading him. As having nothing, he had all things.

Psa 23:2 He makes me lie down in green meadows, He leads me beside still waters-
This is the language of sheep lying down and being led. As noted on :1, David had no clear plan when he suddenly had to flee Jerusalem. But he has a strong sense of being led. The still waters and green meadows may refer to how the Kidron brook began, but 2 Sam. 15:23 notes that David's path soon went from there into the desert. So maybe he is perceiving the wilderness as "green meadows" because God is leading him. Perhaps he had in view how God lead (s.w.) Israel through the desert, but with the waters of the stream from the rock going with them (Ex. 15:13). The restoration application is to God's promise to "lead" (s.w.) the exiles on the desert journey back to Zion (Is. 40:11; 49:10).

Psa 23:3 He restores my soul-
As God doesn’t faint or weary, so somehow those who identify their lives with His will also keep on keeping on- even now (Is. 40:31 cp. 29). David felt that his youth was renewed like the eagle's in his repeated experience of God's grace (Ps. 103:5), that his soul was restored (Ps. 23:3), and that a right spirit could be renewed by God within him (Ps. 51:10). This is the equivalent of the "newness of life" which is promised to us through acceptance of God's Spirit.

The great restoration prophecies of Jer. 23:1-8 and Ez. 34:1-31 speak of the flock of Israel going astray due to bad shepherds, being saved by the good shepherd, being delivered / gathered, and then returning to the land. The Hebrew word shub means both 'to return' in the sense of returning to the land, and 'turning' in the sense of repentance. But these restoration prophecies are packed with allusion to the great shepherd Psalm 23. Here, David says that the good shepherd 'causes me to repent' (Ps. 23:3 Heb.). This is matched in Ez. 36 by the idea of God giving Israel a new heart. And the Lord's amazing parable of the good shepherd (Lk. 15:1-7) brings together Ps. 23 and also these restoration passages, in speaking of how He goes out and finds the lost sheep and brings it back home (Kenneth Bailey brings together all the many points of similarity between Ps. 23, Jer. 23:1-8, Ez. 34:1-31 and the parable of the lost sheep (Lk. 15:1-7) in his book Jacob And The Prodigal (Downers Grove: IVP, 2003) p. 70). The sheep is found, and accepts being found- there is no actual mention of repentance. Thus the 'return' of Judah to their land was intended as a work of God- He would make them return, He would give them repentance [note how Acts 11:18 speaks of God granting men repentance]. This is all such wonderful grace. The even more incredible thing, though, is that Judah refused to accept this grace; they didn't 'return' to the land because they saw no need to 'return' to God. They willingly forgot that they were only in Babylon because of their sins; to 'return' to the land was a 'return' to God, which He had enabled. But they were like the lost sheep refusing to sit on the shepherd's shoulders, preferring to sit in a hole and die... and this is the warning to us. For truly, absolutely all things have been prepared for us to enter the Kingdom. It's only those who don't want to be there who won't be.

He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake- Here is yet another evidence that there can be a higher hand in the achievement of human spirituality. This guidance is part of God's sovereign ability to act "for His Name's sake"; if a man wants to be righteous, he will be confirmed in that path. 

Psa 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death-
The immediate context was David fleeing Jerusalem at the time of Absalom's rebellion. He passed through a valley from the top of which Shimei, one of Absalom's supporters, threw rocks at him and cursed him (2 Sam. 16:13). There was naturally the fear of an ambush, for David's location was thereby clearly known to his enemies.

I will fear no evil, for You are with me- This was the fear of ambush just described. David's sense that 'God is with me' is that of 'Emmanuel', God with us, the great comfort to the exiles in Isaiah's restoration prophecies. He felt the essence of the result of the yet future work of the Lord Jesus.

Your rod and staff, they comfort me- This returns to the idea of David being God's sheep in :1. He believed he was suffering God's rod of correction, the consequences of his sin with Bathsheba; and yet at the same time, God's staff of protection against his enemies. "Comfort" is the word used for repentance or change of mind. Although he had repented for the sin with Bathsheba, his experience of the ongoing consequences led him to further repentance. And likewise in our experience, repentance tends to be a process, moving to ever deeper levels and further dimensions over time.

Psa 23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies-
I noted on :4 that David's flight from Jerusalem was not in secret; Shimei and other "enemies" were aware of his path. The reference is to the feasts prepared for him in the desert by Ziba (2 Sam. 16:2) and Barzillai (2 Sam. 17:27-29). But the phrase "prepare a table" is that used of the preparation of the table of shewbread (Ex. 40:4), and it is used in a religious sense in Is. 65:11; Ez. 23:41. Perhaps David held some kind of religious ceremony whilst on the run, the equivalent to our breaking of bread meeting. And his experience of the Lord's table strengthened him with great encouragement, as we also can experience.

You anoint my head with oil- David recalls how Samuel had anointed him as a teenager. He was the anointed king of Israel. And he had learnt from Saul's demise that this could only be undone by God and not by man.

My cup runs over- With everything against him, fleeing from his own son Absalom who had garnered mass support, with no clear plan as to where to go or how now to act, David felt he had blessing above blessing- because he had experienced God's grace.


Psa 23:6 Surely goodness and grace shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in Yahweh’s house forever
- see on Gen. 28:20,21. As explained on :5, despite being at the nadir of his life at the time of Absalom's rebellion, David felt he was so blessed with God's grace and kindness. The fact God had saved him from execution after the Bathsheba incident... was felt by David to be such an experience of saving grace, that nothing else mattered. Although now heading away from the sanctuary in Zion, he was certain that finally he would dwell in Yahweh's sanctuary eternally. Perhaps he is displaying faith that he would ultimately return to Zion; but more likely he has in view his eternal future in the Kingdom yet to come.