Many of us will remember learning the 23rd Psalm as a child or young adult. It consists of six verses so it is quite easy to remember and many articles, or even books, have been written about it. There are even a number of hymns written using its words, some are sung in many different churches, and we even have two versions in our own Hymnal.
The theme of the Psalm is obviously about how a shepherd looks after his sheep, and from that point of view, is most inspiring and encouraging, especially as it applies to us. But it also lists many of the attributes of God in just five of its verses. All of these attributes are mentioned in other Scriptures so we can see consistency in God’s Word.
The very first thing we read in verse 1 is that “The LORD is my Shepherd.” This is not newly revealed in the Bible here but is first mentioned in Genesis 49:24. There we read, speaking of Joseph that “… the arms of his hands were made strong By the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel).” This attribute is continued through the Bible, and we read again of it in John 10:11: “I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
Continuing on in Psalm 23:1, “I shall not want.” In other words, God will provide. This attribute is first mentioned in Genesis 22:14 after God had provided a ram as a sacrifice in place of Isaac. “And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, ‘In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.’”
Considering Psalm 23:2, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.” This is a very peaceful situation. In fact, that is another attribute of God. In Judges 6:23-24 we read, “Then the LORD said to him, ‘Peace be with you; do not fear, you shall not die.’ So Gideon built an altar there to the LORD, and called it The-LORD-Is-Peace. To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.”
Following on in Psalm 23:3, it begins with, “He restores my soul…” This shows us that God is our healer. This is first mentioned in Exodus 15:26 where God said: “If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the LORD who heals you.”
The second part of Psalm 23:3 states, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.” This is mentioned in Jeremiah 23:6 where we read, “In His days [the days of the Branch of righteousness] Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell safely. Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
Going on to Psalm 23:4, we read, “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.” David acknowledged that the LORD was with him; that He was present. In Ezekiel 48:35, last part, we read: “…and the name of the city from that day shall be: THE LORD IS THERE.”
In Psalm 23:5, we find that, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” In Exodus 17:15, we read, “And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-LORD-Is-My-Banner.” This signifies that the LORD protects us from enemies—a banner being a symbol of authority and power, like a national flag.
In the second part of Psalm 23:5, we read: “You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.” In the last part of Exodus 31:13, we read that when you keep God’s Sabbath, “… you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you.” It was a practice for kings and others, e.g. Aaron or David, to be sanctified by anointing them with oil to show that they were appointed to their office.
But, of course, this is not the end of Psalm 23. It finishes up in verse 6 with, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.” The prophet Ezekiel echoes this in Ezekiel 37:25: “Then they [the children of Israel] shall dwell in the land I have given to Jacob My servant, where you fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever.”
When we read this very short Psalm, it shows us God’s loving attitude and concern, not just to David, but also toward us. It also shows us some of God’s attributes that we can rely upon. It finishes up with a promise of eternal life for David, and other Scriptures show that this promise also extends to us. So, this Psalm is very encouraging, well worth meditating on and singing praise to God.