1 The Lord is my shepherd.
I lack nothing.
2 He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
he leads me to restful waters;
3 he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
for the sake of his good name.
4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
they protect me.
5 You set a table for me
right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
my cup is so full it spills over!
6 Yes, goodness and faithful love
will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the Lord’s house
as long as I live.
Perhaps Psalm 23 is the most quoted and beloved psalm of all. Even with many different translations, whenever I hear this psalm, I cannot help but think of reciting the King James Version, particularly that part of verse 4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil….”
For some of us, hearing this psalm may be associated with dramatic scenes or scary movie images. But listening to the 23rd Psalm, I hear a mature voice that has recovered from the anger expressed in Psalm 22, which says, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (That’s the verse that Jesus quotes while on the cross, Matthew 27:46.)
We don’t really know if King David actually wrote this psalm, but it also reminds me of his story. David was a young sheep herder when he was named king. He was a righteous man, who although he found favor with our Lord, took some wrong steps too. David remains both a tragic and heroic figure throughout the Old Testament. Even though the Lord is with us, as flawed human beings, we can relate to David’s poor choices. In Psalm 23, we hear an expression of grace that seems to lament the psalmist’s previous anger against God in chapter 22. Here the psalmist’s poetry reminds us of God’s unending love and grace, despite our failings.
Mostly I hear strength and hope in Psalm 23. Sometimes I recite this psalm several times over for encouragement. Other times, it reveals the phrase I complete for my own strength in knowing God. The Lord is my shepherd, so I can rest knowing that I do not lack for anything. The Lord is my shepherd, who leads me to calm places. The Lord is my shepherd, so that even in my darkest days, God is still with me. Even when I screw up, make poor choices or try to go on alone, the Good Shepherd remains, despite my failings. It is this hope that David clings to. The 23rd Psalm is pure poetry and a love story of the ultimate and unending love that God has for us, yesterday, today and always.
By Barbara Carlson
For Pondering & Prayer
Even if you have committed Psalm 23 to memory, I urge you to read different versions for your contemplation. What images come to mind? How do you complete the phrase for yourself, The Lord is my shepherd….? For a simple prayer, repeat the psalm slowly, thinking about each line along the way.