The 23rd Psalm is extremely an extremely familiar passage of scripture to most Christians. For those who have been raised in the church, it is often one of the first longer passages memorized by children and, as such, much has been written on it. For all of that, it is not always looked at in-depth, certainly not outside of an academic setting, and there is a lot there to look at.
It is, for one thing, one of the later psalms written by King David, many years after he himself was a herder of sheep.
The first portion of the psalm is through the voice of a sheep, that is, picturing the psalmist as a sheep, one who follows and depends upon his shepherd, in this case, the Lord, for shelter, protection, and even nourishment. The idea is that the follower of God, the sheep, in this word picture, is never abandoned by God who is the shepherd.
This psalm is one of comfort and life.
The Lord is the one who leads us along the right pathways and keeps us safe, protecting us from evil and taking us to places where we can rest and be refreshed. This can be thought of like an oasis. Even in today’s world, where too many of us, the idea of sheep and a shepherd is somewhat distant, we can understand the feeling of comfort received
from knowing that we are cared for protected and sheltered completely. This is one of the reasons this Psalm is so well known. In our times of hardship and grief it gives us comfort, while at the same time during our times of peace and happiness in life, it gives us the assurance that we are loved and cared for by our shepherd, who is God.
Psalm 23 is a song of praise, a prayer of healing and part of the songbook of songs to be used for worship.
The healing alluded to can be individual, that is the healing of our spirits and minds from heartbreak and trouble, or corporate. It is probable that part of the allusion in this poem is of Israel as a nation being cared for during the sojourn from Egypt to their new homeland in Israel. It also has the feeling of immediacy, that the hardship the psalmist was enduring was something he was experiencing when it was written and that it would soon be over. Psalm 23 is, in fact, a specialized type of psalm, called a Todah psalm, yet it has a feeling of contemplation to it that is not present in many Todah psalms.
There is also in this psalm a great feeling of joy and of resolution in the knowledge that those who belong to the Shepherd, that is the Lord have nothing to fear because He always cares for His own and, when He calls, they will return to Him and that if they, or to personalize it more, we, lose our way, He will call us to Him and then, He will tend our wounds and heal our hurts.
What a wonderful reminder this psalm is, of the care God has for His people.