JUNE 13 – HIS ETERNAL PURPOSE

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

—Psalm 23:1-2

God’s sovereignty means that if there’s anybody in this wide world of sinful men that should be restful and peaceful in an hour like this, it should be Christians. We should not be under the burden of apprehension and worry because we are the children of a God who is always free to do as He pleases. There is not one rope or chain or hindrance upon Him, because He is absolutely sovereign.

God is free to carry out His eternal purposes to their conclusions. I have believed this since I first became a Christian. I had good teachers who taught me this and I have believed it with increasing joy ever since. God does not play by ear, or doodle, or follow whatever happens to come into His mind or let one idea suggest another. God works according to the plans which He purposed in Christ Jesus before Adam walked in the garden, before the sun, moon and stars were made. God, who has lived all our tomorrows and carries time in His bosom, is carrying out His eternal purposes. AOGII145

Forgive me for my worry, Father. I know I can be at peace when I have such a calm Shepherd, a sovereign God working out His eternal purpose in my life. Amen. [1]


23:1 Despite its worldwide popularity, the Psalm is not for everyone. It is applicable only to those who are entitled to say, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” It is true that the Good Shepherd died for all, but only those who actually receive Him by a definite act of faith are His sheep. His saving work is sufficient for all, but it is effective only for those who actually believe on Him. Everything therefore hinges on the personal pronoun my. Unless He is my Shepherd, then the rest of the Psalm does not belong to me. On the other hand, if He is really mine and I am really His, then I have everything in Him!

23:2 I shall not lack food for my soul or body because He makes me to lie down in green pastures.

I shall not lack refreshment either because He leads me beside the still waters.[2]


The Lord Is My Shepherd (23:1–4)

1 The first word of the psalm, “The Lord” (Yahweh), evokes rich images of the provision and protection of the covenantal God. He promised to take care of his people and revealed himself to be full of love, compassion, patience, fidelity, and forgiveness (Ex 34:6–7). The psalmist exclaims, “Yahweh is my shepherd,” with emphasis on “my.” The temptation in ancient Israel was to speak only about “our” God (cf. Dt 6:4) in forgetfulness that the God of Israel is also the God of individuals. The contribution of this psalm lies, therefore, in the personal, subjective expression of ancient piety. For this reason, Psalm 23 is such a popular psalm. It permits individual believers to take its words on their lips and express in gratitude and confidence that all the demonstrations of God’s covenantal love can be claimed not only corporately by the group but also personally by each of its members.

The metaphor of the shepherd has a colorful history, as it was applied to kings and gods. King Hammurabi called himself “shepherd” (ANET, 164b). The Babylonian god of justice, Shamash, is also called “shepherd”—“Shepherd of the lower world, guardian of the upper” (ANET, 388). The metaphor is not only a designation or name of the Lord, but it also points toward the relationship between God and his covenantal children (cf. 74:1–4; 77:20; 78:52, 70–72; 79:13; 80:1; Isa 40:11; Mic 7:14). The people of God were well acquainted with shepherds. David himself was a shepherd (1 Sa 16:11), as the hills around Bethlehem were suitable for shepherding (cf. Lk 2:8).

The psalmist moves quickly from “my shepherd” to a description: “I shall not be in want.” Dahood, 1:146, may stretch its meaning when he writes, “Implying neither in this life nor in the next”; but so do those commentators who find allusions to the Lord’s provisions, guidance, and protection of Israel in the wilderness (cf. A. A. Anderson, 1:196–97; Craigie, 206–7). The conclusion of the psalm (v. 6) gives at least some support to Dahood’s contention; however, the psalm should not be narrowly interpreted in terms of “the eternal bliss of Paradise” (Dahood, 1:145).

2–4 The image of “shepherd” aroused emotions of care, provision, and protection. A good shepherd was personally concerned with the welfare of his sheep. Because of this, the designation “my shepherd” is described by the result of God’s care—“I shall not be in want” (v. 1); by the acts of God—“he makes me lie down … he leads … he restores … he guides” (vv. 2–3); and by the resulting tranquillity—“I will fear no evil” (v. 4).

The shepherd’s care is symbolized by the “rod” and the “staff” (v. 4c). A shepherd carried a “rod” to club down wild animals (cf. 1 Sa 17:43; 2 Sa 23:21) and a “staff” to keep the sheep in control. The rod and staff represent God’s constant vigilance over his own and bring “comfort” because of his personal presence and involvement with his sheep.

Verses 1 and 4, taken as an inclusio, read:

The Lord is my shepherd.…

Your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

2 The nature of the care lies in God’s royal provision of all the necessities for his people (see Richard S. Tomback, “Psalm 23:2 Reconsidered,” JNSL 10 [1982]: 93–96, for the background in the ancient Near East). The “green pastures” are the rich and verdant pastures, where the sheep need not move from place to place to be satisfied (cf. Eze 34:14; Jn 10:9). These “green pastures” were a seasonal phenomenon. The fields—even parts of the desert—would turn green during the winter and spring; but in summer and fall the sheep would be led to many places in search of food. God’s care is not seasonal but constant and abundant. The sheep have time to rest, as the shepherd makes them “lie down.” The “quiet waters” are the wells and springs where the sheep can drink without being rushed (cf. Isa 32:18). The combination of “green pastures” and “quiet waters” portrays God’s refreshing care for his own.

3a As the good shepherd provides his sheep with rest, verdant pastures, and quiet waters, so the Lord takes care of his people in a most plentiful way. He thereby renews them so that they feel that life in the presence of God is good and worth living. He “restores,” i.e., gives the enjoyment of life, to his own (cf. 19:7; Pr 25:13). The word “soul” is not here the spiritual dimension of humankind but denotes the same as “me,” repeated twice in v. 2, i.e., “he restores me.”

3b–4 The nature of the shepherd’s care also lies in guidance (vv. 3b–4b). In v. 2, the psalmist spoke of God as leading (“he leads me”). He develops the shepherd’s role as a guide, only to conclude with another aspect of his shepherdly care—protection (v. 4c). He leads his own in “paths of righteousness.” These paths do not lead one to obtain righteousness. “Righteousness” (ṣedeq) here signifies in the most basic sense “right,” namely, the paths that bring the sheep most directly to their destination (in contrast to “crooked paths”; cf. 125:5; Pr 2:15; 5:6; 10:9). The shepherd’s paths are straight (cf. Aubrey R. Johnson, “Psalm 23 and the Household of Faith,” in Proclamation and Presence, ed. John I. Durham and J. R. Porter [Richmond, Va.: Knox, 1970], 258). He does not unnecessarily tire out his sheep. He knows what lies ahead. Even when the “right paths” bring the sheep “through the valley of the shadow of death” (v. 4), there is no need to fear.

The idiom “the shadow of death” has stirred discussion. Briggs, 1:211–12, spoke of the MT’s punctuation (ṣalmāwet, “shadow of death”) as “a rabbinical conceit” and preferred, instead of a compound phrase, one word (ṣalmût, “darkness”). D. Winton Thomas (“צַלְמָוֶת in the Old Testament,” JSS 7 [1962]: 191–200) has argued persuasively that the MT may be correct, with “death” being a superlative image for “very deep shadow” or “deep darkness.” This imagery is consistent with the shepherd metaphor because the shepherd leads the flock through ravines and wadis where the steep and narrow slopes keep out the light. The darkness of the wadis represents the uncertainty of life. The “straight paths” at times need to go through the wadis, but God is still present.

The shepherd who guides is always with the sheep. The presence and guidance of the Lord go together. He is bound by his name (“for his name’s sake,” v. 3b), “Yahweh,” to be present with his people. Underlying the etymology of “Yahweh” is the promise “I will be with you” (Ex 3:12). For the sake of his name, he keeps all the promises to his covenantal children (cf. 25:11; 31:3; 79:9; 106:8; 109:21; 143:11; Isa 48:9; Eze 20:44). He is loyal to his people, for his honor and reputation are at stake (see Reflections, p. 135, The Name of Yahweh).

The nature of the shepherd’s care lies further in the protection he gives (v. 4c). The “rod” and the “staff” symbolize Yahweh’s presence, protection, and guidance. They summarize his role as shepherd. The effects of his care are expressed in the first person—“I shall not be in want … I will fear no evil” (vv. 1, 4)—as an inclusionary motif together with “shepherd” and “rod/staff” (vv. 1, 4). Thus the psalmist rejoices that Yahweh is like a shepherd in his provision, guidance, and protection, so that the psalmist lacks nothing and fears not.[3]


23:1 The Lord is my shepherd. Cf. Ge 48:15; 49:24; Dt 32:6–12; Pss 28:9; 74:1; 77:20; 78:52; 79:13; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3; Is 40:11; Jer 23:3; Eze 34; Hos 4:16; Mic 5:4; 7:14; Zec 9:16 on the image of the Lord as a Shepherd. This imagery was used commonly in kingly applications and is frequently applied to Jesus in the NT (e.g., Jn 10; Heb 13:20; 1Pe 2:25; 5:4).

23:2, 3 Four characterizing activities of the Lord as Shepherd (i.e., emphasizing His grace and guidance) are followed by the ultimate basis for His goodness, i.e., “His name’s sake” (cf. Pss 25:11; 31:3; 106:8; Is 43:25; 48:9; Eze 36:22–32).[4]


23:1 shepherd. The deity-as-shepherd motif is common in the Bible (e.g., Gen. 48:15; 49:24; Ps. 28:9; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3; Rev. 7:17; cf. Ps. 49:14). The Lord is the Shepherd of the people as a whole, as well as individual members; and in this psalm the particular member is in view. want. That is, to lack what one needs.

23:1 Jesus is the good shepherd (John 10:11–18, 27–29) who embodies God’s care for his people.

23:2 Green pastures and still waters are peaceful places for rest and feeding.[5]


23:1 shepherd. The image of God as shepherd is inexhaustibly rich. The shepherd stays with the flock (Is. 40:11; 63:9–12). His sheep are totally dependent upon him for food, water, and protection from wild animals. The image of shepherd also evoked the image of king in the ancient world. David was tending sheep when he was anointed to be king. In the NT Jesus is revealed as the shepherd of His church (John 10:11, 14), fulfilling the prophecy that God will come to shepherd His people (Ezek. 34:7–16, 23).

23:2 green pastures. Where the sheep get necessary food.

still waters. Lit. “Waters of resting places” (text note), referring to the place where sheep get both the water and rest that they need.[6]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 580). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, pp. 252–254). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ps 23:1–2). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 966). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 854). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

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