The following is an exegesis of the 23rd Psalm. It’s not a formal exegesis and I won’t be referencing commentaries or doing extensive research on it, but I hope you will find it inspiring and helpful nonetheless. Inspiration and formatting came from a previous blog I wrote last year on the Lord’s Prayer. You can view that blog here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/exploring-the-lords-prayer-as-a-dangerous-prayer/
The Lord is My Shepherd – A Shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep. He practices sacrificial self-giving. His job is not glamorous, if anything it’s a thankless job, but He is really an unsung hero. He protects His flock from wild animals and other dangers. Likewise, He protects me from the dangers of this world. He protects me from my enemies, from the Evil One, and even from myself. He personally looks after me and watches over me.
I Lack Nothing – Our culture teaches us to never be content with what we have. It teaches us consumerism, the accumulation of wealth, and always getting more. With God, we don’t need anything other than what He has already given us. Everything is a gift. We are entitled to nothing. The Apostle Paul writes, “if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Timothy+6%3A8-10&version=NIV) . We have iPhones, laptops, fancy vacations, and multiple bank accounts and we still aren’t content. God has given us wonderful friends, opportunities, and jobs, and still we want new cars, more friends, and more prestige. We’ve become so accustomed to Jesus’s death that we can often forget what a truly astonishing sacrifice this was on His part. Jesus is enough, but often our hearts have a hard time believing it and our heads have a difficult time computing it.
He Makes Me Lie Down in Green Pastures – He encourages me to rest. He tells me when to take a break. I find safety in Him. I don’t have to be afraid of the wild beats when He’s around so that causes me to feel so secure when I am with Him that I can close my eyes and fall into a deep sleep. Forget about the pasture being greener on the other side – it is greener with Him.
He Leads Me Beside the Still Waters – I’m a woman of action. I like waterfalls and running water; but there’s also something refreshing about the water lapping at your ankles, the perfect temperature for wading in it, so clear that you can see the bottom. It embraces you, it sings you a lullaby.
He Restores My Soul – When was the last time your soul truly felt refreshed or restored? It’s easy for us to get caught up in our hearts being broken, wounded, and sore rather than healed and rejuvenated. Our culture is obsessed with self-care, but we so often ignore soul-care. How can we allow God to begin to take care of our innermost beings? How can we begin to cultivate soul-care? God restores our souls by letting us engage in the things we live. In the beauty of art, the gracefulness of poetry, and the liberty of music, but the catch is that we have to make time for those things in order for our soul to be re-balanced.
He Guides Me Along the Right Paths For His Name’s Sake – As humans, it is so easy for us to get caught up in what we want to do that we forget what God is calling us to do. The truth is, that when we walk with God and when we allow His desires to become our desires, we will always end up walking in the right path. The Scriptures tell us that whether we go to the right or to the left, we will hear a voice in our ear saying “this is the way, walk in it!” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+30:21). The problem is, that we hear that voice and then choose to ignore it. We begin to think that our ministries are all about us, when in reality they need to be all about Christ. Christ puts opportunities in front of us in order that we can serve others and show them His love, not so that they can serve us.
Even Though I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death – Being a Christian does not exempt us from difficulties, disaster, disease, and death. Being a Christian does not make us immune to suffering, sorrow, and cynicism. To the contrary, Christ Himself promised us a life of hardship if we truly choose to follow Him. He said it wasn’t going to be easy, we wouldn’t be cool, many people wouldn’t like us, and some of us…well… we might even face persecution. Jesus said, “if they hate you, keep in mind that they hated me first” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+15%3A18-27&version=KJV). This is a stern warning to us that if we possess the Spirit of Christ life will rarely be easy. Walking through the shadow of death is inevitable, but there is hope.
I Will Fear No Evil, For You Are With Me – There is hope because Christ is with us in the valley. While going through the difficult seasons in our lives will be unpleasant and upsetting, Christ promises to use it for good. We might not be able to see what that good is right now, and at the moment we might become frustrated, flustered, and faced with fear, but when we step back and allow the Holy Spirit to use it to benefit future generations, He will. Personally speaking, I can attest to a very clear time in my life when after a season of profound darkness and despair I began praying and giving the Holy Spirit full permission to use my struggles for a higher purpose. As I prayed and placed this possibility into the hands of the Father, the Holy Spirit acknowledged my prayer and then provided me with several opportunities I did not seek out on my own in which I could provide great comfort to others. Looking back, I can now see how even though at that time God may have seemed absent, that He was so present with me and that He was already determining exactly how to change this experience into something good.
Your Rod And Your Staff, They Comfort Me – The rod and the staff are symbols of both authority and tenderness. Knowing that God is there with us and that He is acting as the guardian of our souls can provide us with comfort. We know that we don’t have to be perfect in order to be lovingly embraced. We know we are completely safe and secure in the hands of God.
You Prepare a Table Before Me in the Presence of My Enemies – Even though it’s easy to get caught up in the injustices done to us, God promises us that He will always work things out for the good of those who love Him (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8%3A28&version=NIV).
You Anoint My Head With Oil – In Ancient times anointing one with oil was one way of signifying priesthood or even monarchy. (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Samuel+16%3A13&version=NIV). Later on in church history and in the New Testament we see examples of the anointing of oil as being part of healing rituals and special commissioning experiences. As Christians, we can rest securely in the promise of God as our healer and our provider. We can also be reminded that since Christ is King we are princes and princesses by virtue of being born into His family. What an honour and a privilege!
My Cup Overflows – Historically (and presently in some cultures) an overflowing cup signifies the desire of the host to have the guest stay. In many cultures around the world the tea cup will not go empty until it is time for the guest to leave, but for the host to pour so much tea into the cup that it spills over on to the mat or the table sends an even profounder message. It shows us God’s desire to spend time with us and His delight in us spending time with Him. Daily we need to seek the abundance of God for our own needs and to trust that He will show us great things if we only make an effort to learn from Him.
Surely Goodness and Mercy Will Follow Me All The Days of My Life – Many of us who live in affluent societies may be tempted to give precious things that belong to us (like our time, our families, and even our own souls) for the pursuit of money, wealth, fame, or what we perceive to be happiness. Yet, instead of joy, we end with debt, nagging worries, self-criticism and fear following us all the days of our lives. Imagine how much greater life would be if we could place all of our trust in the providence of God. If we can truly depend on Him and His timing and seek a life of service and of quiet prayer then goodness and mercy will naturally become parts of our lives.
And I Will Dwell In the House of the Lord Forever – The eternal reward of all believers is a life spent in union with Christ even after the departure of this life to the next. We can look forward to what heaven can bring to us and we can try to already work towards various ways to bring the Kingdom of God about here on this earth.
To read the 23rd Psalm: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+23&version=NIV.