Unfortunately, this Psalm has been easily trivialized. Today you can find the 23 Psalm for Students (the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not flunk) and the 23 Psalm for Computer Users (The Lord is my programmer, I shall not crash), to name just a few. The problem is that this Psalm is so familiar to most of us that we fail to appreciate it. We hear it but we don’t listen to it. We read it, but we don’t see it. We quote it but we don’t know its depths.
This is why we are going to spend the next several weeks looking at this Psalm. We want to get reacquainted with it and learn to appreciate its real message. As we will see, above all else Psalm 23 is an exquisite statement of faith and confidence in the goodness of God from the one of whom it is said in Scripture that he was a “man after Gods own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14; 16:7).
The superscript reads, “A Psalm of David.”It is important to note that the superscription may not be a part of the inspired text and it may have been added later, there is great debate about this. In addition, the Hebrew preposition lamed (of) can be translated to, for, of and several other ways. So this Psalm could be written to David or for David instead of being written by or of David. Nevertheless, there is almost universal consensus (among conservative scholarship) that this was indeed a Psalm of David (See Allen P. Ross’ explanation in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament Edition, pp. 782-783).
Assuming that this is indeed a Psalm of David, I want to spend the rest of this lesson giving some background on David that will help us to better appreciate this Psalm. After all, the first line of this Psalm says, “The LORD is my shepherd.” To understand David is to better understand Psalm 23.
By way of introduction I want to answer two questions. When did David compose this Psalm? What life experiences influenced David's writing of this Psalm?
Question #1 - When did David compose this Psalm?
Some think that David wrote Psalm 23 while he was a young man guarding his father’s flocks out on the Judean Hills, experiencing the life of a shepherd. Some think he wrote it while in exile from King Saul. Others think it was written during the rebellion of Absolom. Still others say he wrote it as an older, wiser king looking back over his life recalling God’s goodness and protection. No one knows for sure. Whatever time it was in David's life that he penned these beautiful words, there can be no doubt that he had been greatly influenced by his life experiences.
Question #2 - What life experiences influenced David's writing of this Psalm?
There are at least three life experiences that helped to shape his thoughts expressed in Psalm 23.
(1) His Early Responsibilities as a Shepherd
1 Samuel 16:11
And Samuel said to Jesse, "Are these all the children?" And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, and behold, he is tending the sheep." Then Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here."
We first meet David as a young man whose main responsibility it was to tend his father’s sheep (1 Sam. 17:15-30). This experience as a shepherd would be important to him as he would later become the shepherd / king over God’s people Israel (2 Samuel 5:2).
70 He also chose David His servant,And took him from the sheepfolds;71 From the care of the ewes with suckling lambs He brought him,To shepherd Jacob His people,And Israel His inheritance.72 So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart,And guided them with his skillful hands.
His experiences as a shepherd would give him confidence to go out and fight Goliath (1 Samuel 17:31-37). Commenting on the 1 Samuel 17:34-37 C. H. Spurgeon writes,
These were noteworthy facts [about the bear and the lion] which David had stored up in his memory, and he now mentions them, for they exactly answered his purpose. We ought not to be unmindful of the way by which the Lord our God has led us, for if we are we shall lose much. Some saints have very short memories. It has been well said that we write our benefits in dust and our injuries in marble, and it is equally true that we generally inscribe our afflictions upon brass, while the records of the deliverances of God are written in water. It ought not so to be. If our memories were more tenacious of the merciful visitations of our God, our faith would often be strengthened in times of trial. Now, what did David recollect, for I want you to remember the same. (The Treasury of the Bible, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI. 1968 Vol. 1 pp. 660)
Indeed, the Lord would from time to time, remind David of his shepherd past.
2 Samuel 7:88
"Now therefore, thus you shall say to My servant David, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts," I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be ruler over My people Israel.
(2) His Anointing as King
1 Samuel 16:12-13
12 So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with beautiful eyes and a handsome appearance. And the LORD said, "Arise, anoint him; for this is he." 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel arose and went to Ramah.An important event in his anointing is the presence of the Holy Spirit.
This presence of the Holy Spirit would become a key part of David’s life.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.11 Do not cast me away from Thy presence, and do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me.12 Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit.
David's annointing would sustain him through many treacherous and even disappointing times. It would also inspire him to pen some very comforting words, like those in the 23 Psalm.
(3) His Musical Abilities (1 Samuel 16:14-23)
Our text tells us he was a “skillful musician” (1 Sam. 16:18). It has been suggested that David authored 73 of the Psalms we have in our Bible. He was called the “sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Sam. 23:1). Obviously, music played an important role in his life!
Other experiences that may have shaped David’s thoughts include the following:
- His Encounter with Goliath – 1 Samuel 17:40-54
- His Experiences with King Saul – 1 Samuel 18-31
- His Life as a Fugitive – 1 Samuel 19-31
- The Consolidating of the Kingdom – 2 Samuel 1-10
- The Bathsheba Episode – 2 Samuel 11-12
- Trouble at Home – 2 Samuel 13-19
- His Final Years – 2 Samuel 20-24
“While people of all ages love and quote this Psalm, its message is for mature Christians who have fought battles and carried burdens” (“Be Worshipful” Psalms 1-89, pp. 94).
It is my hope and desire that as you follow along in this series you will gain the confidence to say,
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;He leads me beside quiet waters.3 He restores my soul;He guides me in the paths of righteousnessFor His name's sake.4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,I fear no evil; for Thou art with me;Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.5 Thou dost prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;Thou hast anointed my head with oil;My cup overflows.6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.