Many people today can quote Psalm 23 verbatim, having learned it as a child in Sunday School, or perhaps Vacation Bible School, or maybe even from their parents. But how many of us truly understand the deeper, spiritual truths contained in this Psalm? The following study is aimed at giving us a bit more of an in-depth look at this beautiful Psalm and its practical application in our lives. During our study, it is important to remember that the truth contained in this Psalm—which indeed is the very Person of Jesus Christ (John 14:6)—is the “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
Psalm 23, verse 1
23:1: “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
The first thing to point out is that the word for “LORD” in Hebrew is יְהוָה (YHWH), which for the Jews was so holy that they would not even pronounce the name according to its consonants and vowels, but rather pronounced the name “adonai” instead. The word “adonai” comes from the Hebrew word אֲדֹנָי (’adonai), which comes from the word אָדוֹן (’adôn). It means “lord or master,” referring to a human “lord or master.” Thus, whenever the Jews would come to the word יְהוָה (YHWH), they would pronounce it as אֲדֹנָי (’adonai), which may be translated as either “my lord,” or “oh lord” (e.g., Genesis 18:3).
YHWH the Shepherd
David, a shepherd himself, then recognizes that יְהוָה (YHWH) is his own “shepherd,” meaning that He will supply all of David’s needs. We see this reiterated in Philippians 4:19 by Paul: “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” The question before us, therefore, is not whether God will or will not provide for us, but rather will we as His children continue to believe He will?
For example, after we have previously experienced His provision and then encounter difficult financial times in which fear grips us, attempting to motivate us to take matters in our own hands because, according to the thoughts coming into our minds, “God helped in the past, but He cannot do it now,” will we continue to trust and obey Him?
The most repetitive commandment in the Bible is “Do not fear,” and its corollaries—don’t worry, don’t be dismayed, etc. —and the second most repetitive command is “Trust in the Lord,” and its corollaries as well. Thus, when David writes, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want,” he does not write this from a place of ease and plenty, but rather from a point where he cannot see the metaphorical “hand in front of his face” or how his personal needs of sustenance are being provided. Indeed, this is the test for all of us in our walk of faith. Do we succumb to fear and take matters into our own hands, or do we make a choice to be committed to the death in believing and trusting God, doing things the way He directs us? Are we motivated by fear and reacting out of disbelief? Or do we trust in God who keeps us safe? That is the question, and it is one we are all brought to repeatedly. GOD IS ALWAYS FAITHFUL, EVEN IN THE MIDST OF OUR FEARS AND PRESSURES!
The Shepherd’s Perfect Provision
In relation to this, the Hebrew word for “want” is אֶחְסָֽר (’eḥsar), which literally means, “I will want,” but with the Hebrew word for “no,” לא (lo’), in front of it, it is translated “not I shall want.” The root verb for “want” is חָסֵר (ḥaser), which means “to have need, be lacking, and to fail.” Thus for David, even in the midst of his greatest needs, as he looked to the Lord, the Lord provided for him exactly what he needed exactly when he needed it. This too is reiterated by Jesus in Matthew 6:25-33:
For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? 26 “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 “And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span? 28 “And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. 30 “But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith? 31 “Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ 32 “For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:25-33)
Thus, the struggle for us, as was with David and all other believers at any time in history, is not the fact that God will provide all of our needs, but rather our coming to the point of believing and trusting Him to do so. What we often find ourselves confronted with is the fear that God won’t, and then, motivated by that fear of disbelief, we begin to strive in our own carnal strength out of the fear of disbelief to meet our own needs because we do not believe that He will as He said He would. That is the continuing struggle and battle that we face as believers in Jesus.
What must occur is the end of trusting in ourselves (motivated by the fear that God will not and cannot do as He says He will do) before we can truly rest in His promise of provision as we genuinely “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.” When that occurs, then He will indeed meet our needs, which may include work and the income we need for our needs and that of our families.