“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” So begins the beloved “Twenty Third Psalm.” This Psalm is just one of many written by David. And although each one of the 150 Psalms in the Psalmody is beautiful and meaningful in its own way, the 23rd Psalm stands apart from them all if only because it is the most well-known and most well-beloved of them all, to the point that many people are even able to recite this one from memory, and in the King James Version at that.
And so, as we embark on our Lenten journey with the 23rd Psalm in hand, we set out on familiar ground with an old friend, which also defines the challenge before us. What else can be said that has not already been said about the 23rd Psalm? So, our goal here is not so much to learn something new, but rather, to be reminded of what we already know, “the Lord is my shepherd,” and therefore, “I shall not want.”
As we set out on this journey, we are reminded that as far removed from our own experience the world of shepherding and sheep may be, the 23rd Psalm was written by a real shepherd who knew something about real sheep and what it means to be a real shepherd.
He knows the demands that are required of shepherds who are entrusted with the care of the sheep in their flock. And he knows that there are ‘good shepherds’ and ‘bad shepherds,’ the difference between the two, and most importantly, what it means to the sheep to live in the flock that is cared for by a ‘good shepherd.’
One more point that might be beneficial as we begin is to point to the literary approach that David uses throughout this Psalm. Rather than writing this Psalm from the perspective of the shepherd, ‘let me tell you sheep what I expect from you and what it means to be ‘good sheep,’ David speaks as one of the sheep of the flock of a ‘good shepherd. This talking sheep begins by telling how good it is to be a sheep of a ‘good shepherd.’
“I shall not want.” Which is to say…
“He makes me to lie down in green pastures.”
“He leads me beside still waters.”
“He restores my soul.”
The question is, ‘to whom is this sheep speaking?’ To whom is it ‘confessing’? And the answer is, he is speaking to all the other sheep in the flock who might take such a blessed life for granted. And he is speaking to himself, both reminding himself of the blessed life he has and rejoicing in it.
But then the same sheep turns to its shepherd and says basically the same thing to the ‘good shepherd’ himself.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
“You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
So now that we have staked out the path that this Lenten journey will follow, let’s set out on it. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Continue reading