By Henry Mahan
Many have tried to determine when David wrote this Psalm.
Was it when he was a shepherd? or when he fled from Saul? or when he was peacefully settled on Israel's throne? or when he was in the sunset years and contemplated the eternal house of the Lord? No one knows; but in the Scriptures it follows the 22nd Psalm, which is 'The Psalm of the cross.' It is only after we have read and understood, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' that we can truthfully say, 'The Lord is my shepherd.' The Lord must purchase the sheep of whom he is the shepherd (John 10:14-18).
v. 1. 'The Lord (Jesus Christ) is my shepherd.' He is the Lord of lords and King of kings. His Lordship is based on his ownership (John 3:35; Col. 1: 16-18). He is Lord by divine decree (Psalm 2:6; Heb. 1:2; Phil. 2:9-11). He is Lord by death (Rom. 14:9). He is my Lord now by faith (Rom. 10:9-10).
'The Lord (Jesus Christ) is my shepherd.' He is (no if, maybe, or perhaps about it) MY shepherd. He owns me, for the Father gave me to him from all eternity (John. 6:37-39). He loves me and bought me by his blood (1 Cor. 6:20). He is the great shepherd of the sheep (Heb. 13:20). He is the chief shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). He is the good shepherd (John 10:11). 'I shall not want.' I may be the weakest of the sheep, but I shall not want! I may be the dumbest, I may wander and stray, I may grow old and feeble; but I shall not want! I may not have all that I wish, but I shall not want! I may endure sickness and sorrow, walk the valley of death, and stand before God's awful throne; but I shall not want, for the Lord is my shepherd! I shall not want for any good thing, for he is able to save (Heb. 7:25).
He is able to keep that which I have committed to him (2 Tim. 1:12). He is able to present me faultless before the throne (Jude 24-25), and he is able to raise my vile body in that day (Phil. 3:20-21).
v. 2. I shall not want for rest, for 'he maketh me to lie down in green pastures.' I have no reason to be fearful nor afraid of my enemies, of the curse of the law, nor of death and judgment. I need not stand ready to flee, but can lie down in the green pastures of his word and rest (Matt. 11:28-29).
I shall not want for peace, for 'He leadeth me beside the still waters.' Our lives are made up of two parts--thoughts and deeds, or meditation and activity. Blessed is the person who can say in both areas, 'The Lord is my shepherd.' I rest in my mind and soul, fed by his word and assured by his promises; and I walk beside calm waters. Trials of life are pictured as deep water, troubled waters, and waves of the sea; but my shepherd has calmed the troubled sea, and even trials are for my good (Rom. 8:28).
v. 3. I shall not want for redemption and forgiveness, for 'He restoreth my soul.' He restored it to life, for in Adam I died (1 Cor. 15:21-22). He restored it to purity (Rom. 5:19). He restored it to God (2 Cor. 5:19). He restored my soul and body to power and glory to reign with him (1 Cor. 15: 51-57)
'He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.' It is not my nature to know the path of righteousness, nor to FIND it, nor to recognize it, nor to walk therein. But he leads me there, for it is his path. He made me righteous before God and leads me in that path both to love it and to walk in it (Rom. 3:21-26; Rom. 10:1-4). He leads me in paths of righteousness for 'his name's sake;' that is, for his glory and the praise of his grace (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). I shall not want for holiness.
v. 4. I shall not want for companionship nor comfort, for 'Thou art with me,' and, 'thy rod and staff they comfort me.' Most everyone applies 'the valley of the shadow of death' to the time of physical death, but I believe this valley of death through which we walk is our entire journey through this world. It is called a valley of death because the fall of Adam put the stamp of death on everything here. We are walking through this world; it is not our dwelling place; and it is called the shadow of death because Christ has removed the substance of death and only a shadow remains. A shadow is there but cannot hurt nor destroy. 'I fear no evil.' He did not say the evil is not there; it is, but we do not fear because Christ is with us! Where the sheep are, the shepherd is! 'Lo, I am with you always.'
Some say 'the rod and staff' are correction and chastisement, which is surely a comfort; for 'Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth' (Heb. 12:6-7). Some say the rod and staff are for numbering the sheep as they pass under it. Others say the rod and staff are symbols of his sovereignty, direction, and defense. He rules the flock, defends the flock, and directs the flock where he would have them go. Perhaps all are meant, for all are comforting.
v. 5. I shall not want for provisions even in the presence of my enemies, for my shepherd shall supply all my needs (Phil. 4:19).
The believer is not without enemies (Eph. 6:12). He would not be like his Lord if he did not have enemies (John 15:17-20). Our enemies are the world, the flesh, and the devil; but he fully sets the table (nothing lacking). There is no hurry, no confusion; we sit down with our Lord and feast as though the enemy did not even exist (Isa. 26:3-4).
v. 6. I shall not want for anything in this life nor in the life to come, for 'his goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.' This is neither presumption nor a claim to personal worth or merit. It is faith and confidence in the Lord Jesus, Who is the great shepherd, the chief shepherd, and the good shepherd.