Psalm 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
The king who had been the shepherd-boy, and had been taken from the quiet sheep-cotes to rule over Israel, sings this little psalm of Him who is the true Shepherd and King of men. We do not know at what period of David’s life it was written, but it sounds as if it were the work of his later years.
There is a fulness of experience about it, and a tone of subdued, quiet confidence which speaks of a heart mellowed by years, and of a faith made sober by many a trial. A young man would not write so calmly, and a life which was just opening would not afford material for such a record of God’s guardianship in all changing circumstances.
If, then, we think of the psalm as the work of David’s later years, is it not very beautiful to see the old king looking back with such vivid and loving remembrance to his childhood’s occupation, and bringing up again to memory in his palace the green valleys, the gentle streams, the dark glens where he had led his flocks in the old days; very beautiful to see him traversing all the stormy years of warfare and rebellion, of crime and sorrow, which lay between, and finding in all God’s guardian presence and gracious guidance?
The faith which looks back and says, ‘It is all very good,’ is not less than that which looks forward and says, ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.’
David, in advanced years, would naturally remember the occupations of his early life; and the remembrance of the care of God over him would naturally recall the care which he had, in earlier years, extended over his flocks.
The idea which the language suggests is that of tender care; protection; particular attention to the young and the feeble (compare Isaiah 40:11); and providing for their wants. All these things are found eminently in God in reference to his people.
I shall not want – This is the main idea in the psalm, and this idea is derived from the fact that God is a shepherd. The meaning is, that, as a shepherd, he would make all needful provision for his flock, and evince all proper care for it. The words shall not want, as applied to the psalmist, would embrace everything that could be a proper object of desire,
whether temporal or spiritual;
whether pertaining to the body or the soul;
whether having reference to time or to eternity.
There is no reason for supposing that David limited this to his temporal necessities, or to the present life, but the idea manifestly is that God would provide all that was needful for him always. Compare Psalm 34:9, “There is no want to them that fear him.” This idea enters essentially into the conception of God as the shepherd of his people, that all their real wants shall be supplied.
“The Lord is my shepherd.” What condescension is this, that the Infinite Lord assumes towards his people the office and character of a Shepherd! It should be the subject of grateful admiration that the great God allows himself to be compared to anything which will set forth his great love and care for his own people. David had himself been a keeper of sheep, and understood both the needs of the sheep and the many cares of a shepherd.
He compares himself to a creature weak, defenseless, and foolish, and he takes God to be his Provider, Preserver, Director, and, indeed, his everything.
No man has a right to consider himself the Lord’s sheep unless his nature has been renewed, for the scriptural description of unconverted men does not picture them as sheep, but as wolves or goats.
A sheep is an object of property, not a wild animal; its owner sets great store by it, and frequently it is bought with a great price. It is well to know, as certainly as David did, that we belong to the Lord.
There is a noble tone of confidence about this sentence. There is no “if” nor “but,” nor even “I hope so;” but he says, …
“The Lord is my shepherd.”
We must cultivate the spirit of assured dependence upon our heavenly Father.
The sweetest word of the whole is that monosyllable, “My.”
He does not say, “The Lord is the shepherd of the world at large, and leadeth forth the multitude as his flock,” but …
“The Lord is my shepherd;”
if he be a Shepherd to no one else, he is a Shepherd to me; he cares for me, watches over me, and preserves me. The words are in the present tense. Whatever be the believer’s position, he is even now under the pastoral care of Jehovah.
The next words are a sort of inference from the first statement – they are sententious and positive – …
“I shall not want.”
I might want otherwise, but when the Lord is my Shepherd he is able to supply my needs, and he is certainly willing to do so, for his heart is full of love, and therefore …
“I shall not want.”
I shall not lack for temporal things. Does he not feed the ravens, and cause the lilies to grow? How, then, can he leave his children to starve?
I shall not want for spirituals, I know that his grace will be sufficient for me. Resting in him he will say to me, …
“As thy day so shall thy strength be.”
I may not possess all that I wish for, but …
“I shall not want.”
Others, far wealthier and wiser than I, may want, but I shall not.”
“The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.”
It is not only “I do not want,” but “I shall not want.” Come what may, if famine should devastate the land, or calamity destroy the city, “I shall not want.”
Old age with its feebleness shall not bring me any lack, and even death with its gloom shall not find me destitute.
I have all things and abound;
not because I have a good store of money in the bank, …
not because I have skill and wit with which to win my bread, but because …
“The Lord is my Shepherd.”
The wicked always want, but the righteous never; a sinner’s heart is far from satisfaction, but a gracious spirit dwells in the palace of content.