Psalm 23 has long been one in which God’s people have found deep and abiding comfort. It is a favourite psalm, for example, at funerals. There is good reason for this. While the psalm does not offer any particular insight into the circumstances of its writing, it is clear that David wrote out of some affliction. But his confession of Yahweh as shepherd gave him confidence and brought him comfort.
David boldly confessed, “The LORD is my shepherd” (v. 1). This confession translates the Hebrew name Yahweh Roi, one of the better-known names of God and the name we will consider this week.
It is important to recognise from the outset that everyone has a shepherd. It may be a substance: alcohol or drugs. It may be friends or family. It may be work, career, or money. It may be a political affiliation and identity. It may be education. We all have something that leads and guides us through life. Whatever that thing or person is is your shepherd. But it is only as you confess Yahweh as your shepherd that you will find true confidence and comfort in life’s greatest trials.
David recognised Yahweh as “my shepherd.” While God’s covenant relationship is with a people, David recognised a personal dynamic to this. He could claim the Lord as his personal shepherd. There was a deep, abiding relationship between him and the Lord, which spurred his comfort and confidence. Observe, briefly, four things that Yahweh Roi promised David, which he also promises all his sheep.
First, Yahweh Roi promised David provision: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul” (vv. 1–3).
He knew that the Lord would provide everything he needed: green pastures (v. 2), still waters (v. 2), and a restored soul (v. 3). Even in the face of great affliction, he never doubted the Shepherd’s provision.
Just as a good shepherd will provide everything that his sheep need for their wellbeing, so Yahweh Roi provides for his people everything they need. We may not receive everything we want, or everything that will make us comfortable, but God’s sheep will never lack what they need to live a life of godliness. We may not always understand God’s provision in life, but we can trust his character and therefore know that he will always give to us what is best for us.
Can you confidently assert that Yahweh is your Roi and that you therefore have everything you need? Can you root your confidence deeply in his character and concern for you? Do you trust that he will give you everything you need? Are you able to rest in his sovereign, wise providence?
Second, Yahweh Roi promised David guidance: “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (v. 3).
We are, as the songwriter put it, prone to wander, but Yahweh Roi is committed to leading us on the right paths. He knows what is best. He knows where the dangers are. We don’t always see what he sees but we should learn to trust that the paths on which he leads us are the best paths for us to be on.
Third, Yahweh Roi promised David protection: “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” (v. 4).
Even as he walked through the darkest of valleys, he had no reason to fear. The Bible consistently portrays death as an enemy, but David trusted that Yahweh Roi would protect him even as he faced the enemy. A shepherd’s rod and staff are symbols of protection. They bring comfort to the sheep. Yahweh Roi is fiercely committed to protecting his people.
Of course, this protection does not guarantee freedom from affliction. David wrote in the midst of affliction. It does not promise an escape from death. David eventually died. But Yahweh Roi promises his comforting presence as we face affliction and death death—even while promising the ultimate defeat of death in resurrection.
Fourth, Yahweh Roi promised David preparation: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (vv. 5–6).
Yahweh Roi had prepared a table of sweet fellowship for him. Even the presence of enemies could not disrupt that fellowship. It is fellowship that would be characterised by “goodness” and “mercy” all the days of his life. In fact, fellowship in this life was but a foreshadowing of the fellowship in the next. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, he knew that nothing—not even death itself—could separate him from the love he would experience for all eternity in Yahweh Roi. Even in death, he would “dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
Centuries after David wrote, Jesus picked up on the imagery of the shepherd, claiming for himself the title of Good Shepherd. He said, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish” (John 10:27–28). The gift of eternal life comes through trusting that Christ died for your sins, confessing your sins to him, and asking for forgiveness and cleansing. Those who do that can confidently assert, “The LORD is my shepherd.” I pray that you will be among them today.