Without a doubt this is the best known and most loved of the Psalms. We call it the ‘Shepherd’s Psalm’ since it considers God as Shepherd and was written by a shepherd. David composed this, not as an innocent boy seated on a tranquil meadow playing his harp, as I once thought, but as an experienced warrior-king during a crisis situation. Several clues within the text point to this
David seems to have gone through some failure and is in a ‘valley’ experience. In spite of his grave sin with Bathsheba, his Shepherd had ‘restored his soul’. David makes reference to his ‘enemies’, the most shocking of all must have been his own son Absalom, who was seeking to kill him. It seems to me that the events taking place in 2Sam. 11-17, particularly the scene around 17:26-29, may have been the immediate context and background of this psalm. Absalom’s army and David’s soldiers had gathered around the wilderness of Mahanaim. Here, when David and his men were ‘hungry, weary and thirsty’, God mercifully, through some generous friends had ‘prepared a table’ to refresh them. I believe, here David regains his confidence that his Lord like a shepherd will continue to ‘lead’, guide, provide and deliver him.
Although presently away from the capital and tabernacle at Jerusalem, David was aware that he was the Lord’s ‘anointed’. Whatever the outcome of battle, he was convinced: ‘I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever’. Like a sheep, David places his dependence on his Lord who is in control, and Psalm 23 may have been the result of this assurance. Incidentally, the battle was won, Absalom killed, and the kingdom given back to this shepherd-king.
This psalm helps me understand the substance of the gospel. It foreshadows Jesus as the Good Shepherd who died to save me (Jn.10:11), the Great Shepherd risen and interceding to equip and keep me from falling (Heb.13:20) and Chief Shepherd coming again to take me to the Father’s house (1Pet.5:4). Christians can know Psalm 23 without knowing David’s Lord. If we experientially know the Lord Jesus as Shepherd, there is no need to be in want (v.1-3), no need to worry (v.4-5) and no need to wander away (v.6) since he promises to be ‘with us’. He will never let us go and never let us down!
Could you comment on my view regarding the socio-historical context of this psalm? May I further submit that its ‘pastoral’ (implicit to the word is leadership) theme promotes a personal divine-human relationship;(notice all the things ‘He’ does for ‘me’); the essential pastoral task is about discipleship (leading, feeding and breeding sheep!) and the thrill in it all is an awesome fellowship (between this shepherd-‘King and I’)! What do you think?