The twenty-third psalm remains the most quoted and easily recognized passage from the entire inspired collection. Its words offer comfort and strength in times of trial and pain in ways to which other poets can only aspire. It is so deeply personal in its character that it resonates to this day with most everyone—despite the fact that it was penned three millennia ago by a Jewish king. The psalm is so familiar that we tend to read it and repeat it like a familiar refrain; however, the full beauty of this psalm lies in the depth of meaning available by considering its meaning from various vantage points and emphasizing different words in multiple readings.
If you read through it and emphasize “LORD, He, He, He, He, His, You, Your, Your, You, You, and LORD,” the more readily you should appreciate all that falls within the LORD’s ability. On the other hand, if you emphasize “my, I, me, me, my, me, I, I, me, me, me, my, my, My, me, my, and I,” it personalizes the LORD’s interest. It helps us remember that He is ready to do this for US—not just for David or for some generic person, but that HE will do all this for ME. Another reading, emphasizing the various actions the LORD takes helps yet again. He will do all that a shepherd does for His sheep, which offers comfort—not in the abstract, but in the very specific needs He makes sure are met in the best way possible. We will not suffer need, but we will be blessed. We will be strengthened in spirit and guided through His Word to what is right. We will be protected and comforted, so that life itself becomes a blessing simply because we are under His protective care.
However, the most important thing you can do when reading Psalm 23 is to remember that you are a sheep—a helpless, needy, creature that needs guidance in practically every way. A sheep needs the Shepherd and appreciates all the Shepherd does, though never fully able to comprehend just how much that is. A sheep benefits from the Shepherd’s knowledge of where to go and what is most needed in life. A sheep has confidence in the Shepherd’s leadership and follows Him anywhere, trusting Him implicitly. A sheep remains aware of its enemies, especially wolves, and benefits from the Shepherd’s wise forethought and comforting care. A sheep does not seek a better life in a better place because he knows there is no better Shepherd—none so committed and offering so great of care. Surely we can rejoice that Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). So let us remember: we are not the heroes of the story; we are the helpless. We are sheep who are thankful we have a Shepherd whose loving care makes our lives possible, meaningful, and blessed.