Psalm 23: Because of My King, I am not Afraid

Text: Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.


We’re taking a break from our sermon series in 1 Corinthians. We had come to a natural break in the book anyway, and as I was looking over the yearly schedule, with the holidays fast approaching, it made sense to go ahead and stop for a while. So for the next few weeks, I would like to spend some time in the book of Psalms.

The Psalms are intensely relevant passages of Scripture. They are relevant because they are timeless. They speak of God, life, death, war, anxiety, praise, worship, loneliness, joy, heaven, and hell. They speak of all of the most important themes in our existence. The Psalms should be a source for daily meditation, for daily worship. And as we are torn by anxieties, fears, and uncertainty, our souls need to be nourished by the comforting words of the Psalms.

This morning’s psalm is the most famous. If you know any psalm by heart, it will be the 23rd Psalm. This Psalm is often recited at sick beds. It is memorized in Sunday Schools. It is iconic, especially in the old King James’ style. My cup does not merely “run over.” No, “my cup runneth over.”

All joking aside, Psalm 23 is famous for all of the right reasons. It has majestic language about God and His blessings. It brings comfort in the face of serious fear. It has strong imagery and memorable phrases, and it’s the perfect length for memorization. For our purposes, I want to show you how Psalm 23 teaches the kingship and sovereignty of God as the reason we can have comfort and assurance, no matter what happens, in both life and death. The message of Psalm 23 is this: Because God is my king, I am not afraid.

An Exegetical Overview

One of the things that makes Psalm 23 great is that it is fairly short and fairly simple. In that spirit, I am not going to ferret out any secret knowledge this morning. I simply want to open up this psalm to you. To begin, I would like to walk you through those familiar lines and highlight themes that you see but might not take in fully. After we do this, we will emphasize the “big idea” and then apply it to concrete situations in life.

“The LORD is my shepherd.” In the original Hebrew, the personal name Yahweh is invoked here. Yahweh is my shepherd. The covenant God of Israel, He “Who Is,” is the shepherd.

The name “shepherd” is a comforting image. It is where we get our word “pastoral” from, and we typically think of a kind and caring individual who watches over the people. This isn’t wrong, but you should know that “shepherd” was a common title in the ancient world, and it was a title for kings. In the preface to the “code of Hammurabi,” Hammurabi refers to himself as, “the shepherd of the oppressed.” In Homer’s famous Iliad, several of the kings and princes are called “shepherd of the hosts” or “shepherd of the people.” This is also what’s going on in Ezekiel 34, when Ezekiel prophesies against the shepherds who have not fed the flock of Israel (Ez. 34:1-6). God is proclaiming judgment against the political rulers of Israel. “Shepherd” often mean “king.”

So, to say that Yahweh is my shepherd is to say that God, the true God, is my king. It is He who rules over me, and it is He who protects me. It is precisely because Yahweh is my king that “I shall not want.” We could phrase that another way, “Yahweh is my king, and so I shall lack nothing.” We have all that we need because God is our king. He is in charge. He protects us. He provides for us.

The pastures and waters refer to both God’s temporal provision for His people, as well as His spiritual provision. God feeds our bodies and our souls. Vs. 3 adds the element of “righteousness” here, and so we know that God is renewing us morally as well. He is building us up and making us upright. He is leading us in the way that we should go.

The “valley of the shadow of death” (vs. 4) is a classic phrase. It does not refer to any literal geographical location but is instead a vivid literary description of our mortality. The same expression is used throughout the book of Job, in a few other psalms, once in Isaiah, twice in Jeremiah, once in Amos, and then twice in the gospels. In all cases it is a reference to literal death or extreme fear and anguish, fear that is like what we experience when death is near. David’s point is that God’s sovereign comfort is effectual even in the worst of times, when your life is in danger and when there is no earthly reason for hope. Because God is our king, we are not afraid.

“Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” (vs. 4b). This refers to the shepherd’s tools, and it’s worth noting that the rod is a weapon against enemies, while the staff is for the sheep. It pulls them back on to the right path, and it can also poke and prod them when they don’t want to move. We must always remember this part of the shepherd’s job. He has to guide the sheep when the sheep do not want to be guided.

The final two verses seem to change direction a little bit. The imagery moves to a feast. If we remember that the shepherd is the king, however, the unity is preserved. Anointing was a common thing to do at fine banquets, particularly royal or ceremonial ones. It served the practical purpose of a perfume, but it also made the one anointed glorious. They glistened and shined, and so it was ornamental.

Interestingly enough, the ancient Spartans did this before battle, stating that they were always anointed for death, and so it is possible that we are also seeing something like a battle-feast in Psalm 23. Our shepherd-king is preparing us to feast with Him, but it is a feast that takes place “in the presence of my enemies” (vs. 5). David had plenty of enemies throughout his lifetime, and the Christian continues to live in a state of spiritual war, even as He clings fast to God. We must not deny our enemies. They are real. God does not promise to get rid of all enemies immediately. No, He promises to give us comfort and rest, even in the midst of battle.

The psalm ends with a vision of the future. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (vs. 6).  There are few interesting features here. The expressions “goodness and mercy” refer to Yahweh’s kindness, but also His covenant faithfulness and graciousness. The term translated “mercy” is hesed, the term often translated as “loving-kindness” or “covenant-faithfulness,” a common term throughout the psalms.

The verb is also important. The goodness and mercy of Yahweh “shall follow me.” That could be translated, “shall pursue me.” It’s an expression that’s often used for less comforting situations. It normally means a sort of chase. Usually, it is the enemies who are pursuing. But in this case, even though the enemies are all around, it is the goodness and covenant loyalty of the Lord which draws near and pursues us. It means that God will never stop. He will not relent. He will deliver us. And he will do this, “all the days of my life.” He will do it forever.

Finally, David says, “I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (vs. 6b). To what house is He referring? You might think the temple. Yes, that’s the Lord’s house, right? But the temple had not been build at the time David wrote this. There was only the Davidic tabernacle. Now that tabernacle a very important place for David, to be sure. It is the central sanctuary, the site of special worship during David’s life. It is the place where David can see God. In the words of Psalm 63, “I have looked for you in the sanctuary.” He’s talking about the place where the Ark of the Covenant was, the tabernacle of David.

But is David only saying that He will live in the tabernacle forever? No. He is saying that He will live in the true tabernacle, the true house of the Lord—God’s heavenly temple. This is where David will spend eternity. And because of this knowledge, David receives comfort from the earthly tabernacle, the presence of God on earth. As long as God is near—as long as “Thou art with me”— David’s fate is secure. This is true in heaven and on earth. Psalm 23 ends with eschatology, and it applies that eschatology to the presence to give us comfort and hope.

God’s Protection

The big idea of this psalm is simple and consistent from beginning to end: God’s sovereign rule protects us and calms our fears. Because God is king of all the earth, we shall not fear. Even if the mountains fall into the sea, we know our fate. We know the future. Because of our king, we are not afraid.

This is the key truth. This is what we must remind ourselves of when things are difficult, when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death ourselves. God guides us through this life. Every hair on our head is numbered (Luke 12:7). We do not need to worry about tomorrow. All things are in God’s book. God even defends us from our enemies, including Satan and death itself. As Paul tells us in Romans 8:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:28-31)

God’s sovereignty, the fact that He is in control, is why we can have confidence and hope. We do not need to fear what is going to happen, what man can do. We don’t need to fear the government. We don’t need to fear the economy. We don’t need to fear our enemies or our friends. God’s rod and staff are right beside us. He will protect us. He will provide. Let us trust Him.

This doesn’t mean that we do not make wise choices. It doesn’t mean that we don’t make informed decisions and take note of the times and seasons. Of course, we must be responsible citizens and responsible stewards of this earth. However, we know that all earthly considerations are, at best, penultimate. We have to always zoom out and see the even bigger picture. God is in control. Jesus Christ is Lord.

When Jesus says that He is the good shepherd, He is also invoking lordship and sovereignty. In fact, Jesus tells us that He will give His life for our protection, and He guarantees that it will be successful because it has God as its author, “As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. …This command I have received from my Father” (John 10:15,18).

Peace in All Circumstances

 This psalm really is a universal psalm. It is applicable to all circumstances, to every stage of life. But it’s helpful to get concrete with it. Many of us probably think of David’s battle with Goliath. After all, He had been a shepherd not long before. The battle with Goliah took place in a valley, the Valley of Elah (1 Sam. 17:2). The anointing and sacrificial meal with Samuel a little earlier had prepared David for this moment. And David’s confidence came from the fact that “The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:37).

While that setting is rather fitting, it is probably not the context for Psalm 23. That event happened early in David’s life, before David had become a political or spiritual leader, and long before David began to be interested in the creation of a sanctuary space for the tabernacle. While we cannot be sure, many commentators prefer to date Psalm 23 to the time of Absalom’s rebellion. They do this precisely because of the focus on the sanctuary. David had to flee Jerusalem, and when he does so, the text tells us that he ordered that the Ark of the Covenant be kept in Jerusalem, under the rule of the rebellious Absalom. Why? David says this, “Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the LORD, He will bring me back and show me both it and His dwelling place. But if He says thus: ‘I have no delight in you,’ here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him” (2 Sam. 15:25-26). By refusing to attempt to use the ark as a weapon, something he could control or manipulate, David was showing that he placed all of his hope in God’s free and sovereign will. David lived by faith. He put his life in God’s hands.

And if Psalm 23 was written at this time, then it is not simply the confidence of a young warrior, but the calm and sure repose of an aged king in distress. In fact, it shows a peace of mind during a fall from grace, during a crisis of legitimacy. It shows fearlessness in the face of chaos and rebellion. It shows us security at a time of maximum insecurity. It can do this because God is the true king. And we need this psalm both, in those times of optimism and in those times of panic and depression. This psalm is precisely for the ups and for the downs. We should keep it close to our lips and close to our hearts.


As we said, we cannot be sure as to the precise occasion of this psalm’s writing. And we don’t need to be. Psalm 23 is for all times. It is for us. It reminds us of the events of David’s life, the good and the bad. But it also reminds us of Jesus, how He walked through the valley of the shadow of death as He walked to the cross. It reminds us of our own spiritual valleys, when we are in dark places and in need of hope. And it gives us that hope, it gives us peace which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7) because Yahweh is our shepherd.

The Lord is king, indeed. We have nothing to fear.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Let us pray.

Write a comment:

You must be logged in to post a comment.

© 2015 Christ Church Lakeland
Connect with us: