Spurgeon called it, “the pearl of psalms.”
Indeed, this psalm has calmed the troubled heart of millions!
I don’t have any better words than what has already been written about this psalm, so I want to just let these thoughts from James Montgomery Boice soak in…
“The psalm is a masterpiece throughout. But if ever a psalm could stand almost on a single line, it is this one, and the line it can stand on is the first.
In fact, it can stand on only part of a line, the part which says, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
What an amazing juxtaposition of ideas! The name literally means “I am who I am.” It is an inexhaustible name, like its bearer. Chiefly, it refers to God’s timelessness, on the one hand, and to his self-sufficiency, on the other. Self-sufficiency means that God needs nothing. He needs no wisdom from anyone else; he has all wisdom in himself. He needs no power; he is all-powerful. He does not need to be worshiped or helped or served. Nor is he accountable to anyone. He answers only to himself.
Timelessness means that God is always the same in these eternal traits or attributes. He was like this yesterday; he will be like this tomorrow. He will be unchanged and unchangeable forever. He is the great “I am.”
On the other side of this amazing combination of ideas is the word shepherd. In Israel, as in other ancient societies, a shepherd’s work was considered the lowest of all works. If a family needed a shepherd, it was always the youngest son, like David, who got this unpleasant assignment. Shepherds had to live with the sheep twenty-four hours a day, and the task of caring for them was unending. Day and night, summer and winter, in fair weather and foul, they labored to nourish, guide, and protect the sheep. Who in his right mind would choose to be a shepherd?
Yet Jehovah has chosen to be our shepherd, David says. The great God of the universe has stooped to take just such care of you and me.” (James Montgomery Boice, Expositional Commentary Series, Psalms)
The rest of the psalm states the benefit of the Lord being our Shepherd…
I shall not be in want.
Since we belong to the one who is self-sufficient, inexhaustible, and utterly unchanged by time, we will lack nothing (nothing that he deems we need).
I shall not lack rest.
Only the shepherd can provide the trust, peace, deliverance, and pasture that is needed to free the sheep from discontentedness and anxiety.
I shall not lack life.
The shepherd’s role is always restoration to life, towards “shalom” (peace, wholeness, complete well-being, right with God).
I shall not lack guidance.
The way that the Shepherd leads may not be straight or level (i.e. easy) but it will always be right when He leads.
I shall not lack safety.
The Shepherd protects, and we have to see that “the valley of the shadow of death” is as much God’s right path for us as the “green pastures” which lie beside “quiet waters.” We may learn more deep truth in the valley than we would have ever learned on the mountain top.
I shall not lack provision.
If we will allow God to lead us where he wills, we will find that a table has already been prepared for us in advance. Often though, we don’t see that until we look back, but that doesn’t mean He did’t provide in advance.
I shall not lack a heavenly home.
This tattered and broken world is not my home and I need to stop acting as if it is. The shepherd is taking us to our real dwelling place!
The Lord is my shepherd!