The Focus of Application in Psalm 23
In our desire to make application we can have the tendency to too quickly ask the question, “What does this passage say about or to me?” The effects of these errors are particularly strong for Psalm 23. Psalm 23 is not a psalm about being a good sheep (i.e., instructions to stay close to and pay attention to the shepherd). Psalm 23 is a psalm about the Good Shepherd (i.e., God’s character, activity, and presence in the midst of all the trouble we sheep get into). As you study and teach this passage keep the emphasis on the Shepherd (comfort) more than the sheep (instruction).
The Journey of Psalm 23
This Psalm takes a journey (both in time and location). The psalm begins in the Spring (v. 1-3) when water and vegetation are plentiful. Then the psalm moves to the Summer heat (v. 4) when the Shepherd must guide his flock through more treacherous terrain to find their needed nourishment. Finally, the psalm moves towards the temple at Harvest (v. 5-6). We see that our shepherd is prepared for all seasons and terrains of life. As we trace the fullness of this journey we can appreciate more deeply the thematic heading of verse 1, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.”
Learning to Trust Our Shepherd
The big question of Psalm 23 (and life for that matter) is, “Do I trust the Shepherd and have I embraced Him as my Shepherd?” Often we make the big questions about what we should do rather than whose we are and whom we trust. When we make this error we tend to become legalist, cynical, guilt-ridden, or prideful.
Use the following reflective questions to guide you to more fully embrace and trust the Shepherd.
v. 2 – Do you rest well (physically, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually)? What does this reveal about the kind of Shepherd you believe God to be?
v. 3 – Do you embrace wisdom and righteousness? Do you believe the “good life” is outside righteousness and want the Bible to be proven right? What does this reveal about the kind of Shepherd you believe God to be?
v. 4 – Where do your eyes look first when hardship or evil shows itself? When you think of God with a rod do you believe He is for you? What does this reveal about the kind of Shepherd you believe God to be?
v. 5 – How do you respond to blessings (awkward embarrassment, prideful self-sufficiency, or humble gratitude)? What does this reveal about the kind of Shepherd you believe God to be?
v. 6 – When you think of God’s presence is He on your back (driving you), on your case (checking up on and shaming you), or on your side (loving you)? What would it be like for that presence to be eternally tangible to you? What does this reveal about the kind of Shepherd you believe God to be?
v. 1 – Is the Lord truly your shepherd and do you trust Him in such a way that you can truly call Him your good Shepherd?