“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
The most familiar and beloved of all the psalms, Psalm 23, is an open and accessible text, a song of trust in God that has been the vehicle for personal confession of faith and reassurance down through the centuries. Its tone and main themes come through with force and power apart from the necessity of critical reflection. As they do, however, the reader understands the words of assurance and feels their calming tone. The restful waters, the green pasture, the secure path, the quiet, undisturbed fold, all come to life in the reading and hearing of this psalm. One does not need to have much familiarity with the life or work of a shepherd to feel the power of the imagery of this psalm. It speaks to deep human need, even for those whose personal experience has no point of contact with the images presented. The task of the interpreter is thus enhanced by the text's accessibility. At the same time the very familiarity of the psalm presents a challenge to bring it alive so that even, if not especially, those who know it well may not pass it by too quickly but will find themselves drawn afresh by its words into the safe fold of God.
Psalm 23 is one of those texts whose poetic images are the primary vehicle for its mood and content (see chap. 3 and the exposition of Psalm 1). In this case they are images of God, positive images that reinforce the constant claim of the Old Testament that God is the refuge, the rock, the supporting arms, of those who trust in the Lord, and the provider of the rich blessings of life. The first part of the psalm (vv. 1-4) conveys the divine character with the picture of the Lord as shepherd, the dominant image of the psalm. The connotations of the metaphor are provided by its