Psalm 23:1 Commentary | The LORD Is My Shepherd

Psalm 23:6 Meaning

Psalm 23:1 Text & Translation

מִזְמ֥וֹר לְדָוִ֑ד יְהוָ֥ה רֹ֝עִ֗י לֹ֣א אֶחְסָֽר׃1

A psalm of/for David

The LORD is my shepherd. I do not lack. (Ps 23:1, AT)

The LORD

The LORD = YHWH, which is “the personal name of God.”2 The LORD is the first word of the psalm,3 and one of the last words of the psalm (forming an inclusio in Ps 23:6 that brackets the entire song).4

There is a long tradition of refraining from saying the Name out loud to prevent misusing the Name — which would break the Third Commandment (Ex 20:7) (cf. Bible Study on the Ten Commandments).

Instead, Jews would (and often still do) refer to God as the Lord (אָדוֹן |ʾādôn or ʾadōnāy). English translations continue this tradition by translating YHWH as “the LORD” (in capital letters).5

Most scholars agree that the Name is pronounced “Yahweh” 6 coming from the Hebrew verb meaning to be, become (היה hāyâ [hāyah]).7 The Middle Age pronunciation Jehovah (likely incorrect) comes from combining the consonants of YHWH with the vowels of ʾadōnāy.8

This Name of God was revealed to Moses at the burning bush:

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” (Ex 3:11-14, NIV)9

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,
the name you shall call me
from generation to generation. (Ex 3:15, NIV).

The LORD is the great I AM. Yet, alternatively, it could be translated “I will be who I will be”, “I will cause to be what I will cause to be”,10 or (likely best) “I will be who I am” / “I am who I will be”.11

In any case, the very Name of God speaks to His nature. That is, the LORD does not do act arbitrarily; He is faithful to Himself12 and His character.

God is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore (cf. Heb 13:8). He does not change like shifting shadows (cf. Jas 1:17).

Shepherd

Sheep depend on their shepherd to find them pasture and water.13 Also, in the ancient Near East, shepherds  provided shelter, medication, and even help with birth.14

Shepherds would do everything for their sheep. Without their shepherd, sheep are essentially helpless;15 they wouldn’t survive.16

Shepherd also implies authority to rule17 – a “shepherd-king”.18 Ancient Near East kings and rulers were often metaphorically described as shepherds. We see this frequently in Scripture. For example:

In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’ ” (2 Sam 5:2, NIV; cf. 1 Ch 11:2; Is 44:28).19

He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them. (Ps 78:70-72, NIV).20

The Divine Shepherd

People in the ancient Near East (ANE) also often thought of their gods as shepherds.21

The LORD was often depicted as the caring Shepherd of His people Israel – who were supposed to trust Him like sheep (cf. Jer 31:10).22 For example:

Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. (Ps 80:1 ab, NIV; cf. Num 27:17; 1 Ki 22:17).23

Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever. (Ps 28:9, NIV; cf. Ps 74:1).24

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. (Ps 95:6-7abc, NIV; cf. Ps 79:13; Zec 9:16).25

This shepherd language also recalls the Exodus, when God led His flock Israel out of Egypt:

Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Ps 77:19-20, NIV).26

The LORD is my Shepherd

What we modern readers may overlook is the striking fact that the psalmist declares, “The LORD is my shepherd.”

We do see such personal language in Genesis from Jacob:

Then he blessed Joseph and said, “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm —may he bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly on the earth.” (Gen 48:15-16, NIV; cf. Gen 49:22-24).27

However, as we have seen, the LORD was usually seen as the shepherd of the entire nation.28 It is surprising that the shepherd metaphor is applied so personally.29

For His sheep, The LORD — the Divine Shepherd — provides provision and protection,30 sustenance and “security”.31

(Therefore) I Do Not Lack (Anything)

The familiar translation, “I shall not want” (Ps 23:1, KJV) can be misleading.32 To some, it may sound like the psalmist is saying he doesn’t want the LORD to be his shepherd!

The word translated lack (חָסֵר | ḥāsēr) means “have a need”,33 “not to have”.34 This word is often used when describing God’s sufficient provision for His people (TWOT, 309)

For example, when Israel wandered in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt, and was fed manna and quail from the LORD (Exodus 16:1-36):

And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little [ḥāsēr]. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed. (Ex 16:18, NIV).35

Also, in Deuteronomy:

The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked [ḥāsēr] anything. (Dt 2:7, NIV).36

Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack [ḥāsēr] nothing ; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills. (Dt 8:6-9, NIV).37

Nehemiah says:

For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked [ḥāsēr] nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen. (Neh 9:21, NIV; NIDOTTE, 226-7; Futato, 101; Goldingay, 348)

Because of trust in the LORD’s provision and protection,38 the psalmist can sing this line with confidence (cf. Ps 34:10; Is 51:14)/39

“As the shepherd supplies all the needs of his sheep, so God supplies all the needs of [H]is people.”40

Conclusion

The psalmist confidently declares, “The LORD is my shepherd”. Acknowledging the LORD as one’s shepherd implies a sheep-shepherd relationship — where the Shepherd is the One with the authority. As the Divine Shepherd of His sheep, the LORD provides protection and provision, sustenance and security. Because of the LORD, the psalmist does not lack (anything). While using language that recalls the Exodus, the psalmist expresses His great trust in the LORD.

For more commentary, please see the Psalm 23 Bible Study page. The full bibliography can be found here, and the slideshow for this study can be viewed and downloaded here.

Sources

  1. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: With Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit Morphology; Bible. O.T. Hebrew. Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit. (Logos Bible Software, 2006), Ps 23:1.
  2. TWOT, 210 cf. TDOT, 500
  3. Futato, 102; Kidner, 127; Goldingay, 347
  4. Craigie, 206
  5. “In ancient Hebrew tradition, we do not pronounce the divine name. Why not? Well, because the commandment says, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God,” and the best way to make sure we don’t misuse it is not to use it. So we don’t pronounce the divine name.

    What do we do when we come to a text that has the divine name in it? We substitute. The vowels that you see under the divine name are actually the vowels from another Hebrew word, and that word is “Adonai.” So when we come to the divine name those vowels tell us, “Don’t say the divine name; say, ‘Adonai.’ ” What does Adonai mean? Adonai means “Lord.” So we’re substituting a Hebrew word that means “Lord” for the divine name…

    Let’s ask this question: Why do we use the word “Lord” for the divine name? And the answer goes like this. English translations use “Lord” because they’re influenced by the Latin translation that was the translation of the church through the Middle Ages until the pre-Reformation era. The Latin translation, when it comes to the divine name, uses Dominus (“Lord”). But why does the Latin translation use Dominus (“Lord”)? Well, that’s because the Greek NT uses the Greek word kyrios, which means “Lord.” When the NT quotes the OT and you have the divine name, the NT uses kyrios (“Lord”). Why does the NT use kyrios (“Lord”)? That’s because ancient Jewish tradition uses “Adonai,” which means “Lord.”

    So by using “Lord” in English translations today, we are standing in the wonderful and deep tradition that goes back through Latin, through the Greek NT, into the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible by ancient Jews, into the even more ancient tradition of not pronouncing the divine name, but using “Adonai,” which means “Lord.”

    Mark D. Futato, HB101 Introduction to Biblical Hebrew, Logos Mobile Education (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

  6. TDOT, 500. Futato and others do disagree, however: “Sometimes a modern rendition of the divine name you’ll know as “Yahweh.” And I, along with a number of other scholars, have reason to doubt that that actually is the ancient pronunciation. The Yah is no doubt correct. We see that in “Hallelujah.” But the weh, that’s a little bit doubtful; so I’m not for substituting the modern reconstruction “Yahweh” for the divine name, but rather with staying with the ancient tradition.” (Futato, HB101)
  7. TDOT, 513
  8. TLOT, 522
  9. NIDOTTE, 1295-6
  10. NIDOTTE, 1296; TLOT, 522; Freedman takes this view cf. TDOT, 513f.
  11. NIDOTTE, 1296
  12. NIDOTTE, 1296
  13. Matthews et. al. IVP
  14. Matthews et. al. IVP
  15. Matthews IVP
  16. Waltke, 437
  17. Walton, 340
  18. Longman, 134
  19. Walton, 340; Wilcock, 87; Longman, 134; cf. Is 44:28; Goldingay, 348
  20. Wilcock, 86; Waltke, 436
  21. NIDOTTE, 1144; Walton, 340; Futato, 101; Longman, 134; Goldingay, 348; Craigie, 206
  22. NIDOTTE, 1144; cf. Ezek 34; UBS, 231; Longman, 134; Jacobson, 240; Goldingay, 348
  23. NIDOTTE, 1144; TLOT, 1247; TDOT, 88; Broyles, 124; Jacobson, 240; cf. Num 27:17; 1 Ki 22:17; Goldingay, 348)
  24. TLOT, 1247; UBS, 231; TDOT, 88; cf. Ps 74:1; Broyles, 123; Longman, 134
  25. Broyles, 123; cf. Futato, 101; Craigie, 206
  26. UBS, 231; Goldingay, 350
  27. NIDOTTE, 1144; TDOT, 550; TLOT, 1247; TDOT, 88; Walton, 340; Wilcock, 86; Broyles, 125; Longman, 134; Craigie, 206)
  28. Craigie, 206
  29. Broyles, 125; Futato, 101
  30. Goldingay, 352
  31. cf. Kraus
  32. UBS, 231
  33. TWOT, 309; cf. BDB, 341
  34. UBS, 231
  35. TWOT, 309; TDOT, 88 cf. Ps 34:10; Jacobson, 241; cf. Goldingay, 348
  36. TWOT, 309; TDOT, 88; HALOT, 338; Broyles, 124; Futato, 101; Goldingay, 348; Craigie 206
  37. cf. TWOT, 309; NIDOTTE, 226-227; TDOT, 88; HALOT, 338; Goldingay, 348
  38. cf. TDOT, 88; UBS, 231
  39. TWOT, 309; NIDOTTE, 226-227
  40. Longman, 135
About @DannyScottonJr 216 Articles
Imperfect Servant ✝📖⛪ | Husband | Princeton U. Alum | M. Div. | Assistant (to the) Pastor | Sound Doctrine & Apologetics @catchforchrist