Psalm 23 offers comfort with its soothing words and assurance in the Shepherd. Its poetic allure attracts even unbelievers, while its pastoral imagery draws from David’s own shepherding background, aiming to evoke a sense of tranquility. Throughout Psalm 23, the timeless truth about God and His relationship with His people unfolds. An example is the second verse, “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.”
To delve into David’s imagery in Psalm 23:2, consider how shepherds took care of their sheep in biblical times. Rather than “drive” them with a stick from behind as is commonly imagined, shepherds guided the sheep, going before them to suitable pasture. Without a shepherd, sheep would either starve or become prey. Similarly, the shepherd directed the sheep to water sources. By invoking this analogy, David expresses his complete reliance on God to fulfill all his needs, conveying deep adoration for God as the Ultimate Provider.
It’s interesting that Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd multiple times in the Gospels, paralleling the Psalms (John 10:11, 14–15; Matthew 18:12–14; Luke 15:3–7). No doubt, His listeners were familiar enough with the Old Testament to pick up on the reference. That might explain why some thought of Him as insane (John 10:19–20). Nevertheless, the resonant truth remains that Jesus is God—the Good Shepherd whom we faithfully follow.
The green pastures and still waters symbolize both spiritual and physical needs. As the Good Shepherd, Christ initially tended to our spiritual needs by “sacrificing his life for the sheep” (John 10:14). Isaiah employs similar imagery, proclaiming, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Christians lie in the green pasture of God’s grace and beside the still water of salvation, recognizing that these blessings stem from a Good Shepherd’s guidance.
Beyond spiritual needs, the Good Shepherd also attends to our other requirements. This raises an obvious objection: why do certain Christians still lack? David’s confidence in God’s provision doesn’t negate other passages highlighting the persistence of poverty in this fallen world until God renews His creation (Matthew 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8). Various factors can lead to poverty, and God’s commitment to meet our needs does not necessarily entail a life of constant abundance or freedom from challenges, at least not in this world. Numerous psalms mirror the angst of the psalmist, who felt that God had abandoned him in critical moments, and it is human that we react likewise. However, God’s power shines through both in times of plenty and scarcity.
As the psalmist did, we can confidently declare that God makes us lie down in green pastures, secure, satisfied, and unafraid. Christ, our Good Shepherd, provides for our needs in profound ways.