Psalm 23: A Second Look

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23 (NASB)

Psalm 23 is one of the most popular passages in all of Scripture. We love the imagery of God leading us to quiet places and refreshing us. We memorize it, put it on greeting cards and posters; all because we love its reassuring tone.

Yet too often we miss its core message. There is an abrupt transition in verse four that takes us from a nice Hallmark field to the valley of the shadow of death. It’s easy to skip this part as gloom and despair don’t necessarily fit alongside a beautiful green meadow. But it’s this valley that provides the key message of Psalm 23.

God does lead us to good places, but the road often winds through dark valleys. Pain and hardship are a part of life and it is in these moments when God reveals Himself most powerfully. Notice what else changes in verse four. For the first part of the Psalm David speaks of God only in the third person; “He leads me.” But after the valley there is a powerful change. The psalmist no longer speaks about God; now He directly speaks to Him, saying, “You are with me.” Pain is difficult, yet it is often the trigger that leads us to spiritual intimacy.

It’s in the dark places we learn of God’s nearness.

It’s in the valley we build relationship with Him.

In these moments, we truly begin to understand, “You are with me.” We may be surrounded by enemies, but in the midst of it God is preparing a rich table before us (v 5). There will be challenges in life, yet God’s desire is to turn your fears into a feast. God hijacks suffering and turns it into a vehicle of grace, and it all starts with knowing, “You are with me.” Read the psalm again and take some time to answer the following questions.

In Response

  • When have you experienced God’s nearness in the midst of darkness?
  • How did God reveal He was with you?

By Drew Steadman, Director of Strategy Development/Director of US Church-Planting