The Book of Psalms is a collection of five sets of books that were combined into a single biblical book. The psalms are primarily praises and prayers for temple worship or personal devotion.
The 150 psalms were composed over a period of about 1000 years, starting in the time of Moses (1400 BC) and stretching all the way to the Babylonian exile (586 BC). It seems that the Israelites were collecting and organizing individual psalms from the beginning of their organization as a nation.
Many of the psalms are anonymous, although all but 34 have superscripts that indicate authorship. Of all the Psalms, at least 73 are attributed to David. Other authors are Asaph (Ps 50; 73– 83), the sons of Korah (42– 49; 84– 85; 87– 88), Moses (90), Solomon (127), Heman (88) and Ethan (89).
Psalm 23 may be the most famous of all the psalms, given that it is regularly quoted by non-Christians and non-Jews alike. Although it is brief, it has comforted millions of people for thousands of years.
Psalm 23 can be broken into two parts: God’s provision (verses 1-3) and God’s protection (verses 4-6). In verse 1, David compares God to a shepherd, a very common metaphor for God used both in the Old and New Testaments. Donald Williams and Lloyd Ogilvie explain, in Psalms 1–72, The Preacher’s Commentary Series:
In Psalm 80:1 God is addressed: ‘Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock’ (see Gen. 49:24; Ezek. 34:11ff.). Israel’s kings are also called shepherds. After denouncing the unfaithful shepherds of His people, God promises, ‘I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking’ (Jer. 23:4; cf. Ezek. 34:2). And Jesus identifies Himself as the ‘good shepherd,’ the Messianic King (John 10:11). His goodness is in His giving His life for the sheep.
A shepherd provides everything a sheep needs, and that is exactly how David sees God. A sheep needs rest, as do human beings, and God provides that rest when He makes us “lie down in green pastures.”
Sheep, like humans, also need food and drink, and God provides that as well when He leads us “beside quiet waters.” Our souls likewise need restoration, not just our bodies, and God provides that restoration. Once our souls are restored and transformed, God “guides [us] in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Our restored souls do the work of God’s kingdom as representatives of the King of kings. Every good and loving deed we do is for God, our loving shepherd.
Williams and Ogilvie expand on Jesus’ role as our shepherd:
As our good shepherd, Jesus provides us with rest, food, and water. When we come to Him we enter His ‘Sabbath rest’ or salvation (Heb. 4:1–11). He feeds us with Himself because He is the bread which has come down from heaven. As Jesus tells the multitudes, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst’ (John 6:35). Then Jesus gives us His Spirit to quench our thirst. Again He promises, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:37–38). John comments, ‘But this He spoke concerning the Spirit’ (John 7:39).
David also recognizes that God protects. In verse 4 we see that even though we are threatened with pain, suffering, and even death in this world, God is always with us. The destiny of a child of God is sealed, so there is no reason to fear. The rod and staff of a shepherd are used to protect a sheep from danger, and God will likewise protect His sheep.
Verse 5 then shifts the metaphor from shepherd to host. God celebrates David’s life with a banquet of food and drink, and in front of David’s very enemies. David is also anointed with oil, a sign of God’s blessing.
In verse 6, David affirms that God’s love and blessing on his life will continue throughout his life. Not only that, but David will live in God’s presence (His house) forever.
We now move to Psalm 27, another psalm of David. Verses 1-3 describe why David has no fear when his enemies attack him. David, during his life, was faced with attacks from King Saul, the Philistines, the Ammonites, the Amalekites, and even his own son. Each time, his life was in peril, so how could he possibly survive the repeated stress? Verse 1 answers the question.
God is David’s light, salvation, and stronghold. Salvation, in this sense, denotes being saved from physical death, although Christians may rightly apply the term to eternal salvation. Light refers to God’s holiness, but also to His bestowal of understanding on David. David is able to see his circumstances through God’s eyes, and not merely his own.
Williams and Ogilvie remind us of the importance of our reliance on God:
Faith or fear—these are our ultimate options. Either we can know the living God as our ‘light,’ ‘salvation,’ and ‘strength,’ or we are condemned to anguish as we move toward our final hour. The atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell put it, ‘The older I get, the more nervous I become.’ In contrast, two weeks before his death, Pope John XXIII said, ‘My bags are packed. I’m ready to go.’
In verses 4-6, David reveals what is most important to him: 1) to dwell in the house of the LORD, 2) to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD, and 3) to seek him in his temple. At the time David likely wrote this psalm, there was a tabernacle set up in Jerusalem which housed the Ark of the Covenant, the place where God promised to meet Israel on earth. Of course, the tabernacle was only meant to be a representation of God’s real home in heaven. In either case, David’s single biggest desire is to be where God is. David knows that if he is where God is, then David will be kept safe and will triumph over his enemies.
In verses 7-12, David shifts to a direct conversation with God. He is obviously in trouble and he is frustrated that God is not immediately saving him from his trouble. David wonders why it seems like God is not answering him, why it seems like God is hiding his face from David, why it seems like God is angry with Him, why it seems like God is rejecting him.
David reminds God that he desires to be led by God and that he desires to know the ways of God. It would not be right for God to turn David over to his enemies, when they are unjustly attacking David. David deserves God’s provision because he loves God, whereas his enemies are false witnesses.
In verses 13-14, though, David reminds himself and his readers that even though God does not appear to be helping him right at that moment, he is confident that He will. He will see God’s blessings while he is still alive, but he must wait for God.