Yahweh is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will 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 anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of Yahweh forever.
Psalm 23 is perhaps one of the most beloved psalms and passages in all of Scripture because it is a beautiful poem and it provides great comfort to God’s people.
“He leads me beside still waters.” This part of the poem always makes me think of Mirror Lake at Yosemite National Park in California (see the featured image). This is arguably one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever seen, which is to say a lot as one who hails from the Great Lakes State (Michigan).
The name of the lake is no misnomer. The water is the clearest I have ever seen in a lake. It is like a giant mirror on the earth that perfectly reflects the mountains, trees, and skies, as you can see in the photo. It is clear, pure, and remarkably beautiful and so still that its reflections are like a still mirror. Being beside these still waters was extremely calming. It is difficult for me to recall another time when I’ve felt utter peace.
This is just what it means for God to lead us beside still waters and to lie us down in green pastures like a sheep after joyfully frolicking in the pasture, lying us down to rest. Jesus as our Shepherd is one of our favourite images of Him in Scripture, and rightly so. A good shepherd cares for his flock; he is gentle toward them and he guides them toward safety.
No wonder God adopted this image for Himself, for He does such things for us. As David says in the psalm, He leads us “in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (v. 3). For whose sake? Not for our sake—not because we have any righteousness of our own, but because of God’s own sake, that is, because of His own righteousness. He leads us through death. He will literally bring us from death to life. Yet in this life right now, He promises to be our Shepherd who causes us to lie down in green pastures and beside still waters.
History speaks to this. We have historical examples of God leading His people through death into life, from suffering into comfort. As Moses reminded the people of Israel, “He is your praise, He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. Your fathers went down to Egypt seventh persons, and now Yahweh your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven” (Deuteronomy 10:21-22).
Ultimately, our comfort is in Christ. As our Good Shepherd, Jesus invites us and promises, “Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Jesus does this in a variety of ways: primarily the Word and Sacraments; but He may also choose other ordinary ways, such as your pastor, another brother or sister in Christ, a loved one, a therapist, a doctor, and various other ways. Jesus promises comfort for His people, and as the Creator, He chooses to provide in many ways.
Most especially, Jesus promises to bring us through the valley of the shadow of death and into the everlasting Light of eternal life.