All We Need- Psalm 23
This very familiar psalm begins with the statement “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”. This does not mean it is somehow wrong to want things, but is a poetic (Psalms are poetry) way of saying that when the Lord is our shepherd we will have all that we need. All of our basic needs as human beings will be provided for by the Lord when we follow Him as our shepherd. The Psalmist then poetically tells us all that the Lord will do for those who follow Him as their shepherd, and in so doing, provides us with a list of all we need as human beings. The first need expressed is the need for a shepherd, all of us are born with the need for a “master”, for someone to be our provider, our protector, our Lord, or someone to lead and guide us as a shepherd leads and guides sheep. The second need is expressed in verse 2, the need to “lie down in green pastures”, the need for peace, comfort, rest, protection. Sheep will not lie down unless they are unthreatened (by predators) and undisturbed (by pests), and those to whom the Lord is their shepherd will be able to “lie down”, unthreatened and undisturbed, in peace and at rest. The next need expressed is to have our souls restored. The word restored here literally means to “bring back”, and is often used in reference to repentance, for we are all sheep who have “gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6) from our shepherd and need to be brought back, to repent. The next need expressed is for someone to “guide us in paths of righteousness”. We all have a need for guidance and direction, someone to show us the way, to help us find our way in life, to lead us on the path which leads to our fulfillment. Also expressed in this statement is the need for morality, for a sense of right and wrong, of a need and desire to find a path of righteousness, a need to do and be “right”. Verse three also expresses our need for purpose, we are led in paths of righteousness for “His name’s sake”, we have a need to live for something beyond ourselves and our own selfish needs and wants. Next, in verse 4, we find our need for companionship, for someone to walk with us “through the valley of the shadow of death”, for someone to walk with us through the difficulties of life, for someone to help us do life together, shouldering one another’s burdens and helping each other through. Also expressed here is our need for assurance and trust, that even though we live in the presence of death and evil, we have one we can trust and who assures us that we need not fear death and evil. This is because His “rod and His staff comfort” us. The rod and staff here were the basic tools of shepherding, and were used by the shepherd to protect the sheep from predators and to guide them and keep them on the right path, and here they poetically express His provision for our need of protection, assistance, guidance, correction and discipline. Then, in verse 5, we find expressed our need for a “covenant partner”, for one to share our “table” with, for someone with whom we can say what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine, our need for friendship and family, to be part of a unit, a member of the group, belonging to something beyond ourselves. Verse 5 also expresses a shift in the nature of the needs expressed, moving from more basic physical and psychological needs to spiritual ones, expressed first as you “anoint my head with oil”, here an expression of our need for favor and blessing, for grace. We then find the need that our cup overflows, poetically here expressing our need for forgiveness, with the cup of wine representing the blood which would need to be shed for the forgiveness of sins, and which would overflow in the fact that the blood of the Lamb (Jesus) would be more than enough to provide forgiveness of sin. Finally, in verse 6, we find expressed the ultimate needs of every human being. First the need for “goodness and mercy” to follow us all the days of our lives, the need for God’s faithfulness and covenant mercy, grace and love every moment of every day, the need for God to be with us as our covenant friend. He then concludes by expressing the ultimate human need, the need for salvation, the need to “dwell in the house of the Lord forever”. The Psalmist has given us here a rather extensive list of the basic needs we all have as human beings, and we throughout the years have found many harmful and destructive ways of meeting those needs. It must be noted in closing that only if the Lord is our shepherd will these needs be met in a way which causes us to flourish and thrive, both now and for all eternity, for sheep thrive and flourish only to the extent that they follow the shepherd.