It is rather difficult to ascertain the exact occasion of the writing of the 23rd Psalm. There are those who feel that the Psalm was written when David was a lad tending the sheep, because it is a shepherd's psalm. However, there is evidence that this is not true. For example, in verse 5, he was old enough to have enemies. In verse 4 he was facing the danger of death. In verse 3 he was experiencing rest, and in verse 5 he was experiencing prosperity. These things all point to an older person, or at least one who had reached maturity or adulthood. Probably the 23rd Psalm was written while David was at Mahanaim wondering how the battle was between his forces and those of his son, Absalom, during the civil war caused by Absalom's rebellion. Of course, David was grief-stricken and heartbroken. It may have been the darkest hour of his life and this is where he penned the beautiful words, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." I wonder how many people have been comforted and strengthened in times of sorrow, bereavement and heartache through these immortal words.
I was on an airplane flying from Cleveland, Ohio, to Chicago. I was reading the Bible. A lady beside me, to whom I had briefly spoken, noticed that I was reading the Bible. She said to me timidly, "Mister, when you finish with that Bible, could I read it?"
I said, "Why, of course, you may." Then I noticed tears in her eyes. I asked her if she had a heartache, whereupon she informed me that she was going to Houston, Texas, to see her dying father. She didn't expect to arrive before his death. I asked her what part of the Bible she would like for me to read. She said, "Please read the 23rd Psalm." I read audibly these great verses.
There are some things worth noticing in this beautiful Psalm. Notice in verse 2, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures." The key word here is the word "maketh." Sometimes the shepherd MAKETH the lamb to lie down in green pastures. Oftentimes a lamb would not stay in the fold. He would leave only to be sought and brought back to the fold by the shepherd. Again he would leave, and again he would not stay. Finally, for the lamb's own good, the shepherd would take his leg and gently break it, forcing the lamb to lie down in green pastures. Now the lamb cannot stray; he must stay close to the fold and to the shepherd. How often God does the same thing to us! He wants us close to Himself. We stray. He pleads with us to return. We stray again. Finally, to keep us close to Him, He has to break our leg or to cause some sorrow or heartache to come to our lives. What is He doing? He is MAKING us to lie down in green pastures.
Notice the words in verse 4, "Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me." The shepherd's rod had on one end a point and on the other end, a fork. The point on one end was used as a goad to prod the sheep when it would not move and obey. On the other end it had a fork that was used to place over the neck of the serpent in order to protect the lamb from reptiles. 'Twas the same stick—one end was used for protection and comfort; the other end was used for chastening. Ah, God has a rod—the blessed Word of God. It is comfort, it is chastening—it is that sharp, two edged sword. Thank God for its truths!
The last verse is beautiful. A famous preacher had a lady in his church who was not quite mentally normal. She kept coming to him and saying, "Pastor, two men are following me." The pastor would assure her that no one was behind her. Again she would say, "Pastor, two men are following me." He tried to reassure her. She kept coming again and again until finally one day the pastor said to her, "Yes, I know there are two men following you, and I know their names."
She said, "Oh, you do?"
"Yes," he said. "Their names are Goodness and Mercy," and he turned to Psalm 23:6 and showed her that goodness and mercy shall follow her all the days of her life and she shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. She was so pleased to know the names of the men who were following her, and she never again caused her pastor any trouble. Praise the Lord! Goodness and mercy are following me too, and they will all the days of my life.
The Way It Was Used by God's People
The 23rd Psalm was used in the deepest of sorrows. It was that Psalm which was reserved until the worst tragedy came. Many of the Psalms were used in times of trial and adversity, but this one was the most potent of all, reserved for the lowest valley and darkest midnight, for the densest fog and for the sharpest pain.
by Dr. Jack Hyles