on Psalms 23 :1
The Lord is my shepherd - There are two allegories in this Psalm which are admirably well adapted to the purpose for which they are produced, and supported both with art and elegance. The first is that of a shepherd; the second, that of a great feast, set out by a host the most kind and the most liberal. As a flock, they have the most excellent pasture; as guests, they have the most nutritive and abundant fare. God condescends to call himself the Shepherd of his people, and his followers are considered as a flock under his guidance and direction.
1. He leads them out and in, so that they find pasture and safety.
2. He knows where to feed them, and in the course of his grace and providence leads them in the way in which they should go.
3. He watches over them and keeps them from being destroyed by ravenous beasts.
4. If any have strayed, he brings them back.
5. He brings them to the shade in times of scorching heat; in times of persecution and affliction, he finds out an asylum for them.
6. He takes care that they shall lack no manner of thing that is good.
But who are his flock? All real penitents, all true believers; all who obediently follow his example, abstaining from every appearance of evil, and in a holy life and conversation showing forth the virtues of Him who called them from darkness into his marvellous light. "My sheep hear my voice, and follow me."
But who are not his flock! Neither the backslider in heart, nor the vile Antinomian, who thinks the more he sins, the more the grace of God shall be magnified in saving him; nor those who fondly suppose they are covered with the righteousness of Christ while living in sin; nor the crowd of the indifferent and the careless, nor the immense herd of Laodicean loiterers; nor the fiery bigots who would exclude all from heaven but themselves, and the party who believe as they do. These the Scripture resembles to swine, dogs, wandering stars, foxes, lions, wells without water, etc., etc. Let not any of these come forward to feed on this pasture, or take of the children's bread. Jesus Christ is the good Shepherd; the Shepherd who, to save his flock, laid down his own life.
I shall not want - How can they? He who is their Shepherd has all power in heaven and earth; therefore he can protect them. The silver and gold are his, and the cattle on a thousand hills; and therefore he can sustain them. He has all that they need, and his heart is full of love to mankind; and therefore he will withhold from them no manner of thing that is good. The old Psalter both translates and paraphrases this clause well: Lord governs me, and nathing sal want to me. In stede of pastour thare he me sett. "The voice of a rightwis man: Lord Crist es my kyng, and for thi (therefore) nathyng sal me want: that es, in hym I sal be siker, and suffisand, for I hope in hymn gastly gude and endles. And he ledes me in stede of pastoure,that es, understandyng of his worde, and delyte in his luf. Qwar I am siker to be fild, thar in that stede (place) he sett me, to be nurysht til perfectioun." Who can say more, who need say less, than this?
on Psalms 23 :1
The Lord is my shepherd - Compare Genesis 49:24, "From thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel;" Psalm 80:1, "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel." See also the notes at John 10:1-14. The comparison of the care which God extends over his people to that of a shepherd for his flock is one that would naturally occur to those who were accustomed to pastoral life. It would be natural that it should suggest itself to Jacob Genesis 49:24, and to David, for both of them had been shepherds. David, in advanced years, would naturally remember the occupations of his early life; and the remembrance of the care of God over him would naturally recall the care which he had, in earlier years, extended over his flocks. The idea which the language suggests is that of tender care; protection; particular attention to the young and the feeble (compare Isaiah 40:11); and providing for their wants. All these things are found eminently in God in reference to his people.
I shall not want - This is the main idea in the psalm, and this idea is derived from the fact that God is a shepherd. The meaning is, that, as a shepherd, he would make all needful provision for his flock, and evince all proper care for it. The words shall not want, as applied to the psalmist, would embrace everything that could be a proper object of desire, whether temporal or spiritual; whether pertaining to the body or the soul; whether having reference to time or to eternity. There is no reason for supposing that David limited this to his temporal necessities, or to the present life, but the idea manifestly is that God would provide all that was needful for him always. Compare Psalm 34:9, "There is no want to them that fear him." This idea enters essentially into the conception of God as the shepherd of his people, that all their real wants shall be supplied.
on Psalms 23 :1