Psalm 23 is very familiar with most people, even those who are aren’t believers or aren’t really interested in Scripture. This psalm is so well known that I often ask people to hear it as if they are hearing it for the first time.
Psalm 23 affects me powerfully. I remember the first time I felt this tremendous sense of hope and comfort from reading this psalm. It was at the funeral of Martha’s father a few months before our marriage. Martha’s pastor began the service by reading this wonderful psalm and a sense of well-being flowed over me. It was as if God’s Spirit speaking through His Word said to us, “It will be all right. I will take care of you.”
This psalm has had similar affect on millions of people over the centuries.
Let’s look at this psalm and attempt to pick up its basic structure. It is very brief, but it has tremendous impact.
The basic question of interpretation has to do with the metaphor or metaphors within the text. Does the psalm employ one metaphor (the Shepherd and the sheep), two metaphors (the Guide and the traveler), or three metaphors (the Host and the guest)?
It’s very likely you have only seen one metaphor in the psalm, that of the Shepherd and the sheep. After all, this is how the psalm begins and the picture of the Shepherd dominates the psalm. Some biblical scholars believe strongly that this is the only motif.
I would suggest that you see at least two metaphors and maybe three.
Two metaphors would divide the psalm between verses 1-4 and verses 5-6. Psalm 23:1-4 would refer to the Shepherd and the sheep while verses 5-6 would refer to the Host and the guest. One difficulty with however you view the metaphor or metaphors is the fact that God is spoken of in the third person in verses 1-3 and in the second person in verse 4-6. This complicates both the two metaphor and the three metaphor theory.
The three metaphor view would divide the psalm into three parts of two verses each.
Each of these views is biblical. You could make a strong case for all three.
This is what matters: “Are you willing to hear God’s Word and let it overflow your heart?” Here is another question: “Will you open your life fully to God to let Him be your shepherd, guide, and host?”