I Shall Not Want

by Jackie Weber

 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Psalm 23:1

 

Have you ever wondered what Psalm 23:1 really means? I mean, really what it means?

 

David Gibson, minister of Trinity Church in Aberdeen, Scotland, explores this question in his book The Lord of Psalm 23: Jesus Our Shepherd, Companion, and Host. The book excerpt below, posted on Crossway.org on September 25, 2023, brought us new insight into how our Chief Shepherd is fully capable and willing to provide all that we His sheep truly need. If we have Him, we have everything. A phrase in the last paragraph captures this beautifully. He shepherds out of ‘the plenitude of His being.’ We are mortal and finite, yes, but can something similar be said of us, fellow shepherd leaders?

 

Consider also as you read that God, though self-sufficient, is not self-absorbed or self-interested. He sacrificially meets the needs of the sheep, and we His under-shepherds are called to imitate what He models and to lead as He leads.

 

We pray this article compels you to follow in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd more closely as you live into your calling.

 

~ The Presence Point Team


 

WHAT DOES PSALM 23:1 MEAN?
By David Gibson

 

If you had a blank canvas to sketch a single picture of Israel’s exodus from slavery, what would you draw? The picture in your mind’s eye is possibly not the one the Bible depicts.

 

Psalm 77 portrays God’s redemption of his people from Egypt in this way:

Your way was through the sea,
your path through the great waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron. Psalm 77:19–2

 

Observe the imagery in Psalm 78 as well:

He struck down every firstborn in Egypt,
The first fruits of their strength in the tents of Ham.
Then he led out his people like sheep
and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid,
but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.Psalm 78:51–53

 

So when the Bible puts the exodus, the great event of Israel’s redemption, on Instagram what do we see? A divine shepherd leading his flock of under-shepherds and sheep through terrible danger to complete safety. God is a shepherd.

 

Consider the narrative of Exodus 3 when God calls Moses. He “was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian” (Ex. 3:1). Much like how the Lord Jesus takes men catching literal fish and makes them fishers of metaphorical fish (Matt. 4:18), so God takes a man tending literal sheep and makes him a shepherd of metaphorical sheep, his people, with the Lord himself as their chief shepherd guiding them safely from slavery to freedom and to his dwelling place. Moses is being educated at the start of his mission that, because the Lord is with him, it cannot and will not fail. God himself is the ultimate shepherd, the one who can be utterly relied on to rescue and redeem his people because he needs nothing from anyone. You cannot help this God in any way, and so you cannot harm him either. He is able to provide for you in all the ways that you need.

 

This means that when David, the “sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Sam. 23:1), sings “The Lord is my shepherd,” he is using what Peter Craigie calls “a loaded metaphor.”1 This phrase is not simply loaded with David’s own experience as a shepherd boy; even more so, it is back-loaded with the great saving event in Israel which so identified the Lord as the saving, all-sufficient shepherd of his people. It is a metaphor that, of course, receives its clearest expression in the saving, shepherding work of the Lord Jesus. He declared himself to be not only the good shepherd (John 10:11); he also said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). The Lord Jesus, our good shepherd, is the Lord himself, which means he is our sufficient shepherd.

 

The beauty of Psalm 23 is that it is so simple and clear that it almost needs no interpretation or exposition. It is short, easily memorized, and it has poetic images and a lyrical tilt which has lodged this song in the collective consciousness of every believer through the ages. But when you unload the metaphor of the Lord as our shepherd within the psalm, then the riches of all its verses shine all the brighter.

 

Look how needy David is in Psalm 23. He requires food, rest, water, guidance, shelter, comfort, housing, helping. You name it, David needs it. And look who it is that gives to David what he needs: the God who needs nothing and no one. The One who says to his people, “I am who I am.” Before you were, I was, and after you are no more, I will be. I am the first, I am the last, I am a God outside time before time began. David is telling you that the God of heaven can meet your every need precisely because he is the One who has no need of anything himself. He shepherds you from his eternally undiminishing fullness, and he is never the poorer for it. And more than this, precisely in saying that the God of the burning bush is a shepherd, David is saying that the self-sufficient God is not the self-absorbed God. The self-existent God is not the self-interested God. Rather—wonder of wonders—the God who is so strong clothes himself in a picture of the closest tender care for those who are so weak. It is a way of saying that he puts all the resources of his infinite fullness at the disposal of finite creatures. He is a shepherd.

 

It is this first clause in Psalm 23:1 that gives all the meaning to the second clause: ‘I shall not want.’ Although made up of only four words in Hebrew, Psalm 23:1 contains an implicit logical flow: “The Lord is my shepherd; therefore I shall not want.” Because the Lord is my shepherd, I lack for nothing. If I have him, I have everything. He is mine; so I have all I need. Harold Kushner argues for a translation like, “I shall lack for nothing.” The meaning is that God will provide me with everything I need. Or as a colleague of mine beautifully rendered it, “The Lord is my shepherd, what more do I need?” The issue of whether I desire things beyond that is beside the point.2 Kushner adds the anecdote of a sign he once saw in a shop window: “If we don’t have it, you’re better off without it.” “The message of the psalm would seem to be that, if you don’t have something, no matter how much you crave it, you don’t really need it. If you needed it, God would have provided you with it.”3

 

This is a profoundly God-centered view of life, the universe, and everything in it. This psalm is a tool in God’s hand that he uses to recalibrate our desires. It is an oasis in our materialistic wasteland. It invites us to stop and rest awhile and consider afresh who God is for us in the simple plenitude of his being and the endless riches of his covenant love. David, it seems, knew in advance what the apostle Paul would later describe as the ability to live “having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:10).

 

 

Notes:

  1. Peter C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50, Word Biblical Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan: 2004), 206.
  2. Kushner, The Lord is My Shepherd, 30.
  3. Cited in William S. Plumer, Psalms: A Critical and Expository Commentary with Doctrinal and Practical Remarks (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1975), 7.

Find the full article by David Gibson here. And for more on Psalm 23 and its depiction of the believer’s union with Christ as sheep and shepherd, traveler and companion, and guest and host, pick up a copy of David Gibson’s The Lord of Psalm 23: Jesus Our Shepherd, Companion, and Host.

Picture of Presence Point

Presence Point

Presence Point equips leaders to intentionally live into their calling as shepherds in the lives of those they lead, and partners with multipliers to do the same within their sphere of influence.

1 thought on “I Shall Not Want”

  1. Juan Pablo Leonardo

    ¡Beautiful!

    The magnificent nurturing of the good shepherd, he is infinite he can tend to the flock s precisely and copious as he tenda to the individual sheep, thats an inmense thought to ponder, just as blessed and profound as Matthew 28:19
    All power is given unto me
    In heaven and in earth, we have to apprehend this word by the light of the Holy Spirit its too much for our natural mind to grasp. An all giving all powerful shepherd of our souls.

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