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Meaning of 'The Lord is My Shepherd, I Shall not Want' Explained

Meaning of 'The Lord is My Shepherd, I Shall not Want' Explained
Psalm 23 is that one excerpt from the Holy Bible that every Christian recites when facing any form of danger or dilemma in life. It is a protective prayer that assures us that our Good Shepherd is always with us to look after and nourish us in our ways. SpiritualRay throws light on the meaning of 'The Lord is My Shepherd, I Shall not Want' and explains the cruciality of this Psalm in Christian lives.
Shalu Bhatti
Last Updated: Feb 23, 2018
Sacred Heart Of Jesus Statue
Did You Know?
The Book of Psalms happens to be the longest and perhaps the most widely used book in the Holy Bible. Moreover, Psalm 23―The Lord is My Shepherd―is the most well-known Psalm in the Bible.
The beautiful Psalm that starts with the words, "The Lord is My Shepherd, I shall not want" remarkably describes how peaceful, fulfilling, and rewarding it is to live under the love and care of our Good Shepherd, our loving and gracious Lord Jesus Christ. Most of us have heard this Psalm, perhaps remembered it by heart when we were kids, as it is a prayer that assures us of His protective presence around us. While this prayer is recited mainly on funerals, it is actually an ideal source of learning how we must live a carefree life, because it is the ultimate Shepherd that is taking care of us all―His lambs!

The King James Version (KJV) of this Psalm is by far the most widely recognized and acceptable version in the world. The following is Psalm 23 according to the KJV version.

❝The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.❞
― Psalm 23 King James Version (KJV)
Literal Meaning of 'The Lord is My Shepherd'
Here, the author of this Psalm, King David, has used the analogy where he refers to The Lord as the shepherd and His believers, which constitute us all, as the sheep and lambs. Before becoming the King, David was a shepherd himself during his youthful days. Therefore, he very well knew the hardships, responsibility, and dedication that was required to take care of a herd of sheep, an animal that is considered to be one of the dumbest on the planet, easily susceptible to wander off, go astray, get scared, and become an easy prey for the beasts out there.

With the experiences of his life, King David thoughtfully and accurately labels us all as sheep and Him as the ultimate Shepherd! Aren't we all like mindless lambs, easily attracted to the allurements of this world, easily bewildered, manipulated, and prone to become prey of the evildoers that surround us? This is the reason that makes this prayer so crucial in today's world, and every Christian should abide by it to not go astray. In the following sections, we have explained the connotations of this Psalm, line by line, so as to gain a better understanding of what the author implied through his writing.
✝ ❝The Lord is My Shepherd❞
Being in the humblest of our mindset, we gladly proclaim that we are the timid and vulnerable lambs whose caretaker, whose shepherd is none other than The Lord Himself. This line doesn't speak of the past where, perhaps, we went astray, sinned, and were lost. It speaks about now, the present, where our Lord has taken our responsibility, and because 'we have accepted Him as our shepherd', He has kept us safe in His arms. With Him as our Savior, each and everyone can proudly say, "The Lord is 'My' Shepherd." The word 'My' emphasizes on the personal relationship of each of us and Him―You and Him!
✝ ❝I Shall Not Want❞
This line is perhaps the most confusing, yet, the most assuring line in the Psalm. "I shall not want." What shall we not want? The Shepherd? Well, what the author is actually trying to say here is that when the Good Shepherd, the Greatest Shepherd of all, our Lord Himself, is the one who takes care of us, we will not want anything else. In other words, all our wants and needs will be satisfied without us even asking Him. In His care, we shall want nothing, we shall lack nothing!
✝ ❝He Maketh Me to Lie Down in Green Pastures❞
To lie down connotes rest, and He makes us, His lambs, lie down in green pastures, green pastures being symbolic of comfort, freshness, and peace. Note that King David compares us with sheep and lambs who know nothing of their own wellness. Therefore, the Good Shepherd 'makes' us lie down, makes us rest in the finest place possible, in green, soft, and comfortable pastures. This means that our Lord knows what is best for us all and He will make us walk that path which will bring us to the comfort and peace that we need to rest in the true sense of the word. Praise be to Him!
✝ ❝He Leadeth Me Beside the Still Waters❞
Extending from the previous line, the still waters also signify peace and carefreeness. Troubled waters and ripples signify worry, lack of peace, complexities, difficulties. But when the waters are still, it denotes a peaceful and stress-free life. Jesus, our shepherd, leads us to those waters, so that our life may be free of the unwanted, perturbing ripples and waves that may trouble our hearts. In short, He does all that He can, and makes us take the path to peace and tranquility.
✝ ❝He Restoreth My Soul: He Leadeth Me in the Paths of Righteousness for His Name's Sake.❞
What do we seek the most in today's world? Not money, not fame; we seek peace of mind. What has taken away that peace from us? Sin, want, desire, lust, the need to get more and more, not out of need, but out of jealously or greediness. Our hearts, minds, our very soul are maimed! But now that we have turned to Him, He restores all that was lost, He restores our soul! And how does He do that? By leading our way towards righteousness, and we gladly follow Him for His Name's Sake, because we know that He is doing it only so that we can be saved, because He loves us like no one else does, and no one else ever can love us like Him!
✝ ❝Yea, Though I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I Will Fear No Evil: For Thou Art with Me❞
To walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death denotes that while we take the path to righteousness, dangers, risks, and threats would be inevitable. Or, it could also mean that while we know that we are under His care, and that we must follow His path, we ignorantly tend to wander off to the paths of danger, to the paths of death and sin. But irrespective of walking under the "Shadow of Death" we mustn't fear, because our Shepherd, our gracious Lord is there with us at each and every step we take. With Him by our side, no evil can harm us, no danger can dampen our courage, and no danger can last long enough to conquer our righteous spirit. Amen.
✝ ❝Thy Rod and Thy Staff they Comfort Me❞
Jesus was a Shepherd Himself, and therefore, He carried a staff and a rod along with Him. We still picture His presence in the same attire. His humble self that walks with us in all our ways, carrying His staff and rod to protect us, to comfort us, to guide us. We all must have seen how a shepherd guides his cattle. How he uses his rod to alter their direction. That is what the Lord does, with His staff, he guides us, directs us, and in doing so, protects us.
✝ ❝Thou Preparest a Table before Me in the Presence of Mine Enemies❞
Where there is good, there will be bad. The world that we live in will not excuse us of enemies while we walk, and also inspire others to walk with us, in the path of righteousness. However, even in front of our enemies, the Lord will prepare a table before us, so that we may feed in abundance, while our enemies stand watching in discomfort. Have you noticed when the beasts hunt their food? They look for the time when the animals are busy grazing or drinking, and they silently come from behind and attack. But with the Good Shepherd on our side, we needn't worry, or fear, while we satiate our hunger, or quench our thirst. Because it is the Lord Himself who prepares our table, who provides us with the needed nourishment, even at the time when we are surrounded by our enemies.

Alternately, an expert, J. Douglas Macmillan brings an interesting point to this line, where he states that "preparing a table" refers to an "old oriental shepherding practice" where little raised tables were used by the shepherd to feed their sheep.
✝ ❝Thou Anointest My Head with Oil; My Cup Runneth Over❞
Anointing the head with oil is also an ancient practice, where the act is considered to be done for honoring a person. Also, in reference to the old shepherding practice, oil was poured on the sheep to keep the flies and other insects away. Invariably, the whole act of oil anointing portrays wellness, care, and dignity that the Shepherd has towards His sheep or lambs.

"My cup runneth over" signifies the abundance of honor, care, and wellness that is received under the perfect care of the Shepherd, that our cup overflows, meaning we receive more than what we hoped for. His mercies, care, and blessings flow abundantly in our lives, more abundantly than we ever imagined. Hallelujah!
✝ ❝Surely Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow Me All the Days of My Life❞
This line is another assuring message from God, that the abundant joys, mercies, and blessings will not only be bestowed on us today, but on each and every day of our lives; and this is not a hope, but a surety that our sacred scripture gives us. Take a note on the usage of the words, "goodness" and "mercy." They denote that our lives will be governed by these two traits, and even though, in the middle of our journey to righteousness, if we were to go astray, the Lord will bring us back on track, delivering His goodness and bestowing His mercy upon us all.

Alternately, J. Douglas MacMillan notes that "Goodness and mercy shall follow me" actually refers to the two loyal sheepdogs that stay behind the flock, guiding and protecting them from going astray. If we think of it, it is only the lack of goodness and mercy that makes us take the path of sin. For if goodness resides within us, and our decisions are governed by mercy, there will be no reason or need to take the path of sin.
✝ ❝And I Will Dwell in the House of the Lord For Ever❞
Living in the house of the Lord, and dwelling in the house of the Lord are two very different things altogether! To live may mean to simply exist, but to dwell implies that we don't only exist, but we are flourishing, being nourished, and have become a part of the house of the Lord. The house of the Lord is heaven, a place for only the worthy, a place where only the righteous and the just can enter. In the last line of the Psalm, the author assures us that the Lord, our Shepherd, will not only take care of His herd, His followers, in this life, but also beyond this mortal life, when we join Him in heaven. That we shall dwell in the House of Lord forever. Amen.

Psalm 23 contains a powerful and nourishing Biblical message of hope, unconditional love, mercy, goodness, protection, care, and healing. These words are ever-inspiring and provides us believers a never-ceasing assurance to walk in the path shown by the Lord. While we walk on His name and work on our ministry, we need His staff and His rod, we need His care, we need Him to lift us up in His tender arms, so that we can dwell in peace, goodness, and mercy, and help the lost ones experience the same. We need Him from this very second, so that we can proudly say, "The Lord is my Shepherd," now and always. Amen.