In January of 2014 I released my first Bible commentary "Discovering The Shepherd: A Study of Psalm 23." I knew then that one of my greatest passions was to acquaint believers and even non-believers with a deeper understanding of the Bible, the living Word of God. Below is chapter 1 of the commentary, the beginning of the discussion of verse 1. May God bless you with understanding and revelation power through His Holy Spirit as you read. Amen.
Psalm 23, Verse 1
“The LORD is my shepherd…”
“This psalm is probably the best known passage of the OT. It is a testimony by David to the Lord’s faithfulness throughout his life. As a hymn of confidence, it pictures the Lord as a disciple’s Shepherd-King-Host. David… progressively unveils his personal relationship with the Lord.” (Footnote from The MacArthur Study Bible NKJV, 1997)
It is precisely with the same purpose as revealed by King David that God is calling his people to reacquaint themselves with the 23rd Psalm – to unveil and gain a deeper understanding of our relationship to God, but more importantly His relationship to us. This Psalm is all about His vow and commitment to His sheep - those that belong to Him and hearken to the guiding voice of the Holy Spirit. It is a decree and a declaration spoken from the mouth of David in confidence, and even in warfare, against those who persecuted him under the power of evil influence. There are relationship promises and revelation regarding the nature of God’s relationship to his people hidden throughout each verse. Let’s begin with verse 1:
“The LORD is my shepherd…”
King David wastes no time in establishing who will be the subject of Psalm 23 – the Lord. Much like anything that is established by Holy Spirit, the Savior is placed first and properly positioned as the head of any proceeding thing. He is the banner that waves and guides us into the Psalm, then serves as the helm of the multi-compartmental vessel that is Psalm 23. I use the term “vessel” to describe the scripture because of its ability to hold and store the Truth and Mystery of the identity of God. It is multi-compartmental because of its ability to hold very distinct pockets of revelation, yet maintain the cohesion of one song or psalm.
The very first word alone – THE - unleashes a torrent of information for the believer engaging in a study of this verse. First, it eliminates any ambiguity regarding to whom King David is referring and establishes David’s faith in the solo God of Israel. This is important because there were numerous false gods being worshiped by the people at that time, several of which are still in existence today. David does not leave it for us to figure out or debate the deity to whom He is referring to in the Psalm. It is THE Lord – the one and only God professed by David and his kingdom.
Second, the use of any other article would have altered the reference to Lord in a way that could have subsequently rendered this scripture ineffective. Imagine reading “A Lord is my shepherd…” or “That Lord is my shepherd…” or even “My Lord is my shepherd….” One could easily insert a deity of their choice, creating a perverted version instead of the Holy version of the Word of God that was intended.
David could have said “The Lord of Israel is my shepherd…” if he had wanted to be super specific and not leave room for misinterpretation, but the fact that he didn’t can actually be seen as prophetic. Though the coming of Jesus would happen some nearly 1000 years after the beginning of David’s reign over all Israel, David’s choice of “the” as a solo modifier of “Lord” speaks to the coming Lord’s (Jesus) dominion over ALL people, not just Israel and its descendants. Indeed Jesus would come to die for both the Jews and Gentile people and be established as THE Lord over all people. (Romans 3:29-30)
Keeping in mind David’s attitude of confidence in writing this Psalm, his declaration that “THE Lord is my shepherd…” speaks boldly of God’s sovereignty and his eternal positioning as the one and only Lord. It also speaks to God’s authority and dominion over all creation – Jews, Gentiles, atheists, agnostics, animals, insects, mountains, valleys – ALL creation. He is THE ONE AND ONLY LORD. Take a moment to reflect on how much revelation is hidden in just the first word of this Psalm – a simple article! It is only the tip of the iceberg of the revelation of God hidden in this scripture.
“The LORD is my shepherd…”
After David identifies and establishes that THE Lord that he is referring to in Psalm 23 is the one and only ruler over all creation, he introduces us to the word/name used as the accepted embodiment of the nature of the Lord in the Hebrew language – YHWH, Yĕhovah, or Jehovah, also transcribed as Yehowah or Yahweh. What do I mean by “word/name used as the accepted embodiment of the nature of the Lord?” Why not just simply say “His name?” Well, I do not believe that any human word, phrase, or utterance is significant or holy enough to truly represent the deity of Almighty God. In fact, some members of the Jewish faith believe that even the word Yahweh is too holy to speak and do not do so even now in modern times.
The fact that we even have words like God, Jehovah, and Jesus to use when referring to the persons of the Holy Trinity is to me an indicator of God’s desire to commune and connect with us on levels that we are able to comprehend. It is evidence of His desire to be known by His people on a deeply personal level, in a language that we understand. It is evidence of His love for us and grace toward us in allowing Himself to be labeled with “names” that we can easily understand and use in order to call upon and access His omnipotence, the vastness of which is far beyond human language.
Because this text is being written in English and because the English language is so heavily influenced by Latin, I will use the Latin translation of YHWH - “Jehovah”- for the purpose of this text.
Jehovah - "the existing One"; the proper name of the one true God.” (Gesenius’ Lexicon)
“The Existing One”
It is important to note the –ing ending on the verb “exist” in this description of Jehovah. We see this ending used frequently in the English language and use it ourselves daily, but let’s look at it a little closer to help us understand its significance here. The ending –ing is used to make the present participle tense of a verb. In the present participle tense, the verb refers to things that are ongoing or still happening.
The use of the present participle in describing Jehovah as “existing” literally means that He is in an ongoing state of existence. There is no point at which He did not or will not exist because He is in an unending state of existing. Yes, He is indeed eternal! God Himself confirms this when speaking to Moses in Exodus 3:14 when He instructs Moses to say that he (Moses) is being sent to free the people of Israel by “I AM.” In the original Hebrew text of the Torah, “I AM” is the word hayah meaning “to exist; to be in existence.” It is also important to note the present tense of the word “am”, proof again that God is always, and has always been, in a present state of existence. Let’s clarify something here: In Exodus 3 we become acquainted with another Hebrew term Elohim, the word for “God” not to be confused with Yĕhovah (Jehovah), the word for the name of God in the Old Testament. To clarify further, Elohim means “God” and Elohim’s name here is Yĕhovah (Jehovah).
This revelation of the eternal existence of Jehovah leads us perfectly to the “is” in “The LORD is my shepherd….” God, through David, lets us know that He (Jehovah) is ever present in our lives. The one and only ruler of all creation who has always been in existence IS currently and presently right here with us! Take a moment to let that sink in. The very one who spoke the words “Let there be” is right there with you right now. The very one who guided Moses in leading the Israelites out of bondage is right there with you right now. A power that has always existed and will always exist is available to you as a believer through Jesus Christ who is I AM made flesh! I AM is with you right now and will be there forever!
**Have questions or comments? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave them in the comment section below. Discussion is welcome!**