VIEW FROM THE PULPIT: An interpretation of Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is the most popular psalm in the Bible, it involves sheep and shepherds.

Psalm 23 is probably the most popular psalm in the Bible.

Popular especially at funerals, this is a psalm that most people have heard, regardless of whether they’ve ever read the Bible.

There are quite a few sheep in this part of the country.

Driving across the country and even in town, you’ll see all kinds of sheep happily grazing together.

But I can’t remember the last time I saw a shepherd out with those sheep.

Usually there is a fence around the sheep, a fence to keep them in and a fence to keep the predators out.

This isn’t the picture of Psalm 23, otherwise this psalm would read more about the safety of the fence, the comfort of the barbed wire, the greenness of the grass on this side of the fence compared to the other side.

In New Zealand, it is said there are more sheep than people but there, they use fences to keep the sheep in line and when the fences aren’t adequate and they need to move the sheep from one pasture to the next, they use sheep dogs, dogs specially-trained to bark at the sheep to keep them motivated.

And so if this psalm was written in New Zealand, it might read more like this:

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want

His dogs make me lie down in green pastures

He fences me in beside the still waters

My soul is restored.

I take the right path.

His dogs make sure of it.

When his dogs bark at me to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I run and I don’t know who I’m more terrified of, what’s out there, or the dogs with their really sharp teeth.

I know I have a shepherd but it’s these dogs I see, their bark is what I hear.

I’m fenced into his table.

I know where my grass is.

My enemies are all outside the barbed wire.

Your dogs frighten me but I find comfort within the fence and close to the other sheep.

My shepherd makes sure I am well looked after.

Goodness and mercy follow behind me as long as I stay within the fence and don’t get too close to the dogs.

I’ll dwell in the fence forever because that’s where sheep stay but I probably smell too much and make too many messes to stay in the shepherd’s house.

So while it may be popular – just because something is popular, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is understood – context and clarity are important.

In our study of the Lord’s word, accuracy is vital.

It can be easy to interpret the word out of the context we live in, the understanding we have at a particular time or the circumstances and situations we may be facing.

Doing this can sometimes lead to some very misleading conclusions and inaccurate theology or doctrine.

Scripture says that we shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free and so today it is my prayer that we know truth and knowing truth, being set free from fenced-in religion, set free to follow the shepherd outside the fence, knowing comfort, safety, provision, shelter, direction and purpose is found in the presence of the Good Shepherd receiving this psalm, not only as a psalm of David, but a personal psalm, our psalm.

– Gabe Warriner is pastor of River Valley Community Church in Grand Forks