PSALM 23 STUDY
Psalm 23 Study will take you through this short Scripture passage with a series of discussion questions. The psalm, which was written by David about 3,000 years ago, still has some things to teach us today. If you do not own a copy of Phillip Keller's classic book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 it is well worth having. You can click on the link to Amazon below to order it at a reasonable price.
Please read through the words of the 23rd Psalm before we begin this Psalm 23 Study.
INSIGHT: It is sad that so many will confidently recite the words, "The Lord is my shepherd," who have never actually come under His authority. They seem to think that by saying the words they will somehow reap the benefits of being part of His flock, without giving up their own self-directed foolish ways. The Lord Jesus strongly rebuked those who held such a notion, saying, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Matt. 7:21).
1) In what ways does a "shepherd" provide a good picture of the Lord?
2) What is it about "sheep" that makes them a good picture of human beings? (For some possible ideas, see the following verses: Isa. 53:6; Jn. 10:1, 12-13–compare Acts 20:28-29.)
3) For a person to claim, "The Lord is my shepherd," what would have to be true of him (compare Jn. 10:27)?
INSIGHT: In vs. 1, the psalmist says, "I shall not want." This does not mean that all our selfish "wants" and cravings will be satisfied if the Lord is our Shepherd. The statement means that God's sheep will not "be in want" (NIV), they will not lack anything they need. For this reason, His sheep are able to enjoy utter peace and contentment in His care.
4) What two things does the shepherd make sure his sheep have plenty of (vs. 2)?
5) And how would you apply this to the Lord's spiritual provision for His child?
6) What significance does the statement "He makes me to lie down" have for you?
INSIGHT FROM PHILLIP KELLER: "The strange thing about sheep is that because of their very make-up it is almost impossible for them to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met.  Owing to their timidity they refuse to lie down unless they are free from all fear.  Because of the social behaviour within a flock, sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others of their kind.  If tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down. Only when free of these pests can they relax.  Lastly, sheep will not lie down as long as they feel in need of finding food. They must be free from hunger."
7) Can you see an application of Mr. Keller's comments to our Christian lives?
8) How does a shepherd "lead" his sheep (see Jn. 10:3-4)?
9) How does the Lord lead His people practically, today?
INSIGHT: In vs. 3, David sets aside the poetic picture and speaks more directly of the spiritual help the Lord gives His people.
10) What two things does the Lord provide for his own (vs. 3)?
INSIGHT: "He restores my soul." He renews and refreshes my spirit. Literally, He brings it back.
11) Under what circumstances does the believer need to have his soul restored?
12) What is one thing the Lord uses to restore our souls? (See Ps. 19:7--where "converting," or "reviving" translates the same Hebrew word as "restores.")
13) Where does the Lord lead us (vs. 3)? (Explain the meaning of this.)
14) Why does the Lord lead us in this path? (Explain the meaning of this phrase in your own words.)
INSIGHT: With vs. 4, David returns once again to the picture of the shepherd at his work.
15) Where next does the shepherd lead his sheep in vs. 4?
INSIGHT: Sometimes we read vs. 4 as though it spoke of "the valley of death." (Often the psalm is read at funerals with this in mind.) However, it is only "the valley of the shadow of death" to which the psalmist refers. It is a place of many and great dangers, but not necessarily an actual death experience.
16) The sheep enter a dangerous area without fear. What is the main reason for their confidence?
17) What is the difference in the pronouns referring to God in vs. 3 and vs. 4?
18) What is the significance of this change?
INSIGHT: Many of us would like to move on to more satisfying and fulfilling experiences with God, but we have failed to realize that the path to richer pasturelands may lie through dark and dangerous valleys.
19) What are the lessons for us in this?
20) What two tools does the shepherd carry that seem to add to the confidence of the sheep?
INSIGHT: The shepherd's "rod" is a club, used to ward off predators. It is also used to discipline the sheep. African herders can hurl their rods with great accuracy to drive a sheep away from a poisonous plant, or rocky cliff. The shepherd's "staff" is the familiar crook, used to lift and manage the sheep. The first instrument seems to speak of God's authority, His "thus saith the Lord." The second tool perhaps speaks of God's loving care.
21) It seems as though sometimes the rod has to startle the sheep and drive them in a way they had not intended to go. How is this a "comfort" in our lives?
22) What kind things does the shepherd do for the sheep in vs. 5?
INSIGHT FROM PHILLIP KELLER: "Sheep are especially troubled by the nose fly, or nasal fly, as it is sometimes called. These little flies buzz about the sheep's head, attempting to deposit their eggs on the damp mucous membranes of the sheep's nose....Only the strictest attention to the sheep by the shepherd can forestall the difficulties of "fly time." At the very first sign of flies among the flock he will apply an antidote to their heads."
23) The Bible tells us that part of the fruit of the Spirit is joy and peace (Gal. 5:22). Based on the following verses, what are some reasons we sometimes lose a sense of joy and peace (Phil. 4:6-7; 4:8; I Jn. 1:9)?
INSIGHT: Vs. 5 speaks of "enemies." The sheep are always threatened by predators (such as wolves). The shepherd has to keep a sharp eye out for them, while the sheep are feeding. In Acts 20:29, Paul speaks of false teachers as "savage wolves [that] will come in among you, not sparing the flock." He calls upon the leaders of the church to be alert as they "shepherd the church of God" (vs. 28).
24) In our personal lives there are bigger things that threaten us (like wolves), and there are smaller things (like flies). Can you give an illustration of each kind of problem?
25) What does the psalmist expect to experience from the shepherd's hands all through his life (vs. 6)?
26) Compare this with what Jesus says in John 10:10. How will this be displayed in our daily lives.
27) What joyful confidence does the psalmist have for all the future?
INSIGHT: "The house of the Lord" simply represents where God is. The Amplified Bible has "the house of the Lord [and His presence] shall be my dwelling place." Another version has "Your house will be my home, forever." It is a picture of intimate and eternal fellowship with God.
28) What is the most helpful or encouraging thing you have learned from studying the words of the 23rd Psalm?
For further Psalm 23 study, click on
Psalm 23 Meditation.