W. Phillip Keller, author of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, grew up and lived in East Africa surrounded by herders. He explains much of what happens resembles those shepherds in the Middle East. For eight years, he was a sheep rancher and was engrossed with the stories of the Bible. He therefore uses natural phenomena to provide insights into supernatural truth. Keller points out that present day city dwellers miss biblical teachings because they are unable to relate to nomadic folks who live in simplicity.
He brings to bear a shepherd’s insight to this Psalm. He empathizes with David himself and refers to Psalm 23 as “David’s Hymn of Praise to Divine Diligence.” With “I shall not want,” God points out that in our lives like sheep, we will be free from friction, for he has prepared an ideal banquet for our every need. God leads us to “still waters.” He doesn’t want us to toil on dry, semi-arid soil without having deep, clean, and pure water to drink. A situation which is ideal for sheep that’s grazing.
God “restores my soul.” This happens when sheep becomes distressed, but here’s God ready to comfort and give them rest. In “paths of righteousness,” he is the assurance that his flock will strive. Even as they “walk through the valley,” is an indication that our savior knows first hand the terrain of our lives, just like any shepherd who leads his sheep in mountainous territory.
“Thy rod and thy staff” brings sheep comfort, as they are guided by a loving, and caring savior. “Thou preparest a table,” Keller feels this is similar to the feast on Table Mountain near Cape Town, Africa. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” is everlasting care exercised over the sheep. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever,” climaxes this proud and joyous Psalm.
Psalm 23 is considered the nightingale of Psalms. It’s the epitome of feeding, guiding, governing, and defending the sheep. Its climax terminates in everlasting rest – not one of sorrow and pain, but joy, hope, and pleasure. We can say, “O death, where is thy sting!” “Thy rod dost comfort me,” as we journey and feed on his Holy Word. Here, we reach the zenith, and are guests of God’s everlasting banquet. Keller captures it all in his wonderful little book.