The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1)
This morning I read Nehemiah 9. Most of it is a prayer that reviews all that God had done for His people and they were expressing their gratitude to Him. So I was thinking about His blessings on my life as I opened the Bible to Psalm 23.
Verse 1 says “. . . I shall not want.” I tend to interpret this as a declaration of contentment because the Shepherd has taken care of all David’s wants. But I also know there is a difference between having all we want, and wanting all we have, between desire and satisfaction.
Then I read the devotional author’s remarks. He said that this verse is not about having everything or even being content. It goes deeper than physical and material blessings. At the time David wrote it, he was deprived, hunted by his enemies and deserted by many supporters. His life was full of discomfort and insecurity. He lived on the run and off the land, without physical possessions, home and family. His words in verse 1 are not about wanting or even about what he lacked. It is about his relationship to the Lord and it could read, “No matter what hardships come my way, I am confident that I will never lack the expert and tender care of my Shepherd . . .”
David was not focused on the stuff God gives, but about His care. He was not praising God for being without needs, but for having a supply that never fails and will carry him through both plenty and poverty.
Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:10–11)
I cannot be self-focused in this. I might have all the stuff I need, all the friends, and comforts of life, at least at the moment, but this is not true for every Christian.
Hebrews 11:36–38 says some “suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
God’s people do suffer emptiness and insecurity, or even worse. We can also experience physical and material need and deeply feel our need. What David is saying is that he never felt abandoned by God, His Shepherd who watches over him. Jesus repeated David’s thoughts this way . . .
. . . Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on . . . Look at the birds . . . Consider the lilies . . . do not be anxious . . . your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you . . . (Matthew 6:25–34)
God promises to take care of His people. I can rest in that promise, but must also watch that I am satisfied with His care. I could always want more (and am prone to do that) or even be fearful someone will take from me what I already have.
However, the thought of “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” is like the confidence expressed in Hebrews 13:5-6: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”
No matter what else I might lack, I will never lack the loving care of the Good Shepherd.