Psalm 23: Entering the Psalm

Fear No Evil (?)

Psalm 23, one of the most well known biblical texts in modern Western culture, invites us to think about the peaks and valleys of life as components of one, ultimately redemptive, journey. The pastoral imagery was intended to activate the ancient reader’s imagination, helping them to experience God’s shepherding presence in their lives. How does the natural scenery in the psalm speak to you today?

Andrew R. Davis, PhD

Although it is only six verses long, Psalm 23 has had a profound impact on the spiritual lives of Jews and Christians, especially in the last two centuries. There is probably no psalm with a greater discrepancy between its size and its influence. Psalm 23 is a song of trust in the divine shepherd, who protects the flock and leads them to a life of abundance in God’s presence.

​​מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד יְהֹוָה רֹעִי לֹא אֶחְסָר׃
בִּנְאוֹת דֶּשֶׁא יַרְבִּיצֵנִי עַל־מֵי מְנֻחוֹת יְנַהֲלֵנִי׃
נַפְשִׁי יְשׁוֹבֵב יַנְחֵנִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי־צֶדֶק לְמַעַן שְׁמוֹ׃
גַּם כִּי־אֵלֵךְ בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת לֹא־אִירָא רָע כִּי־אַתָּה עִמָּדִי שִׁבְטְךָ וּמִשְׁעַנְתֶּךָ הֵמָּה יְנַחֲמֻנִי׃
תַּעֲרֹךְ לְפָנַי  שֻׁלְחָן נֶגֶד צֹרְרָי דִּשַּׁנְתָּ בַשֶּׁמֶן רֹאשִׁי כּוֹסִי רְוָיָה׃
אַךְ  טוֹב וָחֶסֶד יִרְדְּפוּנִי כׇּל־יְמֵי חַיָּי וְשַׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית־יְהֹוָה לְאֹרֶךְ יָמִים׃

1 A psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd;
I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me to water in places of repose;
3 He renews my life;
He guides me in right paths
as befits His name.
4 Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness,
I fear no harm, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me.
5 You spread a table for me in full view of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my drink is abundant.
6 Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for many long years.

1 A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
2 In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
3 he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths
for the sake of his name.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.

5 You set a table before me
in front of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me
all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of the Lord
for endless days.

1 El Señor es mi pastor, nada me falta;
2 en verdes pastos me hace descansar.
Junto a tranquilas aguas me conduce;
3 me infunde nuevas fuerzas.
Me guía por sendas de justicia
haciendo honor a su nombre.
4 Aun si voy
por valles tenebrosos,
no temeré ningún mal
porque tú estás a mi lado;
tu vara y tu bastón me reconfortan.

5 Dispones ante mí un banquete
en presencia de mis enemigos.
Has ungido con aceite mi cabeza;
has llenado mi copa a rebosar.
6 Seguro estoy de que la bondad y el amor
me seguirán todos los días de mi vida;
y en la casa del Señor
habitaré para siempre.

Entering the Psalm

By Andrew Davis, PhD


Although it is only six verses long, Psalm 23 has had a profound impact on the spiritual lives of Jews and Christians, especially in the last two centuries. There is probably no psalm with a greater discrepancy between its size and its influence. Psalm 23 is a song of trust in the divine shepherd, who protects the flock and leads them to a life of abundance in God’s presence. The psalm alternates between third-person descriptions of God (verses 1-4a, 6) and a brief direct address to God (verses 4b-5).

The psalm unfolds as a pilgrimage. We begin with the shepherd (verse 1), who guides us through the ups and downs of a journey (verses 2-4). Ultimately, we arrive at a banquet (verse 5) prepared at the house of the LORD (verses 6). It is easy to imagine ancient Israelites singing these verses as they make their way to a festival at the Jerusalem temple. In their recital perhaps these pilgrims recalled the journey of their ancestors, whom God led out of Egypt into the Promised Land. Indeed, the psalm contains several allusions to the Exodus story (see, for example, Exodus 15:13, 17; 20:6; Psalm 78:52-53).
Thus, Psalm 23 functions on several levels—as a reminder of Israel’s national story of liberation, as a soundtrack for ancient pilgrims to the Temple, and as an assurance of God’s pastoral care for those who pray with the psalm today.

Discussion Questions on Psalm 23

  1. Reflect on the image of the Divine as a shepherd. Is this image resonant with your experience of God or the Divine?
  2. What is the role of fear in your spiritual / existential journey?
  3. As you read this text, are there particular words, phrases, or images that call to you?
  4. What is your understanding of “dwelling in the house of the Lord for all of the days of my life”?
  5. One of the tensions in this psalm is the relationship between safety and danger. Where are you along this continuum in this moment as you reflect on this psalm?

Featured Commentaries

An Interview with Rev. Brian McLaren

Brian D. McLaren is an American pastor, author, speaker, and leading figure in the emerging church movement. McLaren is also associated with postmodern Christianity. This resource is a personal reflection on McLaren’s relationship with Psalm 23.

Read more

Psalm 23: An Interpretation by Marilyn Nelson

Marilyn Nelson is an American poet, translator, and children’s book author. The following is Nelson’s reflection and interpretation of Psalm 23. 


Read more

More Multimedia Resources

Psalm 23: Reckoning with the Murder of George Floyd (Rabbi Arielle Lekach Rosenberg and Enzi Tanner)

Questions for Reflection:

  1. As you watch these two videos presentations by leaders from the Twin Cities following the murder of George Floyd, how do their words impact you today?
  2. When have you turned to Psalm 23 to express lament and/or hope?

Rabbi Arielle Lekach-Rosenberg is the lead rabbi of Shir Tikvah in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Enzi Tanner is the community safety organizer at Jewish Community Action.


The legendary performer and songwriter Bobby McFerrin wrote this moving choral setting of Psalm 23. As you read (below) and view McFerrin’s performance of the psalm (above), consider the following questions:

    1. McFerrin’s lyrics use feminine pronouns for referring to the Divine. Does this resonate with your understanding of the protector in this psalm? Are there times when you’re in a relation with a masculine Divine and others when you’re in relationship with a feminine Divine?
    2. McFerrin dedicated this song to his mother, Sara. How does that impact your experience of the words?


The Lord is my Shepherd, I have all I need,
She makes me lie down in green meadows,
Beside the still waters, She will lead.

She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs,
She leads me in a path of good things,
And fills my heart with songs.

Even though I walk, through a dark & dreary land,
There is nothing that can shake me,
She has said She won’t forsake me,
I’m in her hand.

She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes,
She anoints my head with oil,
And my cup overflows.

Surely, surely goodness & kindness will follow me,
All the days of my life,
And I will live in her house,
Forever, forever & ever.

Glory be to our Mother, & Daughter,
And to the Holy of Holies,
As it was in the beginning, is now & ever shall be,
World, without end. Amen.

Bobby McFerrin is a 10-time GRAMMY Award winner who has blurred the distinction between pop music and fine art

Dr. David Powlison, a biblical counselor and former Christian Counseling &
Educational Foundation (CCEF) executive director, writes, “The antipsalm tells what life feels like and looks like whenever God vanishes from sight. As we hear about Garrett and the others, each story lives too much inside the antipsalm. The ‘I’m-all-alone-in-the-universe’ experience maps onto each one of them. The antipsalm captures the driven-ness and pointlessness of life-purposes that are petty and self-defeating. It expresses the fears and silent despair that cannot find a voice because there’s no one to really talk to.” This resource is the Antipsalm of Psalm 23.

Antipsalm 23

I’m on my own.
No one looks out for me or protects me.
I experience a continual sense of need. Nothing’s quite right.
I’m always restless. I’m easily frustrated and often disappointed.
It’s a jungle — I feel overwhelmed. It’s a desert — I’m thirsty.
My soul feels broken, twisted, and stuck. I can’t fix myself.
I stumble down some dark paths.
Still, I insist: I want to do what I want, when I want, how I want.
But life’s confusing. Why don’t things ever really work out?
I’m haunted by emptiness and futility — shadows of death.
I fear the big hurt and final loss.
Death is waiting for me at the end of every road,
but I’d rather not think about that.
I spend my life protecting myself. Bad things can happen.
I find no lasting comfort.
I’m alone … facing everything that could hurt me.
Are my friends really friends?
Other people use me for their own ends.
I can’t really trust anyone. No one has my back.
No one is really for me — except me.
And I’m so much all about ME, sometimes it’s sickening.
I belong to no one except myself.
My cup is never quite full enough. I’m left empty.
Disappointment follows me all the days of my life.
Will I just be obliterated into nothingness?
Will I be alone forever, homeless, free-falling into void?
Sartre said, “Hell is other people.”
I have to add, “Hell is also myself.”
It’s a living death,
and then I die.

Questions for Reflection

  1. David Powlinson wrote, “The antipsalm tells what life feels like and looks like whenever God vanishes from sight.” Have you had an experience like this? If so, how would you characterize it?
  2. Compare the following. What do you hear, what do you see, what do you feel?
    The LORD is my shepherd; I lack nothing.
    No one looks out for me or protects me.
  3. Is it possible to hold a psalm and anti-psalm consciousness together based on your reading of the original version of Psalm 23 and Powlinson’s adaptation of it?

David Powlison served as CCEF’s executive director (2014-2019), a faculty member, and senior editor of the Journal of Biblical Counseling. He held a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and an MDiv from Westminster Theological Seminary. David wrote extensively on biblical counseling and on the relationship between faith and psychology.

Copyright 2022 by Rabbi Or Rose, Hebrew College and Dr. Andrew Davis, Boston College. Lesson Plan by Morgan Figa, Hebrew College Rabbinical School student.

PDF lesson plan of this page coming soon.