The ordering of the Psalter is no accident. As English pastor and theologian Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892) observed, it is only after we have read “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps 22:1) that we come to “The LORD is my shepherd” (Ps 23:1).
Experience teaches us that “I lack nothing” cannot mean that we will always receive what we desire—even if our wants are in keeping with God’s general principles. A man may long to become a missionary, only to be paralyzed in an automobile accident. A woman with wonderful potential as a Christian mother may remain infertile. And what about those desires to improve our lot in life? Many of God’s “sheep,” both at home and abroad, are hungry, naked—even dying—at this very moment. The meaning of “I lack nothing” is that I will never lack anything necessary to my ultimate good—which God has wrapped up with his own (cf. Ro 8:28,38–39).
The fact is that if this psalm had no valley in it (v. 4), it wouldn’t have any comfort either. When we pass through life’s valleys, we have the assurance that we will never lack anything required for our eternal well-being. The only reason a shepherd would guide his sheep into a dangerous valley would be to lead them through it to a better place (see Heb 11:16,40).
In his personal role as a real-life shepherd, Phillip W. Keller has reflected extensively on Psalm 23. Following are extracts from his observations on Psalm 23:5:
In thinking about [the] statement [“You prepare a table before me …”] it is well to bear in mind that the sheep are approaching this high mountain country of the summer ranges. These are known as alplands or tablelands so much sought after by the sheepmen.
In some of the finest sheep country of the world, especially in the Western United States and Southern Europe, the high plateau of the sheep ranges are always referred to as “mesas”—the Spanish word for “tables.”
So it may be seen that what David referred to as a table was actually the entire high summer range. Though these “mesas” may have been remote and hard to reach, the energetic and aggressive sheep owner takes the time and trouble to ready them for the arrival of his flocks.
It is not always apparent to us what tremendous personal cost it has been for Christ to prepare the table for His own. Just as the lonely, personal privation of the sheepman who prepares the summer range for his stock entails a sacrifice, so the lonely agony of Gethsemane, of Pilate’s hall, of Calvary, have cost my Master much.
Lord, you are my shepherd. I have everything I need. You give me peace and guide me to do right. Even when bad things happen, I will not be afraid because you are there beside me. Thank you for all you give me.