Psalm 23 Bible Study Lesson for Adults: FREE Download

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A study of the 23rd Psalm reveals the depth of God’s love and care as our loving Shepherd.

Of all the psalms written by David, Psalm 23 is one of the most beloved and it’s one of the most frequently quoted portions of Scripture from the entire Bible.

You’ve likely heard this psalm before or have seen it displayed on a piece of art, magnet, or bookmark; the truths in Psalm 23 are just as pertinent to our lives today as when it was written.

Psalm 23 stands as a timeless beacon of hope and assurance when people find themselves suffering:

  • During a funeral service 
  • In prison
  • During a traumatic accident or incident you didn’t anticipate
  • During a difficult time of intense suffering.
  • ​When death is imminent
  • Suffering from the result of sin – your own OR someone else’s

For a long time, I associated Psalm 23 as being pertinent only while walking through hard times and dark valleys; however, the truths from this psalm apply to daily life, not exclusively during dark times!

As we approach this portion of God’s Word let’s not let our familiarity with the text allow us to rush through or gloss over it; let’s savor its meaning and ask the Lord to breathe a fresh word over us as we study His Word.

If you prefer a video / audio version of this lesson, you can watch it here:

The video presentation is more in-depth.

I’m doing a series of lessons on Psalms LIVE on YouTube on the first of every month on my YouTube channel. You’re invited to join us here for this study through select chapters in the book of Psalms.

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Introduction to Psalm 23

King David is the author of Psalm 23.

Before David was king, he was a shepherd. 

David was acquainted with:

  • The role of a shepherd. David was well acquainted with the responsibilities of a shepherd. He knew how to effectively provide attentive care of sheep regarding their needs, such as clean water, food, and protection from wild animals. He’d also know the unique struggles and joys a shepherd experienced. Sheep were completely dependent on their shepherds for food and water – left on their own this need would not be met.
  • The characteristics of sheep. David knew the physical anatomy of sheep, their characteristics, and their unique needs.
  • The relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. During Old Testament times, it was customary for the Shepherds to know each of their sheep by name, and the sheep knew the voice of their shepherd.

Nothing compares to a first-hand perspective that enables an individual to share the unique struggles, challenges, and joys in a particular role or life experience.

We’re inclined to lean in when someone speaks when they not only know about something, but they know because they experienced it.

For instance, I could research the process of going through law school, interview people who went through law school, and produce a well-written informative piece of content about the experience of law school, but I have never experienced law school! 

However, if I wrote a paper on the experience of going through nursing school it would be written from the firsthand perspective of one who experienced it, and this would produce a vastly different work with increased depth and insight because of my personal experiences of having gone through the process.

David understood the role of a shepherd because he walked in the sandals of a shepherd! 

Interestingly, David writes this psalm from the viewpoint of a sheep, not a shepherd.

No doubt David reflected on his days in the pasture as he penned this beautiful psalm.

When herds intermingled, a shepherd would call out to his sheep, and they would respond by coming out from the bunch and following his voice. 

The Theme of Psalm 23

The theme of Psalm 23 is found in verse 1, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.”

The rest of this psalm unpacks and explains this theme.

Psalm 23

“The LORD is My Shepherd, I shall not be in want” (Ps. 23:1)

The LORD refers to Yahweh, Jehovah. Maker of Heaven and Earth. 

You can almost sense David’s pride when he declares, “The LORD is MY Shepherd!” 

David knew the quality of life that a sheep would experience had a direct coorilation to who its shepherd was. In other words, if a shepherd was attentive, caring, and detail-oriented the sheep under his care would have a better life than those who belonged to a harsh uncaring, inattentive shepherd.

Since the care a sheep would receive had a direct correlation to its shepherd, it’s no wonder David burst with confidence and contentment when he explained, “The LORD is my Shepherd.”

If I could offer a paraphrase of his sentiment in verse one: The LORD – He is MY shepherd! He is the One who takes care of ME! And because of who HE is, I don’t want for anything, because I know He’s got me!!

“I Shall not want” (Ps. 23:1b)

What a bold declaration of contentment from David in verse one!

David declares he can experience authentic contentment because of his relationship with his Shepherd. 

This statement does NOT testify to the resourcefulness of the sheep, but the all-sufficient provision, protection, and guidance of its shepherd!

Contentment is not something we pursue, it’s something we rest in, and this foundation rests in the fact that the Lord is our Shepherd!

This testifies to the importance of the Lord being our Shepherd because authentic contentment is only possible in Him.

This reminds me of a lesson on contentment in the Bible study I wrote, Wolly Devoted:

“It’s human nature to emphasize things we do not have or wish we had rather than emphasize the blessings we do have. Did you ever become preoccupied with “one thing” you wanted so intently that you became fixated on it and felt as though you just had to have it in order to be content? Only thing is, once you obtain that one thing, something else inevitably comes to take its place. Maybe it was a spouse, a baby, a certain position in your career, a salary increase, a larger home, a piece of new furniture – whatever…

Contentment will never be found in our circumstances or storehouses – it is a condition of the heart”. (Wholly Devoted, Jennifer Brooks, p. 97)

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters.” (Ps. 23:2)

Resting often gets a bad rap in today’s society and is often viewed as a luxury, rather than a need. 

We’re super busy! 

Deadlines loom. 

To-do lists seem never-ending…. 

Rest? What is that???

Not something many of us do readily or easily. 

When my children were small they were on very regimented nap schedules, so naptime was never an option. This resulted in a daily routine that was matter-of-fact and not optional!

I remember the days of establishing this routine, however, and they weren’t always easy! 

The children had physical signs that they needed to rest such as rubbing their eyes, irritability, and fussy, and I knew as their mom they needed to rest and would benefit from it.

The problem was, they didn’t WANT to rest. 

They didn’t know or understand why they NEEDED to rest, nor did they WANT to rest.

As their mom, however, I knew they needed it, and it was the best thing for them.

I can’t help but think of the parallel with us when we need to rest — even though we don’t want to or think we need it…

When the Lord positions us in a posture of rest He gets our attention in a unique way that doesn’t happen easily when we’re on the go. 

When God ordains a season of rest it’s always with intention and purpose.

Notice where He leads to rest according to this verse?

In green pastures. 

In other words, where nourishment is found. 

When we find ourselves in these times we’re wise to ask the Lord, “OK, you’ve got my attention… what are you trying to show me?”

Then open our copy of God’s Word and see what He will reveal.

“He restores my soul” (Ps. 23:3).

Sometimes we need to have our soul restored.

David was well-acquainted with this need, as it was he who exclaimed, “Why so downcast my soul, why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God.” (Ps. 42:11)

All of us at times need our soul restored, and that’s something God alone can do.

Maybe you’re finding yourself in that place today. 

​It would be impossible to make a comprehensive list of reasons why our soul needs restoring, but consider a few reasons that come to mind:

  • Season of mourning the loss of a loved one.
  • Mourning another type of loss such as a relationship, a job, a home, or even a dream
  • Weariness. We may not even be able to pinpoint the cause of it, but we’re exhausted and worn out.
  • Devastating results of sin. This can be from our sin, or maybe we’re a victim of experiencing the painful consequences of another person’s sin.

“He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3)

​Let’s break this verse into two parts. 

First, HE leads ME. 

Sheep can be stubborn animals, and we can be stubborn as well. 

​Our Shepherd must be the One to lead! 

If we’re honest, sometimes WE want to be the leader! 

We know where we want to go, the way we want to go, and the best way to get there!

We become stubborn and think our way is best, so we plunge forward and then ask the Lord to bless the path we’re forging for ourselves.

There can only be one leader; His isn’t just the best way, but the perfect way.

When my children were small and there was a power struggle occurring between what they wanted to do and what I wanted them to do I’d often stop the escalation by looking them in eyes and asking them, “Who’s the Mommy?”

I’d wait for them to answer the question!

They would look directly at me and answer, “You are, Mommy.”

Without fault, this reality check was enough to deescalate the situation with this perspective check. 

Sometimes we need to take a step back and ask ourselves, “Who’s the leader?”

The second part of this verse tells us He leads: in paths of righteousness.

We can rest in knowing HE is leading us on the right path to the right places! 

That’s a matter of faith and trusting that Almighty God has your best intentions, and is leading you according to His plan and purpose for you.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). 

Dr. Tony Evans helped me better understand what the valley of the shadow means. 

In Israel, some mountains will cast a shadow on the valley below them as the sun sets. 

Sheep are easily frightened, timid animals, so they would fear the shadow of the valley.

Even if it were only 6:00 in the evening, the sheep would fear the darkness, and sometimes even think it was nighttime. 

It’s easy to make a parallel in our lives and think of things that cast a shadow of death that incite fear, anxiety, uncertainty, anguish, and doubt.

  • Sickness
  • Medical diagnosis
  • Financial hardships
  • Joblessness
  • A rebellious child
  • ​Mental or physical illness of family members

It’s NOT a sin to be afraid, uncertain, or even feel despair during crushing circumstances.

In fact, I think sometimes we deny our feelings, afraid we won’t appear “spiritual enough”, or weak… 

God created us with emotions, and it’s not “bad” or “wrong” if we admit them or even let ourselves feel them.

God already knows how you’re struggling, and He’s big enough to absorb you admitting your struggle to Him! 

The Lord honors our raw honest prayers. 

​Where we place our focus in the midst of our emotions is the key.

Are we going to focus on the shadow or the Lord who is sovereign over the shadow?

That’s a choice we make.

When we shift our focus, our perspective realigns to put God and His sovereign rule takes center stage of our thoughts… where He belongs.

Did you notice what provided comfort to him while in the darkness?

It was the presence of his shepherd.

He said, “I will fear no evil, for thou are with me.”

Sheep are timing, easily frightened animals, and so are we.

In his book, A Shepherd’s Look at Psalm 23, Phillip Keller wrote about his firsthand experiences as both a shepherd, and a pastor.

He said the number one thing that would reassure his sheep and allow them to rest was his presence among the herd. Day or night, it was amazing how much more restful they were with him in their presence.

Likewise, our ultimate source of peace, comfort, and assurance in the dark valleys we journey through lies in the presence of our Shepherd.

Thankfully, He’s promised to never leave or forsake us; His presence is guaranteed!

“Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4).

I never understood how these items provided comfort while providing the care of his sheep though they were both always included in any sheep picture I’ve seen.

It wasn’t until I studied their intended purpose for the shepherd while caring for a flock of sheep:

A shepherd’s rod was an instrument used to fend off predators to keep his sheep safe from them. You and I have no idea how many times God’s help came to rescue us from a predator, and we didn’t even realize He did.

A staff is a long stick with a hook on the end of it. When a sheep was caught in a thicket the shepherd would use their staff to rescue his sheep and bring them back into the fold and on the right way once again.

O Lord how often you have rescued us from precarious situations and brought us back in the way we should go! 

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Ps. 23:5)

Dr. Tony Evans brought insight into this portion of Psalm 23 as he explained that a shepherd would carry a pouch, and inside he would have a cloth to spread out for a sheep after he rescued it and then he would sprinkle fodder on top of it while the sheep ate. He said the enemies of the sheep would then watch the sheep eat knowing they couldn’t come and eat it — or the food it was eating because of the presence of the Shepherd.

“You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Ps. 23:5).

When a sheep would experience injury, the shepherd would anoint it with oil to soothe and heal.

“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life” (Ps. 23:6).

​The literal meaning of “follow me” in this verse according to Strong’s concordance is “to run after, chase.”

Listen to how the adds to the meaning of this verse when we replace it with this original meaning, “Surely God’s goodness and love will run after and chase me all the days of my life”

The goodness of God and His steadfast love pursue US.

I think we tend to look at this in reverse and we think it’s up to us to pursue God’s love and strive to gain His favor… while it’s true we position ourselves to know and love Him more, it’s ultimately HIM who pursues and hold onto US and not the other way around. 

This can be a freeing mindset for you today if you tend to beat yourself up thinking you’re not trying hard enough or good enough to follow the Lord!

Rest in HIM knowing He’s the One pursuing and holding you.

Don’t let the enemy heap words of condemnation on you thinking you’re not doing enough in this way.

“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Ps. 23:6)

This world is not our home, and our Shepherd, Christ Jesus, will lead us safely home as we pilgrimage through our days.

Our every need on our journey is met in our Shepherd and addressed in Psalm 23 as we learn He will meet our every need:

  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Directional
  • Spiritual
  • Eternal

Concluding Thoughts on Psalm 23

Sheep are needy animals.

Phillip Keller wrote the insightful book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. Mr Keller also provides a firsthand perspective, as he was a shepherd of sheep, and was also a pastor. According to Mr. Keller, 

“Sheep do not just take care of themselves, as some might suppose. They require more than any other class of livestock, endless attention and meticulous care. It is no accident God has chosen to call us sheep.”

Sheep are needy, but you know what, you and I are pretty needy too.

Philip Keller goes on to say that people and sheep share many of the same characteristics, including timidity, fear, stubbornness, and even stupidity.

Despite all of our bents, flaws, and tendencies, the Lord:

  • Chose us
  • Sent His son to die for us
  • Delights in Us
  • Loves us fiercely
  • Pours His grace and mercy out on us
  • Provides our every need
  • Nurtures us
  • Speaks to us

In this book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Mr. Keller. recalls when he first brought his new herd of sheep home. He was watching them in his yard when his neighbor came over and handed him a knife saying, “You know what you have to do.”

At the time it was customary for the shepherd to take a knife and cut into the ear of his sheep a distinctive cut so they could recognize his own among all the sheep heads from a distance when they intermingled. 

There’s a spiritual application we can make here; every born again follower of Jesus has been marked with the indwelling Holy Spirit, and it’s the Lord’s mark on us that we are His own. 

At the moment of our conversion when we repent and surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit takes up resilience inside us! 

Ephesians 1:13-14 tells us, “When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of His glory.

Hebrews 13:20-21 tells us, “Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever, Amen.”

I don’t know about you, but this Bible verse strikes me in a new, fresh way after studying Psalm 23.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd. We never need to doubt the quality of His care for His sheep.

As He said in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Jesus Christ is referred to in the New Testament as our Good Shepherd, and we, His sheep, are equipped to recognize His voice; I’m incredibly thankful for this promise.

A brown sheep looking through a fence with text overlay Free Bible Study Lesson Psalm 23 "The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want." (Ps. 23:1)

​Free instant download on Psalm 23 with thought-provoking questions for an adult Sunday School class, small group, or personal devotional.

Related to Psalm 23 Adult Sunday School Lesson for Adults:

35 of David’s Psalms of Prayer and Praise

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Adult Sunday School Lesson on Prayer

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