Psalm 23 is often recited at funerals, and tends to bring a very somber attitude when we consider its contents. In the context of a funeral, it gives the listener peace that their loved one is in the presence of the Lord, and in many cases that they are no longer suffering. However, have you considered the meaning of this psalm outside of funerals, and what it means to the believer outside of this context?
Psalm 23: 1-3 AMP, “The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, to guide and to shield me],I shall not want. He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still and quiet waters. He refreshes and restores my soul (life); He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”
Translation: God leads me. He is my provider, my guide and my protector. Since He provides for all of my needs, I will not experience want, nor lack (Matthew 6:25-34). In God, there is peace if we take our refuge in Him. If we take refuge in Him, His peace will overflow because we are putting our trust in Him, casting our cares to Him, lifting up our burdens to Him, and letting Him take control. We are completely surrendered to Him, and in that, we find our refuge from struggles. Subsequently, we will find strength, as in Him we can do all things. He will lead us down the right path, and guide our steps.
Psalm 23:4 AMP, “Even though I walk through the [sunless, valley of deep darkness] valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me;.”
Translation: “Shadow of death” always creates images of actual physical death- which is why it’s recited at funerals. The phrase can come to have the connotation of death, near death, or ending of life- but this may not be entirely accurate. The Hebrew word for death is sal-mawet, meaning darkness or dark shadows. It contains the same Hebrew root word for death (ma-wet) which is dying, but this word itself does not mean death.
Thus when we take it into proper context, the scripture means that even though we may be faced with times of despair, trial, temptation, darkness, or feeling far from God, God it always with us. Scripture tells us that He neither leaves, nor forsakes us. He is there to offer us comfort. There is no fear, because we are abiding in God’s protection from evil. There is a comfort in this knowledge.
The later part of that verse says, “Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort and console me.”
Translation: Traditionally, a shepherd (God) uses a rod to protect the sheep from enemies (Satan) . It was used to kill wild animals that would attack the flock. A shepherd’s staff was used to guide the sheep in a particular direction and into safety.
Psalm 23:5 AMP, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You have anointed and refreshed my head with oil. My cup overflows.”
Translation: Oil symbolizes God’s blessings and the anointing of believers with the Holy Spirit. It prepares the individual for His service. The scripture means that even though our enemies or the enemy may persecute us, not to be concerned. Don’t be concerned with other’s short comings, or things which happen which are unfair. God will anoint you to do great things for Him beyond what you may be able to conceive (cup overflows with blessings).
*Oil additionally can mean the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Psalm 23:6 AMP says, “Surely goodness and mercy and unfailing love shall follow me all the days of my life, And I shall dwell forever [throughout all my days] in the house and in the presence of the Lord.”
Translation: God will always have mercy on us, and loves us unconditionally. We will always be in His presence providing that we don’t turn from Him. He will always be there.
While in many ways, Psalm 23 seems appropriate for funerals, taken outside of this context we can see the beauty and peace of the scripture applied to our daily lives. It was meant to bring peace to the weary, and strength to those in need. It is a gorgeous depiction of the nature and character of God as our loving Father.