Psalm 23 portrays God as a shepherd, feeding (verse 1) and leading (verse 3) his flock. The “rod and staff” (verse 4) are also the implements of a shepherd. Some commentators see the shepherd imagery pervading the entire psalm.
HE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want;
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the
A long tradition ascribes authorship of the psalm to King David, said in the Hebrew Scriptures to have been a field shepherd himself as a youth.
Psalm 23 is traditionally sung by Jews in Hebrew at the third Shabbat meal on Saturday afternoon. It is also sung during the Yizkor service. Sephardic and some Hassidic Jews also sing during Friday afternoon services and as part of the Sabbath night and day meals. It is read at a cemetery funeral service instead of the traditional prayer during Jewish holidays. The standard Hebrew text of the Bible used in Judaism is the Masoretic text standardized between the seventh and tenth centuries CE.
For Christians the image of God as a shepherd evokes connections not only with David but with Jesus, described as “the Good Shepherd” in the Gospel of John. The phrase about “the valley of the shadow of death” is often taken as an allusion to the eternal life given by Jesus.
Orthodox Christians typically include the Psalm in the prayers of preparation for receiving the Eucharist.