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The Pearl of the Psalms: Spurgeon on Psalm 23

Ethan Collins November 17, 2020

Psalm 23 is undoubtedly one of the most well-known passages in Scripture.  It adorns walls in faithful churches and fills frames in Christian homes.  David’s song is portrayed in non-religious circles too, making appearances in many secular movies and other entertainment mediums.  Though not often recited in its entirety, few are unfamiliar with the famous “valley of the shadow of death.” 

The noteworthiness of Psalm 23 was not lost on Spurgeon.  In fact, he thought quite highly of it, as is evident by this especially generous compliment: “Of this delightful song it may be affirmed that its piety and its poetry are equal, its sweetness and its spirituality are unsurpassed.”  Spurgeon once referred to Psalm 23 as the “Pearl of the Psalms” in his monthly magazine, The Sword and the Trowel.  This magazine often included an exposition of a psalm, and in the 1866 publication Spurgeon featured Psalm 23.  Below are some of his most touching and eloquent comments on each verse.

1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

The sweetest word of the whole is that monosyllable, “My.”  He does not say, “The Lord is the shepherd of the world at large, and leadeth forth the multitude as his flock,” but “The Lord is my shepherd;” if he be a Shepherd to no one else, he is a Shepherd to me; he cares for me, watches over me, and preserves me.” The words are in the present tense.  Whatever be the believer’s position, he is even now under the pastoral care of Jehovah.[1]

It is not only “I do not want,” but “I shall not want.”  Come what may, if famine should devastate the land, or calamity destroy the city, “I shall not want.”  Old age with its feebleness shall not bring me any lack, and even death with its gloom shall not find me destitute.  I have all things and abound; not because I have a good store of money in the bank, not because I have skill and wit with which to win my bread, but because “The Lord is my shepherd.”  The wicked always want, but the righteous never; a sinner’s heart is far from satisfaction, but a gracious spirit dwells in a palace of content.[2]

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

What are these “green pastures” but the Scriptures of truth—always fresh, always rich, and never exhausted? There is no fear of biting the bare ground where the grass is long enough for the flock to lie down in it. Sweet and full are the doctrines of the gospel; fit food for souls, as tender grass is natural nutriment for sheep.

What are these “still waters” but the influences and graces of his blessed Spirit? His Spirit attends us in various operations, like waters—in the plural—to cleanse, to refresh, to fertilize, to cherish. They are “still waters”, for the Holy Ghost loves peace, and sounds no trumpet of ostentation in his operations…. Not to raging waves of strife, but to peaceful streams of holy love does the Spirit of God conduct the chosen sheep. He is a dove, not an eagle; the dew, not the hurricane.[3]

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Are any of us low in grace? Do we feel that our spirituality is at its lowest ebb? He who turns the ebb into the flood can soon restore our soul. Pray to him, then, for the blessing—”Restore thou me, thou Shepherd of my soul!”

Some Christians overlook the blessing of sanctification, and yet to a thoroughly renewed heart this is one of the sweetest gifts of the covenant. If we could be saved from wrath, and yet remain unregenerate, impenitent sinners, we should not be saved as we desire, for we mainly and chiefly pant to be saved from sin and led in the way of holiness.[4]

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

This unspeakably delightful verse has been sung on many a dying bed, and has helped to make the dark valley bright times out of mind. Every word in it has a wealth of meaning.

Yea, though I walk, as if the believer did not quicken his pace when he came to die, but still calmly walked with God. To walk indicates the steady advance of a soul which knows its road, knows its end, resolves to follow the path, feels quite safe, and is therefore perfectly calm and composed… Observe that it is not walking in the valley, but through the valley. We go through the dark tunnel of death and emerge into the light of immortality. We do not die, we do but sleep to wake in glory. Death is not the house but the porch, not the goal but the passage to it… Many a saint has reaped more joy and knowledge when he came to die than he ever knew while he lived. And, then, it is not “the valley of death, “but the valley of the shadow of death, for death in its substance has been removed, and only the shadow of it remains… Nobody is afraid of a shadow, for a shadow cannot stop a man’s pathway even for a moment. The shadow of a dog cannot bite; the shadow of a sword cannot kill; the shadow of death cannot destroy us. Let us not, therefore, be afraid.  I will fear no evil. He does not say there shall not be any evil; he had got beyond even that high assurance, and knew that Jesus had put all evil away; but “I will fear no evil; …not even the Evil One himself; I will not dread the last enemy, I will look upon him as a conquered foe, an enemy to be destroyed, For thou art with me. This is the joy of the Christian!  …The little child out at sea in the storm is not frightened like all the other passengers on board the vessel, it sleeps in its mother’s bosom; it is enough for it that its mother is with it; and it should be enough for the believer to know that Christ is with him… Thy rod and thy staff, by which you govern and rule your flock, the ensigns of your sovereignty and of your gracious care—they comfort me. I will believe that thou reignest still. The rod of Jesse shall still be over me as the sovereign succor of my soul.[5]

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

The good man has his enemies. He would not be like his Lord if he had not. If we were without enemies, we might fear that we were not the friends of God, for the friendship of the world is enmity to God…Thou preparest a table… Nothing is hurried, there is no confusion, no disturbance, the enemy is at the door, and yet God prepares a table, and the Christian sits down and eats as if everything were in perfect peace. Oh! the peace which Jehovah gives to his people, even in the midst of the most trying circumstances!

May we live in the daily enjoyment of this blessing, receiving a fresh anointing for every day’s duties. Every Christian is a priest, but he cannot execute the priestly office without unction, and hence we must go day by day to God the Holy Ghost, that we may have our heads anointed with oil.

He had not only enough, a cup full, but more than enough, a cup which overflowed. A poor man may say this as well as those in higher circumstances, “What, all this, and Jesus Christ too?”[6]

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

This is a fact as indisputable as it is encouraging, and therefore a heavenly verily, or “surely” is set as a seal upon it. This sentence may be read, “only goodness and mercy, “for there shall be unmingled mercy in our history. These twin guardian angels will always be with me at my back and my beck… Goodness and mercy follow him always—all the days of his life —the black days as well as the bright days, the days of fasting as well as the days of feasting, the dreary days of winter as well as the bright days of summer. Goodness supplies our needs, and mercy blots out our sins. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. “A servant abideth not in the house for ever, but the son abideth ever.” While I am here I will be a child at home with my God; the whole world shall be his house to me; and when I ascend into the upper chamber, I shall not change my company, nor even change the house; I shall only go to dwell in the upper story of the house of the Lord forever. May God grant us grace to dwell in the serene atmosphere of this most blessed Psalm![7]

[1] S&T 1866:550

[2] S&T 1866:550

[3] S&T 1866:555-551

[4] S&T 1866:551

[5] S&T 1866:551-552

[6] S&T 1866:552-553

[7] S&T 1866:553