Even though I almost always prefer a modern-language translation for personal Bible study and public teaching, there are rare exceptions when I find myself drawn to the beautiful imagery and rhythm of the centuries-old King James Version. Psalm 23 is one of those occasions.
There is just something about this psalm that begs for it to sound ancient, timeless. It's not just the words, but the content. Shepherding, the focus of Psalm 23, is one of the oldest occupations in biblical history, and rare in the modern-world. Yes, I've met shepherds on my travels out west, but I do not generally come across them in my daily life. It makes me ask the question, "What does it mean for God to be my shepherd?"
The pastoral imagery of still waters, dark valleys, a shepherd's rod, and anointing oil is likewise anachronistic to life in the glitzy, busy 21st century. There is something within us that yearns for a relationship with our Lord that is described like this - one where He promises to lead us to peace, comfort us in the face of loss, and bless us even in the presence of our enemies. That's a God I want to dwell with forever!
There's a reason Psalm 23 is read at so many gravesides, so many hospital beds, memorized by so many children, and featured in so much artwork. It's a deeply nurturing picture of God's grace, where hope and peace combine to strengthen our faith and give us something to reach for, even when all seems lost. It's a psalm that sticks with us throughout all the passages of life.
If I only could have only one psalm to keep out of the whole Bible, I know I would choose this one.