This verse is often used to comfort those who are dying, and it is not wrongly used in this way. God is certainly a source of comfort in a person's dying moments. However, this verse primarily speaks of the shepherd's ability to protect his sheep in moments of danger. The picture, as Keller points out, is of the passage from the lowlands, where sheep spend the winter, through the valleys and then to the high pastures where they go in summer. The valleys are places of rich pasture and much water, but they are also places of danger. Wild animals lurk in the broken canyon walls. Sudden storms may sweep along the valley floors. There may be floods. Since the sun does not shine into the valley very well, there really are shadows which at any moment may become shadows of death.

I shall not lack life. This is because "he restores my soul" (v. 3). In Hebrew idiom the words "restores my soul" can mean "brings me to repentance” (or conversion).5 But since the word translated "soul" is actually “life,” and since the metaphor here is that of shepherding, the words probably mean "the LORD restores me to physical health" (or salvation). In the book on this psalm which I referred to earlier, Phillip Keller explains this by the situation known to shepherds as a "cast (or cast down) sheep.”

In Luke 15 Jesus defended his mingling with tax collectors and "sinners" by saying, "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent" (Luke 15:4-7).

The twenty-third psalm is the most beloved of the 150 psalms in the psalter, and possibly the best loved (and best known) chapter in the entire Bible. The great Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon called it "the pearl of psalms."1 J. J. Stewart Perowne, the nineteenth century preacher and commentator, observed that "there is no psalm in which the absence of all doubt, misgiving, fear and anxiety is so remarkable."2 Alexander Maclaren said that "the world could spare many a large book better than this sunny little psalm. It has dried many tears and supplied the mold into which many hearts have poured their peaceful faith."3

The turning point (vv. 19-21). As I suggested at the beginning of this study, the climax of the first part of Psalm 22 and the turning point between part one and part two comes in this section as the suffering one finds his communion with God restored.