The Twenty-third Psalm has been called the “nightingale song” because it sings the sweetest at the midnight hour.
The title suggests it is a “Psalm of David.” These superscriptions (116 of them) are not a part of the original text, but they are very ancient, going back at least to the third century B.C. in the Greek version of the Old Testament.
The Psalm falls into two divisions:
First, the LORD (Jehovah, ASV—the covenant God of Israel—Exodus 3:13-15) is portrayed as a shepherd (vv. 1-4).
Then in verses 5-6, the LORD is represented as a gracious host.
Of special interest are the action terms and relationships — either stated explicitly or implied.
As a Shepherd, God provides for our needs. He makes us lie down for necessary rest, sometimes even when we are inclined to resist. And he leads us beside calm waters.
He restores (refreshes and sustains) our lives, and he guides us in righteous ways.
He does not exempt us from dangerous circumstances, but he does calm our fears. We are confident he is with us and are comforted in that assurance.
As our providential Host, he prepares a table containing our needs.
So confident are we of his care, we can enjoy his sumptuous fare even in the intimidating presence of our enemies.
From the background of the ancient world comes the metaphor of anointing our heads with oil. This was a reviving comfort and a symbol of honor.
Our cup runs over. Goodness and kindness are faithful traveling companions bestowed for life.
And in the loving host’s household, the saved abide forever.
The Cup that Keeps on Overflowing
Of special interest is the phrase, “my cup runs over.”
The Hebrew term suggests the idea of saturation. What a marvelous expression!
A cup is a drinking vessel. But in Scripture, the term frequently is employed figuratively — either for an abundance of blessings or the pouring forth of intense wrath (cf. Rev. 14:10).
The former use surely is the significance of cup in this psalm. Elsewhere a psalmist asks:
“What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the LORD” (Psa. 116:12-13).
The same sort of symbolism is echoed in the New Testament when Christ described the reward of generosity:
“[G]ive, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over” (Luke 6:38).
See David’s case in 2 Samuel 17:27-29 for an illustration of providential abundance.
The words of the cherished song, “count your blessings; name them one by one,” are sweet indeed, but it underestimates our blessings. The Christian could not completely calculate his blessings over an entire lifetime!
The Prosperity of God Showered on His Children
Divine prosperity can be measured in at least three ways — physically, materially, and spiritually.
Even those with severe health problems can thank God for the host of maladies they might have, but do not. Under a mountain of suffering, Job still could say: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15).
Contrasted to others, both ancient and modern, Americans are abundantly rich.
In Jesus’ time, the average wage for a laboring man was about 1.5¢s; per hour for a six-day, seventy-two hour workweek — a weekly salary of about $1.08 (see Mt. 20:2, 6).
In 2017, the annual per capita income in the United States was $61,372, while in Malawi, Africa it was $1,180.
How could the Christian possibly calculate the value of his spiritual blessings? One’s soul, even eternal life, alone is worth more than all the world’s real estate combined (Mt. 16:26).
Yet there are billions of the world’s citizens who treat their own lives as trash.
Jesus declared: “To whom much is given, of him much shall be required” (Lk. 12:48b).
That is a heavy load in view of our status in this land of overflowing prosperity. Far too many have never appreciated the Savior’s admonition that “a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things he owns” (Lk. 12:15).
Unfortunately more often than not our things possess us, rather than the reverse being true. The good steward (manager), who acknowledges God as the real owner of everything (Psa. 50:10), serves his Master in happy anticipation of the day when he gives account for his management (Lk. 16:2; cf. 1 Cor. 4:2).
It would be prudent as well to reflect upon what will happen to our resources once we’ve passed from earth’s scenes (cf. Eccl. 2:18-23). Stewardship applies not only to how one uses his affluence while living but also how he bequeaths it from the grave.