Singing sacred songs has ever been an integral part of praising God and teaching his will. As such, the importance of this activity should never be minimized.
In fact, the book of Psalms itself, in the Lord’s estimation, occupies a niche of special honor in the Old Testament cannon, for he often spoke of, “the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms” (Lk. 24.44).
What’s more, New Testament writers quote from the book of Psalms with greater frequency than any other Old Testament book, totaling 116 times. Interestingly, the book of Psalms accounts for forty percent of all Old Testament citations in the New Testament (viz., 116 out of 283 times)!
No doubt, the Psalter specifically, and singing spiritual songs in general, are each immensely significant to the Christian.
Psalm twenty-three, perhaps the most famous of all the psalms, is rich with spiritual information. Consider a concise exposition of that passage.
David, its author, cites his major theme and proposition in the first verse:
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want."
The Lord is David's spiritual care-giver. Since that is the case, how could David ever "want" (i.e., lack) anything essential to his spiritual welfare? The rest of the psalm is written to illustrate and prove that point.
First, the Lord provides David with spiritual nourishment (vv. 2-3).
David, the Lord's "sheep," is given plenty of "green pastures" (i.e., tender grass) on which to lie and eat. The food is abundant and savory (v. 2a).
The Lord "leads" David (v. 2b) — he does not drive his sheep forward from the rear, but guides them gently on, that we may handle the pace (cf. 1 Cor. 10.13; Rev. 7.17).
When the Lord leads, there will always be waters of rest (i.e., "still waters") and refreshment nearby (v. 2b). By contrast, the waters of false religion leave only violent destruction and restlessness in its wake (cf. Isa. 28.16-22; Amos 5.24f).
David, the Lord's "soul," is constantly "restored" — reinvigorated by sacred truth (v. 3a; cf. 2 Cor. 4.16; Col. 3.10).
The "paths of righteousness" are clearly marked by the Lord (v. 3b; cf. Mt. 7.13-14). Unlike the wicked, whose ethics are murky and indecisive, David knows that right conduct is fixed by the Lord (cf. Heb. 5.14; Phil. 1.9-11; Jn. 8.32).
Second, the Lord provides David with spiritual protection (v. 4). Although David may be brought to the brink of death — or even be obliged to cross over — yet his soul is protected by God.
The "evil" (i.e., turmoil) of the world — though difficult to bear externally — cannot affect David's spiritual security (4a-b; cf. Heb. 13.6; Mt. 10.28). God is on David's side (4c). His "rod and…staff" (i.e., the hooked staff, carried by shepherds to grab the sheep when in dangerous places and repel carnivorous creatures) provide a sense of "comfort" to David.
Third, the Lord provides David with spiritual vindication (5-6). The Lord demonstrates his respect for David "in the presence of [his] enemies" (v. 5a). By (1) "preparing a table" for David (v. 5a); (2) "anointing [his] head with oil" (v. 5b); (3) filling his "cup" to its brink and beyond (v. 5c); (4) providing "goodness and mercy" interminably (v. 6a); and (5) permitting David to dwell in the Lord's "house…forever" (v. 6b) — David's enemies will come to know that David's life was right and honorable, to be praised and rewarded even by God himself; his enemies, in turn, will know they were wrong to oppose him.
Ultimately, all of God's people will receive similar vindication in the presence of those who oppose our spiritual efforts (cf. Mt. 25.41-46; Rev. 6.10-11; 11.17-18).
What thrilling blessings the Lord provides for his people!
(1) The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
(2) He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
(3) He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
(4) Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
(5) You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
(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.