W. Phillip Keller who is the author of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 (1970), grew up and lived in East Africa surrounded by herders. He explains that much of what happens resembles those in the Middle East. He writes that for eight years he was a sheep owner and sheep rancher. Keller who was engrossed with the stories of the Bible uses natural phenomena to provide insights into supernatural truth. He points out that present day city dwellers will miss many biblical teachings because they are unable to relate to nomadic folks that live simple lives.
Keller brings to bear a shepherd's insight to this Psalm. He empathizes with David himself and refers to Psalm 23 as “David's Hymn of Praise to Divine Diligence.” In “I shall not want,” God points out that in our lives like that of sheep, we will be free from friction for he has prepared an ideal banquet for our every need. As he leads us to “still waters,” He does not want us to toil on dry, semi-arid country without having deep, clean and pure water to drink. This is ideal for sheep that is grazing.
He “restores my soul.” Much of this happens when sheep becomes distressed, but here is God ready to comfort them and give them rest. In “paths of righteousness,” God is the assurance that his flock will strive. Even as they “walk through the valley,” is an indication that our savior knows first hand the terrain of our lives, just like any shepherd that leads his sheep in mountainous territory.
“Thy rod and thy staff” will bring the sheep comfort as they are guided by a loving and caring savior. “Thou preparest a table,” Keller feels this is similar to the feast like on Table Mountain near Cape Town, Africa. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” is the everlasting care exercised over the sheep. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever,” climaxes this proud and joyous Psalm.
Psalm 23 is considered the nightingale of Psalms. It is the epitome of feeding, guiding, governing and defending the sheep. Its climax terminates in everlasting rest, not one with sorrow and pain, but joy, hope and pleasure. We can say, “O death, where is thy sting.” “Thy rod dost comfort me,” as we journey feeding from His Holy Word. Now we reach the zenith and are guests of His everlasting banquet. Keller has captured it all in this wonderful book.