Psalm 23:1The LORD is my shepherd
I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.

Does not the sheep want to lie down on his own accord?

  • If the sheep proclaim the Name of their Shepherd, then the sheep would appear to trust the will of their Shepherd - agreeing to stop work & rest when commanded. Commented Nov 24, 2020 at 15:54

5 Answers 5


When we read Tehillim / Psalm 23:2, the significance of "In-lush grass He lays me down" (בִּנְא֣וֹת דֶּ֭שֶׁא יַרְבִּיצֵ֑נִי) regards YHVH as a Superior Shepherd guiding His sheep-like dependant David to a luxurious resting place where David's soul can be restored for the purpose of sustaining God's Name on earth, as stated in [Psalm 23:1-2] :

" Mizmor " (מִזְמ֥וֹר)
  • signifies a Psalm [ Poem accompanied with a string instrument ]. 
" Le-David " (לְ-דָוִ֑ד)
  • signifies the psalm was written By-David [ King (מֶ֖לֶךְ) over (עַל) Yisrael (יִשְׂרָאֵֽל) ].
“ YHVH ” (יְהֹוָ֥ה)
  • signifies The Name of your-God (אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ) [ Who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage ].
" Ro'i " (רֹ֜עִ֗י)
  • signifies YHVH [is] my-Shepherd [ God as The Superior Authority Who Guides the dependant king of yisrael ].
" Lo-Echsar " (לֹ֣א אֶחְסָֽר)
  • [I will lack not] signifies no additional needs are required for David's future survival.
" Bi-N'ot " (בִּנְא֣וֹת)
  • [in-pleasant] signifies a Lush environment with luxuriant foliage.
" Deshe " (דֶּ֖שֶׁא)
  • [ Grass ] distinguishes the lush foliage as the particular plant which covers fertile land across entire earth.
" Yarbitseni " (יַרְבִּיצֵ֑נִי)
  • [ He lays me down ] signifies our rest in the presence of YHVH.
" al " (עַל)
  • [beside] signifies David's location in relation to God's Word.
" Mei - Menuchot " (מֵ֖י מְנֻח֣וֹת)
  • [ Water(s) of - Quiet ] signifies tranquility of David's thoughts in focusing not on wrestling with God's Word, but trusting in God's Word.
" Yenahaleni " (יְנַֽהֲלֵֽנִי)
  • [He leads me] signifies David's surrender of his-soul (נַפְשִׁ֥י) to YHVH.
  • 2
    Good answer; however, I cannot see where you get the claim that "David's soul can be restored for the purpose of sustaining God's Name on earth" from.
    – aefrrs
    Commented Nov 25, 2020 at 2:31
  • @aefrrs - Verse [3] : "He restores my soul; He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake." ( נַפְשִׁ֥י יְשׁוֹבֵ֑ב יַנְחֵ֥נִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי־צֶ֜֗דֶק לְמַ֣עַן שְׁמֽוֹ ) Commented Nov 25, 2020 at 6:51
  • 1
    Ah. I see the soul part, but I don't really see it as being for the purpose of sustaining G-d's name on earth. It seems to be more like to make G-d's name great and to raise up His name.
    – aefrrs
    Commented Nov 25, 2020 at 23:42


The strange thing about sheep is that because of their very make-up, it is almost impossible for them to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met.

Owing to their timidity they refuse to lie down unless they are free of all fear.

Because of the social behavior within a flock, sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others of their kind.

If tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down. Only when free of these pests can they relax.

Lastly, sheep will not lie down as long as they feel in need of finding food. They must be free from hunger.

It is significant that to be at rest there must be a definite sense of freedom from fear, tension, aggravations and hunger. The unique aspect of the picture is that it is only the sheepman himself who can provide release from these anxieties. It all depends upon the diligence of the owner, whether or not his flock is free of disturbing influences.

He makes me lie down
יַרְבִּיצֵ֑נִי (yar·bî·ṣê·nî)
Verb - Hifil - Imperfect - third person masculine singular | first person common singular
Strong's Hebrew 7257: To crouch, be implication, to recline, repose, brood, lurk, imbed

The Hiphil stem expresses causative action.

By providing all our needs, God causes us to lie down and rest.

Ezekiel 34:15

I will tend My flock and make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD.

  • This answer gets at a point important to the OP's question: the word translated "makes me lie down" is a causative form of the verb "to lie down." A causative form can have the force of "to make someone do something," which is how it sounds in the usual translation of Ps. 23:2. But it can also be more indirect, e.g. "to provide for someone to be able to do something," "to fulfill the requirements for something," as explained in this answer. Both are possible meanings for a good shepherd.
    – LarsH
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 10:46

In my hermeneutic, I take everything in the NT to be interpreted one way or another as referring to the messianic age (the first 70 years of the first century). Mark takes this in this way:

[Mar 6:33-44 KJV] (33) And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him. (34) And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things. (35) And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time [is] far passed: (36) Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat. (37) He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat? (38) He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes. (39) And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass. (40) And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties. (41) And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave [them] to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. (42) And they did all eat, and were filled. (43) And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes. (44) And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men.

He makes the people recline in the grass, eat and their souls are restored...


The idea of YHWH being the shepherd of Israel, and Israel likened to a flock of sheep, is very deeply embedded in ancient idiom.

  • Num 27:17 - And may go out and in before them, and may lead them out, or bring them in: lest the people of the Lord be as sheep without a shepherd. [That is, Moses and his successor were to be a kind of deputy shepherd to the the LORD.] See also 2 Sam 5:2, 7:8, 24:17, 1 Kings 22:17, 1 Chron 11:2, 17:7, 21:17, 2 Chron 18:16, etc.
  • Ps 23;1 - The LORD is my shepherd ...
  • Ps 28:9 - Save thy people, and bless thine inheritance: Be their shepherd also, and bear them up
  • Isa 49:10 - For the LORD in his mercy will lead them; he will lead them beside cool waters ... sun strike them: for he that is merciful to them, shall be their shepherd
  • Jer 31:10 - proclaim it in distant coastlands: The LORD, who scattered his people, will gather them and watch over them as a shepherd does
  • Eze 34:15 - I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD
  • Eze 36:37 - This is what the Lord GOD says: Once again I will hear the plea of the house of Israel and do for them this: I will multiply their people like a flock.
  • Hos 4:16 - Can the LORD now shepherd them like a lamb in an open meadow?
  • Zech 9:16 - On that day the LORD their God will rescue his people, just as a shepherd rescues his sheep. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown.

The same theme is picked up in the NT and applied to Jesus:

  • Matt 2:6 - But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel
  • Matt 25:32 - All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
  • John 10:11 - I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
  • John 10:14 - I am the good shepherd. I know My sheep and My sheep know Me
  • Heb 13:20 - Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep
  • 1 Peter 2:25 - For "you were like sheep going astray," but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
  • 1 Peter 5:4 - And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
  • Rev 2:27 - and he will shepherd them with a rod of iron
  • Rev 7:17 - For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd
  • Rev 12:5 - But she gave birth to a Son--a male who is going to shepherd all nations with an iron scepter--and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.
  • Rev 19:15 - A sharp sword came from His mouth, so that He might strike the nations with it. He will shepherd them with an iron scepter.

Thus, Psalm 23 is clearly interpreted in the NT as almost a Messianic Psalm! From this fact, flows all else that needs to be understood about this much-loved psalm. Each couplet is written in Hebrew parallelism. Here is a sample:

  • V1 - the fact that the LORD is my shepherd means that we want for nothing and God provides for everything we need
  • V2 - green pastures cannot exist without water - not raging water but quiet waters that provide food for the sheep. The fact that contented sheep "lie down" means that they need not keep roaming in search of further food.

Jesus uses this idiom in the NT in places like John 4:13, 14 -

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a fount of water springing up to eternal life.”

The NT also uses the idea of water as a symbol of the Holy Spirit who feeds us and teaches us about Jesus: Matt 3;11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, 3:5, 7:39, Acts 1:5, 10:47, 11:16, etc.

Barnes comments in Ps 23:2 as follows:

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures - Margin, "Pastures of tender grass." The Hebrew word rendered "pastures" means usually "dwellings," or "habitations." It is applied here properly to "pastures," as places where flocks and herds lie down for repose. The word rendered in the margin "tender grass" - דשׁא deshe' - refers to the first shoots of vegetation from the earth - young herbage - tender grass - as clothing the meadows, and as delicate food for cattle, Job 6:5. It differs from ripe grass ready for mowing, which is expressed by a different word - חציר châtsı̂yr. The idea is that of calmness and repose, as suggested by the image of flocks "lying down on the grass." But this is not the only idea. It is that of flocks that lie down on the grass "fully fed" or "satisfied," their wants being completely supplied. The exact point of contemplation in the mind of the poet, I apprehend, is that of a flock in young and luxuriant grass, surrounded by abundance, and, having satisfied their wants, lying down amidst this luxuriance with calm contentment. It is not merely a flock enjoying repose; it is a flock whose wants are supplied, lying down in the midst of abundance. Applied to the psalmist himself, or to the people of God generally, the idea is, that the wants of the soul are met and satisfied, and that, in the full enjoyment of this, there is the conviction of abundance - the repose of the soul at present satisfied, and feeling that in such abundance want will always be unknown.


What is the significance of “He makes me lie down in green pastures”?

Psalm 23:1-3 (ASV)

Jehovah the psalmist’s (David) shepherd.

1 Jehovah is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside [a]still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: He guideth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

“Jehovah is my Shepherd.” wrote David and as an experienced shepherd, David knew how to lead, feed, and protect the sheep. For instance, he courageously protected his sheep from a lion on one occasion and a bear on another. (1 Samuel 17:34-36) David’s sheep trusted their shepherd implicitly.

A good shepherd has to know where to find both water and suitable pasturage for his flock. His intimate knowledge of an area guarantees the survival of his sheep. David, who spent many years herding sheep in the Judean hills,

In relation to Jehovah, he himself was a sheep. David felt secure in God’s loving care, he could say: “Jehovah is my Shepherd."He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; (Psalm 23:2) God is also "a river of water of life” that flows from the throne of God. (Revelation 22:1) The invitation to drink from this river goes out to all people. “Anyone that wishes [can] take life’s water free.".

Revelation 22:17 (ASV)

17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And he that heareth, let him say, Come. And he that is athirst, let him come: he that will, let him take the water of life freely.

This symbolic water of life represents God’s provisions for everlasting life. Anyone can begin to drink from such water by ‘taking in knowledge of the only true God and of the one whom he sent forth, Jesus Christ.’ (John 17:3.)

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