Words of Grace | Psalm 23 | I Shall Not Want

Psalm 23: “...I shall not want.” (What He Provides)

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” If David’s personal experience and testimony of God’s care is like that of a good shepherd, he then expresses the natural outworking of that relationship by saying, “...I shall not want.”

Really? You want nothing? I “want” all the time. I'm sure you do too. “Want” is all around us; we all want things. We want better health, better bodies (or new bodies), better grades, better jobs, better pay, better relationships. We want peace and quiet. We want a vacation. An end to war. So how do we understand David's confident assertion here?

In Hebrew, there is a logical flow that is only implicit in the English translation: “The Lord is my shepherd; therefore I shall not want.” Because the Lord is my shepherd, I will lack nothing. If I have him, then I have everything. I am His, and He is mine; so I have all I need.

The word for “want” would be better translated as “lack.” The word “want” in the translation has come down to us from the King James Version of the Bible, where the Elizabethan word meant not so much to desire something as to lack it (as in the phrase “to be found wanting.”)

Some translations like the New International Version simply say, “I lack nothing.” One author renders it by saying: “If the Lord is my shepherd, what more do I need?” The issue of whether I desire things beyond the Lord is beside the point. As one scholar says: the point of this phrase is to let YAHWEH decide what it is I need, in the very process of ensuring whatever it is, I will not lack it….Psalm 23 is partly in the business of training my sense of need to be better attuned to what God provides.”

In fact, the very concept of “wants” is shaped and formed from living in a capitalistic society where the entire economic system is built on creating and then satisfying as many perceived wants as possible. The goal is to create wants and then turn them into felt needs.

Psalm 23 is an oasis in our materialistic wasteland. It invites us to stop and rest awhile, and consider afresh who God is for us in the simple plenitude of his being and the endless riches of his love. Paul would later describe this as the ability to live “having nothing and yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:10).


“Father, I want to know Thee, but my cowardly heart fears to give up its toys. I cannot part with them without inward bleeding, and I do not try to hide from Thee the terror of the parting. I come trembling, but I do come. Please root from my heart all those things which I have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that Thou mayest enter and dwell there without a rival. Then shalt Thou make the place of Thy feet glorious. Then shall my heart have no need of the sun to shine in it, for Thyself wilt be the light of it, and there shall be no night there. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”   - A.W. Tozer