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Bible Study

"Man does not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD."

(Deuteronomy 8:3)

The LORD God spoke to the Bible's human writers so that we would listen to his words, cherish them, dig deep into them, and put them into practice. Study always follows the basic principles outlined on the page Explore Scripture.
 

People often ask how to read the Bible effectively, how to study the Bible for spiritual growth. There are many different and useful methods of studying any passage. Below are some samples to try, demonstrating how different techniques applied to the same passage will bring out different aspects of learning. Many other study methods not shown here are also beneficial. Try some while reading your own Bible; blend different techniques together. See what methods work well for you and are suited to the passage you're exploring.

For challenging topical exercises, try the page Dive Deep.

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Try It!

Method:
How would I explain this simply to someone who doesn't know God?

Since I am human, what does it mean that God is my shepherd?

Shepherd is a metaphor: the LORD _______________ me.

  • Psalm 100:3 As our good God's creation, we naturally should ____________him!

Should the shepherd or the sheep be in charge? Why?

  • John 10:11 Jesus explains how he cares for us eternally: he even _______ for us!

  • List the multitude of ways the rest of Psalm 23 says the Lord provides our needs. How have you seen him do this in your life?

"I lack nothing": what kind of shepherd is God?

The best!

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Method:
Narrow your focus by emphasizing each word.

Try It!

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Note in Deuteronomy 6:4 the proclamation of God's personal name, "LORD"!

This is no less than the opening of the great Shema confession of Jewish faith.

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

In Isaiah 45:18–22, God again proclaims his name (LORD, creator, savior).

  • In verses 18 and 21, the LORD—the true God—gives the basic reason he won't share his reputation with other "gods." What is it?

  • The opening phrase of verse 22 presents another reason. What is it?

  • Is the LORD lord only over Jews? How does this passage answer?

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Note that the verb is present tense. Why is this significant for me today?

God's present-tense name even teaches about all my tomorrows: turn to Exodus 3:13–15 and Matthew 22:31–32.

The eternal LORD is the god of resurrection!

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

In Isaiah 50:4–11, Jesus speaks through the mouth of an Old Testament prophet, proclaiming the same truth as John 12:44–46 and Acts 4:11–12.

There is one god. His name is the LORD.

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Psalm 23 speaks from a believer's perspective. Which words in verse 3 show this?

How personally does God know each of his sheep?  See Isaiah 43:1, Luke 12:7, Revelation 3:19–22.

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

A shepherd takes charge of his flock. Why? What is his attitude toward his sheep?

Hear God's attitude toward people in Isaiah 40:11, Matthew 18:12–14, John 10:14–15. He loves us so much that he __________ one of us! (Revelation 7:17)

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

So why aren't all Christians rich?

We are! But our treasure won't be stolen or lose value during inflation.

Philippians 4:19 is a New Testament echo of Psalm 23's certainty.

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Jesus is addressing the attitude of our hearts.

Why in Luke does he also reassure us of his overflowing blessings?

In Mark, verse 21 mentions "treasure in heaven." Which later verse describes that treasure?

Try listing some ways God provided for all your needs today.

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Method:
Explore circumstances of the text's writing (author, audience, purpose, etc.).

Try It!

Who does Psalm 23 say wrote it?

David was a type of Christ (some aspects of his life prophetically portrayed the coming savior).

  • Read 1 Samuel 16:1–13. Verse 11 says was David was a ______________. What was he anointed to become?

How are being a shepherd and a king alike (vv 7–8)?

Verses 12–16 prophesy that the Christ would descend from David and bear our guilt.​ Which repeated word in verses 13 and 16 says he will be no mere mortal?

Read Ezekiel 34:23–24. The prophet Ezekiel lived 400 years after King David …and 600 years before this "David" he foretells. Who is this new "David"?

Read also the familiar words of Luke 2:1–12!

Why would the angel use the phrase "town of David?"

The name "David" is written below in its original Hebrew.  It means…

דָוִ֗ד

…"beloved."

Knowing what "David" means, why is it such an appropriate symbolic name for our Messiah?

Think of his father's words at the beginning and end of his ministry.

The name "David" is written below in its original Hebrew.

It means…

דָוִ֗ד

…"beloved."

Knowing what "David" means, why is it such an appropriate symbolic name for our Messiah?

Think of his father's words at the beginning and end of his ministry.

Jesus is indeed the Root and Offspring of David.

Our Lord, David's offspring, was both God and man.

His perfect life saves us.

In Psalm 23, Jesus is not only David's divine shepherd:

Jesus is also a sheep, trusting God his shepherd…for us.

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Try It!

Method:
Understand the text's relationship to the entire passage/section.

Read all of Psalm 23.

How many stanzas would you divide this psalm into?

Which verses does the text indicate might belong together in stanzas?

Grouping God's Scripture into sections is largely human effort. A few text divisions (between books and between psalms; those stated, such as, "The word of the LORD came to me again…"; etc.) are clearly inspired.

Hebrew biblical poetry is often play-like, changing voice as if it were a play with a character speaking now to one person, now to another. Psalm 23 is play-like.

  • In verses 1–3, the speaker tells the reader about God: God is the "he."

  • In verses 4–5, the speaker now addresses God: God is the "you."

But in verse 6, it's hard to tell for sure whom the psalmist addresses: the word "your" is in the Septuagint, though not in the Masoretic Text. (In the Dead Sea Scrolls, this psalm is too fragmented to read the phrase.)

Does considering Psalm 23 as a whole help reveal whom the speaker addresses in verse 6: God or the reader?

Though we're uncertain if the "your" is genuine or human error, does not knowing affect the meaning of the verse?

A brief note on Scripture's absolute reliability

  • All existing Bible texts are copies. Due to human error, minor variations exist, such as the "your" in Psalm 23:6.

  • Even secular Wikipedia acknowledges the low percent and limited impact of variations within biblical manuscripts.

Hebrew biblical poetry uses parallelism in three ways.

1. The second part of a thought repeats the idea of the first.

"He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters…"

This sentence's third parallel line explains the first two: "…he refreshes my soul."

Give concrete examples of how God feeds and waters your soul.

2. The second part of a thought contrasts with the idea of the first.

(Psalm 23 doesn't contain contrasting parallelism, but Psalm 24:4 does.

Its first part defines ________ thoughts and actions;

its second part defines ________ thoughts and actions.)

3. The second part of a thought builds on the idea of the first:

"Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."

A shepherd's rod and staff defended from predators and guided the flock.

What is this sheep focused on: the danger or her shepherd?

Recall when the apostle Peter was an object lesson in focusing on the Shepherd…

Matthew 14:22–33

Considering Hebrew biblical poetry's play-like and parallel nature, how would you now divide Psalm 23 into sections?

How does verse 1 relate to the rest of this psalm?

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Try It!

Method:
View the text through the lenses of biblical principles.

One critical skill in understanding the Bible is correctly handling God's word.

The most basic division is law ("do this") and gospel ("Jesus did it for you").

Sinful humans cannot keep God's good law, so it condemns us all (Romans 3:19–20).

But the gospel restores believers to a loving relationship with our heavenly Father (Romans 3:21–24).

Psalm 23 is written from the perspective of a believer looking to his savior.

Because of this, Psalm 23 is almost pure gospel.

Verse 4 contains just a shadow of the law: death.

Death looms over all who sin (Genesis 3:17–19, Proverbs 20:9),

yet there is one Shepherd who defeats it! See Romans 5:12–21.

Only his rod and staff provide eternal comfort in the face of death.

Even God's good news can be divided to sharpen our focus and understanding.

Justification is Jesus' free gift of righteousness, given to all sinners.  As Romans 4:5 declares: "God justifies the ungodly."

Sanctification is God living in believers, empowering us to walk in his ways:

Is "the LORD is my shepherd" justification, sanctification, or both?

Is "I lack nothing" justification, sanctification, or both?

How does analyzing this help you better understand Psalm 23 as a whole?

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Try It!

Method:
Pray through the text.

Praying through Scripture is as intuitive as it sounds:

simply read the text, pausing frequently to pray based on what you just read.

This method helps us grow in prayer—and also apply the Scripture in a personal and productive way.

1 Timothy 2:1–4, James 1:22–25

Example:

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Lord, thanks for watching over me even before I ask. You tend your whole family of faith throughout this world! Move leaders' hearts to do good; also give me courage and wisdom to meet others' needs. Keep calling to my loved one who doesn't yet believe in you. Amen.

Example:

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

he refreshes my soul.

Heavenly Father, you know that two of my closest friends have been in conflict for months. It's so painful. You also know how unfair my boss is; I'm drained every day. Yet you promise your people quiet refreshing. I'm holding you to your word: refresh me. Give me your perfect peace in the midst of turmoil.

Try It!

He guides me along the right paths for his name's sake.

Your prayer:

Prayer includes confessing our sins, thanking God, and praising him. 

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Dearest Savior, I am so sorry. I again sinned the way that I promised I wouldn't anymore. Sometimes I run headlong into areas where the devil waits to devour me; I need your holy law to guide me through the dark! Your glorious gospel is my joy.

Try It!

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Your prayer of thanksgiving:

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Your prayer:

Active Learning Principles

Using

Going Forward:
Apply active learning principles in your own Bible studies.

Try It!

The Psalm 23 studies above combined active learning principles

with each different study method.

Using active learning to study God's word takes only two steps:

1. Ask yourself questions while you study.

2. Search Scripture for the answers.

Step One:

Ask yourself questions.

Look back at each sample method above.

Can you figure out what MAIN question was first asked as the root of each of these six studies?

1. How would I explain this in a simple way to someone who doesn't know God?

2. What is God communicating with his word choices?

3. Whom did God use as author and why?

4. How does verse 1 connect to the rest of Psalm 23?

5. What does Psalm 23 teach about law and gospel?

About justification and sanctification?

6. How does Psalm 23 apply to my life and help me grow in prayer?

Try It!

For each passage below, ask a question on something you want to know more about.

Step Two:

Search Scripture for the answers.

If unsure how to begin, take heart: the more you practice studying God's word, the easier it becomes!

Here are some samples…

In the Bible passage, pick a key word at the heart of your question. Find other Bible verses discussing it.

Try It!

Colossians 1:9–14 example: What is the inheritance God gives believers?

1. Google "Bible verses inheritance" or look up "inheritance" in a concordance.

(Select results talking about the inheritance God gives us.)

2. Think, "How does this new verse help me understand the first one?"

Try It!

Relate Jesus' life to the passage you're studying.

What did he do or say on this topic?

Example: Psalm 23 tells me that I "lack nothing"… but in which situations am I still tempted to be discontent? When in his own life did Jesus overcome this temptation for me? How does he help me grow in holiness?

Try It!

  • Study an incident when the Bible records someone succeeding or failing at what this passage discusses.

What can you learn from that?​​

  • Find other Bible passages that speak on a topic relevant to the passage you're studying. 

  • Does this passage remind you of any Christian music? Let the lyrics soak in, speaking to your life situation.

  • Pray based on the Bible passage.

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