“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” expresses man’s gratitude for God’s mercies. The Psalmist, whatever his identity, certainly knew “the green pastures,” such as exist below the terraced farms of Bethlehem. He knew how to walk at the head of the flock, leading them – not following them, as Western shepherds do. He knew the “still waters” of wells, pools, quiet rivulets, or sheltered sand bars, such as are still used by shepherds where the Dog River enters the Mediterranean.
The “paths of righteousness” were age-old sheep walks. “The valley of the shadow,” which called for extra shepherding, was the deep rock cleft wadi where serpents lurked. The sheep felt the touch of the shepherd’s hooked staff, lifting them over perilous stones. The familiar stout, short rod “rodded” them into the stone-walled fold at nightfall. The shepherd was able to “prepare tables” in safe grassy spots, in the presence of the sheep’s hereditary enemies – venomous snakes, which bit the faces of unsuspecting ones. Hence the necessity of having their injured heads “anointed with oil” or butter.
An example of the “cup” which ran over is seen today at the Wise Men’s Well on the North outskirts of Bethlehem. It is a stone trough – a round section of Pilate’s stone conduit, in this instance – placed beside the well from which the shepherd dipped water to fill the “cup.” The “dwelling in the house of the Lord” reflects the return to the village after the summer grazing period, when families prepare to go up to the House of God, in mended garments and new made shoes, to thank Him for His “goodness and loving kindness” and to entreat Him to let these blessings follow the family forever.