Question: "What is the meaning of, "I shall not want" in Psalm 23:1?"
Answer: In one of the most comforting Bible passages, King David declares, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1, ESV). The word want in this case means “to have a need” or “to lack”; the psalmist’s confident assurance is that, with the Lord as his shepherd, he would never lack a thing. All his needs would be supplied.
David, who spent his boyhood tending his father’s flocks (1 Samuel 16:11, 19; 17:15), knew something about the heart of a shepherd. He compared his relationship with God to that of sheep and a shepherd. The tender imagery underlines God’s personal care, guidance, and protection. King David trusted wholly in the Lord, knowing he would not lack anything because God was with Him as his shepherd.
When sheep are left to fend for themselves, they are vulnerable and helpless animals, incapable of providing for their own needs. The shepherd leads the flock to fresh water and pasture for food. He cares for the sheep when they are injured or ill. Without a shepherd, the sheep scatter and become lost. Unless they stay near the shelter and protection of the shepherd, they have no hope of surviving attacks from wolves and other predators. But when sheep remain under the watchful eye of the shepherd, they can say, “I shall not want,” because he meets their every need.
As God’s sheep, we are precious to Him (Psalm 28:9; 77:20; 78:52; 79:13; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3). He takes full responsibility for our needs, safety, and protection, even risking His own life for us. Jesus, who is “the great Shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20), assured His disciples repeatedly that He would care for them, leading, guiding, protecting, and laying down His life for them (John 10:1–16, 26–30). Through His redeeming death on the cross, Jesus Christ paid for our sins and purchased us as His sheep. Even if, in our suffering and pain, we wander away from the Lord, we have a Good Shepherd in Jesus who is “the Guardian of [our] souls” (1 Peter 2:25, NLT). When we understand this truth, we can put our whole trust in Him and say, “I shall not want” (Psalm 34:9–10). We discover that we now lack nothing necessary to experience abundant life in Him (2 Peter 1:3; Psalm 84:11).
Jesus told His followers, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33, NLT). Our heaven-sent provision will flow from pursuing God’s kingdom first and staying in close fellowship with Him. Only then can we tap into His all-sufficient, unlimited supply of resources. We won’t have to worry about what to eat, drink, or wear because our loving Shepherd knows what we need (Matthew 6:31–32). He will never abandon us or leave us begging for bread (Psalm 37:25).
When we say, “I shall not want,” we also acknowledge our satisfaction with God and what He has given us (Hebrews 13:5; 2 Corinthians 9:8). It means we have learned the secret of contentment, like the apostle Paul, who said, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11–13, NLT).
We may not always have everything we desire, but we can trust God to provide all we need. As He was with Israel in the wilderness, God will always be with us, blessing us in everything, watching our every step, and ensuring we lack nothing (Deuteronomy 2:7). With the Lord as our shepherd, we can confidently say, “I shall not want.”