What does it mean that Psalm 23:1b says that ‘I shall not want?

This is an extract from CHAPTER 3 of the book I wrote called Psalm 23 Unwrapped available on Amazon- Enjoy!

I Have All I Need

We have explored the God is our Shepherd in the first part of verse one. Now we will examine the second part and ask the question – why do we have no need?

 Needs are a part of our human existence. From the time we draw in our first breath to our last, we have needs. Humanity has one main thing in common, and that is to fulfill our needs so we can survive and thrive. When David says “I shall not want” he is acknowledging how completely reliant he is on God as his Shepherd. “I shall not want” because God, as a good shepherd, will ensure I have everything I need. “I shall not want,” not because of what I have done or can do, but because God loves me. “I shall not want” because I know God personally as Shepherd. This is comforting indeed and makes sense in the light of the first part of this verse. However, what might this look like in the highs and lows of everyday life? 

Social scientists, Medics, philosophers, and theologians alike, tell us that the fundamental human needs are not recognized as every little individual need, but as a category of needs. It is generally recognized that there are seven categories of basic human needs, as shown below. These needs are interrelated and form a system that may look slightly different for each individual, and yet these needs are the same in all humans across all cultures and at all times. People in different periods of life will fall at various places on the scale of needs. This is the reason why there is no set order, which is why I have not numbered them. However, to remember what these  categories are, the categories of requirements are represented by S.U.C.C.E.S.S,


Understanding and growth

Connection and love


Esteem and Identity

Self-governance (Autonomy)

Significance and purpose

I will take the point individually to untangle their meaning, determine the relevance to us, and where verse 1b fits into all this. You will find the meaning of the other points in my book, Psalm 23 Unwrapped available on Amazon

Subsistence is the need for survival, safety, security, self-care, structure, and control. Generally, it incorporates everything needed to sustain life. This includes physiological needs like food, water, air, breathing, excretion, reproduction, warmth, shelter, rest, and sleep. Personal security, work, resources, property, and health are the to thrive. It also covers self-care needs, like leisure, entertainment, healthcare, etc.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, cases of depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide have significantly increased across the world. In order to survive and thrive, we have the need to control the structure of our lives making us feel safe and secure. During the pandemic, we have experienced imposed locked downs and unwanted social restrictions. The control and structure of daily life have, on the most part, been taken away, which has increased our vulnerability to negative influences. Therefore, finding help to put back a secure structure of some kind is especially important. It has been said that people search for meaning in religion at the most vulnerable times in their lives. This is true. 

We need to accept that our need for control and certainty is always unsettled because we live in an ever-changing world. The only thing we can guarantee is that change will happen. The people around us and our environment are always changing, and we can become exhausted with it all. However, change can be of benefit, and very often, it is not until we run out of our own resources do, we then search for something outside of ourselves, and many people look to God.

Jesus taught the eight beatitudes, which are in essence, about beautiful attitudes. We find these in the gospel of Matthew:1-12. Beatitude 1 v 3 says this… “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “

The poor in spirit are those who feel a deep sense of spiritual destitution and need before God, and so recognize the need for God’s intervention in their lives. Another word for this is ‘humble’. Humbleness is an intentional approach to gaining meaning and purpose. The kingdom of heaven is theirs, because they seek it, and therefore find and abide in it. In order to find the kingdom of God, there must be the emptiness of self (ego) before there can be fullness, and so poverty of spirit precedes riches and grace in the kingdom of God. So, in a sense, we have no need.

The Lord, who is our Shepherd, becomes and provides all that we need. This is because we have put God in control of our lives, so the supply emanates from within that divine relationship. In other words, we have placed our subsistence issues in God’shands. We are following the Shepherd despite the dark valleys of life. Consequently, we feel secure and safe. We adopt the conviction of needing nothing because the Lord is the Shepherd taking care of things, giving us a personal sense of life meaning and a greater sense of individual agency.

Pause and think about your life and experiences to find a unique sense of life purpose and significance. It might be worth to give it some thought to how your Shepherd is providing for you.