The use of grammatical persons is one key to this popular Psalm. Verses 2-3 speak in the 3rd person; verses 4-5, the 2nd person; verse 6, the 1st person. The conjunction “for” (כּי, “because”) at verse 4b and the metric center that begins to focus on the 2nd person explains “why” the psalmist has no fear—Yahweh’s presence with him and provisions for him. This movement from the 3rd person, what Yahweh does for the psalmist, to the 1st person, how the psalmist responds to Yahweh’s graciousness, centers ultimately on the 2nd person, the continual presence of Yahweh in a relationship characterized by dialogue and intimacy wherein each participant is concerned for the other. In Psalm 23 Yahweh identifies with the needs of the psalmist as seen in verses 1-3 and 5 while the psalmist shows concern for the “name of Yahweh” (verse 3) and His temple, the place of His abiding presence (verse 6). At the center of these relationships is the statement, “for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Without an intimate relationship with God, the psalmist would fail to appreciate or acknowledge God as the source of his blessings and his motivation for worship would lose its vibrancy and ultimately fade.
It is important to notice the change in personal pronoun as David reflects on his shepherd. In verses 2 and 3, David speaks about his shepherd (notice the fourfold use of ‘he’). But when he comes to the valley of death, David drops the ‘he’ in favour of ‘you’ and ‘your’. He was able to look upon the prospect of death with peace and tranquility because he knew that it would mean meeting his glorious shepherd face to face.
Notice that the psalmist now speaks directly with God—for you are with me (not, “he is”). It is the experience of fellowship with the Lord as companion and guide, one who is fully equipped with whatever is necessary to insure his safety, whether it be rod or staff. The former was a short, thick stick used as a weapon for protection and the latter a long stick used for help and comfort when climbing in hilly country. Whatever the circumstance and however trying, the presence of this divine guide would be adequate to dispel all fear—I will fear no evil.