Psalm 23

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This is one of the best recognized of all passages in the Bible, and certainly the best known Psalm. Traditionally, this Psalm has been ascribed to king David, during the time of Absolom's rebellion (Keil 329). God is compared to as a shepherd who guides his sheep throughout life, but partway through the Psalm David ceases to represent himself as a sheep and instead becomes the honored guest of God, being treated even better than he was as a sheep under his shepherd.

As David was a shepherd himself in his early years he knows the stupidity of sheep and the job of the shepherd intimately. This imagery probably sprang naturally from David's mind as he thought about how God took care of him. Even though the language of the Psalm is singular, the imagery is corporate, after all God cannot be imagined to only have one sheep.

Verse 1: The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. (NIV)

  • Shepherd is a fairly standard metaphor for God. A shepherd would lead the flock, find water, food, shelter, and protect them from predators.
  • At this time in the Near East, shepherds were also associated with kings and therefore using this metaphor brings up not only the actual duties of a shepherd but the duties of kings and rulers (Mays 117).
  • In the Greek Septuagint, “be in want” means “to come too late” (Liddell 850). This is a very different sense than that used in the Hebrew.


Verse 2: He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, (NIV)

  • This passage should be taken in the context it was written in, a desert or near desert. This is a place where water of any kind of precious, and grass does not easily grow in large swaths.
  • ”Green pastures” are not an American lush lawn, but the first shoots of plants in the spring (Liddell 889). The image is one of green just appearing, food arriving out of the death of winter and finding those few places.
  • In the Greek, there is no connotation of God forcing anyone. The verbs are simple aorist, which is usually used for past tense but is undefined.
  • The Greek Septuagint is quite different here from the Hebrew. The Greek is “he brought me up on quiet waters”.
    • “Bring up” is usually used for rearing someone from childhood (Liddell 246).
    • The wording is not that God will do this, but that this is how he has been raised his entire life.
    • The Hebrew, on the other hand, is simply “to lead” and means to guide someone to a place of rest (Brown 624.2). There is no connotation of it being a lifeline event.
  • ”Quiet” waters more literally is about waters of rest. “Rest” can literally be about a place where peace is found, but here is about a place that is suitable for watering animals (Swanson BDLH 4957).
    • This is interesting because fast flowing waters are most free of harmful bacteria for humans. The writer is continuing the analogy of him being a sheep and God being the shepherd.
    • This is not stagnant waters, however, but water calm enough for animals (Bratcher 232).


Verse 3: he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. (NIV)

  • ”Restores” is about turning something around in Greek (Arndt 301).
    • In Hebrew it is also about turning around, bringing back, or refreshing (Koehler 1427), especially the later.
    • The word in Hebrew goes in parallel with the “rest” of the previous verse. This is the result of getting rest.
  • ”For his name's sake” has a multitude of possible meanings. It could be to act in accordance with God's nature, or because of God we act, of bringing honor to God's name.


Verse 4: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (NIV)

  • More literally, this is the “valley of deep shadow.” It is an impenetrable darkness, pitch black (Koehlher 1029). However, this thick darkness is apparently a combination of “shadow” and “death” (Gesenius 711).
  • If this was written during Absolom's revolt, then David's enemies are very real, and death is quite possible.
  • The rod and staff were instruments of the shepherd. The rod was a weapon against predators and the staff was used for walking (Bratcher 234) and guiding the sheep.


Verse 5: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (NIV)

  • Here is a transition from guide and protector to host. It is a change in David's role as well, no longer a sheep but a guest.
  • The anointing of oil was a part of the welcome for an honored guest coming into someone's home (Bratcher 234). This is about God welcoming us into his presence and home with honor.
  • An overflowing cup indicates not just having enough, but prosperity. In a land of little, no one let something overflow because it wasted. This is so much that the waste doesn't matter.


Verse 6: Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (NIV)

  • The term translated here as “love” and in other translations as “mercy” is the famous “hesed.” “Hesed” is about faithfulness, goodness, and loyalty amont relatives and lovers (Koehler 336).


Message Ideas/Scripts/Liturgy That Use This Chapter

 VerseDirectionTopicAudienceOccasionCategory
Jehovah - Rohi, Shepherd1-6We find contentment only when we accept God as our shepherdContentment
Shepherd
GeneralGeneralMessage Idea