Where the world comes to study the Bible

Psalm 23: A Psalm That Calms the Soul

Introduction

Few people fail to appreciate the simplistic beauty and comfort contained in the Twenty-third Psalm. Many of you know it by heart. I feel somewhat like a tourist guide standing before you in the shadow of a magnificent mountain peak, attempting to describe its beauty—or like a guide in an art museum telling you of the magnificence of a priceless painting which has been universally regarded as a classic work for decades. Perhaps Bernhard Anderson has best expressed the value of the Twenty-third Psalm when he wrote,

No single psalm has expressed more powerfully man’s prayer of confidence ‘out of the depths’ to the God whose purpose alone gives meaning to the span of life, from womb to tomb.74

While few of us understand the life of the shepherd in the ancient Near East, most have been able to grasp the message of comfort and assurance conveyed in the psalm. Especially in times of distress, such as the death of a loved one, we instinctively turn to the assuring words, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

The purpose of this message is to help us more clearly understand the imagery used to convey comfort and calm to the soul of those who are a part of God’s flock by faith in Jesus Christ. Additionally, we will explore new ways in which the truth of this psalm can be applied to our lives. Furthermore, since we are all to be shepherds of God’s flock in the broadest sense, we can learn a great deal not only about our Shepherd, but also about shepherding.

David is identified in the superscription as the author of the psalm. We are hardly surprised. After all, David was a shepherd in his youth (1 Sam. 16:11; 17:15, 28, 34-36). David’s shepherding days (like those of his predecessor Moses, cf. Exod. 3:1) served to prepare him for shepherding God’s flock, the nation Israel: “He also chose David His servant, and took him from the sheepfolds; from the care of the ewes with suckling lambs He brought him, to shepherd Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance” (Ps. 78:70-71).

It may appear at first glance that David would have written this psalm as a boy while tending his flock. No doubt David did write psalms as he spent lonely hours with his flocks in the field, but it is difficult to imagine that a psalm of such depth could have been written by a young lad.75 A young lad knows little of the dangers and disappointments of life or of the opposition which is referred to in verses 4 and 5. If the “house of the Lord” in verse 6 is a reference to the temple, it was only a future hope later in David’s life, not in his youth (cf. 2 Sam. 7).

There is a fair amount of disagreement about the structural divisions of Psalm 23, based upon differences of opinion in the number of poetic images employed. Some see only one image—the shepherd’s, which underlies the entire psalm. Others believe there is also the image of the hospitable host or the friend in verses 5 and 6. Some even see the imagery of a guide in verses 3 and 4. I am inclined to see two images in the psalm, that of the shepherd (vv. 1-4) and that of the host (vv. 5-6).76 With this background in mind, let us begin our study of Psalm 23.

The Sheep and the Shepherd
(23:1-4)

1 A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 3 He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. (NASB)

Knowing David was a shepherd in his early years, we may be inclined to interpret this psalm from the perspective of the shepherd. Phillip Keller has written a book on Psalm 23 entitled A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, which has many helpful insights. He writes from the background of growing up in East Africa and later making his living as a sheep rancher for about eight years. However as Keller points out,77 the vantage point of the psalm is from the perspective of the sheep, not that of the shepherd. I am tempted to entitle these verses, “A Sheep Looks at his Shepherd in Psalm 23.” Let us then consider our Great Shepherd from the viewpoint of the sheep.

The shepherd theme is introduced in the first verse: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

The shepherd image was very common in the ancient Near East78 and very obviously based upon one of the principal occupations of that day. The Israelites, in particular, were known as shepherds (cf. Gen. 46:28-34). The term “shepherd” came to be used in a much broader way,79 describing leadership either of an individual or a group. Jacob spoke of God as “The God who has been my shepherd all my life …” (Gen. 48:15; cf. 49:24). The title of shepherd was given to kings, especially David (2 Sam. 5:2; 7:7; Ps. 78:71), and the Messiah who was to come, of whom David was a type (Ezek. 34:23-24; Mic. 5:4). Thus the Lord Jesus identified himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11; cf. Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:4).

When David spoke of Yahweh as his shepherd, he thought of Him not only as his provider and protector but also as his king. He thought of God as his shepherd with the breadth of meaning this term conveyed in the ancient Near East (in general) and in the Law (in particular). Because God was David’s shepherd, he lacked (wanted) nothing. A good shepherd is all a sheep needs since a good shepherd, by his very nature will always supply all of the sheep’s needs. In a similar way, a good father will provide for every need of his child.

As a young boy I was troubled by the language of this verse and thought the expression, “I shall not want,” meant that David didn’t want the shepherd. Now I understand that David meant that since he had the Lord as his shepherd, he had no other want; he was lacking nothing. The significance of this statement can hardly be overemphasized. All through the ages Satan has attempted to portray God as a begrudging giver who only provides when He must. Satan desires to deceive those who trust in God, and wants them to believe they are lacking and deprived of the good things in life. This is the picture Satan tried to paint in suggesting that God had withheld the fruit of every tree of the garden from Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1). God is also portrayed as a begrudging giver in the temptation of our Lord (Matt. 4:1-11) and in the warning of Paul concerning the doctrine of demons (1 Tim. 4:1-4).

The mentality behind David’s words is completely opposed to the Madison Avenue propaganda where we are constantly being told that we have many needs, all of which can be met by buying some new (or old) product. We need “sex appeal” so we must buy a new toothpaste, a new kind of mouthwash and a new brand of soap. We need self-confidence and a better self-image, therefore we must wear stylish clothing determined by the garment industry. Our whole mode of thinking is “want-centered.” David tells us that to have God as our shepherd is indeed to have everything we want. He who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-caring, is enough; He is sufficient. With Him we need nothing else (cf. Ps. 73:25-26).

Israel had found God to be a faithful provider of their needs during their years in the wilderness: “For the Lord your God has blessed you in all that you have done; He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing” (Deut. 2:7).

The Israelites also had God’s assurance that they would lack nothing when they possessed the land of Canaan:

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you shall eat food without scarcity, in which you shall not lack anything; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper (Deut. 8:7-9).

We must be very careful here, however, that we do not go too far. We should not understand David to mean that with God as his shepherd he had everything one could possibly desire or possess; this would be as wrong as to think that Israel never did without anything while in the wilderness (cf. Deut. 2:7, above). In Deuteronomy 8 Moses told the Israelites that God “let them be hungry” to test them and to teach them (vv. 2-3). The clear implication of David’s statement in Psalm 23:1 is that as one of God’s sheep he will lack nothing which is necessary for his best interest. Verses 4 and 5 confirm this as well. As David wrote elsewhere: The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; but they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing (Ps. 34:10, emphasis mine; cf. also Ps. 84:11).

In verses 2-4 David describes those things for which he, as God’s sheep, will never lack. It is necessary to give a word of caution as we approach these verses filled with poetic imagery and therefore susceptible to abuse. David is describing God’s relationship to him in terms of a kindly shepherd’s relationship to one of his sheep. It is to be expected that he will speak of God’s care in sheep-like terms. We must be careful, however, not to restrict David’s meaning only to a literal, non-spiritual sense. Conversely, we must not let the imagery be carried too far so that we begin to see too much. There is a very delicate balance required when we attempt to interpret this kind of poetic imagery.80

I am inclined to think that the emphasis of verses 2-3a falls upon the rest which the Good Shepherd provides for his sheep. This seems to be the point of the key terms in each line. The expression “lie down” speaks of rest (cf. the use of the same term in Gen. 29:2; Isa. 17:2; Ezek. 34:15). Leupold81 reminds us that sheep do not graze lying down. From Ezekiel 34:15 I understand that the sheep would lie down to rest after having been fed. The adequate provision of lush pasture land, or “grassy meadows”82 and “quiet waters” (literally, “waters of rest,” margin, NASB)83 to which the shepherd has led his sheep, causes them to lie down in rest.

The first line of verse 3, “He restores my soul,” continues this same thought of the rest which God provides for his sheep. Taken in its most literal and restricted sense, this expression conveys David’s thought that God “renews and sustains my life.”84 As David’s shepherd, God provides him with rest and restoration. He does this by supplying him with the necessary provisions of food and water, which sheep require. Rest is certainly related to the required physical provisions of food and water, but rest is also related to restoration. In order to be refreshed and renewed in spirit, rest is a prerequisite.

Psalm 23 cannot be fully appreciated apart from the word of God spoken to Israel through the prophet Ezekiel. Against the backdrop of the false shepherds who had abused and oppressed God’s flock, God promised to return to His people as their shepherd and to give them rest:

For thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them to their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams, and in all the inhabited places of the land. I will feed them in a good pasture, and their grazing ground will be on the mountain heights of Israel. There they will lie down in good grazing ground, and they will feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest,” declares the Lord God (Ezek. 34:11-15).

It appears that there is a spiritual meaning implied in Psalm 23:2-3a85 which presses beyond the literal meaning of physical nourishment and rest. This is strongly suggested by David’s use of the same expression “to restore the soul” in Psalm 19: “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Ps. 19:7).

While a shepherd provides his sheep with food, rest, and restoration, God provides His sheep with His Word, which is the principle means of giving spiritual nourishment, rest, and restoration.

The second and third lines of verse 3 remind us that as a shepherd leads his flock, so God guides His people: “He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”

Guidance86 is recognized as one of the principle tasks of the shepherd. He leads his sheep to places of nourishment and rest (v. 2), but he also leads them in the proper paths. Often it is necessary for the shepherd to lead his flock great distances to find both pasture and water. Some paths are dangerous and should be avoided. The good shepherd leads his sheep in the right paths.

God’s guidance in the life of a believer is more than just a matter of leading us in the “right path”; it involves His leading us in “paths of righteousness.”87 What a wonderful word of comfort for those who seem to think that God’s will is some kind of mystery, known only to the few who are so fortunate to find it. One of the assurances the psalmist is confident he will never lack is the leading of God in his life. Let us learn from David that we can be confident of God’s leading in our lives when the Lord is our Shepherd, for the shepherd always leads his flock.

Verse 4 gives us yet another reason why God can be relied on to guide His sheep. He guides us “for His name’s sake.” A. A. Anderson has correctly caught the force of this expression when he renders it, “he acts for the sake of his reputation.”88 The measure of a shepherd is the condition of his flock. God’s reputation rests upon His ability to guide and care for His people. Just as parents are evaluated by the way they care for their children, shepherds are judged by the condition of their flocks. God’s reputation as seen by His care of His people is the basis of Moses’ appeal for mercy when God threatened to wipe out the nation for the incident involving the golden calf (Exod. 32:1-14, esp. vv. 11-12). Paul tells us that God’s work of saving men by grace was for the purpose of bringing praise “to the glory of his grace” (cf. Eph. 1:5-6, 12, 14). We can be confident that God will guide His people because their lives reflect on Him as their Shepherd. What a wonderful assurance!

Verse 4 further qualifies the “I shall not want” of verse 1b. The fact that God was David’s shepherd did not keep him from many trials and tribulations. His life was sought without cause by king Saul, who became jealous of David’s success (cf. 1 Sam. 18:6-9). In addition David sinned and suffered the painful consequences (cf. 2 Sam. 11–12; 1 Chron. 21). David was truly a “man of sorrows.” Nowhere did God promise David (or any other saint) freedom from the suffering and trials of life. Even though God is our shepherd we will still go through trying times, but we will never “want” for the comfort which comes from His presence and His power.

In order for God’s sheep to be led to grassy meadows and restful streams, they must pass through dark and dangerous places.89 The “paths of righteousness” (v. 3) are not always peaceful paths.90 While we are never promised there will be no evil, we can be assured that we need “fear no evil” (v. 4), for we will always be in the Shepherd’s presence if we follow Him in His paths.

There is a subtle but significant change which occurs in verse 4. Did you notice the change of pronouns? The more impersonal “he” of verses 2 and 3 is now the much more intimate “Thou” in verse 4.91 As someone has observed, God goes before us when the path is smooth, but He stands beside us when the way is dangerous and frightening. It is His presence which dispels our fears. Furthermore, His “rod” and “staff” (v. 4c) give us comfort. Whether there are two distinct instruments indicated by these two terms92 or just one93 is open to discussion. The “rod” and the “staff” serve here as instruments of protection and assistance. They were used both to ward off enemies and to rescue straying sheep. Perhaps the disciplinary use of the “rod” is implied as well. Discipline may seem unpleasant at the moment, but it is a comfort in the long term (cf. Heb. 12:5-12) and a motivation for us to “make our paths straight” (Heb. 12:13). While God may not always use His power to keep us out of trials, His presence and His power will always be with us to keep us through our trials. As He Himself said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Heb. 13:5; cf. Deut. 31:6; Josh. 1:5).

The Guest and the Hospitable Host
(23:5-6)

5 Thou dost prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Thou hast anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (NASB)

David has described his relationship to God using the imagery of the shepherd and his sheep. He now describes this same relationship employing the imagery of a hospitable host. The relationship of a host with his guest is even closer than that of a shepherd with his sheep.94 The shepherd motif need not be prolonged as some suggest. Just as well known in the ancient Near East was the significance of the hospitality offered to a traveler:

According to the Bedouin law of hospitality, once a traveler is received into the shepherd’s tent, and especially once his host has spread food before him, he is guaranteed immunity from enemies who may be attempting to overtake him. In pastoral circles no human protection is greater than that afforded by the hospitality of a Bedouin chief.95

No greater security or comfort could be obtained by a traveler in the ancient Near East than to be offered the hospitality of a home. It was understood that this was a provision of shelter and food, but even more it was a guarantee of protection from harm. We can sense this from Old Testament passages such as Genesis 18:1-8, where Abram graciously entertained three “men” who passed by as strangers. More enlightening (and distressing!) is the passage in the 19th chapter of Genesis, where Lot took the two “men” (angels) into his house as guests when the men of Sodom threatened to assault them:

But Lot went out to them at the doorway, and shut the door behind him, and said, “Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly. Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof” (Gen. 19:6-8).

Whether or not we are able to grasp how a father could offer his virgin daughters to such a mob, we must at least gain some appreciation for the strong sense of obligation Lot felt to the two men in view of his hospitality.96 Psalm 23:5 describes this type of protective hospitality.

To sit as a guest at the table of a host was to be assured of food, housing, fellowship and protection. The table prepared in the presence of David’s enemies was the host’s public announcement to them not to attempt to molest David in any way. This offered great security, especially since the host was a man of influence and generosity. The amount of security which any host could provide depended upon his prestige and power. The abundance of his provisions indicated that he was a prosperous, powerful, and generous man. To have the hospitality of such a host was to be secure indeed!

The psalmist’s head was anointed with oil, a generous gesture97 which bestowed honor on him as an esteemed guest. The cup was likewise a gesture of generosity. It was not half-filled, but running over. David was not served “leftovers,” but was abundantly given the finest provisions in the house. Satisfaction, significance, and security are all abundantly supplied to the believer by God, as indicated by the imagery of the hospitable host.98 An even greater fellowship and graciousness is suggested by the hospitality motif than by that of the pastoral imagery.

As a result of the provisions of verse 5 David can confidently summarize his security in the words of verse 6: “Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Goodness and lovingkindness are probably the two most comforting attributes of God’s character for the Christian. They are especially consoling in times of distress. These characteristics of God are linked to His covenant with Israel.99 In contrast with the wicked man, who is beset by judgment and calamity (Ps. 35:6; 140:11), the righteous man is not just followed by goodness and kindness, but pursued by it.100 As a guest at God’s table, his enemies no longer stalk David; instead God’s goodness pursues him.101 God not only walks before us, leading us to places of rest and refreshment, but His goodness follows us from behind as well.

Most significantly, David is not a guest for a few days at the home of his gracious host; he is a permanent part of this household. There is an old Greek saying that goes something like this: “A guest is like a fish … After three days, he stinks.” To be a guest in God’s house is not limited to three days. David is assured that he will “dwell in the house of the Lord”102 forever.103

The temple was not yet built in David’s day. Although he desired to build the temple, this task was left to his son Solomon (2 Sam. 7). David may have been looking forward to that future day in eternity when he could fellowship with God in the temple. It may well be, however, that David is simply looking forward to continued fellowship and communion with God as he has already experienced it in his life. God’s care in the past is but a sample, a kind of first-fruits of what is yet ahead.

Conclusion

The blessings and the calmness of soul which David experienced in his life and expressed in this psalm would be a delight to anyone, but how can we be assured of them in our lives? The answer is almost too simple to believe: in order to enjoy the benefits of the care of the Good Shepherd we must be one of His sheep. In the words of the Good Shepherd Himself: ““My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28).

Those who enjoy the benefits of being cared for by the Good Shepherd (John 10:14) are those who know the Shepherd’s voice and who follow Him. They understand that He has laid down His life for them (John 10:15). They enter into eternal blessings through Jesus Christ who is the door to the sheepfold (John 10:1ff.). Those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as their Shepherd are not sheep, but “dogs” and “hogs” (cf. 2 Pet. 2:22).

It is amazing to ponder that in order to become the Good Shepherd our Lord first had to become a sheep—the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world (cf. John 1:29). If you would experience the comfort and consolation of Psalm 23, you can only do so as a sheep, as a guest who has been invited to sit at the Lord’s table. Christian comfort is only for Christians.

One of the lessons of Psalm 23 is that every person who is one of God’s flock (by personal faith in Christ) is individually cared for as one of God’s sheep. In our church we emphasize “body life,” and I believe this is rightly so. Never forget that while you are also one of God’s flock, His care for you is an individual type of care, not merely as a number or as a series of perforations in a computer card. David never lost his sense of individual pastoral care from the hand of his Shepherd.

Two doubts tend to make us question this kind of personal and individual care. The first is tribulation. Some seem to feel that God cares about them only when everything is going well. In sheep-like terms, they think God is with them only when they are lying in grassy meadows alongside restful waters. However, once they find themselves in a dark valley they question the presence and the pastoral care of their Shepherd. David never lost his assurance of God’s care and His keeping. In fact, in times of distress, God’s care and keeping was more certain than ever. The second cause of doubt is when our “under-shepherds” fail us. God cares for us individually, but He also cares for us through others. When human shepherds fail us, we may begin to question the concern of the Good Shepherd. Let us learn that God Himself never fails us, never leaves us, and never will forsake us.

While this message does not dwell on this area of application, allow me to suggest that Psalm 23 not only describes the Good Shepherd, but also good shepherding. Let us see this psalm not only as a superb text on the Shepherd, but as a model for all shepherds. That which makes God a Good Shepherd also serves as a model to us of proper shepherding. Let us seek to study God’s shepherding and to strive to shepherd others as God shepherds us.

In conclusion, let me note also the providence of God in the life of David. How insignificant it must have seemed to David to be a “mere” shepherd boy. That seems to be the inference of his older brothers who were off doing more important work such as fighting wars (cf. 1 Sam. 17:28). Yet David’s was a very important task. It readied him for battle (cf. 1 Sam. 17:33-37) and even more, helped prepare David to be a shepherd of God’s flock (Ps. 78:70-71) and to write about the Good Shepherd. The seemingly insignificant tasks and experiences of our lives are of great importance. Let us do them well.


74 Bernhard W. Anderson, Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1974), p. 144.

75 I am inclined to agree with Leupold, who writes, “Yet it is far less likely that ‘the sweet psalmist of Israel’ (II Sa. 23.1) wrote this piece in his youthful days while he was still tending his father’s flock. Romantic as that thought may seem, it would be far more in keeping with what the Scriptures reveal elsewhere concerning him, when they tell us that after his anointing the spirit of God came upon him (I Sam. 16:13), to assume that the spirit-filled servant of the Lord composed such helpful songs as these. Details found in v. 2 especially indicate that it was, perhaps, even the older David who composed the psalm.” H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House [reprint], 1969), p. 209.

76 This is the view of Bernhard Anderson, who writes, “The major problem in interpreting this psalm is that it presents two images which seem to be inconsistent. In verses 1-4 Yahweh is portrayed as the Good Shepherd who cares for his flock; in verses 5 and 6, on the other hand, Yahweh is the Host who offers hospitality to a guest and protects him from enemies. … The shepherd can be portrayed from two standpoints. He is the protector of the sheep as they wander in search of grazing land. Yet he is also the protector of the traveler who finds hospitality in his tent from the dangers and enemies of the desert.” Anderson, Out of the Depths, p. 145. Cf. also A. A. Anderson, Psalms 1-72 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972), I, p. 195, who outlines three views, of which he sees the second (Bernhard Anderson’s view) as the most likely. Cf. also, Leupold, pp. 208-209, who is inclined toward just the one figure of a shepherd.

77 “Obviously, David, in this Psalm, is speaking not as the shepherd, though he was one, but as a sheep; one of the flock.” Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), p. 17.

78 A. A. Anderson writes, “This terminology is not, however, peculiar to Israel, but it is also found among other nations of the ancient Near East; e.g. Hammurabi is called ‘the shepherd’ (ANET, p. 164b) or ‘the shepherd of the people’ (ANET, p. 165b; cf. also p. 177b). In the Hymn to the Sun-God (ANET, p. 387b, line 26), Shamash is designated as ‘shepherd of (the people of the world).’” A. A. Anderson, I, p. 196.

79 “In the word shepherd, David uses the most comprehensive and intimate metaphor yet encountered in the Psalms, preferring usually the more distant ‘king’ or ‘deliverer,’ or the impersonal ‘rock,’ ‘shield,’ etc.; whereas the shepherd lives with his flock and is everything to it: guide, physician and protector.” Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), pp. 109-110.

80 It is my personal opinion that Phillip Keller (A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23), at times, lets his knowledge of sheep carry him beyond David’s intended meaning. I fear that Leupold does the same in his interpretation of verse 5. Instead of taking the “table” which is set by a gracious host as a different image, Leupold seems obliged to persist with the “shepherd” imagery and thus to say of the “table” and the “oil” of verse 5: “For, in the first place, the ‘table’ (shalchan), as dictionaries point out, was in days of old a large piece of leather on which food was set or, in this case, on which some supplementary reserve fodder might be spread by the shepherd on days when forage was scarce. In like manner shepherds are still known to carry a little flask of oil to anoint the scratched face of the sheep that was obliged to seek its food among thorns and brambles.” Leupold, pp. 213, 214.

I do, however, agree with Leupold when he warns us of taking these highly figurative terms mechanically, thereby missing their spiritual implications: “… it is not only physical well-being that the true Shepherd provides for His own. It savors of pedantry to press this statement, ‘He restores my soul,’ to the level of what sheep can experience and to stress, what is true enough that nephesh can also mean ‘life,’ and so arrive at the meaning: He revives me or my life. One must allow for deeper values and not insist on purely mechanical procedures.” Leupold, pp. 211-212.

81 Ibid, p. 211.

82 Ibid.

83 “The quiet waters”: “Lit. waters of rest: not gently-flowing streams, but streams where they may find rest and refreshment (Is. xxxii. 18). … The Promised Land was to be Israel’s rest (Deut. xii. 9; Ps. xcv. 11).” A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House [reprint], 1982), p. 125.

84 Ibid.

85 “He restores my soul is an expression open to more than one interpretation. It may picture the straying sheep brought back, as in Isaiah 49:5, or perhaps Psalm 60:1 (Heb. 3), which use the same verb, whose intransitive sense is often ‘repent’ or ‘be converted’ (e.g. Ho. 14:1f.; Joel 2:12). Psalm 19:7, by its subject (the law) and by the parallel verb (‘making wise’), points to a spiritual renewal of this kind, rather than mere refreshment. On the other hand, my soul usually means ‘my life’ or ‘myself’; and ‘restore’ often has a physical or psychological sense, as in Isaiah 58:12, or using another part of the verb, Proverbs 25:13, Lamentations 1:11, 16, 19. In our context the two senses evidently interact, so that the retrieving or reviving of the sheep pictures the deeper renewal of the man of God, spiritually perverse or ailing as he may be.” Kidner, Psalms 1-72, p. 110.

86 Kirkpatrick has observed that the term “guides” (v. 3) is “… often used of God’s guidance of His people collectively (Ex. xv. 13; Deut. xxxii. 12), and individually (Ps. v. 8, xxvii. 11, etc.).” Kirkpatrick, pp. 125-126.

87 “… paths of righteousness, which, in terms of sheep, mean no more than ‘the right paths,’ but have, further, a demanding moral content for the human flock (cf. Pr. 11:5), whose ways will either shame or vindicate their Shepherd’s good name. Ezekiel 36:22-32 draws out this searching implication of the phrase for his name’s sake, but adds the corollary that, to uphold that name, God will make new men of us, whose ways will be His own.” Kidner, p. 110.

“The word for righteousness nowhere retains its primary physical meaning of straightness. For paths cp. xvii. 5; and for the whole phrase, Prov. iv. 11, viii. 20, xii. 28.” Kirkpatrick, p. 126.

88 A. A. Anderson, Psalms 1-72, p. 197.

89 “The familiar translation ‘the shadow of death’ goes beyond the meaning of the Hebrew term which means ‘deep darkness’ (Amos 5:8; Isa. 9:2; Ps. 44:19). Yet this secondary interpretation is consistent with the original meaning, for in the view of the psalmists the power of death encroaches into a person’s life when the vitality of his life is weakened.” Anderson, Out of the Depths, pp. 147-148.

“… the literal meaning of the single Hebrew word salmawet, which occurs nearly twenty times in the Old Testament, and RSV is right to retain it here. In many of this word’s occurrences ‘death’ could be a kind of superlative, as in NEB’s rendering here, ‘dark as death,’ and in the term ‘deep darkness,’ used by RSV elsewhere. Such a translation here (cf. RP’s footnote, ‘the darkest valley’) would widen the reference of the verse to include other crises besides the final one. But although darkness is the leading thought in most of the Old Testament contexts, death is dominant in a few, including (in my view) the present verse. In Job 38:17 the gates of salmawet are equivalent to ‘the gates of death’ in the same verse; in Jeremiah 2:6 this term describes the peril of the desert, which is a place of death rather than of special darkness; and elsewhere the LXX makes ‘shadow of death’ its most frequent translation of the word. In Matthew 4:16 the insertion of ‘and’ (‘the land and shadow of death’) treats ‘death’ as more than a mere reinforcement of ‘shadow,’ and in the Benedictus it marks a climax after ‘darkness’ (Lk. 1:79).” Kidner, p. 111.

90 “The dark valley, or ravine, is as truly one of His ‘right paths’ as are the green pastures—a fact that takes much of the sting out of any ordeal.” Kidner, p. 110.

91 “Thou, at this point of danger, replaces the more distant ‘He’, in a person-to-person address; for the Shepherd is no longer ahead, to lead, but alongside to escort. In times of need, companionship is good; and He is armed. The rod (a cudgel worn at the belt) and staff (to walk with, and to round up the flock) were the shepherd’s weapon and implement: the former for defense (cf. I Sa. 17:35), the latter for control—since discipline is security.” Ibid, p. 111.

92 “Rod (sebet) was a club used in defense, to drive away the wild animals or any other enemy (cf. 2 Sam. 23:21; Mic. 7:14). It could occasionally be tipped with metal or studded with nails (cf. G. Dalman, Arbeit und Sitte in Palastina (1932), VI, pp. 238ff.). Staff was probably a wooden rod, longer than the club, which could be used as a support.” A. A. Anderson, Psalms 1-72, p. 198.

93 Leupold tends toward the view that both “rod” and “staff” refer to the shepherd’s crook, which is a multi-purpose instrument: “Perhaps, then, those interpreters are nearest the truth who claim that the one commonly observed shepherd’s crook could be used for purposes of defense as well as to guide and direct sheep that stray from the road …” Leupold, p. 213.

94 “The shepherd imagery has served its purpose, to be replaced by one of greater intimacy.” Kidner, p. 111.

95 Anderson, Out of the Depths, p. 148, cf. also Ps. 27:5; 61:4.

96 The converse of the principle of hospitality is powerfully carried out in church discipline, where the willfully sinful saint is excluded from eating with his fellow-believers (1 Cor. 5:11). In a similar way, Christians are warned about eating a pagan religious meal with unbelievers, because of the intimacy and union of such an act (1 Cor. 10:14-22).

97 “Jehovah is no niggard host, like the Pharisee (Luke vii. 46); He provides for the joys as well as the necessities of life (John ii. 1-11); His guests shall be of a cheerful countenance and a gladsome heart (civ. 15).” Kirkpatrick, p. 127.

98 “Oil and perfumes were symbolic of rejoicing, and as such they would be used on festive occasions; even the arrival of a guest might come into this category (cf. 45:7 (M. T. 8), 92:10 (M. T. 11), 133:2; Ec. 9:8; Am. 6:6; Lk. 7:46).” A. A. Anderson, pp. 198-199.

“The reference is to the unguents and perfumes which were the regular accompaniment of an Oriental banquet (Amos vi. 6; Ps. xlv. 7, xcii. 10), not to the regal anointing, for which a different word is used.” Kirkpatrick, p. 127.

He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine which makes man’s heart glad, so that he may make his face glisten with oil, and food which sustains man’s heart (Ps. 104:14-15).

99 “Mercy is the covenant-word rendered ‘steadfast love’ elsewhere (see on 17:7). Together with goodness it suggests the steady kindness and support that one can count on in the family or between firm friends. With God these qualities are not merely solid and dependable, but vigorous—for to follow does not mean here to bring up the rear but to pursue, as surely as His judgments pursue the wicked (83:15).” Kidner, p. 112.

100 Kirkpatrick, p. 127.

101 “Now it is no longer his enemies who ‘pursue’ him; rather it is Yahweh’s grace and goodness that follow after him as long as he lives.” Bernhard Anderson, Out of the Depths, p. 148.

102 “The language is figurative, and the phrase ‘house of the Lord’ does not necessarily imply the existence of the temple (Ex. xxiii. 19; Jud. xviii.31; I Sam. i.7), though it must be admitted that it seems to point to it.” Kirkpatrick, pp. 124-125.

103 “Forever is lit. (in this verse) ‘to length of days,’ which is not in itself an expression for eternity. But since the logic of God’s covenant allows no ending to His commitment to a man, as our Lord pointed out (Mt. 22:32), the Christian understanding of these words does no violence to them.” Kidner, pp. 112-113.

Related Topics: Comfort