There is no poem or piece of literature that has been more published and memorized than the Twenty-Third Psalm. It is among the most famous of all writings. King David of Israel is given the credit for what amounts to a hymn or psalm. Surely David’s days as a young shepherd inspired much of his lovely expressions. The following commentary is based on the 21st Century Paraphrase of the Hebrew Scriptures [NCMM] of Psalms and the Nazarene Commentary 2000©.
David says that his God Yehowah [Yahweh, Jehovah] is his Shepherd. [Or, HAR: shepherds me; BAS: takes care of me; LXX: tends me as a shepherd.] [Compare Psalm 28:9; 78:71; 80:1] The prophets also call Messiah a shepherd. [Isaiah 40:11; 44:28; Ezekiel 34:23, 24; Zechariah 13:7. Jesus likens himself to a shepherd. [Matthew 25:32; John 10:2, 11-13, 16] Paul, Peter, and John do also. [Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; 5:4; Revelation 2:27; 7:17; 12:5; 19:15] Christ also shepherds by means of appointed men. [John 21:16; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2] David’s relationship to God is like a sheep to the shepherd.
It should be noted that no nameless “lord” is David’s Shepherd. Rather, he is unashamed to name his Shepherd as Yehowah. This Divine Name for the Creator is also rendered Jehovah or Yahweh. Many who have memorized this psalm and used the words, “the LORD is my shepherd” think this refers to Jesus Christ. This “LORD” [KJV] is not Jesus Christ, but rather his Father, of whom he said, “Let your name be sanctified.” [Matthew 6:9]
With such a divine Shepherd David says he wants for nothing. [Or, KJV: I shall not want; PBV: therefore can I lack nothing; HAR: I shall never be in need; BAS: I will not be without any good thing; TAY: I have everything I need; JPS: I lack nothing.] The idea of not wanting -- or wanting for nothing - indicates an end to desire, greed, or covetousness. The Messianic Shepherd teaches, “Beware of every kind of greed.” David’s words indicate there is no greed in his system. He is satisfied with what he possesses and has no egotistical desire for more.
David says Yehowah causes him to recline or lie down. [Or, PBV: feed me; LXX: fixed my abode; SPR: to repose; BAS: makes a resting-place for me; RHM ftn: cause me to rest there.] Sheep feed upright and so the fact this sheep lies down shows it “wants for nothing” and is well fed, pleasantly resting. We can imagine a mountain or hillside meadow or grassy field. This sheep is surrounded by food but is so satisfied it lays down to rest and serenity. There are few things more calming than the sound of gentle waters. This is true whether it is a bubbling mountain stream, the gentle lapping of a lake, or the soothing sound of surf. Many have observed these places to be excellent for meditation.
David feels refreshed as he has just grazed and then lied down to rest. [Or, KJV: restoreth my soul; BAS: gives new life to; HAR: renewed life; NJB: revives my soul; NEB: renews my life within me; TAY: restores my failing health.] The purpose of this rest in quiet meadows is to restore or renew the soul. It would actually be harmful if sheep did nothing but graze. In a similar manner the worshipper of Yehowah must also take time away from spiritual feeding to meditate restfully on the things learned.
Though satisfied and restfully restored, David says Yehowah will guide him in “correct paths.” [Or, KJV: paths of righteousness; BAS: ways of righteousness; HAR: a virtuous course; NJB: paths of virtue; NEB: right path; KNX: sure paths.] The Hebrew has more the idea of “tracks” or “ruts.” These are well-worn with generations of others who have walked the same way and have become deep ruts. One can leave these only by effort. A sheep can wander away and get lost and this was a theme of the Nazarene - the lost sheep. The disciple is not forced-marched in a rut, but is gently led by the Shepherd on the way of righteousness.
Most people feel some dread when passing through a deep ravine where dangers my lie in wait. Others render this phrase -- KJV: valley of the shadow of death; RHM: death-shadowed; LXX: shades of death; MOF: glen of gloom; AAT: darkest valley; NEB: dark as death. There are frightening places with great danger, but David feels the presence of his Shepherd and so has no fear. Sooner or later all humans pass through such a valley, but even near death they have nothing to fear, because “thou art with me.”
Sheep do have enemies and can become frightened. But David as one of Yehowah’s sheep is fearless. Learning to overcome fear is a struggle for some. The more one trusts and relies on the Shepherd the less fear will be present. With such lack of fear serene tranquility comes peacefully on the fearless. [Compare Hebrews 2:15.]
David feels the comfort of Yehowah’s “rod.” There can be two views: God’s rod of discipline and guidance; or, a rod of protection. [The Greek is actually BACTERIA.] This rod “comforts” David and does not cause him fear. It would seem the Shepherd’s rod is for the protection of the sheep. Also, he is comforted by Yehowah’s “staff.” The shepherd’s crook for rescuing the sheep. David is not frightened by Yehowah’s rod and staff, for these are for protection and guidance.
Sheep have enemies, like wolves, lions and bears. Likewise, David had enemies, as did Jesus. Nothing irritates hateful enemies more than to see the object of their resentment to be clearly blessed. And this is not just a quick snack wrapped in cloth as a shepherd might carry, but a full banquet. This irritates David’s enemies.
Sheep within the “one flock” of the Fine Shepherd [John 10:16] were also in danger from enemies who looked like sheep but were “dressed in the clothing of wolves.” [Matthew 10:16] Paul warns of such wolves when he speaks to an assembled group of Christian elders: “I realize that after my departure burdensome wolves will enter your midst and will not spare the flock. Also, right from among you [elders] men will appear speaking twisted things to mislead the disciples to follow them.” [Acts 20:29, 30 NCMM] There is no need to “fear” presumptuous men who claim to be God’s prophets. [Deuteronomy 18:22]
Yehowah is not only like a Shepherd but also a hospitable Host who would wash the feet of a guest and then apply perfumed oil on dry skin. [Luke 7:44-46] This Host is not stingy but is willing to keep His quest’s cup filled. David also shows the right attitude. David is the optimist who always sees even a half-filled glass as half-full rather than “half-empty.”
David is confident. He does not waver in doubt or indecision. He positively says he aspires to goodness, or that such divine goodness will always accompany him throughout his life. David may mean God’s “goodness” will be present throughout his life. Or, he may refer to his own goodness. The word “goodness” in English means virtue, excellence, kindness, generosity, benevolence. And not only “goodness” but also “covenant-loyalty” is present with David. That is, mercy, loving-kindness, love, loyal love, unfailing love, faithful love, steadfast love. The word refers to a bond or contract between two persons requiring trust and faithfulness in the object of love.
As one of the sheep of Yehowah’s flock, David’s hope is to remain within God’s household throughout his life no matter how long these years might be. So in David’s beautiful hymn he views his relationship to Yehowah as first a sheep to the Shepherd, and then, as a guest to the Host. Psalm 15 provides more details on just what kind of person will be permitted to reside in Yehowah’s Tent.
How comforted we feel as we have fed on David’s psalm. We can now lie down and meditate in peace as though near a happy brook - full and satisfied, walking with our Shepherd Yehowah without any want or fear. May He bless your quiet time in His pasture.
Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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