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Psalms: Chapter 23

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A psalm of David.

1The LORD is my shepherd; I lack nothing. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me to d‐ Others “still waters.” water in places of repose; ‐d Others “still waters.” 3He renews my life; He guides me in right paths as befits His name. 4Though I walk through e‐ Others “the valley of the shadow of death.” a valley of deepest darkness, ‐e Others “the valley of the shadow of death.” I fear no harm, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me. 5You spread a table for me in full view of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my drink is abundant. 6Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for many long years.

Notes:

d‐d Others “still waters.”

e‐e Others “the valley of the shadow of death.”

Text Commentary view alone

Ps. 23 :

God, the divine shepherd‐king, leads his people to nourishment and safety (vv. 1–4 ), keeping them alive and protecting them. In vv. 5–6 the psalmist is hosted by God and hopes to remain in His presence all his life. Some scholars now interpret the psalm as an exilic or postexilic portrait of a new exodus, from the exile to the return in the land of Israel (cf. Isa. 40.3–5; 49.8–13; Ps. 78.43–55 — the exodus is a common exilic trope for the return). This interpretation helps to see the psalm's two parts as a unity: God guides the people through the difficult journey from Babylonia and then hosts them at His own table, the rebuilt Temple.

1–4 :

The shepherd‐sheep metaphor for God and Israel (see also Ps. 95.7 ). The shepherd leads the sheep to pasture, to water, and through difficult terrain. Shepherd is a frequent biblical and ancient Near Eastern metaphor for royalty (Isa. 40.11; Ezek. 34; Ps. 80 ). This is the case with David (and Moses); the Babylonian king Hammurabi is called “the shepherd” (ANET, p. 164 ).

2 :

The alternate reading “still waters” (translators' note d‐d) means that the waters are not turbulent and hence are easy to drink from.

3 :

See Ps. 31.4 .

4 :

The shepherd's rod and staff, implements that prod and guide the sheep, provide the comfort that comes from divine guidance.

5–6 :

The shepherd metaphor is replaced by a banquet metaphor: God's luxurious care of the psalmist.

5 :

God hosts with luxury. A set or spread table (cf. Ezek. 23.41; Prov. 9.2 ) and oil on the head (cf. Eccl. 9.8; Ps. 92.11 ) are signs of luxury. Oil was placed on the heads of guests at banquets. Ps. 78.19 speaks of the preparation of a table in the wilderness for the first exodus generation. This lends support for seeing our psalm as a reference to the (second) exodus.

6 :

Goodness and steadfast love, covenant blessings, rather than curse, pursue the psalmist (Deut. 28.3, 15, 45 ).

6 :

The house of the Lord: The Temple (Ps. 27.4 ). The psalmist hopes to be in God's presence at the Temple (have access to God) throughout his long life. If this is an exilic psalm, it implies the return to the land of Israel. For many long years: lit. “for length of days.” This refers to one's natural life (to live a long life was a blessing), but it has traditionally been understood as referring to the next life (after death), and hence this psalm is customarily recited at funerals or on occasions commemorating the dead.

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