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Psalms 23

Psalm 23 1 

A psalm of David.

23:1 The Lord is my shepherd, 2 

I lack nothing. 3 

23:2 He takes me to lush pastures, 4 

he leads me to refreshing water. 5 

23:3 He restores my strength. 6 

He leads me down 7  the right paths 8 

for the sake of his reputation. 9 

23:4 Even when I must walk through the darkest valley, 10 

I fear 11  no danger, 12 

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff reassure me. 13 

23:5 You prepare a feast before me 14 

in plain sight of my enemies.

You refresh 15  my head with oil;

my cup is completely full. 16 

23:6 Surely your goodness and faithfulness 17  will pursue 18  me all my days, 19 

and I will live in 20  the Lord’s house 21  for the rest of my life. 22 

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1 sn Psalm 23. In vv. 1-4 the psalmist pictures the Lord as a shepherd who provides for his needs and protects him from danger. The psalmist declares, “The Lord is my shepherd,” and then extends and develops that metaphor, speaking as if he were a sheep. In vv. 5-6 the metaphor changes as the psalmist depicts a great royal banquet hosted by the Lord. The psalmist is a guest of honor and recipient of divine favor, who enjoys unlimited access to the divine palace and the divine presence.

2 sn The LORD is my shepherd. The opening metaphor suggests the psalmist is assuming the role of a sheep. In vv. 1b-4 the psalmist extends the metaphor and explains exactly how the LORD is like a shepherd to him. At the surface level the language can be understood in terms of a shepherd’s relationship to his sheep. The translation of vv. 1-4 reflects this level. But, of course, each statement also points to an underlying reality.

3 tn The imperfect verbal form is best understood as generalizing; the psalmist highlights his typical or ongoing experience as a result of having the LORD as his shepherd (habitual present use). The next verse explains more specifically what he means by this statement.

4 tn Heb “he makes me lie down in lush pastures.” The Hiphil verb ????????????? (yarbitseniy) has a causative-modal nuance here (see IBHS 445-46 §27.5 on this use of the Hiphil), meaning “allows me to lie down” (see also Jer 33:12). The point is that the shepherd takes the sheep to lush pastures and lets em eat and rest there. Both imperfect verbal forms in v. 2 are generalizing and highlight the psalmist’s typical experience.

5 tn Both genitives in v. 2 indicate an attribute of the noun they modify: ??????? (deshe’) characterizes the pastures as “lush” (i.e., rich with vegetation), while ???????? (mÿnukhot) probably characterizes the water as refreshing. In this case the plural indicates an abstract quality. Some take ???????? in the sense of “still, calm” (i.e., as describing calm pools in contrast to dangerous torrents) but it is unlikely that such a pastoral scene is in view. Shepherds usually watered their sheep at wells (see Gen 29:2-3; Exod 2:16-19). Another option is to take ???????? as “resting places” and to translate, “water of/at the resting places” (i.e., a genitive of location; see IBHS 147-48 §9.5.2e).

sn Within the framework of the metaphor, the psalmist/sheep is declaring in v. 2 that his shepherd provides the essentials for physical life. At a deeper level the psalmist may be referring to more than just physical provision, though that would certainly be included.

6 tn The appearance of the Hebrew term ???????? (nafshi), traditionally translated “my soul,” might suggest a spiritualized interpretation for the first line of v. 3. However, at the surface level of the shepherd/sheep metaphor, this is unlikely. When it occurs with a pronominal suffix ?????? (nefesh) is often equivalent to a pronoun, especially in poetry (see BDB 660 s.v. ?????? 4.a). In this context, where the statement most naturally refers to the physical provision just described, the form is best translated simply “me.” The accompanying verb (a Polel form [factitive use] of ????? [shuv]), if referring to the physical provision just described, carries the nuance “refresh, restore strength.”

7 tn The imperfect verbal forms in v. 3 (????????? [yÿshovev] and ????????? [yakheniy]), like those in vv. 1-2, highlight what is typical of the shepherd/sheep relationship.

8 tn The attributive genitive ????? (tsedeq) is traditionally translated “righteousness” here, as if designating a moral or ethical quality. But this seems unlikely, for it modifies ?????????? (ma’ggÿley, “paths”). Within the shepherd/sheep metaphor, the phrase likely refers to “right” or “correct” paths, i.e. ones that lead to pastures, wells, or the fold. While ????? usually does carry a moral or ethical nuance, it can occasionally refer to less abstract things, such as weights and offerings. In this context, which emphasizes divine provision and protection, the underlying reality is probably God’s providential guidance. The psalmist is confident that God takes him down paths that will ultimately lead to something beneficial, not destructive.

9 tn The Hebrew term ???? (shem, “name”) refers here to the shepherd’s reputation. (The English term “name” is often used the same way.) The statement ??????? ?????? (lÿma’an shÿmo, “for the sake of his name”) makes excellent sense within the framework of the shepherd/sheep metaphor. Shepherds, who sometimes hired out their services, were undoubtedly concerned about their vocational reputation. To maintain their reputation as competent shepherds, they had to know the “lay of the land” and make sure they led the sheep down the right paths to the proper destinations. The underlying reality is a profound theological truth: God must look out for the best interests of the one he has promised to protect, because if he fails to do so, his faithfulness could legitimately be called into question and his reputation damaged.

10 tn The Piel of נָחַם (nakham), when used with a human object, means “comfort, console.” But here, within the metaphorical framework, it refers to the way in which a shepherd uses his implements to assure the sheep of his presence and calm their nerves. The underlying reality is the emotional stability God provides the psalmist during life threatening situations.

tn The Hebrew term ????????? (tsalmavet) has traditionally been understood as a compound noun meaning “shadow of death” (??? [tsel] + ????? [mavet]; see BDB 853 s.v. ?????????). Other scholars prefer to vocalize the form ???????? (tsalmut) and understand it as an abstract noun (from the root ?????, tsalam) meaning “darkness.” An examination of the word’s usage favors the latter derivation. It is frequently associated with darkness/night and contrasted with light/morning (see Job 3:5; 10:21-22; 12:22; 24:17; 28:3; 34:22; Ps 107:10, 14; Isa 9:1; Jer 13:16; Amos 5:8). In some cases the darkness described is associated with the realm of death (Job 10:21-22; 38:17), but this is a metaphorical application of the word and does not reflect its inherent meaning. If the word does indeed mean “darkness,” it modifies ????? (gay’, “valley, ravine”) quite naturally. At the metaphorical level, v. 4 pictures the shepherd taking his sheep through a dark ravine where predators might lurk. The life-threatening situations faced by the psalmist are the underlying reality behind the imagery.

11 tn The imperfect verbal forms in v. 4, as in vv. 1-3, highlight what is typical in the psalmist’s experience.

12 tn The Hebrew term ??? (ra’) is traditionally translated “evil” here, perhaps suggesting a moral or ethical nuance. But at the level of the metaphor, the word means “danger, injury, harm,” as a sheep might experience from a predator. The life-threatening dangers faced by the psalmist, especially the enemies mentioned in v. 5, are the underlying reality.

13 tn The Piel of ????? (nakham), when used with a human object, means “comfort, console.” But here, within the metaphorical framework, it refers to the way in which a shepherd uses his implements to assure the sheep of his presence and calm their nerves. The underlying reality is the emotional stability God provides the psalmist during life threatening situations.

14 sn In v. 5 the metaphor switches. (It would be very odd for a sheep to have its head anointed and be served wine.) The background for the imagery is probably the royal banquet. Ancient Near Eastern texts describe such banquets in similar terms to those employed by the psalmist. (See M. L. Barre and J. S. Kselman, “New Exodus, Covenant, and Restoration in Psalm 23,” The Word of the Lord Shall Go Forth, 97-127.) The reality behind the imagery is the Lord’s favor. Through his blessings and protection he demonstrates to everyone, including dangerous enemies, that the psalmist has a special relationship with him.

15 tn The imperfect verbal form in v. 5a carries on the generalizing mood of vv. 1-4. However, in v. 5b the psalmist switches to a perfect (דִּשַּׁנְתָּ, dishanta), which may have a generalizing force as well. But then again the perfect is conspicuous here and may be present perfect in sense, indicating that the divine host typically pours oil on his head prior to seating him at the banquet table. The verb דָשַׁן (dashan; the Piel is factitive) is often translated “anoint,” but this is misleading, for it might suggest a symbolic act of initiation into royal status. One would expect the verb מָשָׁח (mashan) in this case; דָשַׁן here describes an act of hospitality extended to guests and carries the nuance “refresh.” In Prov 15:30 it stands parallel to “make happy” and refers to the effect that good news has on the inner being of its recipient.

16 tn The rare noun רְַָויָה (rÿvayah) is derived from the well-attested verb רָוָה (ravah, “be saturated, drink one’s fill”). In this context, where it describes a cup, it must mean “filled up,” but not necessarily to overflowing.

17 tn The noun חֶסֶד (khesed; v. 6) has been the subject of several monographs. G. R. Clark concludes that חֶסֶד “is not merely an attitude or an emotion; it is an emotion that leads to an activity beneficial to the recipient.” He explains that an act of חֶסֶד is “a beneficent action performed, in the context of a deep and enduring commitment between two persons or parties, by one who is able to render assistance to the needy party who in the circumstances is unable to help him- or herself.” (See G. R. Clark, The Word Hesed in the Hebrew Bible [JSOTSup], 267.) HALOT 336-37 s.v. defines the word as “loyalty,” or “faithfulness.” Other appropriate meanings might be “commitment” and “devotion.”

18 tn The use of רָדַף (radaf, “pursue, chase”) with טוֹב וָחֶסֶד (tov vakhesed, “goodness and faithfulness”) as subject is ironic. This is the only place in the entire OT where either of these nouns appears as the subject of this verb רָדַף (radaf, “pursue”). This verb is often used to describe the hostile actions of enemies. One might expect the psalmist’s enemies (see v. 5) to chase him, but ironically God’s “goodness and faithfulness” (which are personified and stand by metonymy for God himself) pursue him instead. The word “pursue” is used outside of its normal context in an ironic manner and creates a unique, but pleasant word picture of God’s favor (or a kind God) “chasing down” the one whom he loves.

19 tn Heb “all the days of my life.”

20 tn The verb form וְשַׁבְתִּי (vÿshavtiy) is a Qal perfect (with vav [ו] consecutive), first common singular, from שׁוּב (shuv, “return”) and should be translated, “and I will return.” But this makes no sense when construed with the following phrase, “in the house of the Lord.” The term שׁוּב (shuv) appears only here with the following phrase בְּבֵית (bÿvet). The form should be emended to וְשִׁבְתִּי (vÿshivtiy; an infinitive construct from יָשַׁב, yashav, “live”) with pronominal suffix) or to וְיָשַׁבְתִּי (vÿyashavtiy; a Qal perfect with vav [ו] consecutive, first common singular, from ישׁב [see BHS, note c]). In either case one could then translate, “and I will live [in the house of the Lord].” The phrase “in the house” frequently follows the verb יָשַׁב in the OT.

21 tn Heb “the house of the Lord.” The phrase may be purely metaphorical here, referring to the royal palace where the royal host of v. 5 holds his banquet and lives. If one takes the phrase more literally, it would refer to the earthly tabernacle (if one accepts Davidic authorship) or the later temple (see Judg 19:18; 1 Sam 1:7, 24; 2 Sam 12:20; 1 Kgs 7:12, 40, 45, 51).

22 tn The phrase אֹרֶךְ יָמִים (’orekh yamim, “length of days”) is traditionally translated “forever.” However, this phrase, when used elsewhere of people, usually refers to a lengthy period of time, such as one’s lifetime, and does not mean “forever” in the sense of eternity. (Cf. Deut 30:20; Job 12:12; Ps 91:16; Prov 3:2, 16; Lam 5:20.) Furthermore, the parallel phrase “all the days of my life” suggests this more limited meaning. Psalm 21:4, where the phrase is followed by “forever and ever,” may be an exception, though the juxtaposition of the phrases may be an example of intensification, where the second phrase goes beyond the limits of the first, rather than synonymity. Even if one takes both expressions as referring to eternal life, the language is part of the king’s hyperbolic description of the Lord’s blessings and should not be taken literally.

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