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Psalms 23:2-3

Context

23:2 He takes me to lush pastures, 1 

he leads me to refreshing water. 2 

23:3 He restores my strength. 3 

He leads me down 4  the right paths 5 

for the sake of his reputation. 6 

1 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.

2 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.

3 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.”

4 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.

5 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.

6 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.



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