Psalms 23

PSALM XXIII

The Lord is the Pastor of his people; therefore it may be

inferred that they shall not want, 1.

How he guides, feeds, and protects them, 2, 3.

Even in the greatest dangers they may be confident of his

support, 4.

His abundant provision for them, 5.

The confidence they may have of his continual mercy, and their

eternal happiness, 6.

NOTES ON PSALM XXIII

There is nothing particular in the title; it is simply

attributed to David; but as it appears to be a thanksgiving of the

Israelites for their redemption from the Bablylonish captivity, it

cannot with propriety be attributed to David. Some think it was

written by David in his exile, which is not likely; others, that

he penned it when he was finally delivered from the persecution of

Saul. I rather incline to the opinion that it was written after

the captivity. The Chaldee seems to suppose that it was written to

celebrate the goodness of God to the Israelites in the desert. It

is a truly beautiful Psalm. Supposing it to have been written

after the captivity, we see, 1. The redeemed captives giving

thanks to God for their liberty. 2. Acknowledging that God had

brought back their lives from the grave. 3. They represent

themselves in Judea as a flock in an excellent pasture. 4. They

declare that from the dangers they have passed through, and from

which God had delivered them, they can have no fear of any enemy.

5. They conclude, from what God has done for them, that his

goodness and mercy shall follow them all their days. And, 6. That

they shall no more be deprived of God's worship, but shall all

their days have access to his temple.

Verse 1. The Lord is my shepherd] There are two allegories in

this Psalm which are admirably well adapted to the purpose for

which they are produced, and supported both with art and elegance.

The first is that of a shepherd; the second, that of a great

feast, set out by a host the most kind and the most liberal As a

flock, they have the most excellent pasture; as guests, they

have the most nutritive and abundant fare. God condescends to call

himself the Shepherd of his people, and his followers are

considered as a flock under his guidance and direction. 1. He

leads them out and in, so that they find pasture and safety. 2. He

knows where to feed them, and in the course of his grace and

providence leads them in the way in which they should go. 3. He

watches over them and keeps them from being destroyed by ravenous

beasts. 4. If any have strayed, he brings them back. 5. He brings

them to the shade in times of scorching heat; in times of

persecution and affliction, he finds out an asylum for them. 6. He

takes care that they shall lack no manner of thing that is good.

But who are his flock? All real penitents, all true believers;

all who obediently follow his example, abstaining from every

appearance of evil, and in a holy life and conversation showing

forth the virtues of Him who called them from darkness into his

marvellous light. "My sheep hear my voice, and follow me."

But who are not his flock! Neither the backslider in heart, nor

the vile Antinomian, who thinks the more he sins, the more the

grace of God shall be magnified in saving him; nor those who

fondly suppose they are covered with the righteousness of Christ

while living in sin; nor the crowd of the indifferent and the

careless, nor the immense herd of Laodicean loiterers; nor the

fiery bigots who would exclude all from heaven but themselves, and

the party who believe as they do. These the Scripture resembles to

swine, dogs, wandering stars, foxes, lions, wells without water,

&c., &c. Let not any of these come forward to feed on this

pasture, or take of the children's bread. Jesus Christ is the

good Shepherd; the Shepherd who, to save his flock, laid down

his own life.

I shall not want.] How can they? He who is their Shepherd has

all power in heaven and earth; therefore he can protect them. The

silver and gold are his, and the cattle on a thousand hills; and

therefore he can sustain them. He has all that they need, and his

heart is full of love to mankind; and therefore he will withhold

from them no manner of thing that is good. The old Psalter both

translates and paraphrases this clause well: Lord governs me, and

nathing sal want to me. In stede of pastour thare he me sett. "The

voice of a rightwis man: Lord Crist es my kyng, and for thi

(therefore) nathyng sal me want: that es, in hym I sal be siker,

and suffisand, for I hope in hymn gastly gude and endles. And he

ledes me in stede of pastoure, that es, understandyng of his worde,

and delyte in his luf. Qwar I am siker to be fild, thar in that

stede (place) he sett me, to be nurysht til perfectioun." Who can

say more, who need say less, than this?

Verse 2. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures]

binoth deshe, not green pastures, but cottages of turf or sods,

such as the shepherds had in open champaign countries; places in

which themselves could repose safely; and pens thus constructed

where the flock might be safe all the night. They were enclosures,

and enclosures where they had grass or provender to eat.

Beside the still waters.] Deep waters, that the strongest heat

could not exhale; not by a rippling current, which argues a

shallow stream. Or perhaps he may here refer to the waters of

Siloam, or Shiloah, that go softly, Isa 8:6, compared with the

strong current of the Euphrates. Thou hast brought us from the

land of our captivity, from beyond this mighty and turbulent

river, to our own country streams, wells, and fountains, where we

enjoy peace, tranquillity, and rest.

The old Psalter gives this a beautiful turn: On the water of

rehetyng forth he me broght. On the water of grace er we broght

forth, that makes to recover our strengthe that we lost in syn.

And reheteis (strengthens) us to do gude workes. My saule he

turned, that es, of a synful wreche, he made it ryghtwis, and

waxyng of luf in mekeness. First he turnes our sautes til hym; and

then he ledes and fedes it. Ten graces he telles in this psalme,

the qwilk God gyfs til his lufers, (i.e., them that love him.)

Verse 3. He restoreth my soul] Brings back my life from

destruction; and converts my soul from sin, that it may not

eternally perish. Or, after it has backslidden from him, heals its

backslidings, and restores it to his favour. See the old

paraphrase on this clause in the preceding note.

In the paths of righteousness] bemageley tsedek,

"in the circuits" or "orbits of righteousness." In many places of

Scripture man appears to be represented under the notion of a

secondary planet moving round its primary; or as a planet

revolving round the sun, from whom it receives its power of

revolving, with all its light and heat. Thus man stands in

reference to the Sun of righteousness; by his power alone is he

enabled to walk uprightly; by his light he is enlightened; and

by his heat he is vivified, and enabled to bring forth good fruit.

When he keeps in his proper orbit, having the light of the glory

of God reflected from the face of Jesus Christ, he is enabled to

enlighten and strengthen others. He that is enlightened may

enlighten; he that is fed may feed.

For his name's sake.] To display the glory of his grace, and not

on account of any merit in me. God's motives of conduct towards

the children of men are derived from the perfections and goodness

of his own nature.

Verse 4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of

death] The reference is still to the shepherd. Though I, as one of

the flock, should walk through the most dismal valley, in the dead

of the night, exposed to pitfalls, precipices, devouring beasts,

&c., I should fear no evil under the guidance and protection of

such a Shepherd. He knows all the passes, dangerous defiles,

hidden pits, and abrupt precipices in the way; and he will guide

me around, about, and through them. See the phrase shadow of death

explained on Mt 4:16. "Thof I ward well and imang tha, that

nouther has knowyng of God, ne luf or in myddis of this lyf, that

es schadow of ded; for it es blak for myrkenes of syn; and it

ledes til dede and il men, imang qwam gude men wones:-I sal nout

drede il, pryve nor apert; for thu ert with me in my hert, qwar I

fele thu so, that eftir the schadow of dede, I be with the in thi

vera lyf."-Old Psalter.

For thou art with me] He who has his God for a companion need

fear no danger; for he can neither mistake his way, nor be

injured.

Thy rod and thy staff] shibtecha, thy sceptre, rod,

ensign of a tribe, staff of office; for so shebet

signifies in Scripture. And thy staff, umishantecha, thy

prop or support. The former may signify the shepherd's crook; the

latter, some sort of rest or support, similar to our camp stool,

which the shepherds might carry with them as an occasional seat,

when the earth was too wet to be sat on with safety. With the rod

or crook the shepherd could defend his sheep, and with it lay hold

of their horns or legs to pull them out of thickets, boys, pits,

or waters. We are not to suppose that by the rod correction is

meant: there is no idea of this kind either in the text, or in the

original word; nor has it this meaning in any part of Scripture.

Besides, correction and chastisement do not comfort; they are

not, at least for the present, joyous, but grievous; nor can any

person look forward to them with comfort. They abuse the text who

paraphrase rod correction, &c. The other term shaan

signifies support, something to rest on, as a staff, crutch,

stave, or the like. The Chaldee translates thus: "Even though I

should walk in captivity, in the valley of the shadow of death, I

will not fear evil. Seeing thy WORD ( meymerach, thy personal

Word) is my Assistant or Support; thy right word and thy law

console me." Here we find that the WORD, meymar, is

distinguished from any thing spoken, and even from the law itself.

I cannot withhold the paraphrase of the old Psalter, though it

considers the rod as signifying correction: "Sothly I sal drede na

nylle; for thy wande, that es thi lyght disciplyne, that chasties

me as thi son: and thi staf, that es thi stalworth help, that I

lene me til, and haldes me uppe; thai have comforthed me; lerand

(learning, teaching) me qwat I suld do; and haldand my thaught

in the, that es my comforth."

Verse 5. Thou preparest a table before me] Here the second

allegory begins. A magnificent banquet is provided by a most

liberal and benevolent host; who has not only the bounty to feed

me, but power to protect me; and, though surrounded by enemies, I

sit down to this table with confidence, knowing that I shall feast

in perfect security. This may refer to the favour God gave the

poor captive Israelites in the sight of the Chaldeans who had

grievously treated them for seventy years; and whose king, Cyrus,

had not only permitted them now to return to their own land, but

had also furnished them with every thing requisite for their

passage, and for repairing the walls of Jerusalem, and rebuilding

the temple of the Lord, where the sacrifices were offered as

usual, and the people of God feasted on them.

Thou anointest my head with oil] Perfumed oil was poured on the

heads of distinguished guests, when at the feasts of great

personages. The woman in the Gospel, who poured the box of

ointment of spikenard on the head of our Lord (see Mt 26:6, 7;

Mr 14:8; Lu 7:46,) only acted according to the custom of her

own country, which the host, who invited our Lord, had shamefully

neglected.

My cup runneth over.] Thou hast not only given me abundance of

food, but hast filled my cup with the best wine.

Verse 6. Goodness and mercy shall follow me] As I pass on

through the vale of life, thy goodness and mercy shall follow my

every step; as I proceed, so shall they. There seems to be an

allusion here to the waters of the rock smitten by the rod of

Moses, which followed the Israelites all the way through the

wilderness, till they came to the Promised Land. God never leaves

his true followers providential mercies gracious influences, and

miraculous interferences, shall never be wanting when they are

necessary. I will dwell in the house, veshabti, "and I

shall RETURN to the house of the Lord," for ever,

leorech yamim, "for length of days." During the rest of my life,

I shall not be separated from God's house, nor from God's

ordinances; and shall at last dwell with him in glory. These two

last verses seem to be the language of a priest returned from

captivity to live in the temple, and to serve God the rest of his

life.

ANALYSIS OF THE TWENTY-THIRD PSALM

The scope of this Psalm is to show the happiness of that man who

has God for his protector, and is under his care and tuition.

To illustrate this protection, &c., David proposes two

allegories: the one of a shepherd; the other of a free-hearted man

given to hospitality, and entertaining his guests bountifully. It

has two parts: the first sets forth, 1. God's care in providing

him with all necessaries, Ps 23:1-4. 2. His liberality in

supplying him with all that he needed, Ps 23:5.

The second part shows his confidence in God's grace, and his

thankfulness, Ps 23:6.

I. He begins the first with this position, "God is my shepherd;"

and upon it infers, "Therefore I shall not want." He will do for

me what a good shepherd will do for his sheep.

1. He will feed me in green pastures, Ps 23:2.

2. He will there provide for my safety: "He makes me to lie

down."

3. He will provide waters of comfort for me.

4. These waters shall be gently-flowing streams, still

waters-not turbulent and violent.

5. He will take care to preserve me in health; if sick, he will

restore me.

6. He goes before and leads me, that I may not mistake my way:

"He leads me in paths of righteousness," which is his love; for it

is "for his name's sake."

7. He restores. If I err and go astray, and walk through the

valley of the shadow of death, (for a sheep is a straggling

creature,) I will fear no evil: for his rod and staff comfort me;

his law and his Gospel both contribute to my correction and

support.

Thus, as a good Shepherd, he supplies me with necessaries, that

I want nothing: but over and above, as a bountiful Lord, he has

furnished me copiously with varieties which may be both for

ornament and honour.

1. He has prepared a table for me-and that in the presence of my

enemies.

2. He hath anointed my head with oil, to refresh my spirits, and

cheer my countenance.

3. And my cup runneth over-with the choicest wine he gladdens my

heart.

II. The last verse, 1. Sets out David's confidence that it shall

be no worse with him: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life."

2. Then he expresses his thankfulness: "I will dwell in the

house of the Lord for ever." In thy house, among the faithful, I

will praise thy name as long as I live.

On each point in this analysis the reader is requested to

consult the notes.

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