Psalm 23

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See Psalm 24 for Psalm 23 in Greek (Vulgata) numbering.
Illustration from "The Sunday at Home", 1880

Psalm 23 (Greek numbering: Psalm 22 because of its opening line) is the 23rd and perhaps best-known psalm in the Old Testament Book of Psalms and perhaps the best-known chapter in the Hebrew Bible. The writer describes God as his shepherd. The theme of this poem casts God in the role of protector and provider, and is routinely read and recited by Jews and Christians alike.

Like all the psalms, Psalm 23 was used in worship of the ancient Hebrews.

Text

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

— Psalm 23:1-6

Shepherd theme

The theme of God as a shepherd was common in ancient Palestine and Mesopotamia. For example, King Hammurabi, in the conclusion to his famous legal code, wrote: "I am the shepherd who brings well-being and abundant prosperity; my rule is just.... so that the strong might not oppress the weak, and that even the orphan and the widow might be treated with justice."[1] This imagery and language was well-known to the community that created the Psalm, and was easily imported into its worship.

Psalm 23 portrays God as a good shepherd, feeding (verse 1) and leading (verse 3) his flock. The "rod and staff" (verse 4) are also the implements of a shepherd. Some commentators see the shepherd imagery pervading the entire psalm. It is known that the shepherd is to know each sheep by name, thus when God is given the analogy of a shepherd, he is not only a protector but also the caretaker. God, as the caretaker, leads the sheep to green pastures (verse 2) and still waters (verse 2) because he knows that each of his sheep must be personally led to be fed. Thus, without its Shepherd, the sheep would die either by a predator or of starvation, since sheep are known for their helplessness without their shepherd.

J. Douglas MacMillan argues that verse 5 ("Thou preparest a table before me") refers to the "old oriental shepherding practice" of using little raised tables to feed sheep.[2] Similarly, "Thou anointest my head with oil" may refer to an ancient form of backliner – the oil is poured on wounds, and repels flies. MacMillan also notes that verse 6 ("Goodness and mercy shall follow me") reminds him of two loyal sheepdogs coming behind the flock.[3]

John Ellinwood argues that in verses 4 and 5 King David acknowledges God's protection in expeditions and in battles. "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies" refers to the sober raucous dinner before major battles. These were raucous in order to demoralize hostiles camped within earshot, and (only) the king ate from a table. "Thou anointest my head with oil" because tomorrow this ceremony might be impossible. After each victory there was no longer a need for sobriety, so "my cup runneth over." The king's lyricist wisely shortened these military verses for balance. Also in Psalm 18 David mentions God's protection in battle. [13].

The first verse of the Psalm ascribes authorship to King David, said in the Hebrew Scriptures to have been a field shepherd himself as a youth. However, some scholars do not believe that David could have written any of the Psalms.

Psalm 23 is traditionally sung by Jews in Hebrew at the third Shabbat meal on Saturday afternoon.

In Christian tradition

Psalm 23 is often referred to as the Shepherd's psalm

For Christians the image of God as a shepherd evokes connections not only with David but with Jesus, described as "Good Shepherd" in the Gospel of John. The phrase about "the valley of the shadow of death" is often taken as an allusion to the eternal life given by Jesus.

Orthodox Christians typically include this Psalm in the prayers of preparation for receiving the Eucharist.

The Reformation inspired widespread efforts in western Europe to make biblical texts available in vernacular languages. One of the most popular early English versions was the Geneva Bible (1557). The most widely recognized version of the psalm in English today is undoubtedly the one drawn from the King James Bible (1611).

The psalm is a popular passage for memorization and is often used in sermons.

Metrical versions

Eastman Johnson's 1863 painting "The Lord is My Shepherd".

An early metrical version of the psalm in English was made in 1565 by Thomas Sternhold. Other metrical versions to emerge from the Protestant Reformation include those from The Bay Psalm Book (1640)[4] and a version influenced by Sternholm published in the Scottish Psalter (1650).[5] The latter version is still encountered, with modernized spelling, in many Protestant hymns. Other notable metrical versions include those by George Herbert, Philip Sidney, and Isaac Watts.[4]

A metrical version of the psalm is traditionally sung to the hymn tune Crimond, generally attributed to Jessie Seymour Irvine.[6] This version, with its opening words "The Lord's My Shepherd", is probably the best-known amongst English-speaking congregations. Other melodies, such as Brother James' Air or Amazing Grace, are also used. Other tunes sometimes used include Belmont, Evan, Martyrdom, Orlington, and Wiltshire.[7]

Use in funerals

In the 20th century, Psalm 23 became particularly associated with funeral liturgies in the English-speaking world, and films with funeral scenes often depict a graveside recitation of the psalm. Official liturgies of English-speaking churches were slow to adopt this practice, though. The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England has only Psalms 39 and 90 in its order for the burial of the dead, and in the Episcopal Church in the United States, Psalm 23 was not used for funerals until the 1928 revision of the prayer book.

Use in Judaism

This Psalm is found in the Friday night Maariv service. It is also traditionally sung three times during the third Sabbath meal.[citation needed]

Musical settings

Liturgical and classical

Songs

Recitation

  • 2013: Australian singer songwriter Paul Kelly from the album Poems For Funerals

Media

See also

References

  1. ^ "Hammurabi's Code, circa 1780BC". history.hanover.edu. Retrieved 2017-12-12. 
  2. ^ J. Douglas MacMillan, The Lord of Shepherd. (Bryntirion: Evangelical Press of Wales, 1988), 78.
  3. ^ J. Douglas MacMillan, The Lord of Shepherd. (Bryntirion: Evangelical Press of Wales, 1988), 82.
  4. ^ a b "'Psalms Compared: Psalm 23', retrieved 2007-08-05. (no public access!)". Smith Creek Music. 2007-01-17. Retrieved 2014-03-12. 
  5. ^ Scottish Psalter and Paraphrases at CCEL
  6. ^ "Crimond". Center for Church Music - Songs & Hymns. Retrieved 2008-10-07. 
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ a b "BBC h2g2 Psalm 23". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-03-12. 
  9. ^ Together with Psalm 43 and Psalm 150 in an a capella setting for mixed chorus written in 1954. Dixon, Joan (1992). George Rochberg: A Bio-Bibliographic Guide to His Life and Works. Hillsdale, New York: Pendragon Press, p. 175.
  10. ^ The Miklós Rózsa Society Website[dead link]
  11. ^ Blotner, Linda Solow (1983). The Boston Composers Project: A Bibliography of Contemporary Music. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, p. 547.
  12. ^ "Settings of: Psalm 23". ChoralNet. Retrieved 2012-02-25. 
  13. ^ #NOV290116. Novello & Co Ltd. 
  14. ^ Gem Ki Elech 1(YouTube).

External links

  • Hebrew text, translation, transliteration, recorded melodies from The Zemirot Database
  • Tehillim – Psalm 23 (Judaica Press) translation with Rashi's commentary.
  • Psalm 23 recited in Hebrew
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