Psalm 23

Notes (NET Translation)

A psalm of David.

The image in verses 1-4 reflects that of a shepherd, such as David (1 Sam 16:11).

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

In the word shepherd, David uses the most comprehensive and intimate metaphor yet encountered in the Psalms, preferring usually the more distant ‘king’ or ‘deliverer’, or the impersonal ‘rock’, ‘shield’, etc.; whereas the shepherd lives with his flock and is everything to it: guide, physician and protector.1

That the psalmist lacks nothing is reminiscent of the Israelites lacking nothing in the wilderness (Deut 2:7).

2 He takes me to lush pastures, he leads me to refreshing water.

Sheep commonly pasture in the wilderness (etymologically, midbār suggests pasturage), land that receives too little rainfall to support a settled population and sustain agriculture but grows enough grass to support flocks that keep on the move. It is the territory the community can afford to allocate to sheep. So a shepherd’s task in the wilderness is to find the pastures for the flock (cf. 65:12 [13]; Jer. 9:10 [9]; 23:10; Joel 1:19-20; 2:22; also Amos 1:2). “Grassy” makes the point explicit. Causing the flock to lie down there rather than simply feed suggests ample provision. It implies that they have eaten, are satisfied, and have no need to move on to look for further grass: this pasture will provide the next meal, too. Lying down after feeding also hints at security (Ezek. 34:14-15; Zeph. 3:13; also Job 11:19; Isa. 17:2).2

Guiding (nāhal) is the act of a powerful but caring party toward a weaker and needy party (31:3 [4]; Gen. 33:14; 2 Chron. 28:15; Isa. 40:11; 49:10; 51:18), just as Yhwh took Israel through the wilderness and into the promised land (Exod. 15:13). As well as knowing where the grass grows, a shepherd needs to know where to find the little pools of water that the rocks trap and the sun does not evaporate, or where it is possible to construct a small dam to hold the water. . . . “Water of restfulness” is rather water by which the sheep may rest, the idea being parallel to that in v. 2a. The sheep may drink and lie down by the pool, again knowing they can get up and have another drink. It is an idyllic idea, perhaps rarely experienced in real life.

3 He restores my strength. He leads me down the right paths for the sake of his reputation.

4 Even when I must walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me; your rod and your staff reassure me.

The darkest valley can be just as much a “right path” (v. 3) as a lush pasture (v. 2). The Hebrew tsalmaveth literally means the “shadow of death.” A dark valley would provide good hiding places for a predator to pounce on sheep. A shepherd’s rod was used as a weapon to attack animals and protect the sheep. A shepherd’s staff was used for support, to control the sheep, and to knock down olives for the sheep to eat.

5 You prepare a feast before me in plain sight of my enemies. You refresh my head with oil; my cup is completely full.

The feast is a celebration of God’s protection and provision.

6 Surely your goodness and faithfulness will pursue me all my days, and I will live in the LORD’s house for the rest of my life.

The implication will be that these personified attributes of Yhwh — and thus Yhwh in person as the good and committed one — will indeed make sure that we get to Yhwh’s house, and do so in order that we may stay there. Or rather, they imply that goodness and commitment will keep doing that, for they imply that we will keep needing to be chased in this way. Being in danger of not finding provender or of being attacked by enemies is not a once-for-all experience for people who belong to Yhwh. It is a recurrent one. But so is being chased and enabled to dwell with Yhwh. Through our life, for long days (the terms are parallel) Yhwh will ensure this.3

Bibliography

Craigie, Peter C., and Marvin E. Tate. Psalms 1-50. Nashville: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004.

Goldingay, John. Psalms: Volume 1: Psalms 1-41. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 2006.

Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008.

VanGemeren, Willem. Psalms. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008.


  1. Kidner 2008, p. 127 
  2. Goldingay 2006, loc. 7024-7030 
  3. Goldingay 2006, loc. 7105-7110 
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