|"The Lord is my Shepherd"|
|Written||around 1000 BC|
|Text||attributed to King David|
Psalm 23 is the 23rd psalm of the Book of Psalms, beginning in English in the King James Version: "The Lord is my Shepherd". The Book of Psalms is part of the third section of the Hebrew Bible, and a book of the Christian Old Testament. In the Greek Septuagint version of the Bible, and in its Latin translation in the Vulgate, this psalm is Psalm 22 in a slightly different numbering system. In Latin, it is known by the incipit, "Dominus reget me".
Like many psalms, Psalm 23 is used in both Jewish and Christian liturgies. It has been set to music often. It has been called the best-known of the psalms for its universal theme of trust in God.
The following is the Hebrew text of Psalm 23:
|1||? ? |
|3||? ? ?|
|4||? ? ? ? ? ?|
|5||? ? |
The theme of God as a shepherd was common in ancient Israel 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." 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. 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.
John Ellinwood[who?] 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.
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 agree with this attributed authorship, and hypothesize various other possibilities, commonly dating it to the post-exilic period.
Taken together, Psalm 22, 23 and 24, is seen by some as shepherd psalms, where the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep as suffering servant and king.
Psalm 23 is traditionally sung during the third Shabbat meal as well as before first and second in some of the Jewish communities. It is also commonly recited in the presence of a deceased person, such as by those keeping watch over the body before burial, and at the funeral service itself.
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.
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).
In the Roman Catholic Church, this psalm is sung as a responsorial in Masses for the dead.
The psalm is a popular passage for memorization and is often used in sermons.
In the twentieth 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.
In Christianity, a number of paraphrased versions of Psalm 23 emerged after the Protestant Reformation in the form of Metrical psalms -- poetic versions that could be set to hymn tunes. An early metrical version of the psalm in English was made in 1565 by Thomas Sternhold. Other notable metrical versions to emerge from this period include those from The Bay Psalm Book (1640), the Sidney Psalms by Philip Sidney, and settings by George Herbert and Isaac Watts.
One of the best known metrical versions of Psalm 23 is the Christian hymn, "The Lord's my Shepherd", a translation first published in the 1650 Scottish Psalter. Although widely attributed to the English Parliamentarian Francis Rous, the text was the result of significant editing by a translating committee in the 1640s before publication. The hymn is one of the most popular hymns amongst English-speaking congregations today, and it is traditionally sung to the hymn tune Crimond, generally attributed to Jessie Seymour Irvine. Other melodies, such as Brother James' Air or Amazing Grace, Belmont, Evan, Martyrdom, Orlington, and Wiltshire may also be used.
|Sternhold and Hopkins (1628)||Bay Psalm Book (1640)||Rous Psalter (1643)||The Scottish Psalter (1650)|
The Lord is only my support,
The Lord to me a shepherd is,
My Shepherd is the Living Lord
The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want;