Psalm 23

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, March 11, 2019 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

I would say that Psalm 23 is likely the most well-known psalm, or perhaps even one of the most well-known passages in the Bible. It’s often used at funerals or other times when people are seeking comfort and peace in the midst of life’s difficulties.

This psalm is only 6 verses long, but it’s packed with meaning and significance, especially in the original Hebrew. There is so much richness that is not seen in the English translation, and I’ll be sharing some of that with you here.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” (verse 1)

The name for God here is YHWH, the proper Hebrew name for God that we should hold in so much reverence that in Hebrew we can’t even pronounce it. The Hebrew of this first phrase literally says, “The Lord shepherds me, I do not lack.” The “verb” is actually a participle, which shows continuous action; God is constantly shepherding or guiding us. Because of that, we do not lack anything.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.” (verse 2)

God does not just make us lie down in this comforting place. The Hebrew verb form used here means that He actually causes us to lie down. It is only through God that we truly can lie down and find rest, regardless of whether we are in a time of hurt or a time of joy in our lives.

God does not just lead us beside quiet waters, but He does so intensely with this verb form. The connotation of that Hebrew verb is that of being led with purpose. It is not just an aimless wandering, but rather a specific, intentional direction in which He leads us. It is God’s purpose that we are near these quiet waters, again regardless of where the world is trying to lead us.

“He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” (verse 3)

The word translated here as “refreshes” more accurately means “restores,” and again it’s an intensive verb. This is not just a slight refresh, but a full restoration of our souls that can only happen through Jesus. When He guides us along these right paths, He is doing so with purpose, just as He was leading with purpose in the previous verse.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (verse 4)

This valley spoken of is a place of utter darkness and gloom, and it has the shadow of death lingering over it. When others see a minor crisis in our lives, we may feel that we are in this place of utter darkness. But, we fear no evil because YOU, God, are with me, even in this place of deep despair! The word for “you” is written out in the Hebrew, which shows that this is for emphasis. It’s not just anyone who is with us, but God, our shepherd.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (verse 5)

The phrase here “in the presence of my enemies” could be more literally translated “in front of the ones who attack me.” If the words of verse 4 are true that we fear no evil because God is with us, then we are able to even eat with those who we fear might attack us! That’s the power of the almighty God at work in our lives.

The phrase “you anoint my head with oil” is one that always amuses me in the Hebrew; it could literally be translated as “you make my head fat with fat.” The idea of anointing or making fat is richness. In that culture, if you were fat then you must be rich because you clearly had plenty to eat and didn’t have to expend much effort for it, as opposed to those people who had to work hard labor for each meal. We have that through God - He did all the work for us through Jesus on the cross, and all we need to do is to have faith in Him and He will make us rich in His grace, so much so that our cup overflows! This is another image of not only having enough but having plenty. The Hebrew for this phrase literally says that my cup is saturated.

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.” (verse 6a)

The Hebrew word for “goodness” here is the same word that God used to describe all of Creation when He looked at it and saw that it was good (Genesis 1:31). This goodness that will follow us is not just something nice but the total perfection of God’s original Creation. This form of love mentioned here is the word hesed in Hebrew. Hesed is a combination of love, mercy, compassion, and kindness. We don’t really have a word for that beautiful, all-encompassing emotion in the English language. When the text says that goodness and love will follow me, that’s not just a haphazard following. That verb has a meaning of pursuing someone intently. Anyone going through a troubling time needs to know that we have this perfection and love not only following us, but literally chasing after us!

“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (verse 6b)

The Hebrew for this final phrase is interesting, because there is actually some discrepancy on which verb is used. The Hebrew verbs for “I dwell” and “I return” are very similar, and in this particular form, it honestly could be either of them. So it could mean that we will dwell with the Lord forever, or that we will return to the Lord forever.

Even when we have trouble on this earth, we know that we will have a joyous homecoming of going to the Lord’s house for the rest of our days. Our troubles are only for a short time here on earth; we will have everlasting joy forever with Jesus! While that won’t erase today’s burdens, the hope of what is to come and dwelling with our Lord forever gives a glimmer of hope through any dark valley we walk through, that we will be fully restored through Christ.

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