Psa 23:1 Week. This title was found only in the common edition of the Septuagint. (Theodoret) — The Jews say the psalm was used on Sunday; (Berthier) and the Fathers explain it of the resurrection and ascension of our Lord, whom it regards in the more sublime sense, though it may also be literally explained of the temple, or translation of the ark, 2 Kings vi. 12. (Calmet) — David appointed when the psalms were to be sung, Ecclesiasticus xlvii. 12. This speaks of the creation. (Menochius) — St. Paul applies the first verse to Jesus Christ, whom he styles the Lord, (1 Corinthians x. 26.) and Creator, of whom David speaks. It is wonderful that so few have noticed this excellent proof of Christ’s divinity. The authors of Principles Discussed, according to their general system of two literal senses, explain this psalm of the re-establishment of the Jews after the captivity, and of the propagation of the Christian Church; and it is not clear that two senses ought not to be admitted. But we must, at least, admit that the prophet speaks literally of Jesus Christ (Berthier) as well as of the ark, &c. — Therein. Though God be the Creator of all, he seems to have made a particular choice of Sion. Before the coming of Christ, all, except a few Jews (Calmet) and enlightened Gentiles, like Job, (Haydock) were buried in sin and ignorance. But now his kingdom is propagated widely; and in every place the Father is adored in spirit and in truth. (St. Augustine, &c.) — All power is given to Jesus Christ, who rose again on the first day of the week. Not only the earth, but all that is in it, belongs to the great Creator. (Worthington)
1.Jehovah is my shepherd. Although God, by his benefits, gently allures us to himself, as it were by a taste of his fatherly sweetness, yet there is nothing into which we more easily fall than into a forgetfulness of him, when we are in the enjoyment of peace and comfort. Yea, prosperity not only so intoxicates many, as to carry them beyond all bounds in their mirth, but it also engenders insolence, which makes them proudly rise up and break forth against God. Accordingly, there is scarcely a hundredth part of those who enjoy in abundance the good things of God, who keep themselves in his fear, and live in the exercise of humility and temperance, which would be so becoming. For this reason, we ought the more carefully to mark the example which is here set before us by David, who, elevated to the dignity of sovereign power, surrounded with the splendor of riches and honors, possessed of the greatest abundance of temporal good things, and in the midst of princely pleasures, not only testifies that he is mindful of God, but calling to remembrance the benefits which God had conferred upon him, makes them ladders by which he may ascend nearer to Him. By this means he not only bridles the wantonness of his flesh, but also excites himself with the greater earnestness to gratitude, and the other exercises of godliness, as appears from the concluding sentence of the psalm, where he says, “I shall dwell in the house of Jehovah for a length of days.” In like manner, in the 18th psalm, which was composed at a period of his life when he was applauded on every side, by calling himself the servant of God, he showed the humility and simplicity of heart to which he had attained, and, at the same time, openly testified his gratitude, by applying himself to the celebration of the praises of God.
Under the similitude of a shepherd, he commends the care which God, in his providence, had exercised towards him. His language implies that God had no less care of him than a shepherd has of the sheep who are committed to his charge. God, in the Scripture, frequently takes to himself the name, and puts on the character of a shepherd, and this is no mean token of his tender love towards us. As this is a lowly and homely manner of speaking, He who does not disdain to stoop so low for our sake, must bear a singularly strong affection towards us. It is therefore wonderful, that when he invites us to himself with such gentleness and familiarity, we are not drawn or allured to him, that we may rest in safety and peace under his guardianship. But it should be observed, that God is a shepherd only to those who, touched with a sense of their own weakness and poverty, feel their need of his protection, and who willingly abide in his sheepfold, and surrender themselves to be governed by him. David, who excelled both in power and riches, nevertheless frankly confessed himself to be a poor sheep, that he might have God for his shepherd. Who is there, then, amongst us, who would exempt himself from this necessity, seeing our own weakness sufficiently shows that we are more than miserable if we do not live under the protection of this shepherd? We ought to bear in mind, that our happiness consists in this, that his hand is stretched forth to govern us, that we live under his shadow, and that his providence keeps watch and ward over our welfare. Although, therefore, we have abundance of all temporal good things, yet let us be assured that we cannot be truly happy unless God vouchsafe to reckon us among the number of his flock. Besides, we then only attribute to God the office of a Shepherd with due and rightful honor, when we are persuaded that his providence alone is sufficient to supply all our necessities. As those who enjoy the greatest abundance of outward good things are empty and famished if God is not their shepherd; so it is beyond all doubt that those whom he has taken under his charge shall not want a full abundance of all good things. David, therefore, declares that he is not afraid of wanting any thing, because God is his Shepherd.
Psa 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd,…. This is to be understood not of Jehovah the Father, and of his feeding the people of Israel in the wilderness, as the Targum paraphrases it, though the character of a shepherd is sometimes given to him, Psa_77:20; but of Jehovah the Son, to whom it is most frequently ascribed, Gen_49:24. This office he was called and appointed to by his Father, and which through his condescending grace he undertook to execute, and for which he is abundantly qualified; being omniscient, and so knows all his sheep and their maladies, where to find them, what is their case, and what is to be done for them; and being omnipotent, he can do everything proper for them; and having all power in heaven and in earth, can protect, defend, and save them; and all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge being in him, he can guide and direct them in the best manner; wherefore he is called the great shepherd, and the chief shepherd, and the good shepherd. David calls him “my shepherd”; Christ having a right unto him, as he has to all the sheep of God, by virtue of his Father’s gift, his own purchase, and the power of his grace; and as owning him as such, and yielding subjection to him, following him as the sheep of Christ do wheresoever he goes; and also as expressing his faith of interest in him, affection for him, and joy because of him: and from thence comfortably concludes,
I shall not want; not anything, as the Targum and Aben Ezra interpret it; not any temporal good thing, as none of Christ’s sheep do, that he in his wisdom sees proper and convenient for them; nor any spiritual good things, since a fulness of them is in him, out of which all their wants are supplied; they cannot want food, for by him they go in and out and find pasture; in him their bread is given them, where they have enough and to spare, and their waters are sure unto them; nor clothing, for he is the Lord their righteousness, and they are clothed with the robe of his righteousness; nor rest, for he is their resting place, in whom they find rest for their souls, and are by him led to waters of rest, as in Psa_23:2, the words may be rendered, “I shall not fail”, or “come short” (s); that is, of eternal glory and happiness; for Christ’s sheep are in his hands, out of which none can pluck them, and therefore shall not perish, but have everlasting life, Joh_10:27.
(s) לא אחסר “non deficiam”, Pagninus, Montanus.
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, etc., etc. 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?
The Lord is my shepherd – Compare Gen_49:24, “From thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel;” Psa_80:1, “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel.” See also the notes at Joh_10:1-14. The comparison of the care which God extends over his people to that of a shepherd for his flock is one that would naturally occur to those who were accustomed to pastoral life. It would be natural that it should suggest itself to Jacob Gen_49:24, and to David, for both of them had been shepherds. David, in advanced years, would naturally remember the occupations of his early life; and the remembrance of the care of God over him would naturally recall the care which he had, in earlier years, extended over his flocks. The idea which the language suggests is that of tender care; protection; particular attention to the young and the feeble (compare Isa_40:11); and providing for their wants. All these things are found eminently in God in reference to his people.
I shall not want – This is the main idea in the psalm, and this idea is derived from the fact that God is a shepherd. The meaning is, that, as a shepherd, he would make all needful provision for his flock, and evince all proper care for it. The words shall not want, as applied to the psalmist, would embrace everything that could be a proper object of desire, whether temporal or spiritual; whether pertaining to the body or the soul; whether having reference to time or to eternity. There is no reason for supposing that David limited this to his temporal necessities, or to the present life, but the idea manifestly is that God would provide all that was needful for him always. Compare Psa_34:9, “There is no want to them that fear him.” This idea enters essentially into the conception of God as the shepherd of his people, that all their real wants shall be supplied.
2.He maketh me to lie down in pastures of grass.With respect to the words, it is in the Hebrew, pastures, orfields of grass, for grassy and rich grounds. Some, instead of translating the word נאות, neoth, which we have rendered pastures, render it shepherds’ cots or lodges. If this translation is considered preferable, the meaning of the Psalmist will be, that sheep-cots were prepared in rich pasture grounds, under which he might be protected from the heat of the sun. If even in cold countries the immoderate heat which sometimes occurs is troublesome to a flock of sheep, how could they bear the heat of the summer in Judea, a warm region, without sheepfolds? The verb רבף, rabats, to lie down, or repose, seems to have a reference to the same thing. David has used the phrase, the quiet waters, to express gently flowing waters; for rapid streams are inconvenient for sheep to drink in, and are also for the most part hurtful. In this verse, and in the verses following, he explains the last clause of the first verse, I shall not want.He relates how abundantly God had provided for all his necessities, and he does this without departing from the comparison which he employed at the commencement. The amount of what is stated is, that the heavenly Shepherd had omitted nothing which might contribute to make him live happily under his care. He, therefore, compares the great abundance of all things requisite for the purposes of the present life which he enjoyed, to meadows richly covered with grass, and to gently flowing streams of water; or he compares the benefit or advantage of such things to sheep-cots; for it would not have been enough to have been fed and satisfied in rich pasture, had there not also been provided waters to drink, and the shadow of the sheep-cot to cool and refresh him.
Psa 23:2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,…. Or “pastures of tender grass” (t); this is one part of the shepherd’s work, and which is performed by Christ, Eze_34:14; by these “green pastures” may be meant the covenant of grace, its blessings and promises, where there is delicious feeding; likewise the fulness of grace in Christ, from whence grace for grace is received; also the flesh and blood, righteousness and sacrifice, of Christ, which faith is led unto and lives upon, and is refreshed and invigorated by; to which may be added the doctrines of the Gospel, with which Christ’s under-shepherds feed his lambs and sheep, there being in them milk for babes and meat for strong men; and likewise the ordinances of the Gospel, the goodness and fatness of the Lord’s house, the feast of fat things, and breasts of consolation: here Christ’s sheep are made to “lie down”, denoting their satiety and fulness; they having in these green pastures what is satisfying and replenishing; as also their rest and safety, these being sure dwellings and quiet resting places, even in the noon of temptation and persecution; see Son_1:7;
he leadeth me beside the still waters, or “waters of rest and quietness” (u); not to rapid torrents, which by reason of the noise they make, and the swiftness of their motion, the sheep are frightened, and not able to drink of them; but to still waters, pure and clear, and motionless, or that go softly, like the waters of Shiloah, Isa_8:6; and the “leading” to them is in a gentle way, easily, as they are able to bear it; so Jacob led his flock, Gen_33:14; and Christ leads his, Isa_40:11; by these “still waters” may be designed the everlasting love of God, which is like a river, the streams whereof make glad the hearts of his people; these are the waters of the sanctuary, which rise to the ankles, knees, and loins, and are as a broad river to swim in; the pure river of water of life Christ leads his sheep to, and gives them to drink freely of: also communion with God, which the saints pant after, as the hart pants after the water brooks, and Christ gives access unto; moreover he himself is the fountain of gardens, and well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon; and the graces of his Spirit are also as rivers of living water, all which he makes his people partakers of; to which may be added, that the Scriptures, and the truths of the Gospel, are like still, quiet, and refreshing waters to them, and are the waters to which those that are athirst are invited to come, Isa_55:1; and in the immortal state Christ will still be a shepherd, and will feed his people, and lead them to fountains of living water, where they shall solace themselves for ever, and shall know no more sorrow and sighing, Rev_7:17.
(t) דשא “tenerae herbae”, Piscator, Amama, Gejerus, Michaelis; “in folds of budding grass”, Ainsworth. (u) מי מנוחת “aquas requietum”, Pagninus, Montanus; “quietum”, Vatablus, Michaelis; “vel quietis”, Gejerus; so Ainsworth; αμπαυματος, Apollinar.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures – בנאות דשא 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 sof tly, 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.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures – Margin, “Pastures of tender grass.” The Hebrew word rendered “pastures” means usually “dwellings,” or “habitations.” It is applied here properly to “pastures,” as places where flocks and herds lie down for repose. The word rendered in the margin “tender grass” – דשׁא deshe’ – refers to the first shoots of vegetation from the earth – young herbage – tender grass – as clothing the meadows, and as delicate food for cattle, Job_6:5. It differs from ripe grass ready for mowing, which is expressed by a different word – חציר châtsîyr. The idea is that of calmness and repose, as suggested by the image of flocks “lying down on the grass.” But this is not the only idea. It is that of flocks that lie down on the grass “fully fed” or “satisfied,” their wants being completely supplied. The exact point of contemplation in the mind of the poet, I apprehend, is that of a flock in young and luxuriant grass, surrounded by abundance, and, having satisfied their wants, lying down amidst this luxuriance with calm contentment. It is not merely a flock enjoying repose; it is a flock whose wants are supplied, lying down in the midst of abundance. Applied to the psalmist himself, or to the people of God generally, the idea is, that the wants of the soul are met and satisfied, and that, in the full enjoyment of this, there is the conviction of abundance – the repose of the soul at present satisfied, and feeling that in such abundance want will always be unknown.
3.He restoreth my soul As it is the duty of a good shepherd to cherish his sheep, and when they are diseased or weak to nurse and support them, David declares that this was the manner in which he was treated by God. The restoring of the soul, as we have translated it, or the conversion of the soul, as it is, literally rendered, is of the same import as to make anew, or to recover, as has been already stated in the 19th psalm, at the seventh verse. By the paths of righteousness, he means easy and plain paths. As he still continues his metaphor, it would be out of place to understand this as referring to the direction of the Holy Spirit. He has stated a little before that God liberally supplies him with all that is requisite for the maintenance of the present life, and now he adds, that he is defended by him from all trouble. The amount of what is said is, that God is in no respect wanting to his people, seeing he sustains them by his power, invigorates and quickens them, and averts from them whatever is hurtful, that they may walk at ease in plain and straight paths. That, however, he may not ascribe any thing to his own worth or merit, David represents the goodness of God as the cause of so great liberality, declaring that God bestows all these things upon him for his own name’s sake.And certainly his choosing us to be his sheep, and his performing towards us all the offices of a shepherd, is a blessing which proceeds entirely from his free and sovereign goodness, as we shall see in the sixty-fifth psalm.
Psa 23:3 He restoreth my soul,…. Either when backslidden, and brings it back again when led or driven away, and heals its backslidings; or rather, when fainting, swooning, and ready to die away, he fetches it back again, relieves, refreshes, and comforts with the discoveries of his love, with the promises of his word, and with the consolations of his Spirit, and such like reviving cordials; see Gill on Psa_19:7;
he leadeth, he in the paths of righteousness; in the plain paths of truth and holiness, in which men, though fools, shall not err; in right ones, though they sometimes seem rough and rugged to Christ’s sheep, yet are not crooked; there is no turning to the right hand or the left; they lead straight on to the city of habitation; and they are righteous ones, as paths of duty are, and all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord be; moreover, Christ leads his by faith, to walk on in him and in his righteousness, looking through it, and on account of it, for eternal life; see Pro_8:20; and all this he does
for his name’s sake; for his own glory and the praise of his grace, and not for any merits or deserts in men.
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 favor. See the old paraphrase on this clause in the preceding note.
In the paths of righteousness – במעגלי צדק 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.
He leadeth me beside the still waters – Margin, “waters of quietness.” Not stagnant waters, but waters not tempestuous and stormy; waters so calm, gentle, and still, as to suggest the idea of repose, and such as prompt to repose. As applied to the people of God, this denotes the calmness – the peace – the repose of the soul, when salvation flows as in a gently running stream; when there is no apprehension of want; when the heart is at; peace with God.
He restoreth my soul – literally, “He causes my life to return.” DeWette, “He quickens me,” or causes me to live. The word soul” here means life, or spirit, and not the soul in the strict sense in which the term is now used. It refers to the spirit when exhausted, weary, or sad; and the meaning is, that God quickens or vivifies the spirit when thus exhausted. The reference is not to the soul as wandering or backsliding from God, but to the life or spirit as exhausted, wearied, troubled, anxious, worn down with care and toil. the heart, thus exhausted, He re-animates. He brings back its vigor. He encourages it; excites it to new effort; fills it with new joy.
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness – In right paths, or right ways. He conducts me in the straight path that leads to Himself; He does not permit me to wander in ways that would lead to ruin. In reference to His people it is true:
(a) that He leads them in the path by which they become righteous, or by which they are “justified” before him; and
(b) that He leads them in the way of “uprightness” and “truth.” He guides them in the way to heaven; His constant care is evinced that they “may” walk in that path.
For his name’s sake – For His own sake; or, that His name may be honored. It is not primarily on their account; it is not solely that they may be saved. It is that He may be honored:
(a) in their being saved at all;
(b) in the manner in which it is done;
(c) in the influence of their whole life, under His guidance, as making known His own character and perfections.
Compare Isa_43:25; Isa_48:9; Isa_66:5; Jer_14:7. The feeling expressed in this verse is that of confidence in God; an assurance that he would always lead his people in the path in which they should go. Compare Psa_25:9. This he will always do if people will follow the directions of His word, the teachings of His Spirit, and the guidance of His providence. No one who submits to Him in this way will ever go astray!
4.Though I should walk.True believers, although they dwell safely under the protection of God, are, notwithstanding, exposed to many dangers, or rather they are liable to all the afflictions which befall mankind in common, that they may the better feel how much they need the protection of God. David, therefore, here expressly declares, that if any adversity should befall him, he would lean upon the providence of God. Thus he does not promise himself continual pleasures; but he fortifies himself by the help of God courageously to endure the various calamities with which he might be visited. Pursuing his metaphor, he compares the care which God takes in governing true believers to a shepherd’s staff and crook, declaring that he is satisfied with this as all-sufficient for the protection of his life. As a sheep, when it wanders up and down through a dark valley, is preserved safe from the attacks of wild beasts and from harm in other ways, by the presence of the shepherd alone, so David now declares that as often as he shall be exposed to any danger, he will have sufficient defense and protection in being under the pastoral care of God.
We thus see how, in his prosperity, he never forgot that he was a man, but even then seasonably meditated on the adversities which afterwards might come upon him. And certainly, the reason why we are so terrified, when it pleases God to exercise us with the cross, is, because every man, that he may sleep soundly and undisturbed, wraps himself up in carnal security. But there is a great difference between this sleep of stupidity and the repose which faith produces. Since God tries faith by adversity, it follows that no one truly confides in God, but he who is armed with invincible constancy for resisting all the fears with which he may be assailed.
Yet David did not mean to say that he was devoid of all fear, but only that he would surmount it so as to go without fear wherever his shepherd should lead him. This appears more clearly from the context. He says, in the first place, I will fear no evil;but immediately adding the reason of this, he openly acknowledges that he seeks a remedy against his fear in contemplating, and having his eyes fixed on, the staff of his shepherd: For thy staff and thy crook comfort me.What need would he have had of that consolation, if he had not been disquieted and agitated with fear? It ought, therefore, to be kept in mind, that when David reflected on the adversities which might befall him, he became victorious over fear and temptations, in no other way than by casting himself on the protection of God. This he had also stated before, although a little more obscurely, in these words, For thou art with me. This implies that he had been afflicted with fear. Had not this been the case, for what purpose could he desire the presence of God? Besides, it is not against the common and ordinary calamities of life only that he opposes the protection of God, but against those which distract and confound the minds of men with the darkness of death. For the Jewish grammarians think that צלמות, tsalmaveth, which we have translated the shadow of death,is a compound word, as if one should say deadly shade. David here makes an allusion to the dark recesses or dens of wild beasts, to which when an individual approaches he is suddenly seized at his first entrance with an apprehension and fear of death. Now, since God, in the person of his only begotten Son, has exhibited himself to us as our shepherd, much more clearly than he did in old time to the fathers who lived under the Law, we do not render sufficient honor to his protecting care, if we do not lift our eyes to behold it, and keeping them fixed upon it, tread all fears and terrors under our feet.
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, etc., 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 Mat_4:16 (note).
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 – שבטך shibtecha, thy scepter, rod, ensign of a tribe, staff of office; for so שבט shebet signifies in Scripture. And thy staff, ומשענתך 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, etc. The other term שען 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 (מימרך meymerach, thy personal Word) is my Assistant or Support; thy right word and thy law console me.” Here we find that the Word, מימר meymar, is distinguished from any thing spoken, and even from the law itself.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death – The meaning of this in the connection in which it occurs is this: “God will lead and guide me in the path of righteousness, even though that path lies through the darkest and most gloomy vale – through deep and dismal shades – in regions where there is no light, as if death had cast his dark and baleful shadow there. It is still a right path; it is a path of safety; and it will conduct me to bright regions beyond. In that dark and gloomy valley, though I could not guide myself, I will not be alarmed; I will not be afraid of wandering or of being lost; I will not fear any enemies there – for my Shepherd is there to guide me still.” On the word here rendered “shadow of death” – צלמות tsalmâveth – see Job_3:5, note; and Isa_9:2, note. The word occurs besides only in the following places, in all of which it is rendered “shadow of death:” Job_10:21-22; Job_12:22; Job_16:16; Job_24:17 (twice); Job_28:3; Job_34:22; Job_38:17; Psa_44:19; Psa_107:10, Psa_107:14; Jer_2:6; Jer_13:16; Amo_5:8. The idea is that of death casting his gloomy shadow over that valley – the valley of the dead. Hence, the word is applicable to any path of gloom or sadness; any scene of trouble or sorrow; any dark and dangerous way. Thus understood, it is applicable not merely to death itself – though it embraces that – but to any or all the dark, the dangerous, and the gloomy paths which we tread in life: to ways of sadness, solitude, and sorrow. All along those paths God will be a safe and certain guide.
I will fear no evil – Dark, cheerless, dismal as it seems, I will dread nothing. The true friend of God has nothing to fear in that dark valley. His great Shepherd will accompany him there, and can lead him safely through, however dark it may appear. The true believer has nothing to fear in the most gloomy scenes of life; he has nothing to fear in the valley of death; he has nothing to fear in the grave; he has nothing to fear in the world beyond.
For thou art with me – Thou wilt be with me. Though invisible, thou wilt attend me. I shall not go alone; I shall not be alone. The psalmist felt assured that if God was with him he had nothing to dread there. God would be his companion, his comforter, his protector, his guide. How applicable is this to death! The dying man seems to go into the dark valley alone. His friends accompany him as far as they can, and then they must give him the parting hand. They cheer him with their voice until he becomes deaf to all sounds; they cheer him with their looks until his eye becomes dim, and he can see no more; they cheer him with the fond embrace until he becomes insensible to every expression of earthly affection, and then he seems to be alone. But the dying believer is not alone. His Saviour God is with him in that valley, and will never leave him. Upon His arm he can lean, and by His presence he will be comforted, until he emerges from the gloom into the bright world beyond. All that is needful to dissipate the terrors of the valley of death is to be able to say, “Thou art with me.”
Thy rod and thy staff – It may not be easy to mark the difference between these two words; but they would seem probably to refer, the latter to the “staff” which the shepherd used in walking, and the former to the “crook” which a shepherd used for guiding his flock. The image is that of a shepherd in attendance on his flock, with a staff on which he leans with one hand; in the other hand the “crook” or rod which was the symbol of his office. Either of these also might be used to guard the flock, or to drive off the enemies of the flock. The “crook” is said (see Rosenmuller, in loc.) to have been used to seize the legs of the sheep or goats when they were disposed to run away, and thus to keep them with the flock. “The shepherd invariably carries a rod or staff with him when he goes forth to feed his flock. It is often bent or hooked at one end, which gave rise to the shepherd’s crook in the hand of the Christian bishop. With this staff he rules and guides the flock to their green pastures, and defends them from their enemies. With it also he corrects them when disobedient, and brings them back when wandering.” (The land and the book, vol. i., p. 305.)
They comfort me – The sight of them consoles me. They show that the Shepherd is there. As significant of his presence and his office, they impart confidence, showing that he will not leave me alone, and that he will defend me.
5.Thou wilt prepare.These words, which are put in the future tense, here denote a continued act. David, therefore, now repeats, without a figure, what he has hitherto declared, concerning the beneficence of God, under the similitude of a shepherd. He tells us that by his liberality he is supplied with all that is necessary for the maintenance of this life. When he says, Thou preparest a table before me, he means that God furnished him with sustenance without trouble or difficulty on his part, just as if a father should stretch forth his hand to give food to his child. He enhances this benefit from the additional consideration, that although many malicious persons envy his happiness, and desire his ruin, yea, endeavor to defraud him of the blessing of God; yet God does not desist from showing himself liberal towards him, and from doing him good. What he subjoins concerning oil, has a reference to a custom which then prevailed. We know that in old time, ointments were used at the more magnificent feasts, and no man thought he had honourably received his guests if he had not perfumed them therewith. Now, this exuberant store of oil, and also this overflowing cup, ought to be explained as denoting the abundance which goes beyond the mere supply of the common necessaries of life; for it is spoken in commendation of the royal wealth with which, as the sacred historian records, David had been amply furnished. All men, it is true, are not treated with the same liberality with which David was treated; but there is not an individual who is not under obligation to God by the benefits which God has conferred upon him, so that we are constrained to acknowledge that he is a kind and liberal Father to all his people.
In the meantime, let each of us stir up himself to gratitude to God for his benefits, and the more abundantly these have been bestowed upon us, our gratitude ought to be the greater. If he is ungrateful who, having only a coarse loaf, does not acknowledge in that the fatherly providence of God, how much less can the stupidity of those be tolerated, who glut themselves with the great abundance of the good things of God which they possess, without having any sense or taste of his goodness towards them? David, therefore, by his own example, admonishes the rich of their duty, that they may be the more ardent in the expression of their gratitude to God, the more delicately he feeds them. Farther, let us remember, that those who have greater abundance than others are bound to observe moderation not less than if they had only as much of the good things of this life as would serve for their limited and temperate enjoyment. We are too much inclined by nature to excess; and, therefore, when God is, in respect of worldly things, bountiful to his people, it is not to stir up and nourish in them this disease. All men ought to attend to the rule of Paul, which is laid down in Phi_4:12, that they “may know both how to be abased, and how to abound.” That want may not sink us into despondency, we need to be sustained by patient endurance; and, on the other hand, that too great abundance may not elate us above measure, we need to be restrained by the bridle of temperance. Accordingly, the Lord, when he enriches his own people, restrains, at the same time, the licentious desires of the flesh by the spirit of confidence, so that, of their own accord, they prescribe to themselves rules of temperance. Not that it is unlawful for rich men to enjoy more freely the abundance which they possess than if God had given them a smaller portion; but all men ought to beware, (and much more kings,) lest they should be dissolved in voluptuous pleasures. David, no doubt, as was perfectly lawful, allowed himself larger scope than if he had been only one of the common people, or than if he had still dwelt in his father’s cottage, but he so regulated himself in the midst of his delicacies, as not at all to take pleasure in stuffing and fattening the body. He knew well how to distinguish between the table which God had prepared for him and a trough for swine. It is also worthy of particular notice, that although David lived upon his own lands, the tribute money and other revenues of the kingdom, he gave thanks to God just as if God had daily given him his food with his own hand. From this we conclude that he was not blinded with his riches, but always looked upon God as his householder, who brought forth meat and drink from his own store, and distributed it to him at the proper season.
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 favor 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 Mat_26:6, Mat_26:7; Mar_14:8; Luk_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.
Thou preparest a table – The image is now changed, though expressing the general idea which is indicated in the first verse of the psalm, “I shall not want.” The evidence or proof of this in the previous verses is, that God was a shepherd, and would provide for him as a shepherd does for his flock; the evidence here is that God had provided a table, or a feast, for him in the very presence of his enemies, and had filled his cup with joy. The word “table” here is synonymous with “feast;” and the meaning is, “thou providest for my wants.” There “may” be an allusion here to some particular period of the life of the psalmist, when he was in want, and when he perhaps felt an apprehension that he would perish, and when God had unexpectedly provided for his wants; but it is impossible now to determine to what occasion he thus refers. There were numerous occasions in the life of David which would be well represented by this language, “as if” God had provided a meal for him in the very “presence” of his foes, and in spite of them.
Before me – For me. It is spread in my presence, and for me.
In the presence of mine enemies – That is, in spite of them, or so that they could not prevent it. They were compelled to look on and see how God provided for him. It was manifest that this was from God; it was a proof of the divine favor; it furnished an assurance that he who had done this would never leave him to want. The friends of God are made to triumph in the very presence of their foes. Their enemies are compelled to see how He interposes in their behalf, how He provides for them, and how He defends them. Their final triumph in the day of judgment will be in the very presence of all their assembled enemies, for in their very presence He will pronounce the sentence which will make their eternal happiness sure, Mat_25:31-36.
Thou anointest my head with oil – Margin, as in Hebrew, “makest fat.” That is, thou dost pour oil on my head so abundantly that it seems to be made fat with it. The expression indicates abundance. The allusion is to the custom of anointing the head on festival occasions, as an indication of prosperity and rejoicing (see Mat_6:17, note; Luk_7:46, note), and the whole is indicative of the divine favor, of prosperity, and of joy.
My cup runneth over – It is not merely “full;” it runs over. This, too, indicates abundance; and from the abundance of the favors thus bestowed, the psalmist infers that God would always provide for him, and that He would never leave him to want.
6.Surely goodness and mercy.Having recounted the blessings which God had bestowed upon him, he now expresses his undoubted persuasion of the continuance of them to the end of his life. But whence proceeded this confidence, by which he assures himself that the beneficence and mercy of God will accompany him for ever, if it did not arise from the promise by which God is accustomed to season the blessings which he bestows upon true believers, that they may not inconsiderately devour them without having any taste or relish for them? When he said to himself before, that even amidst the darkness of death he would keep his eyes fixed in beholding the providence of God, he sufficiently testified that he did not depend upon outward things, nor measured the grace of God according to the judgment of the flesh, but that even when assistance from every earthly quarter failed him, his faith continued shut up in the word of God. Although, therefore, experience led him to hope well, yet it was principally on the promise by which God confirms his people with respect to the future that he depended. If it is objected that it is presumption for a man to promise himself a continued course of prosperity in this uncertain and changing world, I answer, that David did not speak in this manner with the view of imposing on God a law; but he hoped for such exercise of God’s beneficence towards him as the condition of this world permits, with which he would be contented. He does not say, My cup shall be always full, or, My head shall be always perfumed with oil; but in general he entertains the hope that as the goodness of God never fails, he will be favorable towards him even to the end.
I will dwell in the house of Jehovah.By this concluding sentence he manifestly shows that he does not confine his thoughts to earthly pleasures or comforts; but that the mark at which he aims is fixed in heaven, and to reach this was his great object in all things. It is as if he had said, I do not live for the mere purpose of living, but rather to exercise myself in the fear and service of God, and to make progress daily in all the branches of true godliness. He makes a manifest distinction between himself and ungodly men, who take pleasure only in filling their bellies with luxuriant fare. And not only so, but he also intimates that to live to God is, in his estimation, of so great importance, that he valued all the comforts of the flesh only in proportion as they served to enable him to live to God. He plainly affirms, that the end which he contemplated in all the benefits which God had conferred upon him was, that he might dwell in the house of the Lord. Whence it follows, that when deprived of the enjoyment of this blessing, he made no account of all other things; as if he had said, I would take no pleasure in earthly comforts, unless I at the same time belonged to the flock of God, as he also writes in another place, “Happy is that people that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people whose God is the Lord,” (Psa_144:15.)
Why did he desire go greatly to frequent the temple, but to offer sacrifices there along with his fellow-worshippers, and to improve by the other exercises of religion in meditation upon the celestial life? It is, therefore, certain that the mind of David, by the aid of the temporal prosperity which he enjoyed, was elevated to the hope of the everlasting inheritance. From this we conclude, that those men are brutish who propose to themselves any other felicity than that which arises from drawing near to God.
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, ושבתי veshabti, “and I shall Return to the house of the Lord,” for ever, לארך ימים 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.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me – God will bestow them upon me. This is the “result” of what is stated in the previous verses. The effect of God’s merciful dealings with him had been to lead his mind to the assurance that God would always be his shepherd and friend; that He would never leave him to want.
All the days of my life – Through all its changes; in every variety of situation; until I reach its close. Life indeed would end, and he does not venture to conjecture when that would be; but as long as life should continue, he felt confidently assured that everything needful for him would be bestowed upon him. The language is the utterance of a heart overflowing with joy and gratitude in the recollection of the past, and full of glad anticipation (as derived from the experience of the past) in regard to the future.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever – Margin, as in Hebrew: “to length of days.” The expression, I think, does not refer to eternity or to heaven, but it is parallel with the former expression “All the days of my life;” that is, he would dwell in the house of the Lord as long as he lived – with the idea added here, which was not in the former member of the sentence, that his life would be long, or that he hoped and anticipated that he would live long on the earth. The phrase used here, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord,” is one that is several times employed in the Psalms as indicative of the wish of the psalmist. Thus, in Psa_27:4, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” Psa_26:8, “lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honor dwelleth.” Psa_65:4, “blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts.”
Psa_84:4, “blessed are they that dwell in thy house.” (Compare also Psa_87:1, Psa_87:3,10). The “language” here is obviously taken from the employment of those who had their habitation near the tabernacle, and afterward the temple, whose business it was to attend constantly on the service of God, and to minister in his courts. We are not to suppose of David that he anticipated such a residence in or near the tabernacle or the house of God; but the meaning is, that he anticipated and desired a life as if he dwelt there, and as if he was constantly engaged in holy occupations. His life would be spent as if in the constant service of God; his joy and peace in religion would be as if he were always within the immediate dwelling-place of the Most High. This expresses the desire of a true child of God. He wishes to live as if he were always engaged in solemn acts of worship, and occupied in holy things; he desires peace and joy in religion as if he were constantly in the place where God makes his abode, and allowed to partake of his smiles and friendship. In a very important sense it is his privilege so to live even on earth; it will certainly be his privilege so to live in heaven: and, full of grateful exultation and joy, every child of God may adopt this language as his own, and say confidently, “Goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life here, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” for heaven, where God dwells, will be his eternal home.