Psalms Chapter 23:1-6 Sunday School Notes

These are some of my notes for Sunday, October 4, 2009 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible series.

Books referenced in these notes are:
1. Psalms Volume 1: NIV Application Commentary by Gerald Wilson

2. Psalms: Revised Expositor’s Commentary by Willem Van Gemeren

3. Baker Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament by Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas

Ps 23
Arrangement of Psalm 23:

Yahweh in third person (23:1-3)

Yahweh in 2nd person (23:4-5)

Yahweh in 3rd person (23:6)

Or, from another more detailed angle:

Shepherd image and theme of trust (23:1)

God shepherd leads sheep into abundant life (23:2-3)

God shepherd leads sheep into secure life(23:4)

God host blesses the trusting faithful (23:5)

Concluding expression of confidence in God’s care (23:6) (Wilson)

Sheep in the Middle East graze on grass produced by rain, while in summer and fall they eat the weeds and stubble left from the harvest. They can go long times without water and then gorge on as much as nine and a half quarts of water. Sheep depend on shepherds to find food, water, and shelter for them, making sheep helpless without a shepherd.(BBCOT)

Ps 23:1
“My shepherd” : The LORD, the God of nations, is also a personal god, as subsequent verses illustrate in more detail.(Van Gemeren)

The shepherd metaphor is common in ANE. Hammurabi called himself a shepherd, while the Babylonian god of justice, Shamesh, was termed “shepherd of the lower world, guardian of the upper”. David famously was a shepherd (1 Sam 16:11), the hills around Bethlehem being good for grazing sheep. (Van Gemeren)

“I shall not want” can be seen as an allusion to God’s wilderness provision in the Exodus, or personal provision in this life and perhaps the next. (Van Gemeren)

“Shall not want” is less “not desire” than “not lack” (Wilson)

Ps 23:2-4
A good shepherd is personally concerned with his sheep, with individual acts showing that concern: “he makes me lie down”, “he leads me to water”, “he renews”, “he leads on right paths”. (Van Gemeren)

Ps 23:2
Green pastures are seasonal field of good grass, where sheep can eat and drink without constant wandering to find sufficient grass, thus “he makes me lie down”. Fields were green during the rainy seasons of winter and spring; in summer and fall water would dry up and green fields become scattered, forcing sheep to travel to graze. (Van Gemeren)

“Quiet waters” are wells and springs where sheep can drink without hurry (Is 32:18) and without fear, as loud streams apparently frighten sheep.(Van Gemeren)

Green pastures and quiet streams are rare in the Mideast, where land is typically dry, rocky hills with sparse grass made more sparse by seasonal rains. (Wilson)

Ps 23:3a
“Soul” here is not the human spiritual dimension but another way of saying “self”. (Van Gemeren)

Ps 23:3
“Righteousness” here (Hebrew sedeq) has the basic meaning of “right, correct, proper”.(Van Gemeren)

“Paths of righteousness” allows ambiguity of the idea of a life meeting God’s expectations for the believer. (Wilson)

“For His name’s sake”: reputation and honor. In ANE culture names revealed character. God’s revelation of His name to Israel allowed them access to Him greater than any other ANE religion. Also, “to have a name” is to have a good reputation, while “having no name” is to be disreputable. Thus God’s guidance fulfills His nature and maintains his reputation. (Wilson)

Ps 23:4
“Shadow of death”: The Masoretic text is understood as the Hebrew salmawet “shadow of death”, death being a superlative for “deep darkness”. The Hebrew can also be understood to be salmut, “darkness”.(Van Gemeren)

The staff and rod signify the shepherd’s care again: the rod is a weapon, a heavy stick worn at the belt perhaps, used to beat off or kill predatory animals. the staff a long stick carried and used as a tool to keep sheep on the right path and out of danger. (Van Gemeren, Wilson)

The “comfort” is the assurance of protection and guidance symbolized by the shepherd’s tools.

Ps 23:5
God is host at figurative banquet (Is 25:6-8). The table is set with food and drink. God vindicates and honors the believer by feeding him at His own table and bathing his head in oinment (Amos 6:6, Lk 7:46), basically a concoction of perfumes mixed into olive oil. The overflowing cup symbolizes the abundant gifts of the host. The anointment is not kingly anointing.(Van Gemeren, Wilson)

In ANE tradition a guest is put under the host’s protection, who might do very strong things to protect the guest, such as Lot’s offering his daughters to the mob seeking the angels in Gen.19:4-8.

Ps 23:6
Love: Hebrew hesed, “mercy, covenant faithfulness”

The Psalmist doesn’t say one will have plenty and no problems, but speaks of the surety of God’s care throughout life. Van Gemeren)

The Masoretic Text reads “I will return” to the house of the LORD, while ancient versions (Greek and Syriac OTs) say “I will dwell” in the house of the LORD, continually.(Van Gemeren)

What is dwelling in the house of God?

1.Image of asylum from enemies, as in v.5’s “in presence of my enemies”

2.If early part of poem is about wandering under God’s care, the end is the arrival in God’s house, the place he has prepared for faithful believers. (Wilson)

“House of the LORD” is used as a term for the temple, but never for Heaven. “Forever” is actually “for length of days” in Hebrew, in other words “a long time”. “Dwell”, taken from the Greek Septuagint, suggests either a priestly role for the psalmist (they being the only people living in the temple precincts) or if a kingly metaphor is meant, perhaps being a part of God’s royal retinue, those retainers who serve a king and are provided food and shelter by the king. If on the other hand we follow the Hebrew “I will return” the meaning is then frequent or continual opportunities to worship God. (BBCOT)


One thought on “Psalms Chapter 23:1-6 Sunday School Notes

  1. I don’t do 3 x 5 cards, notebooks, or homework…The Sunday School Sheep must really enjoy your preparations for them…The grass looks pretty green in the pasture!

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