The 23rd Psalm – Commentaries – Part 2

The Twenty-third Psalm – Commentaries – Part Two

HE LEADETH ME BESIDE THE STILL WATERS:

“The Psalmist . . . knew the ‘still waters,’ or wells, pools, quiet rivulets, or sheltered sand bars.” (Harper’s Bible Dictionary, p. 674)

“In the later literature there are several passages in which the Lord is spoken of as the shepherd of Israel, but the thought is most tenderly elaborated in Isaiah 49:10, ‘They shall not hunger; . . . he. . . shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.’ The psalmist turns this imagery to the illustration of God’s thought for him and, by inference, for every child of God. ‘Besides the still waters: Or ‘waters by resting places,’ a poetic inversion of ‘resting places by water,’ where in quietness and peace the sheep slakes its thirst and its strength is refreshed and revived. These blessings of food, water, and rest are the lot of the sheep because it is led in right paths. The good
shepherd guides the sheep on paths that lead right to the sources of life, peace, and happiness, and keeps it from straying into the wrong paths.”
(IB, p. 125-127)

“Although sheep thrive in dry, semi-arid country, they still require water. It will be noticed that here again the key or the clue to where water can be obtained lies with the shepherd. It is he who knows where the best drinking places are. . . . When sheep are thirsty, they become restless and set out in search of water to satisfy their thirst. If not led to the good water supplies of clean, pure water, they will often end up drinking from the polluted pot holes where they pick up . . . parasites . . . or other disease germs. . . . Water for sheep came from three main sources . . . dew on the grass . . . deep wells . . . or springs and streams. . . . Most people are not aware that sheep can go for months on end, especially if the weather is not too hot, without actually drinking, if there is heavy dew on the grass each morning. . . . The good shepherd makes sure that his sheep can be out and grazing on this dew drenched vegetation.” (Keller)

“Notice that the refreshing beside still waters comes before the severest part of the journey. The reserves of energy are first secured.” (IB, p. 127)

“He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11)

“RIVER. Channel of thought. When smooth and unobstructed, it typifies the course of Truth; but muddy, foaming, and dashing, it is a type of error.” (S&H 593)

“[Love] leadeth me beside the still waters.”
(S&H, p. 578)

HE RESTORETH MY SOUL:

“David was acquainted with the bitterness of feeling hopeless and without strength in himself. . . . Now there is an exact parallel to this in caring for sheep. Only those intimately acquainted with sheep and their habits understand the significance of a ‘cast’ sheep’ or a ‘cast down’ sheep. . . .This is an old English shepherd’s term for a sheep that has turned over on its back and cannot get up again by itself. A ‘cast’ sheep is a very pathetic sight. Lying on its back, its feet in the air, it flays away frantically struggling to stand up, without success. Sometimes it will bleat a little for help, but generally it lies there lashing about in frightened frustration. . . . If the owner does not arrive on the scene within a reasonably short time, the sheep will die. . . . Again and again I would spend hours searching for a single sheep that was missing. . . As soon as I reached the cast ewe, my
very first impulse was to pick it up . . . I would hold her erect, rubbing her limbs to restore the circulation to her legs. When the sheep started to walk again, she often stumbled, staggered and collapsed. Little by little the sheep would regain its equilibrium. It would start to walk steadily and surely. By and by it would dash away to

 rejoin the others, set free from its fears and frustrations, given another chance to live a little longer. All of this pageantry is conveyed to my heart and mind when I repeat the simple statement, ‘He restoreth my soul.'” (Keller)

“The restored soul is expected to renew the pilgrimage. Life is to be a movement, not a stagnation. ‘Excelsior’ is always to be the device on our banners; green pastures and still waters afford no permanent dwelling. If we are content with them and nothing else, God may have to drive us forth. The new energy we have gained has to be used, always under his continued leading, along ‘straight paths’ — the highways, possibly the dusty highways, of duty.’ (IB, p. 125)

“Soul is Life, and being spiritual Life, never sins. Material sense is the so-called material life. Hence this lower sense sins and suffers, according to material belief, till divine understanding takes away this belief and restores Soul, or spiritual Life. ‘He restoreth my soul,’ says David.” (Unity of Good, by Mary Baker Eddy, p. 30)

“[Love] restoreth my soul [spiritual sense]:” (S&H, p. 578)

HE LEADETH ME IN THE PATHS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, FOR HIS NAME’S SAKE:

“The ‘paths of righteousness’ were age-old sheep-walks.” (Harper’s Bible Dictionary,674)

“The ‘paths of righteousness’ strictly are ‘straight’ or ‘direct’ paths. The journey is not haphazard. The paths lead somewhere: straight paths lead straight somewhere. The imagery requires that that somewhere should be the fold, which for the sheep is home. They have been awakened in the morning; they have been led to the mountainsides of pasturage, where necessarily they have been given rest for tired hoofs and weary limbs; and now it is eventide, and they must take the track again to reach the fold before nightfall. The essence of the clause is given if we translate, ‘He leadeth me by paths that run straight home for his name’s sake.’ Where would you be going at night, except home?” (IB, p. 125-126)

“The ability to throw a well-aimed stone was useful to head off a straying sheep, but on one occasion in 1947 a boy missed his aim, and the stone fell into a cave and resulted in the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls!” (Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, p. 904)

“Sheep are notorious creatures of habit. If left to themselves they will follow the same trails until they become ruts; graze the same hills until they turn to desert wastes; pollute their own ground until it is corrupt with disease and parasites. . . . The greatest single safeguard which a shepherd has in handling his flock is to keep them on the move . . . they dare not be left on the same ground too long. They must be shifted from pasture to pasture periodically. This prevents overgrazing of the forage. It forestalls the reinfesta-tion of the sheep with internal parasites or disease, since the sheep move off the infested ground before these organisms complete their life cycles.” (Keller)

“‘For his name’s sake’ may mean ‘in order that his name may be exalted’ or, more probably, ‘because that is the kind of God he is.'” (Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary, pg 269)

“‘For his name’s sake’: in consistency with the character which He has already made known.” (Dummelow’s One Volume Bible Commentary, p. 339)

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

“Through the wholesome chastisements of Love, we are helped onward in the march towards righteousness, peace, and purity, which are the landmarks of Science.” (S&H, p. 322)

“[Love] leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” (S&H, p. 578)

YEA, THOUGH I WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH, I WILL FEAR NO EVIL: FOR THOU ART WITH ME:

“‘The valley of the shadow,’ which called for extra shepherding, was the deep rock-cleft wadi where serpents lurked.” (Harper’s Bible Dictionary of the Bible, p. 904)

“The reference in Ps. 23 to the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ may be simply figurative of a place of peril and loneliness, or, as Gunkel holds, the place through which the ancient Hebrew supposed the soul had to pass on the way to the underworld.” (Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, p. 904)

“The sheep is also the object of the shepherd’s protecting care: ‘though I walk through a valley of dark shadows,’ where robbers and beasts of prey lurk, ‘I fear no evil.’ The scribal copyists pointed the word for ‘dark shadows’ to read ‘the shadow of death,’ thereby in the interest of interpretation spoiling the psalmist’s picture.” (IB, p. 127)

“The image of ‘the valley,’ in Christian hands, obviously goes beyond the original intention of the writer. The translation ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ is an inevitable Christian addition. . . . To those brought up on that version it is impossible to divorce the phrase from the idea of death; for it has brought comfort to too many in the actual experience of dying; too many have quoted it beside deathbeds. . . . So it is that for a great multitude of Christian folk the verse refers to the valley of death, first and last. Christian experience has, if you like, rewritten it. . . . Surely if the last thought is ‘thou art with me,’ the king of terrors will change his aspect. For the Shepherd is there — and he is friend and guide.” (IB, p. 128)

“The straight path is not always the easiest; round about you may wander in sunny glades, while the straight path is through the defile, a dark and dangerous way. Nevertheless it is the road, and the best road, to the place where you fain would be. To take easier journeys would mean that you would be overtaken by the night before the sheepfold could be reached. Wherefore the shepherd in his wisdom leads to the threatening valley; but he keeps close to the sheep, with his rod (his weapon of offense) and his staff (his weapon of guidance) ready, so that when darkness comes, the shepherd and his sheep are home. It is a lovely little picture of the God-trusting life, so complete and so true.” (IB, p. 126)

“From a shepherd’s point of view this statement marks the halfway stage in the Psalm  . . . Now it turns to address the shepherd directly. The personal pronouns “I” and “Thou” enter the conversation. It becomes a most intimate discourse of deep affection. . . .Most of the efficient sheepmen endeavor to take their flocks onto distant summer ranges during summer. This often entails long ‘drives.’ . . . During this time the flock is entirely alone with the shepherd. They are in intimate contact with him and under his most personal attention day and night. . . .Every mountain has its valleys. Its sides are scarred by deep ravines and gulches and draws. And the best route to the top is always along these valleys. . . . Not only is this the way to the gentlest grades, but also it is the well watered route. Here one finds refreshing water all along the way. There are rivers, streams, springs and quiet pools in the deep defiles. . . . Naturally these grassy glades are often on the floor of steep-walled canyons and gulches. There may be towering cliffs above them on either side. The valley floor itself may be in dark shadow with the sun seldom reaching the bottom except for a few hours around noon. . . . The shepherd knows from past experience that predators like coyotes, bears, wolves or cougars can take cover in these broken cliffs and from their vantage point prey on his flock. There could be rock slides, mud or snow avalanches and a dozen other natural disasters that would destroy or injure his sheep. But in spite of the hazards he also knows that this is still the best way to take his flock to the high country. He spares himself no pains or trouble or time to keep an eye out for any danger that might develop.” (Keller)

“VALLEY. Depression; meekness; darkness. ‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’ (Psalm xxiii. 4.) Though the way is dark in mortal sense, divine Life and Love illumine it, destroy the unrest of mortal thought, the fear of death, and the supposed reality of error. Christian Science, contradicting sense, maketh the valley to bud and blossom as the rose.” (S&H, p. 596)

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for [Love] is with me;” (S&H, p. 578)

To be Continued

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