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Wednesday, June 12th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 23

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary


Psalms 23

The first verse

The Lord is my shepherd, I want for nothing—contains the fundamental thought of the Psalm. This thought is merely expanded from Psalms 23:2 to Psalms 23:5: for He affords delightful rest to the weary, Psalms 23:2; refreshment to the languid, and deliverance to the miserable, Psalms 23:3; protection and defence in the midst of danger, Psalms 23:4; food and drink to the hungry and thirsty, Psalms 23:5; thus everything which human necessity requires. The conclusion returns to the generality of the commencement, with this difference, that the figure employed there is presented in its reality here.

According to the common view, the goodness of God towards His people is represented in this Psalm by a double figure: first, that of a shepherd ( Psalms 23:1-4); and, second, that of the master of a household ( Psalms 23:5). But this view, which destroys altogether the unity of the Psalm, depends only on the gratuitous supposition, that the Psalmist must always speak of the spiritual shepherd in terms which have been taken from the relations of the temporal shepherd. That the Psalmist paid very little attention to any such rule of criticism, but made a free use of his figure, is evident from the Psalms 23:3, which, on this view, it would be impossible to explain. But substantially, if not in form, even the fifth verse praises the shepherd־ faithfulness of God. It is because He is faithful to His charge as a shepherd, that He prepares a table before the Psalmist. In this He does in reality nothing more than what a good shepherd would do for his irrational sheep. But what is altogether decisiveagainst this view, is, that on the idea that the praise of the good shepherd terminates at Psalms 23:4, the principal and indispensable feature ( John 10:9), that he provides nourishment, is altogether wanting. And that there is no trace of this in the ( Psalms 23:2) 2d verse, according to the common view, will be evident from our exposition.

That David is the author of this Psalm, admits of no doubt; and the attempt of Hitzig to attribute it to Jeremiah, will be always welcome to those who would characterize his critical ways. The Psalm requires, and will bear, no historical exposition. The opinions which have been advanced on this subject, such as those of J. D. Michaelis, Maurer, and others, that David composed it on some occasion when his provisions having become exhausted, there was sent to him, in the fields, a plentiful supply of food, only show how far this predilection for historical interpretation may lead. This tendency is rooted in the ignorance of its representatives of the things of religion and the Church, and in their consequent inability to recognise like by like. From the spirit and tone of the Psalm, we should of course judge that it was composed at a time when David was not disturbed by any sufferings or dangers in his enjoyment of the grace of God,—at a time of quiet and quickening, which he knew so beautifully to describe. It shows us that David not only took God for his refuge in distress, but that, in prosperity he did not forget the Giver amidst the gifts, but made these (as Calvin expresses it) a ladder by which he might ascend continually nearer to God. Some have thought it necessary to reject even this definition of the position. “Why,” says Stier, “should he not for once, even in trouble, be thus confident and quiet?” But the unanimity with which other expositors of spiritual experience express their conviction, that this Psalm was sung by David at a time of revival, renders us exceedingly distrustful of this idea. The expression in the (Hebrews 12) 12th chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, that no affliction for the present seemeth to be joyous but grievous, holds unexceptionably true. The sufferer may, even in the midst of severest trials, maintain a certain degree of joyful confidence; but for all this, the sun will be only, as it were, shining through clouds; the pain and the distress will never be looked upon as at so great a distance, will never be so completely triumphed over, as they are in the case before us.

Finally, the confidence to which expression is here given, is not that of a child, is not that of one who goes forth to meet the pains and troubles of life, of which he has had no experience, with a clear joy, flowing from consciousness of communion with God: it is that of an experienced combatant, one who has come through many troubles, who knows what they mean, and who has richly experienced how the Lord comforts in them, and delivers out of them. The praise of the rest, which the Lord imparts, lets us see in the Psalmist a weary pilgrim; the thanksgiving for refreshment shows us one worn out; the expression, “When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” etc., brings before us one who had already had experience of the dark ways of suffering, and who had yet to walk in them. The expressions, in sight of my enemies, Psalms 23:5, and shall follow me, Psalms 23:6, show that we have here to do with one who, like David, had fought hard with enemies. Everywhere, it is not the sunburnt shepherd-boy, in the midst of his peaceful lambs, that meets us here, but the man David, who had experienced the hardships of the days of Saul. And yet it is from the, recollections of this peaceful season of youth that the figure of the Good Shepherd is drawn, which meets us for the first time in this Psalm in a full form.

The absence of everything like exact personal reference renders it exceedingly probable that David sung this Psalm, as it were, from the soul of every believer; and that he expressed in it his own personal joy, with the design of strengthening his brethren, and embodying their feelings in language. The reference, made by the Jewish commentators, of the Psalm to the whole people, is only to be decidedly rejected if placed in opposition to an individual interpretation. As David undoubtedly designed the Psalm for the public worship of God, the thought could not be far distant from his mind, that its contents must be applicable no less to the whole body of the people than to each individual. The whole body of the people is the less to be lost sight of, as in all the other passages of the Old Testament, the figure of a good shepherd is used in reference to the faithfulness which God manifests towards the Church.

It has been frequently maintained (latterly by Umbreit), that the contents of the Psalm, strictly speaking, surpass the Old Testament; that they stand especially opposed to the Mosaic law, with its jealous God, who visits the sins of the fathers. upon the children to the third and fourth generation. This idea, however, is decidedly incorrect. It proceeds altogether from directing exclusive attention to God’s relationship to sinners as expressed in the law, and from not observing the aspect of grace which even there He presents. It is in the books of the law that God is first represented as the Shepherd of Israel, Genesis 48:15, Genesis 49:24; and nowhere do we find such touching proofs of the shepherd-care of God as in the lives of the patriarchs. The description of the tender care of God for His people, in Deuteronomy 32:6-14, forms a remarkable parallel to the Lord is my Shepherd: and the care of God for His people during their journey through the wilderness, as detailed in the law, is described in Psalms 78:52 as that of a faithful shepherd.

Verse 1

Ver. 1. The Lord is my Shepherd, I want for nothing. Of all the figures that are applied to God in the Old Testament, that of a shepherd is the most beautiful. “The other names,” says Luther, “sound somewhat too gloriously and majestically, and bring, as it were, an awe and fear with them, when we hear them uttered. This is the case when the Scriptures call God our Lord, King, Creator. This, however, is not the case with the sweet word shepherd. It brings to the godly, when they read it or hear it, as it were, a confidence, a consolation or security, like the word father. We cannot better understand this consoling and lovely word, than by going to nature, and learning carefully from her what are the dispositions and the properties of the sheep, and what the duty, the labour, the care of a good shepherd. A sheep can only live through the help, protection, and care of its shepherd. As soon as it loses him, it is exposed to dangers of every kind, and must perish, for it cannot help itself. The reason is, it is a poor, weak, silly creature. But, weak creature though it be, it has the habit of keeping diligently near its shepherd, of depending upon his help and protection; it follows wherever he leads, and, if it can only be near him, it cares for nothing, is afraid of no one, but feels secure and happy, for it wants for nothing.” It is to be observed, that in both the cases in which the figure of the shepherd is first used in Scripture, the speakers, Jacob and David, were led to employ it from their own personal experience. Having been introduced by them, the figure was made use of by other writers, who were not led to make use of it from their own history. This is the case particularly with Isaiah ( Isaiah 40:11), and Ezekiel ( Isaiah 34:13), who comforts the poor, dispersed, neglected sheep of Israel, during the time of their captivity, by referring to the shepherd-faithfulness of God. See also Micah 7:14, and Psalms 80:2, and Psalms 95:7. It is in obvious reference to these Old Testament passages that our Saviour calls Himself the Good Shepherd (John 10), and is also so called by the Apostles, 1 Peter 2:25, 1 Peter 5:4; Hebrews 13:20. All that Jehovah, under the Old Testament, does to His own, He does through His Angel and Mediator; this is His common aspect to His Church. He—the λό?γος—appeared in the flesh in Christ. Hence, whatever in the Old Testament was said of Jehovah and His Angel, is immediately transferred in the New to Christ. See the Christology, I. p. 247. The connection between the Old and New Testament, as regards this subject, is especially laid open in Zechariah 11 and Zechariah 13:7, where the Angel of the Lord is spoken of as the Shepherd of Israel, and His future incarnation in the midst of His sheep is mentioned. Compare the Christology on the passage, P. 2.

Still the question remains, On what foundation does the idea expressed in the words, the Lord is my Shepherd, depend, in so far as the Psalm is, in the first instance, the expression of the feelings of the author, and of individual believers? The answer is this:

The general foundation for this conviction lies in the covenant of God with Israel, the promises of which every true and living member of the Church is entitled to apply to himself. The special foundation lies in personal experience, such as that which was enjoyed by David in such abundant measure. How often did he experience this shepherd-faithfulness of God! How often did he enjoy from Him quiet, quickening, protection, and blessings!

It will not do to translate, I shall not want. The correct translation is, I want nothing. This, among other reasons, is obvious from the use of the Preterite דשנת in Psalms 23:5. The development of an idea can give nothing except what is contained in the general statement. I want nothing excludes want generally, and not merely that of food: compare the expansion of the idea, Psalms 23:2-5; לא חסרת דבר , Deuteronomy 2:7, thou hast lacked nothing; Deuteronomy 8:9, thou wantest nothing at all in it, to which the Psalmist appears especially to allude; and Psalms 34:10, they who seek the Lord shall not want any good thing. This is evident also from the concluding verse, where the affirmative, goodness and grace follow me, corresponds to the negative here, I want nothing. We must not, on the other hand, extend arbitrarily the sphere of, I want nothing, but must limit it as directed by the development of the expression, in which we read only of the blessings of life, and not of deliverance from spiritual needs. We must not forget that the Psalmist ( Psalms 23:5) sings in presence of his enemies, and, consequently, that he is congratulating himself only on such good things as these designed to deprive him of. The following is Luther’s paraphrase: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall assuredly want nothing. I shall eat and drink, and have abundance of clothes, food, protection, peace, and necessaries of every kind which contribute to the support of life; for I have a rich Shepherd, who will not allow me to suffer want. But he speaks particularly of spiritual blessings and gifts, which the word of God brings,” etc. This, on the principles of strict grammatico-historical interpretation, is correct only till he comes to say, “But he speaks particularly,” etc. The theological interpretation, however, will in this case undoubtedly break down the boundaries which the grammatico-historical has set up. For the view to which the Psalmist for a moment confines himself undoubtedly implies, that He who has made such abundant provision in lower matters, will not suffer any blessings of a higher kind to be withheld. Still we must not, like Umbreit, who finds at once that the words, I want nothing, express deliverance from all spiritual troubles, mingle up the results of the grammatical interpretation with the theological exposition. By so doing, we lose altogether an insight into the train of thought and structure of the Psalm, and rob it even of that practical power, from a false regard to which it is that such attempts are made.

The paraphrase of P. Gerhard forms the best commentary on the verse before us. “The Lord, who rules all the ends of the earth with His power, the fountain of eternal good, is my Shepherd and Guardian. So long as I have Him, I am in want of no blessing the riches of His fulness most completely replenish me.”

Those who, on reading the words, the Lord is my Shepherd, I am in want of nothing, are inclined to say, “How shall I know that the Lord is my Shepherd? I do not find that He acts so friendly a part to me as corresponds to what the Psalmist says; nay, I have ample experience to the very contrary;” are directed by Luther in the following words into the right way: “The prophet has not at all times been so happy; he has not been able at all times to sing as he does here. He has at times been in want of much, yea, almost of everything. He has felt that he possessed neither the righteousness, nor the consolation, nor the help of God; but only sin, the wrath of God, terror and dismay, as he complains in many of his Psalms. Still, as often as he turns him from his own feelings, and lays hold of God by His promises, and thinks, ‘It may be with me as it may, yet this is the comfort of my heart, that I have a gracious, a compassionate Lord for my Shepherd, whose word and whose promises strengthen and comfort me; therefore I shall be in want of nothing.’ And he has written this and other Psalms for the very purpose of assuring us, that in real temptation there is no council, help, or comfort to be found, unless we have learned the golden art of holding firm by the word and promises of God, and deciding by them, in opposition to the feelings of our own hearts. Thus assuredly shall help and comfort follow, and we shall be in want of nothing.”

Verse 2

Ver. 2. He causeth me to lie down in green meadows; He tendeth me by the waters of rest. Luther: “The prophet has shortly expressed, in the first verse, the import of the whole Psalm, viz. that whoever has the Lord for his Shepherd, shall be in want of nothing. He attempts nothing more in the whole Psalm than to expand, in fine glowing words and comparisons, how well it is with those who are the Lord’s sheep.” According to most interpreters, the green meadows, which are properly grass-pasturage, are introduced here in connection with the good pasture which they afford. But this view is opposed, first, by, He causeth me to lie down; second, by the parallel in the second clause, which speaks of rest for the weary; and, lastly, by the circumstance, that another verse, viz. the ( Psalms 23:5) 5th one, is devoted to the care of the shepherd, as regards the providing of food. The green meadows serve another useful purpose beside that of pasturage: they form a pleasant place of repose, where the Eastern shepherd at noon, when the heat is at its height, permits his weary flock to lie down. Compare Song of Solomon 1:7. Jacob ( Genesis 33:17) made booths for his sheep, when they were wearied with the long and severe travelling; in like manner, the heavenly Shepherd gives delightful rest and repose to his spiritual sheep, when they are worn out with wandering under the burning heat of this world’s sufferings and temptations. He sends to them times of health, that they may recruit their strength for wandering in the rough paths of life, till at last they are brought to that eternal rest, of which every season of temporary repose is, both to individuals and to the Church as a body, a foretaste, a pledge, and a prophecy.

In the second clause, the waters of rest are generally interpreted as meaning quiet or still water,—“water which is not agitated, and therefore not dreaded by the sheep.” Claus, however, has very improperly impugned this interpretation. The plural, certainly, is remarkable. Then the question occurs, Can rest be attributed to water? There is at least no parallel passage. The parallelism with He maketh me to lie down, favours another interpretation: waters of rest=waters at which rest (properly rests) are enjoyed,—the plural indicating that the rest imparted is of a manifold kind, and respects not one gift, but a whole train of gifts. The Psalmist, as was perceived by the Septuagint translators, who have rendered מנוחות by ἀ?ναπαύ?σεως , and by the Vulgate, who give “ad aquam refectionis,” is speaking of the refreshing rest which shepherds, at the noon of a hot summer day, give to their wearied flocks at the side of a shady brook, to which they have led them to drink. Compare Bochart, Hieroz. p. 529. Luther: “David here speaks of this matter after the manner of the country. The country on which so many praises have been lavished, is a hot, dry, sandy, rocky country, which has many deserts and little water. In our part of the world, we know nothing of this; for we find everywhere plenty of water. Hence David has seen, and he extols it as a great blessing, that he is under the protection of the Lord, who not only pastures him on green meadows, but also leads him during the heat to refreshing water.” Hence, according to this view, the rest conveys the same idea as it does in all other passages: for example, 2 Samuel 7:1, “When the king sat in his house, and the Lord had given him rest round about from all his enemies:” 1 Chronicles 22:9, “Behold, a son shall be born to thee, who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies round about:” Jeremiah 45:3, “I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest,” where the prophet complains that he could not find that which David here promises to all believers. Israel was led to waters of rest in the wilderness, when, at the command of the Lord, repose and refreshment were granted them in some one of its more favoured spots: “The ark went before them, ( Numbers 10:33), to search out a resting-place for them.” The expression before us was fulfilled much more completely in Israel, when they were privileged to rest in Canaan from the hardships of their long wandering. Compare Deuteronomy 12:9; Psalms 22:11. David was led to waters of rest after the ruin of Saul, after his victory over his Gentile enemies, and after the suppression of Absalom’s conspiracy. And it was fulfilled in the most complete manner in the case of Solomon, whose reign was a type of the rest of heaven to be enjoyed by the Church triumphant. Innumerable times might David say, as he did in Psalms 116:7, “Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.”—נהל in Pihel should, according to the common acceptation, mean “to lead.” Doubts on this point are raised by the use of the על here, and in the parallel passage, Isaiah 49:10. In Isaiah 40:11, the idea of leading is scarcely suitable; and in 2 Chronicles 32:22, and in Genesis 47:17, it is wholly incongruous. The sense of tending, in this passage absolutely necessary, is to be retained in all passages. In Exodus 15:13, which alone appears to contradict this, Thou leadest through Thy grace the people whom Thou hast redeemed, and tendest them through Thy power by Thy holy habitation, is to be explained, Thou leadest them to Thy holy habitation, and watchest over them there. This interpretation is demanded by על . In Genesis 33:14, the Hithpael form is used in the sense of to take care of one’s self.

The import of the verse is therefore this:

The Good Shepherd, with tender care, imparts sweet repose to His weary sheep. After the rest which, according to our verse, is given to the weary, there follows suitably, in the next verse, the quickening which the Good Shepherd imparts to the exhausted—to the fainting. The extreme importance here attached to rest—its having assigned to it the first place in the enumeration of the good deeds of the Good Shepherd—indicates how severe the journey through this world is, how hot is the sun which shines even on the righteous; so that the need for rest outweighs every other, and the righteous man is not more truly thankful for any blessing than for this one. The outward rest, however, of which our verse more immediately speaks, is, in reality, a blessing to him only who has previously attained to that inward peace which, like an unperishable possession, accompanies the believer amid all outward distresses. This inward rest—this peace of the soul in God—gives a title, which never fails to be acknowledged by God, to the outward peace.

Verse 3

Ver. 3. He revives my soul; He leads me in, the paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake. On the first clause compare Psalms 19:7. The import is: When my soul is exhausted and wearied, He revives me, as is the custom of the good shepherd, who not only cares for the sound sheep, but also and especially attends to the weak and the sick. The import of the second clause is, He sends me salvation, when, wearied with the rough paths of life, I am pressed down with suffering. Several interpreters read it: “He leads me in an even path.” But צדק never stands, in a physical sense, for straightness; it means always righteousness. And this signification could only be considered as unsuitable from assuming the false position, that the Psalmist everywhere must use expressions that are borrowed from the natural relations connected with the figure which he is, for the time, employing in illustration of spiritual matters. This, however, is by no means a principle observed by the sacred poets in their use of figurative language. They are often satisfied with a very slight allusion to the natural relations. In the present instance, the corresponding idea is undoubtedly that of leading in even and quiet paths, in opposition to, among thorns, and over stones and cliffs. The righteousness is not to be understood, as Michaelis would have it, in a moral sense— that I may lead a holy and a pious life in this world; but it is to be considered as a gift of God, which He imparts to His own—that practical justification or clearing up of the character which forms a part of the salvation. Salvation itself is never designated צדק ; so that the exposition, He leads me in the path of salvation, must be rejected as not sufficiently exact. The clause, for His name’s sake, is equivalent to, for the sake of His glorious nature, because He is the Holy One, in the scriptural sense ( Psalms 22:3), only so that attention is at the same time directed to the fact, that His glorious nature has not remained concealed, but has been made fully known by deeds. The product and echo of these is the name:—so that the expression is the same as, for the sake of the glory historically manifested, which forms the foundation on which rests the confidence of the Psalmist, that the Lord leads him in the paths of righteousness. The name of God is thus always used as the product of the development of the Divine nature, as the sum of the deeds of God. Thus, for example, Joshua 9:9, “And they said unto him, From a very far country are thy servants come because of the name of the Lord thy God; for we have heard the fame of Him, and all that He did in Egypt, and all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites:” 1 Kings 8:41-42, “That cometh out of a far country for Thy name’s sake: for they shall hear of Thy great name, and of Thy strong hand, and Thy stretched-out arm:” Isaiah 63:12, “Who led them by the right hand of Moses, with His glorious arm dividing the waters before them, to make to Himself a glorious name.” The exposition of Aben-Ezra and others, “that His name might be praised throughout the whole world,” is to be rejected; as also that of Stier, “not for any merit of mine, but out of free grace.” What the Lord is and has done, is a pledge to the Psalmist for that which He is to do for him. If He has at all times endowed His people with righteousness; if He has, for example, in Egypt, caused the sun of His salvation to shine upon the darkness of the misery of His people; if he justified Joshua, by giving him the victory over his enemies, He will not deny Himself towards this His servant. For His name’s sake, has a much more extended import for us than it had for David. For the name of God, during the lapse of time, has become infinitely more glorious. Between us and David there lies a long succession of glorious unfoldings of the nature of God, in imparting salvation to His own, both as individuals and in their collective capacity, every one of which is a new pledge to us.

Verse 4

Ver. 4. Even when I walk in the valley of death-darkness, I fear no calamity: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. Calvin: “As a sheep, when it wanders through rugged deserts dark valleys, is secured by the mere presence of its shepherd against the assaults of wild beasts and other dangers, so does David here testify, that as often as he is in a situation of danger, he has a sufficient protection in the shepherd-care of God. But now that God, in the person of the only-begotten Son, has manifested Himself as a shepherd, in a far clearer and more glorious manner than He did formerly to the fathers under the law, we do not sufficiently honour His protection, unless, with eye directed towards it, we trample all fear and danger under foot.” Venema supposes that David overvalues here his confidence: his despondency at the time of Absalom, shows that his firmness was by no means so unwavering. Psalms 30:6-7, might be adduced here, where David accuses himself of high-minded confidence. But this idea proceeds altogether upon a misunderstanding. David is not here praising himself: he is praising the Lord. In reality, I fear no evil, is identical with I DARE fear no evil: and the Psalmist expresses himself in these words, only because for the moment his feeling corresponds to the reality. It is not on the feeling that he lays stress, but on the cause which called it forth. גם is, “even,”—because, under these circumstances, the shepherd-care of God seemed as if it had come to an end. We cannot, with most expositors, translate it, even though I wandered, but only, even when I wander. The analogy of the other Futures, and a glance at the history of the author, who had been obliged so often to wander through the valley of the shadow of death, show that the author is speaking, not of something imaginary, but of something real. Hitzig’s version, though I even wandered, I would fear no evil, brings us at once in an unpleasant manner out of the domain of experience in which the whole Psalm moves. The death-darkness is darkness of the thickest kind, such as prevails in the grave or in sheol. The expression is too strong to allow us to think of a valley surrounded by thick forests, and overhung by high hills: the darkness is that of midnight:—compare Jeremiah 13:16, “Give glory to the Lord your God, before He cause darkness, and before your feet stumble on the dark mountains, and, while ye look for light, He turn it into the shadow of death:”—all the more suitable, that it is at night when the beasts go forth to their prey. The valley is particularly mentioned on account of the wood-clad surrounding hills, in which these beasts live. To such a valley of death-darkness there correspond to the spiritual sheep, seasons of great trouble, danger and severe suffering. Compare Jeremiah 9:1; Psalms 44:19. Luther: “As now our friends wander in the valley at Augsburgh.” רע , properly evil, indicates, according to the connection, some fatal misfortune. This befalls the wicked only. The sheep of the Good Shepherd stumble, but they do not fall. On the words, for Thou art with me, Luther remarks: “This presence of the Lord cannot be discerned by the five senses, but it is seen by faith, which is confident of this, that the Lord is nearer to us than we are to ourselves.” The rod and the staff, according to many interpreters, are to be regarded as the weapons with which the shepherd drives off the wild beasts. But they do not suit this purpose, they are too peaceable. They are rather here, as usually, to be considered as the instrument for guiding the sheep. In the dark night of suffering, the trembling soul derives comfort from the thought, that it is under the guidance of the Lord, that He has led it into its salvation, that He protects it there, and that He will bring it out at His own time. A look at the shepherd-staff of the Lord fills the soul with joy in the midst of pain. The following remark of De Wette is important: “The somewhat diffuse language (two synonyms and the pronoun) is intended to depict the repose of confidence.” Luther: “David prescribes here to all Christians a common rule, that there is no other way or plan upon earth by which a man can be delivered from trouble of every kind, than to cast all his care upon the Lord, to lay hold of Him by His word of grace, to hold this fast, and by no means to let it go. Whoever does this, shall be happy, be he in prosperity or adversity, be he in life or in death: he shall hold on to the end, and gain the victory over all—the devil, the world, and misfortune.”

Verse 5

Ver. 5. Thou spreadest before me a table in sight of mine enemies; Thou anointest my head with oil,—my cup overflows. The Psalmist had hitherto spoken only of the provident care of the Good Shepherd, in removing the manifold miseries, pains, and sufferings, which this life brings with it—of rest, refreshing, and consolation. All this is predominantly of a negative character. His language now rises higher. God not only helps His people in suffering, and out of suffering: He also bestows upon them a rich fulness of joy, He satisfies His children with the good things of His house. To these positive blessings, there corresponds, in the temporal shepherd, the provision of fodder and water made for the sheep. This, however, would have been too prosaic. The Psalmist hence depicts the shepherd-care of God in this respect by another figure, yet so as to keep as near as possible to the idea of the figure already employed. The blessings with which God satisfies the desires of His needy people, appear under the figure of a rich feast prepared for them. שלחן is not a table of any kind, but only one on which viands are spread. In sight of my enemies, is a very picturesque trait. They must look on quietly, how the table is spread, and how the Psalmist sits down at it. The grace of God towards His own appears all the more glorious, that it breaks through all hindrances, makes its way through all the hostile efforts that are directed with a ruinous design against the righteous one, and leaves nothing for the enemies but a tormenting sight. The anointing with the oil of joy, Psalms 45:7,—that is, the oil which is the symbolical expression of joy,—is one of the necessary accompaniments of a festive and joyful entertainment.

Verse 6

Ver. 6. Only goodness and love follow me all the days of my life; and I dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. The conclusion assumes the general form of the introductory clause, and explains the figurative language employed throughout. אךְ? has its customary import, only goodness—nothing else. There is an implied antithesis in they follow me. Stier: “As the enemies, out of malignity, so the goodness of God follows all my steps with blessings.” Compare Psalms 34:14. The שבתי is, according to several interpreters, I turn back. But שוב with ב , never signifies to turn back, neither in 1 Kings 2:33, nor in Hosea 12:7: compare on the passage Ch. B. Michaelis. The character, which is general throughout, and continues to be so in the first clause of this verse, and the joyful tone of the same, are also unfavourable to this view, which assumes that David composed this Psalm when excluded from the services of the sanctuary. And, finally, this view is opposed also by the parallel passages, particularly Deuteronomy 30:20, and Psalms 27:4. These parallel passages show also that שבתי , notwithstanding its Patach, instead of Chirek, must be taken as an infinitive, my dwelling, and not (as is the view adopted by others) as a Preterite instead of ישבתי—an anomaly, besides, of much greater consequence than the one implied in the other interpretation. Dwelling in the house of the Lord is commonly understood as being equivalent to undisturbed abiding in the temple. But it is impossible that the expression can be applied to literally abiding in the external temple; and it is altogether arbitrary to substitute, as Gesenius does, frequenting (frequentem adesse) instead of abiding. Moreover, the possibility opened up by God of frequenting the temple, if occurring at all in a Psalm which extols so well what is great and glorious in God, is least of all to be expected at the conclusion, where there ought to have come in some comprehensive significant expression, and where it serves no other purpose except to weaken the impression of the whole. As parallel to goodness and love follow me all the days of my life, the words, I dwell in the house of the Lord for ever, sound exceedingly feeble and cold, if they relate to a frequenting of the sanctuary. Finally, by adopting this exposition, we disjoin the expression from the fundamental passage, Deuteronomy 30:20, “That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey His voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto Him; for this is thy life and the length of thy days, that thou dwell, לשבת , in the land, which the Lord sware unto thy fathers;” according to which, we should expect such a designation of the enjoyment of the grace of God as should be as expressive and general as the dwelling in the land of the fathers. The foundation for the right exposition has been already laid at Psalms 15. We there saw that, according to the usage in the Psalms, to dwell in the house of the Lord is a figurative expression for the closest intimacy with God, and for the enjoyment of His favour, and that the righteous always dwell in the house of the Lord,—even when they are far absent from it in the body,—a figurative expression, which has its foundation in the law, in which the holy tabernacle is designated as the tabernacle of meeting, of intercourse between God and His people. Thus interpreted, the words before us form really the focus in which the rays of the whole passage are concentrated. In reference to the whole Church, they admit of being applied with truth, notwithstanding those words, “Your house is left unto you desolate,” Matthew 23:38. For those, who at that time were thrust out of the house of God, or rather were left alone in a house which had lost the indwelling of God, were those souls only who had been cut off from their people. The true members of the Church remain always in the house not made with hands, the Church, members of the household of God, Ephesians 2:19, and in the enjoyment of all the blessings of God’s house.

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 23". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-23.html.
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