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David's confidence in God's grace.
A Psalm of David.
Title.— לדוד מזמור mizmor ledavid. In this psalm David expresses his confidence in God, who had delivered him from the persecutions of Saul, and settled him in a prosperous condition: whom, therefore, he here compares first to a good shepherd, who carefully feeds and diligently watches over his flock; and, secondly, to a hospitable friend, by whom he was sure of being liberally and splendidly entertained. See the note on Psalms 23:2. It has been observed, that, though the Psalms in general appear with inimitable beauty, even in the dress in which we have them; yet it should always be considered how much they must be supposed to fall short of their original excellence, to those who view them only in a translation, nay, in almost a literal translation, and that from a language which abounds in bold figures and ellipses; all of which must be supplied in the translation, or else to common readers it would be utterly unintelligible. Hence the Psalms lie under greater disadvantages than any writings either in the Greek or Latin languages. Yet if any of the finest and most admired pieces of heathen poetry were to be clothed like these in a plain literal dress, and then compared with them, the comparison would abundantly shew what Mr. Addison observes of the Jews, "that their nation produced men of great genius, without considering them as inspired writers; who have transmitted to us many hymns and divine odes, which excel those that are delivered down to us by the ancient Greeks and Romans in the poetry, as much as in the subject to which they are consecrated." But, allowing David's natural genius to have been highly excellent, and that likewise of the other authors of these divine poems, yet, as these compositions are so much preferable to all human composition, this may fairly be urged as a corroborating proof of the divine inspiration of the authors of them. See Bishop Lowth's 6th Prelection.
Psalms 23:2. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, &c.— Rabbi Solomon tells us, (most likely upon the credit of ancient tradition,) that, when David went into the forest of Hareth, it became fruitful and irriguous, though it had been before dry, barren, and impassable; and that David alludes hereto in this psalm, where he considers God as his shepherd, who would, in his own time, lead him into fruitful pastures; and till then he was safe under his protection in the most dangerous scenes, Psalms 23:4. When he calls God his shepherd, he plainly implies, that he followed wherever it pleased God to guide; alluding to the practice of the Asiatic shepherds, who do not drive, but lead their flocks, which are trained to follow them, as David evidently did the guidance of God at this time. "This, I think, (says Dr. Delaney,) is the most rational comment transmitted to us by the rabbins; and surely it is not impossible, but that Hareth, which was before a barren desart, might now, by a singular blessing of God upon the industry of David and his companions, become a green pasture." Life of David, b. i. c. 7.
Psalms 23:3. He restoreth my soul, &c.— He refresheth, &c. Mudge. "When I am ready to faint, he refreshes me, and brings me to life again." See Psalms 19:8. In the paths of righteousness, Green renders very properly, after Schultens, in right paths: "in such paths as are right and safe for me." See Proverbs 8:20. And he justly observes, that it is right to keep up the metaphorical sense, and to carry on the image of a shepherd, under which God is represented, and not break in upon it, as in the case in our version of the 3rd verse, and then return to it again in the 4th.
Psalms 23:4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death— Yea, though I should stray into the valley of the shadow of death; a valley overspread with the horrors of darkness and of death, being thickly shaded with trees, and infested by wild beasts. Dr. Delaney thinks this a noble reference to the dismal forests of Hareth. "Surely," says he, "the valley of such a forest, with all its gloomy horrors, inhabited only by bears, and lions, and tygers, whose dens are in the deepest shades, is, with infinite beauty, stiled the valley of the shadow of death. Thy rod, signifies 'thy protection, which will keep me, as a shepherd does his sheep with a crook, from straying from thee:' Thy staff, signifies 'thy defence, which will guard me from all mine enemies, as a shepherd with his staff defends the sheep from the wolves.'"
Psalms 23:5. Thou preparest a table, &c.— This alludes to the plentiful support which he found in the wilderness, notwithstanding the efforts of his enemies to distress him. Thou anointest my head with oil, means, "thou treatest me like a well-accepted guest at this table which thou hast prepared for me;" alluding to a custom of the eastern nations who anointed the heads of their guests with fragrant oils. See Amos 6:6. Luke 7:46. The next expression, my cup runneth over, alludes in the same manner to the abundance of good things which God had so graciously given him.
Psalms 23:6. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever— i.e. "In return to thee for these thy favours and blessings, I will be as constantly in the tabernacle at the hours of divine service, as if it were my ordinary abode." Thus it is said of Anna the prophetess, that she departed not from the temple, Luke 2:37. Instead of for ever, many render it after the Hebrew ימים לארךֶ leorech yamim to length of days.
REFLECTIONS.—The design of God's word is, to encourage the faith, enliven the hope, and quicken the obedience of his people. In the psalm before us, he appears in a character most amiable and engaging, as feeding the flock of his pasture, whom he bought with his blood. The Lord is my shepherd, may every believer say; mine, because I am his, dearly purchased and tenderly beloved: I shall not want; how can I, when out of his fulness I receive, who is able to do exceeding abundantly for me, above all I can ask or think; and whose love inclines him to supply me according to the exceeding greatness of his power? My body he will feed with food convenient for me, and my soul he will supply according to the riches of his grace. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, where faith feeds upon the great and precious promises of Jesus, ever affording the sweetest repast; and, in his blessed ordinances, finds meat to eat that the world knoweth not of. There he maketh me to lie down,—me whom, when a wanderer on the world's barren mountains, he kindly led to these verdant fields, where now I find a quiet resting-place, lie down with pleasing composure, because of my shepherd's care, and fear no guilt to embitter my portion, no enemy to disturb my repose. He leadeth me beside the still waters, the waters of Shiloah, that go softly, flowing from the rock of Christ, cooling the thirst which the remembrance of past sin or present temptation causes, and filling the soul with consolations unspeakable and glorious, like the source from whence they flow. He restoreth my soul, when fierce disease or deep decay threatens my ruin; or, when, foolishly wandering from the shepherd's care, my erring footsteps turn aside, his watchful eye is over me, his tender hand stretched out to save me, to heal the sickness of my soul, to restore the joys that I once was wont to find, and with fresh vigour to refresh my fainting heart. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness, points out my way, holds up my goings, and enables me to walk upright before him, in that highway of holiness which leads to eternal glory; for his name's sake, as an act of unmerited grace and favour, displaying in me a sinner the riches of his glory. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the deepest distresses of afflicting providences, or that unknown dark and dangerous road, at the prospect of which mortality shrinks back, and sense shudders, I will fear no evil; dark as the shadows are spread over it, deep as the valley lies, long and terrible as to nature's view the road appears, my faith from far discerns the beams of glorious light, my soul dares boldly step into the grave, assured there to find the golden gates of life and immortality. For thou art with me, thou who hast before passed the dreadful shade, shall guide me safely through. Thy rod, under which I have passed, and been sealed, and thy staff of promises; they comfort me, make me more than conqueror over all my fears. O, death, where is thy sting? O, grave, where is thy victory? behold a worm of earth, a sinful worm of earth, braving thy stroke, and triumphing in my fall. Thou preparest a table before me; while here below I sojourn, I want no manner of thing that is good, either for my body or my soul; thy liberal hand opens and fills me with plenteousness, and this even in the presence of mine enemies, who in vain seek to distress or embitter the portion that thou dost bestow: thou anointest my head with oil, that oil of gladness and joy a stranger intermeddleth not with; a joy, the earnest of that bliss above; when, crowned with glory, I shall sit down at thy festal board in heaven; and my cup runneth over with mercies more than I can tell, flowing from the rivers of endless bliss at thy right hand for evermore. Surely goodness and mercy, such as I have already tasted, goodness so beyond all desert, and mercy so free and boundless, shall follow me all the days of my life; like those welcome streams which in the parched desart followed Israel's camp, so every morning shall new mercies surround me; to-morrow shall be as to-day; yea, much more abundant, deeper and sweeter shall be the stream, the farther on time's rapid wings I am borne, till, launching forth into the ocean of eternity, my blessedness shall be complete, and I shall be filled with all the fulness of God. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever; dwell there, where, without a vail, irradiation from the eternal Three shall dart unutterable joys into my glorified spirit, transformed into the image of the God whom I behold; and near his throne, high and lifted up, where bright angelic hosts, his train, fill the vast temple with his glory, my happy lot shall be to dwell, to dwell for ever; his love my all-sufficient portion, and my happy labour everlasting praise. Be this, Lord, my wished for rest for ever; here let me dwell, for I have a delight therein!
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 23". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18