PSALM 23:
THE TEXT, AN INTERPRETIVE COMMENTARY, AND A NEW READING
 
Binna Yi

The Text and Commentary

An Interpretive Commentary

A New Reading


 
The Text
and Commentary
 

1 The LORD is my shepherd, (read with vitality and strength)
  I shall not want. (slow down pace and emphasize each word)


 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; (softer)
  He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul; (louder)
  He guides me in the paths of righteousness
  For His name's sake. (loudly, short pause after His)


 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, (slowly read first two words and hold death out)
  I fear no evil, for You are with me; (very slow, defiance to evil, short pause after fear and evil)
  Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.(loudly with confidence)


 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; (short pause after table, me, and presence)
  You have anointed my head with oil; (Loudly, hold out oil)
  My cup overflows. (cheerfully and loudly)
6 Surely goodness and loving-kindness will follow me all the days of my life,
  And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
(Faster and with strength, short pause after LORD)

 Part One
The LORD is my shepherd,
 I shall not want.
 

             The first line of verse one displays God (huge and great) becoming my shepherd.  This implies that God lowers himself and honors us with His presence and care.  The psalmist’s word choice of shepherd makes me think of protection from harm (predators), feeding, and gentleness.  I think the second line shows the psalmist’s content with guidance from God.  He is content because he recognizes God knows and acts for his best interest.  God manifested character (in Psalm 23:1) is gracious and omniscient.
 
Part Two
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
 He leads me beside quiet waters.

 
            God directs a person to a place, a time, or a state of mind where he/she can be at peace and then rest.  This verse reminds me of Psalm 27, verse two, for it says, “2…He grants sleep to those He loves.” So Psalm 23 verse two reveals God leads the psalmist to a place of rest, while Psalm 27 (verse two) shows God follows through and then grants sleep to the person.  God’s provision of security allows humanity to sleep easy. 
            Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for people to function.  We saw Elijah’s need for rest in 1 Kings 19, to prepare for a long journey.  Rest restores the body, which segues into verse three.
            The psalmist chooses the word, “lead.”  God presides in areas such as: intelligence, strength, wisdom, skill, and providing rest.  Hence God’s character is omnipresent, and that fact reassures one of security.
 
3 He restores my soul;
  He guides me in the paths of righteousness
  For His name's sake.

 
            I feel like Psalm 23 follows a logical pattern, in that God guides, protects, gives rest, nourishes, and you grow in faith to hunger for God more. 
            You are restored after sleep.  Verse three uses the word restores, so the psalmist had been weary at some point.  Yet in his weariness he does not fumble or fall away from God, but is guided to “righteousness.”  I think God’s consistency and persistence with us is manifest through this verse.  “For His name's sake” provides a small promise of lifetime care.  God acts for His name’s sake; therefore, He will not stop leading or caring for us because that is not in His character.
 
Part Three
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
  I fear no evil, for You are with me;
  Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

 
            Big change! God is no longer referred to in third person, but is shifted into greater intensity by usage of second person.  God is closer than before and the person now looks to God for companionship.  People of faith depend upon God more in times of struggle.  We see followers cling to God, even if they had ignored Him in the past.  Thus, the psalmist has a deeper desire for God.
            The image “shadow of death” is not death itself but something similar.  So the psalmist knows he will not die, he will only pass through it (it is temporary).  Also he is not walking alone, but has the mighty God who protects (from verse two) to lead him.  As a result, I would read, “I fear no evil,” defiantly.  I’d imagine staring straight at evil with my eyes blazed. 
            Rod and staff, why do these two objects bring comfort?  They seem more closely linked to punishment or discipline.  And if they are connected with chastisement, then maybe those aspects are toward the evil.  The penalty is for evil, so the psalmist has no worries or woes (at this point) because the Lord has taken care of it.
 
Part Four
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
 You have anointed my head with oil;
 My cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and loving-kindness will follow me all the days of my life,
  And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

 
            Finally the psalmist experiences joy, honor, and enthusiasm for life.  The first verses of Psalm 23 were more calm and reflective because he thought about his life and God’s hand in it.   Maybe more constrained, yet with purpose.  But now in verses five and six, he displays an excited and (maybe) unprompted praise.  I use the word, “unprompted” because it seems like his praise proceeds from natural feelings of joy.  However, his praise may come from reflection as well.   
 

An Interpretive Commentary


 Soon Ok Lee is a former prisoner from Kae Chon Prison in North Korea. She published her memoirs and testified about her experiences in the North Korean camps before the U.S. Congress (in 2003).
 
1 The LORD is my shepherd,
   I shall not want. 

 
God you are my shepherd, I know you are, but why? Why all the pain and cruelty?  And want?  How could I want, want anything for myself?  I have so much freedom now.  I no longer suffer in the gulags of North Korea.  I only hunger for freedom for those (prisoners) still in the hell of camp.  I only want to see the day when they are freed-all freed.  No more guards, cages, and forced labor.  No more hell!   

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
  He leads me beside quiet waters.

 
This place here, South Korea it is my place of rest, and You have allowed me to come.  I now have my own apartment, food to eat, and can come and go as I please.  I’m in a land filled with blessing.  Greener pastures than I could ever have imagined.
In this quiet place, I collect my writings to create a memoir, so the world will know of their torture.  God, I know you have brought me here, by quiet waters, but why do I continue to feel the stinging threat of the dictator and the stench of the camps?  Why do I have nightmares of them screaming out in agony and babies being stomped to death?  I have horrid dreams of pregnant women being kicked repeatedly.  Though my body is here in South Korea, I wonder if my mind and soul will reach the quiet waters. 

3 He restores my soul;
  He guides me in the paths of righteousness
  For His name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
 I fear no evil, for You are with me;
 Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

 
My body is restored, yet my soul lags behind in slow process of healing.  I’ve walked through the valley, and I still fear evil because it looms.  It haunts me at night, in my sleep.  Their faces appear, their lips mouth words, but no sounds, not even whispers.  Death is not a shadow, it is night, never ending night.
But You, You were with me?  I don’t remember You there, in North Korea.  I only see you here, in the South, in the green pastures.  Why aren’t You there where the people need You?  In that hell they cry out day and night, dropping tears of blood, hoping you will hear.
 
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
  You have anointed my head with oil;
  My cup overflows.
   
 
In view of the dictator, I told my story.  I spoke to the nations of the horrors in that country.  Yes, in the presence of my enemies, but am I anointed?  Does my cup overflow?  No, I see only the haunting till freedom comes to all of us.  Then I will taste life and accept the blessings you provide.   
 
6 Surely goodness and loving-kindness will follow me all the days of my life,
 And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

 
Only after the freedom of all my brother and sisters who labor in the hells of North Korea, can I peacefully dwell with the LORD. 
 

A New Reading
 

You are the writer, so use me (the pen) to write of Your awesomeness. 
 
You are an infinite buffet of life.
I am bulimic, unable to handle the richness of vitality you present before me.
I crave You and feast upon Your flesh and blood.
I can’t hold You in,
Spew. 
The wretchedness of my flesh overpowers me, forcing me to vomit.
Regurgitations of the bread of life
Pain.  Pain, ripping my the soul,
Crushing my spirit,
Depressing my heart,
In my failure to digest You,
I starve at the feasting table. 
 
Like an artist who paints upon an empty canvas,
Slow and careful strokes of the brush,
Deep cold colors mixed with bright fiery hues.
Adding vivid detail and adornment,
So you fill my life with richness.
I am no longer void,
But full, overflowing with meaning and worth.
You are glorified
 
And the brilliance of your genius is shown.

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