»  Psalm 23 by David, King of Israel


Psalm 23

by David, King of Israel, ca. 1037-970 b.c.


•  Background

This is the 23rd chapter in the Book of Psalms, which is the 19th book of the Old Testament, as read by Christians.

A psalm is a song (Greek ψαλμóς, "a song sung to a stringed instrument"). The original Hebrew title for the book was Sepher Tehillim, "the Book of Praises."

David is one of the great characters of history. He belongs to that select group of rulers, like Alfred of England or Stephen of Hungary, who not only unified and strengthened their people militarily, politically, and commercially, but also attended to culture and religion, understanding these to be essential components of the national personality. This was a contrast with the previous ruler, Saul, a coarser character; and also with the following ruler, Solomon, a more voluptuous one. The picture of David given in the Old Testament is unmistakeably that of a man of deep religious feeling who yet had a great love of life. The two aspects are captured in the Second Book of Samuel, 2.xiv, where  "David danced before the Lord with all his might." If the psalms attributed to him were indeed his own compositions — there is no strong reason to doubt it — he was also a man of high intelligence and great literary gifts.

Psalm 23 is the best-known and best-loved of all the psalms for its simple, elegant expression of faith in God's loving protection. Christians consider it to be one of the Messianic psalms, i.e. one of those that hint at the coming of Christ. The setting of its words to the tune Crimond makes a very lovely hymn, the beginning of which I have appended to the reading. The reading itself is from the King James Bible, my edition from the Oxford University Press, 1955. As a piece of rhythmic English prose (or "free verse," if you insist), the KJB version of Psalm 23 is unsurpassed.


•  Play the reading


•  Text of the psalm

1  The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3  He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for though art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.