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Psalm 23

Shepherd song

The world tells us we’re masters of our own fate, responsible to create a satisfying life for ourselves. David knows that doesn’t work—that we find contentment only in the care of the God whose love is unfailing.

A David psalm.

1 With Yahveh as my shepherd
I lack nothing.
2 He lays me down in lush, green fields
leads me beside peaceful pools
3 and restores my soul.
Good shepherd that he is
he guides me always in the true path.
4 Even walking through the valley of deathly dark
I fear nothing with you beside me:
your rod and your staff
they comfort me.

5 You spread a rich feast before me
in full view of my enemies
massage my head with fragrant oil
and pour my cup brimful of blessings.
6 Your goodness and love chase me down
every day of my life
and Yahveh’s house will be my home
for days and years without end.

Used to depict brutal kings in the ancient world, the image of shepherd here pictures the strong but gentle Yahveh in whose loving care we experience the good life. Characterized by rest and contentment, that life isn’t about learning to make do so much as about being centered in God, seeing his goodness in every situation—that he’s here for us now. Freedom, abundance, and peace are all internal conditions depending on nothing but our shepherd-king’s unswerving commitment. Without that, no amount of anything satisfies.

God doesn’t offer us a problem-free existence, but truly letting God be God yields a worry-free life, even facing death.[1] With him on our side, we’re freed to live life joyfully, fully alive, despite life’s brokenness and pain. God provides all we need and guides and protects us with fierce gentleness.

Yahveh publicly honors David as his guest when the enemies so prominent in the preceding psalms surround him. Saul once welcomed David into his household, only later to let envy sabotage their relationship. Like David, we need never fear being disenfranchised by God. His goodness and grace pursue us relentlessly. They, not our circumstances or false sense of control, are the sole basis of true peace. And they’ll remain long after life’s brokenness and pain are gone. Our true home.

I choose to be where you have me now, Good Shepherd, content to be me. Not harried or chafing that I’m not somewhere, something, or somehow else. Not weighed down by my past or needing my future to validate my present. Calm in your commitment to me. Overflowing with thanks. Amen.


[1] The psalm’s chiasm highlights David’s center point of Yahveh’s care for him facing death: A: No lack in Yahveh’s care (v. 1), B: Physical provisions (v. 2), C: Security (v. 3), D: No fear of death (v. 4a), C: Security (v. 4b), B: Physical provisions (v. 5), A: No lack (ever!) in Yahveh’s care (v. 6).

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.