Psalms 23 (RSV)
v. 1 “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want;”
“LORD”: The word “LORD” (Strong's #3068), when written in all uppercase letters, is the Hebrew name יהוה, which is often transliterated as Yahweh; or as the Jews substitute “Jehovah”, as Yahweh is too sacred to pronounce.
shepherd: It’s also important to note that David the writer is a shepherd and he is taking a reverse roll and considering God (Yahweh) as his shepherd. David is seeing himself as one of God’s precious sheep and his vision is beautiful,as he speaks about God’s provision and protection; and about what a blessing it is to be one of His sheep.
The Hebrew word for “shepherd” is “ro’ah” (pronounced: row-eh) ( רועה ) (Strong's #7462) meaning to "feed" and "tend the flock," which are the responsibilities of a shepherd; This word “ro-ah” (row-eh) comes from the Hebrew word “ma’rah” (pronounced: ma-ray) ( מרעה ) which means “pasture”. The shepherd is the one who brings his sheep to pasture. So, this term shepherd in the Hebrew has its focus on providing for the needs of the sheep.
want: This Hebrew word “ekh-sar” (make a throat "hork" sound like you are going to spit for the "kh" sound) ( אחסר ) (Strong's #2637), comes from the Hebrew word “khaw-sar” ( חסר ) which means “to lack”. So, this is literally I shall not be lacking. In other words, the Lord has provided everything I need for my salvation. There is no reason for me to fail.
Literal Translation: Yahweh is my shepherd and I will not be lacking in anything.
Expanded Translation: Yahweh is my guide and provider who feeds me and takes care of me and I will not be lacking in anything and I will succeed.
Summary of verse 1: Yahweh is being compared to a shepherd, the one who provides. In Ancient Israel, the shepherd would spend a great deal of his time with his flock and often times many days away from the family camp. The flock, be they sheep or goats, would be his companions and the shepherd would be their protector and provider. King David, the author of this Psalm, was in his youth a shepherd and he would be intimately familiar with this essential role of the shepherd and how precious the sheep were to their shepherd.
v. 2 “he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters;”
he makes me lie down: This entire statement is derived from one Hebrew word “yar-bye-say-nee” ( ירבּיצני ). The words “lie down” are from the Hebrew root verb “rabats” ( רבּצ ) (Strong's #7257) this word implies the crouched resting position of a sheep or other animal, when they tuck their legs underneath themselves. In this position they are in a state of relaxation so this implies no fear of predators or starvation.
In the Hebrew these next words are in a different order. The Hebrew reads “in pastures green”.
The Hebrew is: “bin-e-oat”(soft “e”) “desh-e” (soft “e”) - בּנאוֹת דשׁא
green: The word for “green” in Hebrew is “y-roq”( ירוק ).
Instead here we find the Hebrew word “desh-e” (soft “e”) (Strong's #1877) this word means “grass” and it is specifically referring to the fresh, new, tender growth, green grasses that spring up from the soil, which is the food staple of the flock.
in pastures: The Hebrew letter “bet” as the first letter means “in” and the suffix “oat” makes this the feminine form. The root of this word is from the Hebrew noun “na'ah” (Strong's #4999) is the pasture or habitation of the flock, it is also used figuratively for a “home”.
He leads me: Is once again derived from one Hebrew word “ye-nah-hah-lay-knee”. The root of this compound word is the verb “na-hal” (Strong's #5095) ( נהל ) is also related to the Hebrew word “na-har” and both these words mean “river”. They express a gentle flowing that is going in a specific direction. So, the idea here is to lead specifically to a destination of water.
carefully lead another and provide protection and sustenance.
beside: The Hebrew word “al” ( על ) (Strong's #5921) is frequently used as a preposition meaning "upon" or to be "over" something.
still: The Hebrew noun “men-ew-hhoat” (Strong's #4496) literally means “restful” so this is speaking of "a quiet place of rest" and is derived from Strong's #5117, a verb meaning to "settle down to rest."
waters: The Hebrew word “mayim” (Strong's #4325) is a plural noun literally meaning “waters”.
Literal Translation: I will lie down in green pastures. He will lead me over to still waters.
Expanded Translation: I will lie down to rest in a pleasant and beautiful home that is filled with fresh food from the soil. He will protect and sustain me as he gently leads me over to a quiet, restful place by the water.
Summary of verse 2: The role of the shepherd is to guide the flock to food and water and to protect them from any predators or thieves that may be about. In this same way Yahweh will provide food and water to his sheep and protect them from their enemies.
v. 3 “he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.”
restores: This is the verb “shoov” (Strong's #7725) which means “to turn”, it speaks of turning back, returning or retreating, in the sense of going back to somewhere you have been before.
soul: The word nephesh (Strong's #5315) is used in a wide variety of applications, but it generally in the Hebrew refers to "breath". It is derived from Strong’s #5314, which is a verb that means to breathe and to be refreshed, maybe in the sense of getting your breath back after being winded, or maybe sitting in a fresh breeze when hot and tired; in both cases one is refreshed.
leads: The word “na-chah” (Strong's #5148) is a different verb from the one used in the previous verse that can also mean to lead; but this verb more accurately means to guide someone to an unfamiliar place.
in paths: In Hebrew this is “ve-ma-a-gawl” (soft “e” & “a”s) ( במעגלי ). The noun “ma-gawl” (Strong's #4570) means a "track" as a visible sign that others have passed down a path and is derived from Strong’s #5696 “agawl”, which means “circle” to revolve, or go around. This is specifically alluding to how the sheep in the Judean hills would create what were called sheep paths as they walked along circling the hills as they wound their way, eating their way to the top of the hills. David would have sat on the top of the hill looking down on his sheep as they circled around him, winding their way to the top of the hill he was on.
righteousness: The noun “tsadiq” (Strong's #6664) means "correct" and "right" and is derived from a verb meaning "to be right". In the Hebraic thinking it is an expression of being on “the correct path”.
name: The word “shem” (Strong's #8034) means "name," but is often times used in the sense of a person's fame or reputation.
sake: The word “ma'an” (Strong's #4616) is an adverb meaning "on account of" or "in order that," and comes from a root meaning "to pay attention."
Literal Translation: He will return my breath; he will guide me in the paths of correction because of his name.
Expanded Translation: He will return my breath to me and I will be restored. He will guide me down the well-worn paths in the correct direction because this is his character and reputation.
Summary of verse 3: Just as the shepherd leads his flock to fresh green pastures to provide them with ample sustenance, so will YHWH lead us to a beautiful place of restoration.
v. 4 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. ”
Even or Yea: (“Yea” in the KJV) is the Hebrew word “gam” (Strong's #1571) meaning “also” in the sense of repeating something and comes from an unused root meaning to gather, in the sense of bringing together different thoughts .
walk: The word “halakh” (Strong's #1980) means to walk, march or travel.
through the valley: In the Hebrew is really “in the valley” not “through. The word “b-gay”
(Strong's #1516) appears to be more than just a valley, but a deep narrow gorge, a place that is dark and frightening and there is only two ways to go, back from where you came or to continue on, but there is no exit; the verb that this word comes from means "arrogance" and "pride," a person who puts up high walls around himself, shutting himself off from the outside world, just like a gorge.
shadow of death: The word “tsal-ma-vet” (Strong's #6757) is a combination of two words, #6738 meaning “shade” or “shadow” and #4194 meaning “death” or “dead”. This word combination is translated in other places in the Scriptures as “deep darkness”.
fear: The verb “ya-ar” (Strong's #3372) means to "fear", but it comes from the root meaning to “quake” or “tremble”.
evil: The noun “ra” (Strong's #7451) means "bad" or “harmful” and is often used in contrast with "good."
for: The word “kiy” (Strong's #3588) is a particle that can be translated many different ways depending on the context
you: This word “atah” (Strong's #859) is the second person, masculine, singular pronoun
with: The word “with” is “im-mawd” (Strong's #5978) is a preposition that means to be equally with another, or to be beside them. The word here has the letter “yod” on the end ( עמדי ), so it is
“im-mawd-ee” meaning “with me”.
rod: The noun “shebet” (Strong's #7626) is a branch, stick or rod that is used to discipline and is a parallel with the next word.
staff: The noun “mesh-an-te-kah” (Strong's #4938) is a stick, branch or rod, it is what you lean on and it closely relates to other Hebrew words that mean support, the function of a walking stick.
they: The word “hem” (Strong's #1992) is the third person, plural pronoun.
comfort: The verb “nacham” (Strong's #5162) means to be have comfort and consolation.
Literal Translation: In addition, when I travel in the gorge of the shadow of the dead, I will not be afraid of bad things, because you are beside me, your staff and stick, they give me relief and I am consoled,
Expanded Translation: In addition to all of this when I travel through a deep dark palce, covered in the shadow of the dead, I will not be afraid of the things that harm because you are beside me, your staff of correction and your walking stick of support, they give me a sigh of relief and I am consoled,
Summary of verse 4: One of the shepherd's most important tools was his staff. He used it to guide a member of the flock as well as use it as a weapon to defend the flock. In the Ancient Hebrew mind, the staff was also a symbol of authority.
v. 5 “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.”
prepare: The word “arak” (Strong's #6186) has the fuller meaning of arranging something according to Strong's definition of this verb.
table: The noun “shul-chan” (Strong's #7979) is literally a table, but implies a meal on the table and comes from the verb 7760, which has a meaning of spreading out.
before: This Hebrew noun “pan-iym” (Strong's #6440) literally means the "face;" the dictionary states that when this noun is prefixed with a preposition it means "before;" on a side note, the Hebrew word in this text is “le-pha-nai”, a common Biblical word literally meaning "to the face of..."
presence: The noun “ne-ged” (Strong's #5048) means "in front," and comes from the root 5046 which means to stand out boldly. This statement “in the presence of” in the Hebrew also means “to be against”.
enemy: The verb “tsarar” (Strong's #6887) literally means to be "cramped up" as in being confined in a narrow pressing place. Enemy here then is a reference to those who would bind me and cause me trouble.
anoint: According to Strong's the verb “dashen” (Strong's #1878) means to "be fat," but can also mean to "anoint" in the sense of putting fat on someone's head. This is really more of a reference to prosperity. This is not the same word used when Jesus was “anointed” that word is
head: The noun “rosh” (Strong's #7218) means “head”.
oil: The literal meaning of the noun “shemen” (Strong's #8081) is "oil," but if you look up the uses of this word in other verses it is clear that this word is often used for olive oil
cup: The noun “kos” (Strong's #3562) is literally a cup used to hold liquids, but is closely related to 3599, which a cup or bag of money; it can be implied that a cup is a concrete word used for one's holdings or possessions and context of the passage does imply this.
overflow: The noun “revayah” (Strong's #7310) is relates to Strong’s #7301 meaning to be “soaked in” or completely “satiated with”.
Literal Translation: You will arrange a table in front of my face, showing this in front of my enemy that is pressing in on me: you will anoint my head with oil, all my possessions will overflow.
Expanded Translation: You will put in order and arrange a meal spread out on the table in front of my face, boldly showing this in front of my enemy that is pressing in on me: you will anoint my life with prosperity, all of my holdings and possessions will abundantly overflow to fill my needs.
Summary of verse 5: The idea that I see here is that YHWH will provide everything that his follower needs and this will be displayed in front of his enemies, causing them to be jealous. The enemy will realize that he has no hold over God’s chosen and the enemy will be unable to conquer him, due to the Lord’s abundant blessings.
v. 6 “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
surely: The Hebrew word “ak” (Strong's #389) and its root imply something of a surety and firmly established. Really it means “only”.
goodness: The noun “tob” (Strong's #2896) is used in a wide variety of ways, but in the context of this verse it implies the ideas of pleasure, beautiful, bountiful and cheerfulness, all of which Strong's identifies as possible meanings of this noun.
mercy: The noun “hhe-sed” (Strong's #2617) means kindness and comes from 2616, a verb concretely meaning to bow the head as a sign of kindness.
follow: The verb “radaph” (Strong's #7291) means to “chase after” or “to pursue”.
all: The word “kol” (Strong's #3117) means “all.”
days: The literal meaning of the noun “yom” (Strong's #3117) is “day”.
life: The noun “hhay” (Strong's #2416) means “life.”
dwell: The verb “yashab” (Strong's #3427) means to "sit," but often in the context of remaining or returning to one's home or other specific place to settle down.
house: The literal meaning of the noun “bayith” (Strong's #1004) is “house,” but can also be a large house, a palace, or temple "house or palace of God.
LORD: The word LORD (Strong's #3068), when written in all upper case letters, is the Hebrew name יהוה, which is often transliterated as Yahweh or Jehovah.
forever: The word "forever" is a translation of two Hebrew words. The word “or-ek” (Strong's #753) meaning "long" and the word “yom” (Strong's #3117) means "day.” So, this literally means “for length of days”.
Literal Translation: Only things that are good and kind will chase after me all the days of my life: I will settle in the house of YHWH for a long number of days.
Expanded Translation: It is a sure thing that bountiful and beautiful things and kindness will chase after me all the days of my life: I will remain and settle down in the palace of Yahweh a very long number of days.
Summary of verse 6: Yahweh will never let his followers down. As long as Yahweh is their shepherd he will always provide for them and take care of them. He will provide shelter and a comfortable place to live. We should never want to leave His presence.