Psalm 23 Commentary – Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament

Psalm 23 Commentary – Keith & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament

Psalms 23:1-3

The poet calls Jahve רֹעִי, as He who uniformly and graciously provides for and guides him and all who are His. Later prophecy announces the visible appearing of this Shepherd, Isa. 40:11, Eze. 34:23, and other passages. If this has taken place, the רֹעִי ה from the mouth of man finds its cordial response in the words ἐγὼ εἰμὶ ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός. He who has Jahve, the possessor of all things, himself has all things, he lacks nothing; viz., כָּ־טֹוב, whatever is good in itself and would be good for him, Psa. 34:11; Psa. 84:12. נְאֹות דֶּשֶׁא are the pastures of fresh and tender grass, where one lies at ease, and rest and enjoyment are combined. נָאָה (נָוָה), according to its primary meaning, is a resting-or dwelling-place, specifically an oasis, i.e., a verdant spot in the desert. מֵי מְנוּחֹת are waters, where the weary finds a most pleasant resting-place (according to Hitzig, it is a plural brought in by the plural of the governing word, but it is at any rate a superlative plural), and can at the same time refresh himself.
 
נִהֵל is suited to this as being a pastoral word used of gentle leading, and more especially of guiding the herds to the watering-places, just as הִרְבִּיץ is used of making them to rest, especially at noon-tide, Son. 1:7; cf. ὁδηγεῖν, Rev. 7:17. שֹׁובֵב נֶפֶשׁ (elsewhere הֵשִׁיב) signifies to bring back the soul that is as it were flown away, so that it comes to itself again, therefore to impart new life, recreare. This He does to the soul, by causing it amidst the dryness and heat of temptation and trouble, to taste the very essence of life which refreshes and strengthens it. The Hiph. הִנְחָה (Arabic: to put on one side, as perhaps in Job. 12:23) is, as in Psa. 143:10 the intensive of נָחָה (Psa. 77:21). The poet glories that Jahve leads him carefully and without risk or wandering in מַעְגְּלֵי־צֶדֶק, straight paths and leading to the right goal, and this לְמַעַן שְׁמֹו (for His Name’s sake). He has revealed Himself as the gracious One, and as such He will prove and glorify Himself even in the need of him who submits to His guidance.
 

Psalm 23:4-5

Rod and staff are here not so much those of the pilgrim, which would be a confusing transition to a different figure, but those of Jahve, the Shepherd (שֵׁבֶט, as in Mic. 7:14, and in connection with it, cf. Num. 21:18, מִשְׁעֶנֶת as the filling up of the picture), as the means of guidance and defence. The one rod, which the shepherd holds up to guide the flock, and upon which he leans and anxiously watches over the flock, has assumed a double form in the conception of the idea. This rod and staff in the hand of God comfort him, i.e., preserve to him the feeling of security, and therefore a cheerful spirit. Even when he passes through a valley dark and gloomy as the shadow of death, where surprises and calamities of every kind threaten him, he hears no misfortune. The lxx narrows the figure, rendering בגיא according to the Aramaic בְּגֹוא, Dan. 3:25, ἐν μέσῳ.
 
The noun צלמות, which occurs in this passage for the first time in the Old Testament literature, is originally not a compound word; but being formed from a verb צלם, Arab. ḏlm (root צל, Arab. ḏl), to overshadow, darken, after the form עַבְדוּת, but pronounced צַלְמָוֶת (cf. חֲצַרְמָוֶת, Hadra-môt = the court of death, בְּצַלְאֵל in-God’s-shadow), it signifies the shadow of death as an epithet of the most fearful darkness, as of Hades, Job. 10:21., but also of a shaft of a mine, Job. 28:3, and more especially of darkness such as makes itself felt in a wild, uninhabited desert, Jer. 2:6.
 
After the figure of the shepherd fades away in Psa. 23:4, that of the host appears. His enemies must look quietly on (נֶגֶד as in Psa. 31:20), without being able to do anything, and see how Jahve provides bountifully for His guest, anoints him with sweet perfumes as at a joyous and magnificent banquet (Psa. 92:11), and fills his cup to excess. What is meant thereby, is not necessarily only blessings of a spiritual kind. The king fleeing before Absolom and forsaken by the mass of his people was, with his army, even outwardly in danger of being destroyed by want; it is, therefore, even an abundance of daily bread streaming in upon them, as in 2 Sam. 17:27-29, that is meant; but even this, spiritually regarded, as a gift from heaven, and so that the satisfying, refreshing and quickening is only the outside phase of simultaneous inward experiences.
 
(Note: In the mouth of the New Testament saint, especially on the dies viridium, it is the table of the Lord’s supper, as Apollinaris also hints when he applied to it the epithet ῥιγεδανῶν βρίθουσαν, horrendorum onustam.) The future תַּֽעֲרֹךְ is followed, according to the customary return to the perfect ground-form, by דִּשַּׁנְתָּ, which has, none the less, the signification of a present. And in the closing assertion, כֹּוסִי, my cup, is metonymically equivalent to the contents of my cup. This is רְוָיָה, a fulness satiating even to excess.
 

Psalm 23:6

Foes are now pursuing him, but prosperity and favour alone shall pursue him, and therefore drive his present pursuers out of the field. אַךְ, originally affirmative, here restrictive, belongs only to the subject-notion in its signification nil nisi (Psa. 39:6, Psa. 39:12; Psa. 139:11). The expression is remarkable and without example elsewhere: as good spirits Jahve sends forth טֹּוב and חֶסֶד to overtake David’s enemies, and to protect him against them to their shame, and that all his life long (accusative of continuance). We have now no need, in connection with our reference of the Psalm to the persecution under Absalom, either to persuade ourselves that וְשַׁבְתִּי is equivalent to וְשִׁבְתִּי Psa. 27:4, or that it is equivalent to וְיָשַׁבְתִּי.
 
The infinitive is logically inadmissible here, and unheard of with the vowel ā instead of i, which would here (cf. on the other hand קַחְתִּי) be confusing and arbitrary. Nor can it be shown from Jer. 42:10 to be probable that it is contracted from וישׁבתי, since in that passage שֹׁוב signifies redeundo = rursus. The LXX, certainly, renders it by καθίσαντες, as in 1 Sam. 12:2 by καὶ καθήσομαι; but (since so much uncertainty attaches to these translators and their text) we cannot draw a safe inference as to the existing usage of the language, which would, in connection with such a contraction, go out of the province of one verb into that of another, which is not the case with תַּתָּה = נָתַתָּה in 2Sam. 22:41. On the contrary we have before us in the present passage a constructio praegnans: “and I shall return (perf. consec.) in the house of Jahve,” i.e., again, having returned, dwell in the house of Jahve. In itself וְשַׁבְתִּי ב might also even mean et revertam ad (cf. Psa. 7:17; Hos. 12:7), like עָלָה בְ, Psa. 24:3, adscendere ad (in). But the additional assertion of continuance, לְאֹרֶךְ יָמִים (as in Psa. 93:5; Lam. 5:20, אֹרֶךְ, root רךְ, extension, lengthening = length) favours the explanation, that בְּ is to be connected with the idea of וישׁבתי, which is involved in ושׁבתי as a natural consequence.
 

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