Psalm 23 - The Lord is my Shepherd
This wonderful psalm is not so much about the Lord's caring for us as it is about His leading us. His care comes with His leading.
I chose this tune because I wanted a tune from a song about the Lord's leading. At the time I did not know that "He leadeth me" was inspired by Psalm 23. Here is the story of how that hymn was written:
Joseph Gilmore was born in Boston, Mass in 1834. He served as pastor of several churches in the East and later taught Hebrew and English literature at Newton Seminary and Rochester University and wrote several college texts on these subjects. Although Gilmore was highly respected in his day in both religious and educational circles, today he is best remembered for this one hymn, hurriedly written when he was just 28 years of age.
"I had been speaking at the Wednesday evening service of the First Baptist Church in Philadelphia about the truths of the 23rd Psalm, and had been especially impressed with the blessedness of being led by God Himself. At the close of the service we adjourned to Deacon Watson's pleasant home where we were being entertained. During our conversation the wonder and blessedness of God's leading so grew upon me that I took out my pencil, wrote the text just as it stands today, handed it to my wife, and thought no more of it."
"Without my husband's knowledge, I sent the quickly written text to the 'Watchman and Reflector Magazine', where it first appeared the following year. You can imagine my husband's surprise when he discovered his own hymn text already in print."
"3 years later I went to Rochester, New York, to preach as a candidate for the 2nd Baptist Church. Upon entering the chapel I took up a hymnal thinking, 'I wonder what they sing here.' To my amazement the book opened at 'He Leadeth Me', and that was the 1st time I knew that my words had found a place among the songs of the church."
William Bradbury discovered Joseph Gilmore's text in the 'Watchman and Reflector Magazine' and composed a fitting melody to match the words. Bradbury also added the last 2 lines of the refrain:
His faithful follower I would be,
For by His hand He leadeth me.
When the 1st Baptist Church building of Philadelphia was demolished in 1926, it was replaced at the busy Broad and Arch intersection by a large new office building with a prominent bronze tablet containing the words for the 1st stanza of "He Leadeth Me." The inscription stated:
"This is in recognition of the beauty and fame of the beloved hymn, and in remembrance of its distinguished author."
Perhaps more than any other of our time, this hymn has been translated into many different languages. It is often one of the 1st hymns that missionaries translate into a native tongue. Servicemen during World War II were greatly surprised to find "He Leadeth Me" widely sung by the primitive Polynesians in the South Pacific. Like the 23rd Psalm on which it is based, the hymn meets a very basic and universal need in the lives of God's children everywhere - assurance of the Lord's guidance for every decision and crisis in life. - '52 Hymn Stories Dramatized' by Kenneth W. Osbeck
The Lord leads me upon restful waters. Even if I have lots of troubles, the Lord's leading makes it into restful waters (Matt 8:23-27; etc).
v4 - This is my favorite verse in the psalm.
v5 - "In the presence of my enemies" could modify either the preceding "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies" or the following "In the presence of my enemies You anoint my head with oil." I do not like to eat in the presence of my enemies, and I don't know of any time that happened in the Bible, and Proverbs says that is bad (Prov 15:17). But I do like for my head to be annointed with oil in the presence of my enemies (Matt 21:6; etc).
The Hebrew word here for "anoints" does not actually mean anoints, but "makes fat" (Pr 11:25; etc). This does not refer to Samuel anointing David as king, but to the Spirit making David's head wise and rich in thought, I think, especially to write the psalms.
v6 - "Surely, goodness and mercy shall pursue me" is also a result of His leading me (Deut 28:2).
"all days" (Ps 27:4; etc) - Every day we experience the Lord's goodness and His mercy. Not a day goes by without them! If we had a day without the Lord's goodness and mercy, that would be a terrible wasted day.
His leading is personal, but leads me to daily stop what I am doing and rest in the Lord's house, which is corporate.
The last part of the verse says literally, "for the length of days." Some (NRSV, HCSB) translate it to mean "as long as I live". This would be the case if it said "the length of my days", but there is no "my". It is just the length of days, which is as long as there are days, which is forever of days (Deu 30:20, etc). Because of what the Messiah accomplished in Psalm 22, I will rest forever daily in the Lord's house!
The Hebrew word vshabvti could be translated "and I will rest" from the root shabat, or "and my dwelling" from the root yashav. If we take it to mean, "and my dwelling", it means that good and mercy following me every day also results in me dwelling in the Lord's house all days. David said he sought this one thing in Ps 27:4, where the same Hebrew word is used.
The word also can mean "and I will rest". The objection to this translation is that the Hebrew verb shabat means to cease or to stop. It does not make sense to stop forever. That is true, but the sentence doesn't have to mean to stop forever. It means to stop and rest for some time each day in the Lord's house for as long as there are days.
-copyright Steve Miller 2010