Surely or Shirley Psalm 23 (it so cute.)

And this meditation on the psalm.

Most of the meaning is fairly evident, especially when viewed in conjunction with the history of the nation of Israel and Christ’s teaching in the New Testament – the Israelites were shepherds and were familiar with the concept of the good shepherd who provides for his charges and watches over them. There is still, however, room for detailed interpretation (without which Biblical scholars would, after all, be out of a job). Shepherds are actually very important in the teaching of both Old and New testaments. It was a responsible job: the shepherd provides for his flock (which represents wealth and often the means of survival for the family), watches over them and protects them. Witness the arrival of shepherds in Bethlehem for the Nativity.

The phrase about the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ is taken these days as an allusion to eternal life, although this interpretation is based on a New Testament teaching – the Hebrew tradition did not have the Christian concepts of death and resurrection. Anointing with oil was a ritual greeting for an honoured guest. The rod and staff would refer to the shepherd’s crook (which lives on in the crozier carried by bishops), which are used to ward off wolves, rescue sheep, beat a path and herd the sheep. To prepare a table in the presence of enemies refers to the way in which when beset by troubles, God will nourish us and give us strength and sustenance; it is also a reminder not to neglect the inner self when occupied by the affairs of the world.

The cup which overflows is a reference to abundance. Cup, in Biblical terms at least, almost invariably refers to wine (which had both sacred and profane significance), but some suggest that here it is a cup which is filled from a flowing spring until it overflows. Given the significance of the Israelites’ period of exile in the desert, this would be easily understood as a metaphor for the way God’s love flows into us without end – which is reinforced by the final verses, which tell us that we will dwell forever in the house of the Lord.


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