Updated: Jun 17
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1 The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
This is the Psalm chosen to be read aloud in unison or sung by a cantor on the fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B, according to the lectionary for the Episcopal Church. This song of praise will follow the mandatory reading from the Acts of the Apostles, where Peter and John were asked, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” This will precede the Epistle reading from First John, which says, “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” This will also accompany the Gospel reading from John 10, where Jesus said, “So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Because of the theme in this Psalm and the Gospel selection, today is called Good Shepherd Sunday.
This Psalm is commonly taught to children to memorize. Most Christians can recite Psalm 23 by heart because of that teaching. Everyone recognizes the verse that begins it: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Still, the word written in Hebrew, which is translated as “Lord” in the first and last verses is “Yahweh.”
While it may or may not be understood that saying, “The Lord is my shepherd” means Yahweh, the One God of Israel, that is the intent. It is possible that confusion arises when this Psalm is paired with a Gospel reading that has Jesus say, “I am the good shepherd." It becomes imperative that no confusion exist, because Jesus made the same claim about Yahweh being his shepherd. That understanding becoming clear makes this song of praise be at the core of Jesus’ words.
In the Hebrew that is translated as “shepherd” [“rō·‘î,” rooted in “ra’ah”], the basic meaning is “to pasture, tend, graze.” (Strong’s) It is from reading this word figuratively that it takes on the meaning “of ruler, and teacher, of people, as flock.” The etymology of the English word “pastor” comes from the Latin word that means “shepherd,” "from pastus, past participle of pascere "to lead to pasture, set to grazing, cause to eat.”' [Online Etymology Dictionary] Thus, because human beings are not farm animals, needing humans who “tend” to them, Yahweh is the one who sends our souls out into the world for others to find spiritual food to “graze” on.
The element of “I shall not want” comes from the Hebrew “lō ’eḥ·sār,” where the key word is rooted in “chaser,” meaning “to lack, need, be lacking, decrease.” This then says that Yahweh will not keep a soul from finding spiritual food. Plenty will be available; but, as with grazing animals, finding it requires moving from place to place. When Yahweh is indeed one’s shepherd, one has become the spiritual food for others, such that one is never in need or lack of spiritual food, sending it out as a ‘field of spiritual food,’ so those without and searching can find one of bountiful spirit.
In verse two, it is important to see how David wrote, “yar·bî·ṣê·nî,” meaning “he makes me to lie down.” That must be equated to Jesus saying, “lays down” or “to lay down.” The figurative speech means to set one’s own desires aside. Thus, when Yahweh “makes me to lie down in pastures green,” this says oneself has set self-motivation aside to become “green pastures” for others to graze upon. It says one has been made lush with spiritual food to become a pasture for others.
By David writing, “yə·na·hă·lê·nî,” stating “he leads me,” this is again relative to oneself having laid down in submission to the Will of God. When one is led by Yahweh, then one feels no anxieties or fears that are distresses of the soul. The symbolism of “waters” are the gamut of emotions that fill a body of flesh, when the soul is restless. When one’s emotions are “stilled,” then one is at peace and has no fears of anything the world brings. This state of calm radiates outward to others, so they are drawn into a safe place to fill their spiritual needs.
In verse three, the use of “nap̄·šî,” or “my soul,” should be compared to Jesus making references to “my life.” The root meaning of “life” is a “soul,” which is God’s breath of animation to all forms of worldly existences. Since all human beings possess a soul, the aspect of “reviving,” which comes from “yə·šō·w·ḇêḇ,” as “he restores,” this must be seen as a lost soul [one without union with Yahweh] being saved by Yahweh. As such, the root Hebrew verb, “shub” means “to turn back, return.” This means “reviving” and “restoring” is the “return” of a soul to its source – Yahweh.
David then said this “restoration of his soul” meant David was no longer in control of his actions. Instead of David doing what David wanted to do – whether good or evil – he had sacrificed himself [his soul] in that soul’s “return” to God. Thus, his soul was “led by Yahweh” and that meant David then “walked the path of righteousness.” Because Jesus did the same, this can only mean that Yahweh will always lead one’s soul to act righteously in the flesh, whenever a soul has been restored to Yahweh.
When David wrote, “lə·ma·‘an šə·mōw,” or “for his name's sake” this means becoming a Son of Yahweh. The root Hebrew word “maan,” translated as “sake,” means “for the intent” or “for the purpose” that is Yahweh’s plan for all souls returned to Him. This means “of his name” [rooted in “shem”] means taking on the responsibility that comes from joining the family of Yahweh. This “intent” or “purpose” that is relative to “his name” has to be seen as a marriage, where all human beings [male and female] are to be seen by Yahweh as His wives. Thus, through marriage a wife takes on the name of her husband; so, David [and Jesus, et al] have taken on the name of God, as Sons of God [regardless of human gender].
When Yahweh is leading one to walk a path of righteousness, then wherever Yahweh sends one’s soul-flesh feels safe and secure. The presence of God within one’s being (through spiritual marriage – soul united with the Holy Spirit) is felt, no matter how dangerous a path shall be. There is no fear possible when merged with the Holy Spirit. This includes a fear of death, as all human beings walk under the darkness that is known death coming, as mere mortals. The “valley” represents the lowness of mortal existence, which is always overshadowed by the mountains of the world that creates those deep recesses. The mountains are the evils of the world that must be surmounted, in order to get out of the valley. The valley becomes metaphor for reincarnation, such that the challenge of a mortal existence is to rise from that depth. Overcoming the mountains means achieving the heights of heaven, which a soul is guaranteed after marriage to Yahweh.
When David wrote, “I will fear no evil,” this is because a soul led by Yahweh can do no evil. That means the temptations and lures to sin are of no consequence to a soul led by Yahweh. This speaks of the wilderness test that must be faced, in order to enter ministry for God. For Jews [Israelites during David’s reign], the Law set boundaries that one could not go beyond, or one would be deemed a sinner. That created a fear of boundaries and at the same time made those boundaries enticing to test, to go beyond and then come back. That was testing God, as to what punishments sin would bring. When Yahweh is with one’s soul, then the Law is written within one’s heart, so the boundaries of the Law are always beyond wherever one is, so there can be no fear of sinning, as long as Yahweh tells one what to do.
In this regard, David wrote, “your rod and your staff they comfort me.” Here, the word “rod” [Hebrew root “shebet”] is the same word used by David and Isaiah, as a “rod of iron,” only Yahweh’s “rod” is His voice that corrects one’s actions. It is a shepherd’s tool that keeps the sheep in the flock, so they will not stray. Doing something that is beyond the boundary of Yahweh will mean Yahweh will tap one with His “rod” of correction, so the comfort that comes from divine correction is knowing why something done should not be repeated. The “rod” teaches, without harm. The “staff” is then a multi-use tool that assists along one’s path [as a walking stick], while being a high marker that the flock can see from afar, and be a crook that can reach into difficult places and bring back those lost and stuck. The “staff” of Yahweh must be seen like the “staff” of Moses, such that it is comforting to know the power of Yahweh is at one’s disposal, when it comes to saving others.
In verse 5, where David sang, “You prepare a table before me” or “You spread a table before me,” the element of “a table” [ Hebrew “shulchan”] should be recognized as the tool [piece of furniture] used when one eats and drinks. Spiritual nourishment is placed on “a table before” one by Yahweh, so that all the strength one needs is available to a soul of Yahweh whenever one is “in the presence of one’s enemies.” Here, the Hebrew word “tsarar” is translated as “enemies,” while bearing a meaning as that which “binds, ties up, restricts, narrows or cramps.” This, again, becomes reflective of the strength made available by Yahweh, when one enters a wilderness test, before entering ministry.
When Jesus said to his disciples, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:4), this went beyond the teachings of Mosaic Law. When others test one by attempting to bind and restrict them, then one offers one’s enemies that which always sets one free – the truth. The table prepared before one is where Yahweh serves His wife the truth that no enemy can deny. The truth comes from the Christ Mind, which is given to all Yahweh’s wives' human brains. By planting seeds of truth within the brains of one’s enemies, one is then showing them an act of love, which can afterwards take root within them and transform them into one’s friends. Still, love for one’s enemies means never force-feeding them anything; it only means sharing with those who seek the truth.
When David then sang, “you anoint my head with oil,” it is most important to realize that Yahweh told Samuel to anoint David, when David was a young son of Jesse, who was left to tend the flocks, while Jesse took his older sons to be inspected by Samuel [and Yahweh]. David was brought, chosen, and anointed with oil, but in a private ceremony that had no immediate effect. As such, David would spend years as a boy servant to Israel, before he would be king. This being known makes one realize that the words “Messiah” and “Christ” both mean “Anointed one,” where the anointment is designated by Yahweh. Rather than oil, Yahweh anoints with the Holy Spirit. Rather than water, Yahweh baptizes with the Holy Spirit, where cleansing and anointment come through the same union.
In the Hebrew text, the words stating “you anoint with oil” are separated from the word “head,” by a long dash [“---“]. That separation means the figurative anointing in not physical, with oil, but spiritual, such that the “head” is where the brain lives. The human "head" controls the body, but the marriage between a soul and Yahweh make Him take control of the "head." When one becomes the “Anointed one,” then the “head” is no longer the soul-brain but the Holy Spirit-Christ Mind that controls one’s actions. The meaning of "the Messiah" and "the Christ" is not about one’s physical presence, as a leader like David or Jesus, but about one admitting one’s physical weaknesses and surrendering one’s self-ego and self-will in service to Yahweh. Being His wife means bowing down one's "head" in service to the Lord. That subservience then makes one the Christ, where one’s brain will act like those possessed by David and Jesus.
Here, David added, “my cup runs over.” This becomes the fluidity of emotions, most commonly seen as “love.” When one’s cup is filled beyond the brim, it flows out, beyond the boundaries set by the cup. This means that when one’s head has become the Christ Mind, the flow of Yahweh’s love cannot be ceased, so it flows out from one’s being [the “cup”] onto others. This must be seen in the context of having one’s table prepared before one, in the presence of one’s enemies, because one has been anointed by Yahweh to become an overflowing source of truth and love, by which others can be nourished.
In the final verse of this song of praise, David began with the word “’aḵ,” which becomes a statement of certainty ["surely"]. That word says that there can be no question that being filled with Yahweh’s Holy Spirit will mean “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Here, the use of “ṭō·wḇ” [“goodness”] must be seen in the reading from John, where Jesus spoke of the “shepherd” that is “good.” Only Yahweh is “good” [said Jesus], so the certainty is that Yahweh’s “goodness” will be with His wives.
The aspect of “mercy,” where the Hebrew root “checed” says, “goodness, kindness,” such that the repetition is David speaking of Yahweh having forgiven David of his sins, to the degree that Yahweh’s “mercy” in that regard is enough to keep David forever doing everything Yahweh desires of David. Mercy becomes the motivation, so David will never dare losing that “goodness” that is the presence of Yahweh within him. Thus, “shall follow me” becomes a statement that David will “pursue” or “chase after” whatever Yahweh sends him to do, as his motivations for the remainder of his life are to please Yahweh.
In the use of the Hebrew word “chay,” which is translated as “life,” this means one has been redeemed or had one’s soul saved from the promise of mortal death. A soul alone in a body of flesh is condemned to repeat the imprisonment of an eternal soul in a temporal body of flesh, until the time when it marries Yahweh and is freed to experience eternal life with Yahweh, following the release of a soul upon physical death. Thus, the motivation to maintain the “goodness” of Yahweh is the promise of eternal life in heaven.
Therefore, the final segment of words in this song of praise says that reward is known to be gained. By singing, “and I shall dwell in the house of Yahweh forever,” that means a soul will no longer be trapped in the physical realm. The aspect of reincarnation is how an eternal soul returns to the earthly plane, again and again, given the opportunity by Yahweh to find its way home [“to have a soul revived”]. Each new physical life means a soul must start over from scratch, having lost all that one thought had been gained in a past life. To know that promise has been gained, then one must go into the world as Yahweh’s servant, spreading love and truth to all.
Yahweh does not marry selfish souls, who think they are just so pretty that marriage alone will be a gift for Yahweh, so the flesh can just sit back and continue doing as it pleases self. The reward of the spiritual realm forever demands devoted work in the physical realm, in order to escape it. Reincarnation becomes self-punishment, brought on by a soul’s laziness.
As a Psalm for the fourth Sunday of Easter, it perfectly fits the Good Shepherd theme. By studying the language of David, who pre-dated Jesus by hundreds of years, one can see that Yahweh is the shepherd, who is good, so any other good shepherds must become extensions of Yahweh. It is important to see Yahweh in that light, as it was Yahweh who created Jesus, who raised Jesus from death, and who planned the soul of Jesus to be the perfection in human flesh that will be raised again, and again, and again ….
In this Easter season, when the weeks are being counted towards the time when ministry will begin, it must be realized that ministry cannot take place before marriage to Yahweh. Marriage to Yahweh involves a true, deep, spiritual connection and a desire to please the One God. It demands one be reborn in the name of Jesus Christ, being reborn as the Anointed one of Yahweh. One should be preparing now to become the Good Shepherd by practicing what all that entails now. The Easter season is like internship in a most holy seminary, where Yahweh is the dean and Jesus is your professor. Ministry means loading up that school and taking it with you into the world.