Posts Tagged ‘James Luther Mays’

The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want, He maketh me to lie down in green pastures

Intro:  This coming Sunday is Good Shepherd Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Pascha (Easter).  The Gospel lesson is always selected from St. John 10: 1-18 and the Psalm is always the 23rd.  The 23rd Psalm is easily the most memorized, cited and beloved in the Psalter.   Next to the Our Father (the Lord’s Prayer) which is prayed in the English speaking world almost exclusively from the King James Version, so also the 23rd Psalm is most recognizable from the 1611 Version of  Holy Writ.  I think it is good to take a closer look at the 23rd Psalm and this is what I intend to do.  So first the entire 23rd Psalm from the King James Bible:

1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

 2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

 3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

 4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

 5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil;  my cup runneth over.

 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Verse 1a, “The LORD is my Shepherd”:  Before we even read verse 1 in a Bible, as most of the Psalms, there is for the 23rd an inscription:  “A Psalm of David”.  This already is an interpretative key.

Who was David? He was the greatest king of Israel in the history of monarchy.  But before that his first vocation was a shepherd. (1 Samuel 16: 10-11;  17: 15, 40).  Then David was chosen. David was a conqueror.  He was a musician and his music would calm the ravings of King Saul.  In fact, the founding date of Jerusalem is when he brought the Ark of the Covenant into the city.  In this Psalm, in this first verse he knows “The Lord is my shepherd” which means the great and  powerful  king knew he was  a sheep who could be lost, misguided, in danger without his good Shepherd leading  him as he knew he was prone to wander, to leave the one he loved and loved him:  forsaking the good Shepherd.   David found this out “big time”:  2 Samuel 11.  “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.”-Psalm 119: 176, the last verse

The first sentence of the Psalm is a metaphor and it is an absolute  equivalency:  The LORD = my Shepherd. This is the theme sentence of the entire Psalm, “…these words are brief but impressive and apt. The world glories  and trusts in honor, power, riches, and the favor of men. Our psalm, however, glories in none of these, for they are all uncertain and perishable. It says briefly, “The LORD is my shepherd.” (Luther’s Works, Volume 12, selected Psalms I)

Please note that when in a translation, LORD is so capitalized, this means that the Hebrew word is the Tetragrammaton, the 4 letters, YHWH , or Yahweh.  Rev. Professor James Luther Mays comments on this verse and meaning of Shepherd (emphases my own):

“In the ancient Near East the role and title of shepherd were used for leaders as a designation of their relation to the people in their charge. As a title, “shepherd” came to have specific royal connotation. Gods and kings were called the shepherd of their people. Both are described and portrayed with mace (rod) and shepherd’s crook (staff) as siglia of office. (see my photo above and verse 4-Pr. S.) In narrative, song, and prophecy the LORD is called the shepherd of Israel, his flock (Gen. 49:24; Pss. 28:9; 74:1; 95:7; 100:3; Jer. 31:10; Micah7:14). The LORD made David his undershepherd (Ps. 78:70-72), and the kings of Israel were judged as shepherds (Jer. 23:1-4; 49:20; Micah 5:4). The title had special associations with the LORD’S leading and protecting in the wilderness (Pss. 77:20; 78:52-53; 80:1) and in the return from the exile (Isa. 40:11; 49:9-10).

To say “The LORD is my shepherd” invokes all the richness of this theological and political background as well as the pastoral. The metaphor is not restricted to associations with what actual shepherds did; it is informed by what the LORD has done and what kings were supposed to do. One does not have to shift to images of guide and host to account for the whole poem. “Shepherd” understood against its usage in Israel accounts for the whole. The statement is a confession.  It declares commitment and trust. I t also has a polemical thrust againt human rulers and divine powers. the psalm entrusts the support, guidance, and protection of live only and alone to the one whose name is LORD.” (Interpretation:  Psalms/John Knox Press)”

So when the LORD became flesh and dwelt amongst us  full of grace and truth, He alone could say:  “I am the good Shepherd.”If Christ, your Shepherd, did not seek you and bring you back, you would simply have to fall prey to the wolf.  but now He comes, seeks, and find you.  He takes you into His flock, that is into Christendom, through the Word and Sacraments.”  (Luther, ibid)

Almighty God, merciful Father,  since You have wakened from death the Shepherd of Your sheep, grant us Your Holy Spirit that when we hear the voice of our Shepherd we may know Him who calls us each by name and follow where He leads; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

(Collect for the 4th Sunday of Easter)

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