Psalm 23 and A Different Interpretation

psalm-23-1-the-lord-is-my-shepherdThroughout my years in ministry, I have usually read Psalm 23 during a funeral service. In fact, I have almost exclusively used this psalm for funerals, mostly because that is our cultural interpretation of the psalm. And, I might add, I almost always use it in the King James Version (which is not the version below) because that is how most people remember it.

The Lord is my shepherd.
    I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
    he leads me to restful waters;
        he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
    for the sake of his good name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
    they protect me.

You set a table for me
    right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
    my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love
    will pursue me all the days of my life,
    and I will live in the Lord’s house
    as long as I live.

I have heard another interpretation of this psalm, though, that adds meaning and depth to it. The darkest valley (the valley of the shadow of death, for those who know the King James) is life, and this psalm is a sacramental explanation of how God meets us in life. We are led to restful waters (still waters), which is baptism. A table is set or prepared, which is communion. Our head is bathed or anointed with oil, which is confirmation or chrismation.

Just further proof that there is more than one way to understand some passages of Scripture that are still valid.

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4 thoughts on “Psalm 23 and A Different Interpretation

  1. I like this interpretation of this psalm. I always thought the verse “He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
    he leads me to restful waters;” meant as long as I follow Him, He will keep me safe from danger. If I don’t follow Him, I may wonder into a dark forest or a raging river/troubled waters(which would be dangerous places for a sheep to go as the forest would have dangerous animals and the raging river would drown them). I thought it meant the forest and troubled waters would be like addictions, bad relationships, and other things like that. He leads us away from these. Actually I always thought the whole 1st 2nd and 3rd verses had to do with keeping us safe by following Him and if we stray we end up in these bad situations.

    Just like I always thought the rod and staff where actually the cross or crucifix or rosary since many people use these to seek comfort. The 5th verse is saying how a follower of the Lord doesn’t have to fear their enemies (we can be completely relaxed and even have a meal right in front of them) and He will protect us.

    I have no idea where I came up with these interpretations. I like this one you wrote.

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    • Very good understanding as well! The beauty of the psalms are that they can legitimately mean different things in different contexts since they are poetry. With narrative writing, it is harder to get different meanings out of something, but since poetry is so metaphorical and interpretive to begin with, there can be so many more meanings.

      What you have put down here is very good and I take comfort in it as well!

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      • Thank you. So any way I interpret different psalms are OK? As long as I get some meaning out of it, right? This makes me feel better. I once had someone tell me that some of the things I feel the Bible is telling me is all wrong. Even though it felt right to me and gave me comfort. Does it really matter if different people get different meanings or interpretations out of the scripture? I once spoke with some people about how I think many verses in the bible are not literal, but I have been told I’m wrong. Am I wrong? Are the stories literal or are some of them figurative?

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  2. Basically, when dealing with biblical interpretation, it is always good to get a multitude of opinions from Christians who have a solid faith. If God is real, and God speaks to people, then usually God will confirm what someone thinks God is saying through Scripture. God uses the whole Body of Christ (Christians) to confirm or deny what any one person gets out of the Bible. Remember, Jesus said wherever two or three are gathered, he would be there among them. Agreement of many voices is usually a good thing.

    As far as things in the Bible being figurative or literal, that is a huge issue for some people. There are those who have no problem seeing an overarching message behind the literal words, and there are others who think that if you don’t think Noah was literal, you deny everything in the Bible.

    My basic approach to things like this is essentially this: God’s not dumb. God knows more than we do and God understands the motivations of our hearts. There is grace for us and wiggle room within God’s love.

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