Psalm 23 (LXX Psalm 22)
Saturday, May 29, 2021 10:16 AM
Everyone is familiar with the beautiful lyric rendering of Psalm 23 as printed in our English Bibles. In fact, there is a good chance you know this psalm by heart. However, after studying the LXX version, you may end up rethinking your meditations on this psalm. Although the translation of the LXX may never attain to the same poetic style as the English Bible versions, I believe it more faithfully represents the amazing style and rhetoric of its author, the Prophet and King David, while still retaining a certain beauty all its own. For the sake of this Bible study, I have provided an English translation that is purposely more wooden. The translation is modified from the NETS version of the LXX and based on the critical Gottingen LXX Greek text (which is provided as well).
In order to best follow along with my observations on the literary structure of the psalm, I would highly recommend viewing the PDF version (linked above). The PDF version will always be sharper, clearer, and larger than the very limited visual depiction above.
Before I forget: I wanted to provide credit to Kenneth Bailey: The Good Shepherd (IVP Academic, p.33) for his version of this psalm’s chiastic structure (cf. chiasmusxchange.com). Bailey’s version is based on the Masoretic text (MT), yet reflects some similarities to my own proposal above (e.g., “Lord” as bookends, “Food & Drink” as parallel terms). That said, I initially studied and finally rendered the above version of the chiastic structure independently.
First of all, let the reader not be put off or daunted by the complicated appearance of my outline above. Although a few substructures are minor in significance, I count seven literary structures in six verses!
In order to explain each structure, I have used the above outline format to line them up and address them in turn. If the following explanation seems a bit more calculated than devotional, please understand this exercise is not an end in itself. I am just trying to help get things off the ground! Scriptural revelation is intended is to illumine the eyes of our hearts that we might understand the true reality in Christ and and be transformed into his image. However, it all begins with the text and its meaning. To that end I will try to move systematically “left to right” in the outline in addition to some top to bottom (“verse by verse”) commentary.
Main structure (upper case letters with numbers)
Although we might outline the structure as Bailey does, in seven terms, one after another
(A B C D C B A), I have chosen to display it as above.
Depending how you view it, there are nine terms total (A1 A2 B1 B2 X B2 B1 A1A2). Yet I will explain later how seven of these terms are ordered chiastically. This manner of display is a variation of the basic ABBA chiastic structural format. If this seems more complicated than necessary, I would argue this version of the outline best retains the continuity that exists within the inner “B” terms (and I will explain this later).
Suffice it to say at this point, the ABBA format functions mainly in the following manner guiding the thought flow of the psalm:
A Introduction to theme
B Aspects of theme Expressed/Stated
B Aspects of theme Explained/Supported
A Conclusion to theme
This psalm does have a middle term (i.e., “for his name’s sake”). It is not in any way independent from this flow of thought. In fact, it should be integral to it. Thus, in the outline, “X” denotes this central focus to the structure. I characterized this central focus in the outline as relating to “God’s reputation.”
Elsewhere, David similarly says, “For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me” (Psa. 31:3). Generally, I think this reference to God’s (good) reputation should be identified as within the Semitic category of honor & shame. It might then be asked, “What specific aspect of God’s name (as his honor & reputation) may be enhanced by God showing his own mercies to David?” Some parts of Scripture indicate God’s honor & reputation are enhanced when he makes his glory and power known. Support for this may be seen by Psa. 79:9, “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake.” Also, Psa. 106:8 says, “Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power.” However, there is another Biblical usage that is likely more appropriate based on clues from the near context of this psalm - which is all about God’s mercies to David. I would propose that God’s honor is enhanced by his merciful and gracious actions for his people (which actions are based on his own merciful and gracious character). As a consequence (and so, as a secondary and corollary sense), God’s honor is enhanced even more, when his gracious and merciful actions are recognized and praised by his people. However, let it be known: even when God’s goodness goes unappreciated by others, the expression of the Lord’s own character is sufficient in and of itself (and thus, for his own satisfaction). This may be shown by 1Sam. 12:22, where Samuel says to the people, “For the Lord will not reject His people for the sake of His mighty name, for it pleased the Lord to accept you as His people.” In 1Samuel 22, the people of Israel admitted they had sinned in asking for a king. Yet they are assured that God’s merciful character, his own graciousness, provides enough assurance for them not to fear his reprisal. God’s name stands for his person and work. God alone, in and of himself, is enough to ensure his own people’s welfare. (Note also, in this 1Samuel passage the people are also cautioned against taking license in this teaching. This is because any further sinning on their part is specifically prohibited.) Psa. 109:21 also supports this aspect, “But you, O GOD my Lord, deal on my behalf for your name’s sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me!” Please note the chiastic parallel in this verse.
God’s mercy, his steadfast love (חֶסֶד = Hesed in Hebrew, ελεος in Greek) is good. The latter (Hesed) defines the former (i.e., God’s dealings with the psalmist for his name’s sake).
On a side note (and not necessarily applicable to our near context of Psa 23), this same idea and usage would hold true whenever God’s reputation is enhanced by his own covenant faithfulness. Psa. 143:11 says, “For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!” God’s “righteousness” runs in parallel to his “names sake” in this verse. God’s righteousness is best characterized as his covenant faithfulness. God is always consistently loyal to his covenant obligations. He always saves and/or judges according to the terms of the covenant. The prophet Jeremiah supports this meaning when he says, “Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake; do not dishonor your glorious throne; remember and do not break your covenant with us (Jer. 14:21).
Still on the subject, but back to the main outline, please note again the placement of this phrase, “his names sake,” which is located at the exact rhetorical mid-point of the psalm. It functions as a pivot in association with both ends of the psalm, where the “A” terms locate God’s name, “the LORD” in such a way that they counterbalance one another. In each case, the topic of the text in the “A” terms is God’s gracious mercies to David. Whereas in English Bibles we read, “the LORD is my shepherd,” the LXX uses the verbal form such that the LORD actively (present tense) shepherds David. And so David introduces his main theme: God is shepherding David.
For what it is worth, I have noted the tense of the verbs next to my translation. This is because there seems to be a method to David’s style in this regard. Observe how, at the beginning, middle, and end of the psalm, he uses the present (pr) tense associated with the future (fu) while otherwise, he uses the past tense (pa) especially for his biographical references. David is, all the while, referring to his own (ongoing) history of salvation. This a good example for us and how we should see ourselves and God’s work in our life in Christ. While on the same subject of tense and grammar, also observe that near the end of the psalm in v5, David uses two present participles (“ptc pr”). These are placed so as to assist the reader in recognizing the “ab-ab” parallelism in the substructure of that verse. (I will address the details of that structure in turn.)
Note that the A terms in the outline, both at the beginning and end, contain references to what I have called David’s “first” then “last” dwelling place. David is looking back on his life and so he makes both a contrast and comparison between his younger/earlier days and his own latter days. His camp is contrasted with God’s house. Yet, since both dwellings were graciously provided by God, David’s life has been filled with God’s loving mercies and grace all the while (from beginning to end).
I will make note about his first dwelling place later in this post when David’s own explanation of this place is discussed (in the first “B” term, below). For now, let’s skip down to the last dwelling place in v 6 at the end of the psalm. David expects the mercies of the LORD to continue to pursue him. Based on the conceptual “mercies” parallel with v1, this pursuit is expected to be a positive experience. The Lord, as shepherd, would pursue and thus care for David as his sheep. So this type of pursuit might thereby be in contrast with the type of pursuit inflicted by David’s enemy, Saul (whose afflictions upon David are referenced in v5). Ultimately, David expects God to provide “the Lord’s house” as his final residence. David is most likely not referring to the tabernacle here (which David regarded as a mere tent). For reasons we will discuss, it is also unlikely David is referring to the, as yet not built, physical temple (which would otherwise be the most likely reference). So, we might ask ourselves, what specific dwelling David may be referring to? I would propose David is making a figurative reference to “the Lord’s house” as God’s household. In short, David is comforted by what he understood (and we in hindsight refer to) as the “Davidic Covenant.” This covenant established the basis for the identification of the Lord’s household as David’s own household - that is, the Davidic dynasty. In what we today call the Davidic Covenant, David’s house and kingdom was promised to become God’s house and kingdom. Thus, David was comforted by the identification of his own house name as the Lord’s house name. From 2Sam 7, we know David wanted to build a house for God. This is because David reasoned it was not appropriate for him, as king, to dwell in house of cedar while God lived in a tent (the tabernacle). Through the prophet Nathan, David was informed that his own “seed” (meaning offspring, and specifically, offspring from his own body) would build the temple - and this dwelling place would be “a house for my name” (2Sam 7:13). In any case, David’s zeal for God was much appreciated by the Lord. This is because, in 2Sam 7, God immediately turned David’s wishes around and promised, instead, to build David a house. That is, God would raise up David’s household, his dynastic family, to become a kingdom that would never end. God assured David he would appoint a place for his people Israel and “encamp” them by themselves (v10). This is the same word as used for David’s first isolated camp site in Psalm 23:2 and it is also used referring to Israel’s encampment within the promised land (but notably never used for Kadesh-barnea, during their time of wanderings). David was comforted by the assurance Israel would be distressed no more. Certainly, he was personally assured when God said, “I will give you rest from all your enemies” (2Sam 7:10-11). This rest would also extend to David’s son such that, “his house and his kingdom shall be made sure forever before me” (2Sam 7:16).
As an excursus, note that the following pericope in 2Sam 7:18-29 forms a chiastic structure where David’s “house = household” aspect is emphasized at both the beginning and at the end of the pericope. So also, God’s name and reputation are at the focal center of that pericope and used in the same way as Psalm 23 (cf. 2Sam 7:18-29 at chiasmusxchange.com).
Thus, David rightly regarded his own house and kingdom as “the Lord’s house” and kingdom. He knew it would be a house and a kingdom built and established by and for the Lord. Thus, David was comforted and assured of his own dynasty (as well as his son) being identified with the Lord’s house. Thus, he and his kingdom so would live “for length of days” in complete safety and security. Since Jesus, the Christ, is the seed and greater son of David, those of us who are in Christ can also take comfort in being identified with this same promise!
For lack of space in the outline, I did not entitle the “B” terms. However it is important to recognize that, although David introduced and concluded the Shepherd theme in the “A” terms, the “B” terms constitute the main body that expounds on that theme. The “B” terms are subdivided into an inner “1221” pattern of their own. On the one hand, we can readily see how the “B1” terms in the outline are related to the concept of “food and drink.” When David was young, he was relegated,with his flock, to the hills and pastures near Bethlehem. Yet, even then, God provided for his survival by providentially leading David to a memorably pleasant camp site for his sheepfold. The psalm says it was a fresh green area with available food and water. Later, David partakes of food and drink, both literally and figuratively, when he is providentially placed at King Saul’s own table. More about that later.
The “B2” terms can be characterized as further explanation of the Leading/Guiding function of the Lord’s shepherding activities. Assuming the Lord’s shepherding is still the controlling metaphor, then David is likening himself to a sheep heading in the wrong direction - and a dangerous one at that. In v3 David says, word for word, “He turned my life around.” This phrasing sounds very contemporary, much as we might testify about God’s work in our own lives. Yet that is what David is ascribing to the Lord. If this psalm is autobiographical, as I propose, then there are at least two life occasions that may be on David’s mind as he praises God’s shepherding/leading. If turning David’s life around is a reference to turning his heart and soul around in repentance, then maybe the Bathsheba incident is at the forefront. Actually, I will propose the Bathsheba incident as corresponding to another of the chiastic terms. In this case, there is another possible interpretation I think may be more appropriate because it is best supported by the chiastic structure. As stated earlier, this outline point might have been superficially designated as a “C” term. Yet, that organizational decision would hide, rather than promote, the best outline of the structure. I will explain further by asking the reader, “When did God turn David’s life around?” The answer is: God turned David’s life around when he chose David, who was the least of Jesse’s eight sons, to be the next king of Israel in 1Sam 16. I would propose this is exactly what David is referring to in v5, “you anointed my head with oil.” Because of its penultimate position, this latter phrase is definitely a “B” term in the outline. It therefore should match up as parallel with “He turned my life around” (as a “B” term, not a C term). Samuel anointed David in what I prefer to call the “theocratic anointing.” (Credit goes to my college Prof. Douglas Bookman for this term.) The theocratic anointing was the special provision of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit for the leading and service of God’s kingdom. Soon after David was anointed by Samuel on his secret mission in 1Sam 16, the reader/hearers of 1Sam 17 see the evidence of this mighty work of the Spirit in the leading and empowering of David against Goliath (where interestingly, the reputation and the name of the God of Israel is prominent in the storyline).
Blue small case
I have highlighted the text of the translation in two shades of blue to help the reader identify the elements of this chiastic substructure. This outline structure seems very much connected to the main structure. One set of parallels consists of the reference to the historic occasion God turned David’s life around (when he was anointed by Samuel, as mentioned previously). The other parallel consists of the two sorts of paths David has walked in life. In this regard, I will point out the meaning of the verb (οδηγεω) as I have rendered it, “guided,” implies the leader making certain the destination is reached. This word is used in the NT in this manner. For example in Mt 15:14, “if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” Also, in John 16:13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” In another interesting example, Rev 7:16-17, we find John quoting from Isaiah 49:10,“They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will shepherd them, and he will guide them to springs of living water.” If we compare Rev 7 to the Isa 49 passage, it is interesting that John inserts (perhaps ironically) his own verbal reference to the Lamb “shepherding” the martyrs. The verb is the same active voice as in Psa. 23 (except future tense). In this case, the shepherd’s guidance is said to be on “paths” (meaning beaten, well worn paths) of “righteousness.” So the destination, whether it be for food or drink, is not emphasized. The concern here in Psa. 23 is the “paths” (i.e., the means to the end). Although the paths of righteousness may indeed be well-worn by others, the sheep will not go the right way by themselves. They must be guided by the shepherd down such paths so as to reach the destination.
In fact, the parallel of the correct paths of righteousness is contrasted with a path David once followed “in the midst of death’s shadow.” That is, David was right in the middle of a very bad pathway - so close to death as to be in its very shadow. David is speaking figuratively of a shadow cast by the nearness of death itself. If we take the structural parallel with righteousness to be a clue, then it seems quite probable David may be alluding to at least one occasion where his own unrighteousness took him to the very brink of death. This can only refer to his conspiracy to have Uriah the Hittite killed so that he could get away with his sexual indiscretion by marrying Bathsheba, who was pregnant with his child. Recall, it was only by divine mercy that Nathan the prophet revealed to David in 2Sam 12:13, “The Lord also has put away your sin. You shall not die.” The LXX uses a verb not used in the NT to denote “removal” of sin in that passage. David H. Warren, in his study of עָבַר disagrees with that meaning (SBL,“The Meaning of עָבַר, with Special Attention to the Use of the Hiphil Stem”). He assumes the authenticity of the MT and thinks the LXX misinterprets the Hebrew, which he concludes should involve a “cross over” (i.e., a motion or transfer of sins). In fact, he believes David’s sin was indeed transferred - to the child that died (i.e., instead of David). Of course, if the LXX translation reflects a different original Hebrew text, then such a conclusion need not be drawn. Regardless, by ourselves, we who are sheep, apart from the shepherd of our souls, would stray into the most dangerous of ways - which would lead right up to lethal consequences. Yet, just as David’s sin was put away and removed, so also Jesus has appeared as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). 1John 2:1-2 say, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Red small case...and
Purple small case...and
1st Black small case
These three chiastic structures may be a bit more conjectural in nature since some of the parallels are based somewhat on the conceptual similarities expressed in the outline (which, by their very nature, always pose the danger of being more imagined than real). In the first two cases, observe also how these structures encompass the same text (v3-4a) which we already examined with regard to the blue small case outline). The small black case structure (v 4b) hangs suffers from the same weakness. I would view these structures, or at least whatever legitimate parallels may exist, more as literary adornment to the existing structure already discussed. The red small case chiastic parallels are highlighted in the red font of the outline while the purple small case simple ab-ab parallel structure is highlighted in the purple font of the translated text. The black small case structure is not highlighted but rather captured in the wording of the outline. The reader will be able to observe these parallels and judge what may (or may not) be of value.
Green small case...and
2nd Black small case
The text of v 5 encompasses two overlapping substructures which bind this verse together as a unit. This unity is rhetorically significant since v5 hangs together as the last term of the blue small case structure discussed above. One of the substructures exhibits chiastic parallelism while the other is synonymous in nature. The small green case (synonymous) structure is highlighted especially by the green font in the translated text. The parallelism in this structure is entirely characterized by the grammatical construction. The “a” terms are 2nd person aorist tense verb phrases, which are not at all unusual occurrences in the psalm. However, the “b” terms each contain the only participles in the psalm (in this case present participles).