How Psalm 23 Came to Be
An imagined moment with the poet king
The King sat on his throne, harp in hand, looking out the window from his palace on the hill called Zion. The hills around him were green with spring and across the valley a huge flock of his own sheep grazed happily, not a shepherd in sight. He imagined himself as their shepherd, though in his herding days he had never tended a flock so big. His chief husbandman employed dozens of men to care for the royal flock, but either because of the distance or because they happened to be on the other side of the hill at that moment he could see none of them. And though he could do nothing for them now, nor did they need anything from him or anyone else, he half started from his royal seat to strike out across the valley to go to them. But they wouldn’t know him and he thought better of it.
All Israel was his flock now and the business of the city he had built and the empire he dreamed it to be had many more needs that only he could address. The tenuous peace he now enjoyed, after so many years of struggle could only be maintained by great wisdom. The path forward was barely a sheep path of matted grass, and he must pay careful attention to move his people forward through the winding way they must go. Delicate diplomacy, shrewd action and just the right measure of force required constant consultation and discernment. From without and within, Jerusalem’s peace was threatened by many dangers. All this needed his attention.
Though not just yet. He knew that he also needed the songs he wrote in the afternoons if he was going to keep up with the demands of his dreams. There was always too much to do, and though he loved the doing, he knew his afternoon solitude gave him more strength for more doing. Each afternoon he dismissed all his officials and picked up his harp to see if there were any tunes in his heart that needed to be born as songs for his people, and sometimes just for him.
His shepherd-self of so many years ago would have never recognized him now. As to the sheep across the valley on the hill, he would be a stranger. But though the shepherd boy never knew the king, the king still knew the boy, and his thumb struck a chord that the boy, too, had loved to hear. And up from the green hills of spring sprang a new song:
A Psalm of David
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, 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.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.