Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Psalm 23

John McClean asked (in a comment on my recent Carnival posting with reference to David Clines’ recent SBL paper) if I would post on Psalm 23. There is not a lot in how I exegete the Psalm that is original to me, but I have taken on board some of the work of scholars such as D. N. Freedman and Michael BarrĂ© and John Kselmann (I’ll chase up the references if anyone wants them). I don’t see the Psalm as an extended metaphor about sheep. The only faint “watermark” relating to sheep I see is in the word shepherd, which is such a commonplace ANE term for a king or leader that it has virtually lost all its sheepness in this sort of a context. There may be some double entendres going on with the grass and water, though this language is primarily picking up on exodus language, and applying what in the tradition was the experience of Israel in the wilderness to the individual psalmist. This avoids the awkward shift to the table imagery of v. 5. (We are surely not to think of people being portrayed as sheep who are being portrayed as people!)
Most or all of the expressions of the Psalm are taken from the book of Exodus, or other passages (e.g. Ps. 78:19) which reflect on the exodus experience of God’s people. The “green pastures” is Exodus 15 language for the “abode” God led his people to, etc.
Where I might build on the work of others a bit is in locating the sentiments of the exodus theology in a Biblical-theological trajectory which offers the prospect of eternal security.

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