Misreading Psalm 23

“Translation is always commentary.” — Kenneth Bailey

I am working my way through Bailey’s book, The Good Shepherd. I wish I knew who gave it to me as a gift as I was leaving Heights Church. I hope they read this because I NEED TO THANK YOU!

Bailey is working through the misconception we have in regard to “shepherd” in the Bible. His background in Middle Eastern studies is astonishing. There are some friends who saw I was reading Bailey and they rave about him and his work.

There is a place in Psalm 23 that has always seemed a bit disjointed to me. According to Bailey, it demonstrates how English translations have drifted in the path of the KJV, and missed a significant meaning.

    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.

I have loved that first line in v. 3 forever. It just sounds… well… refreshing.

But then I read that next pairing and I’ve often thought, “How does this fit with what came before?”

Bailey’s contention is the phrase “he refreshes my soul” has been lost in translation. Verse 3 should really be:

He brings me back/ he causes me to repent.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Now THAT makes sense. The motif of the Good Shepherd in the New Testament is all about this as well. It is about the one lost sheep. That sheep needed to be found and brought home.

The Shepherd comes after us. We have wandered. We are lost. He brings us home and gets us back on the right path.

Lord, I have too often wandered. You have lovingly brought me back. EVERY TIME. I am grateful for your attention to this wandering sheep. Lead me on, dear Shepherd. 

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