"THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD"
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want" (Ps. 23.1)
INTRO.: It is quite possible that more hymns and spiritual songs have been based on the 23rd Psalm than just about any other passage of scripture. The metrical version from the "Scottish Psalter" of 1650, "The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want," often attributed to Francis Rous, is still much used. Isaac Watts did two paraphrases, the long meter "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need" and the more common short meter, "The Lord My Shepherd Is." Joseph Addision in "The Lord My Pasture Shall Prepare" and Henry Baker in "The King of Love My Shepherd Is" both adapted the thoughts of the Psalm. Other familiar songs, such as Anna Waring’s "In Heavenly Love Abiding," Dorothy Thrupp’s "Savior, Like a Shepherd, Lead Us," and Joseph Gilmore’s "He Leadeth Me" all draw language from the Psalm. And there are many other such songs in our books as well. One that is not as well-known among us but is quite beautiful begins simply, "The Lord Is My Shepherd." The text was written by James Montgomery (1771-1854). Montgomery was a Scottish Moravian newspaper editor and writer, whose most famous hymn is probably "In the Hour of Trial," but who gave us many others, such as "Prayer Is The Soul’s Sincere Desire" and "According to Thy Gracious Word." This adaptation of Psalm 23 was first published in his 1822 Songs of Zion, Being Imitations of Psalms.
The tune (Poland, Forsaken, or Tyler) with which it is most often used is usually attributed to Thomas Koschat, who was born at Viktrig, near Klagenfurt, Austria, on Aug. 8, 1845. Though he studied chemistry in Vienna, as a result of his experience as a court choir singer and a keen interest in music, he turned his efforts to a musical career. In 1871 he published several vocal quartets in the Carinthian dialect, and when these became quite successful he published around 100 more. In 1875 he organized a vocal quintet with four other singer. They toured Europe and America extensively, and their performances became extremely popular. In 1880, his "Liederspiel" Am Worthersee, which contained many of his favorite songs, was first performed in Vienna, and the melody used with Montgomery’s "The Lord Is My Shepherd" was taken from the collection published about 1880 for this performance. It is actually believed to be a Carinthian folk tune which had been collected and arranged by Koschat around 1862 to be used with a secular love song "Verlassen bin i" ("Forsaken"). I have a copy of this song in an old school songbook in my possession.
The first appearance of the folk song in the United States was in Koschat-Album, A Selection of the Most Popular Carinthian Songs, published at Milwaukee, WI, in 1888. The adaptation as a hymn tune was most likely made by Edwin Othello Excell (1851-1921). It first appeared in his 1892 Triumphant Songs No. 3, published at Chicago, IL, with the hymn "O Turn Ye, O Turn Ye" by Josiah Hopkins. Koschat, who also produced a four-act opera Die Rusenthaler Nachtigall, and a singspiel called Der Burgermeister von St. Anna, was awarded the Adler Orden or Order of the Red Eagle by Emperor Wilhelm for his work. He died in Vienna, Austria, on May 19, 1914. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the only one in which I have seen this hymn is the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. It was also found in the 1933 Favorite Hymns and the 1953 Favorite Hymns Revised, both published by Standard Publishing Co. for use among Christian Churches and instrumental Churches of Christ. It may be seen in many older denominational hymnbooks but seems to be omitted in most newer ones.
The song applies the thoughts of the Psalm to each individual.
I. In stanza 1, the Shepherd is pictured as our leader
"The Lord is my Shepherd, no want shall I know;
I feed in green pastures, safe-folded I rest;
He leadeth my soul where the still waters flow,
Restores me when wandering, redeems when oppressed."
A. The Shepherd leads us to pastures where we find safety: Ps. 78.52-53
B. He also leads us to the place where we can find living waters: Jn. 4.10-14
C. And He seeks us when we wander to lead us back to Him: 1 Pet. 2.25
II. In stanza 2, the Shepherd is pictured as our guardian
"Through the valley and shadow of death though I stray,
Since Thou art my Guardian, no evil I fear;
Thy rod shall defend me, Thy staff be my stay;
No harm can befall with my Comforter near."
A. Because the Shepherd is our guardian, we need fear no evil: Heb. 13.6
B. The rod and staff could be thought of as representing God’s word by which He guides and guards us: 2 Tim. 3.16-17
C. The promise that no harm can befall us must necessarily refer to spiritual harm, from which the Lord keeps the sheep who hear His voice: Jn. 10.27-29
III. In stanza 3, the Shepherd is pictured as our provider
"In the midst of affliction my table is spread;
With blessings unmeasured my cup runneth o’er;
With perfume and oil Thou anointest my head;
O what whall I ask of Thy providence more?"
A. As our provider, the Shepherd affords us all spiritual blessings in heavenly places: Eph. 1.3
B. The anointing of the head with oil might be thought of as representing the revelation of God’s word by the Spirit, through which
these blessings are made known to us: 1 Jn. 2.27
C. With these wonderful blessings, we have all that pertains to life and godliness, and need nothing more: 2 Pet. 1.3-4
IV. Stanza 4 presents the Shepherd as our hope
"Let goodness and mercy, my bountiful God,
Still follow my steps till I meet Thee above;
I seek by the path which my forefathers trod,
Through the land of their sojourn, Thy kingdom of love."
A. As a result of what the Shepherd has done for us, we have the hope of meeting Him above: 1 Jn. 3.1-2
B. However, to do so, we must seek Him by the strait and narrow path which the righteous of all ages have trod: Matt. 7.13-14
C. That path leads to the kingdom of love, which obviously refers to the eternal kingdom into which an entrance shall be supplied to us abundantly: 2 Pet. 1.11
CONCL.: Some might be interested in seeing a translation of the original folk song:
1. "Forsaken, forsaken, forsaken am I;
Like the stone in the causeway, my buried hopes lie;
I go to the churchyard, My eyes filled with tears;
And kneeling I weep there, Oh, my love, loved for years."
2. "A mound in the churchyard, that blossoms hang o’er;
It is there my love sleepeth, to waken no more;
‘Tis there all my footsteps, my passions all lead;
And there my heart turneth, I’m forsaken indeed."
The use of this beautiful tune with Montgomery’s arrangement of Psalm 23 is certainly much more positive than the utter sadness and seeming despair of the folksong. Since I am a Christian, whatever happens to me in this life, I have a leader, a guardian, a provider, and a hope because "The Lord Is My Shepherd."