Jehovah’s My Shepherd

Jonathan_Edwards_Spilman.tif

(picture of J. E. Stillman)

“JEHOVAH’S MY SHEPHERD”

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1)

     INTRO.:  A hymn which pictures the Lord as our Shepherd is “Jehovah’s My Shepherd.”  The text, a paraphrase of Psalm 23, is by an unknown arranger and is taken from The Book of Psalms for Singing, published in 1973 by the Board of Education and Publication of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, Pittsburgh, PA (my copy is the revised edition of 1998).  There it is set to an anonymous tune (Resignation).  It is perhaps based on an older Scottish Psalm paraphrase:

  1. The Lord is my shepherd, no want shall come nigh.

In pastures of verdure He makes me to lie.

Beside restful waters he leads me in peace.

My soul to new life he restores by his grace.

  1. In right ways He leads me, for his own name’s sake.

So when in the valley of death shade I walk

Since thou wilt be me no ill shall I fear.

Thy rod and thy staff give me comfort and cheer.

  1. Thou spreadest my table in face of my foes;

My head thou anointest, my cup overflows.

Thy goodness and mercy pursue my life;s ways

At home with Jehovah, I’ll dwell endless days.

From The Book of Psalms for Singing, the song was used in the 1974 Selected Psalms for Church Singing edited by Edward Fudge and originally published by the C. E. I. Publishing Company, where it is set to the tune which is commonly associated with the children’s nativity hymn “Away in a Manger.”  From Selected Psalms for Church Singing, the words only were included in the original 1986 edition of Hymns for Worship edited by Dane K. Shepard and R. J. Stevens, with the note to use the tune for “More Holiness Give Me.”  An “updated” version of the song appears in The Book of Psalms for Worship published in 2010 by Crown and Covenant Publications for the Board of Education and Publication of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, Pittsburgh, PA, set to a tune (Wassail Wassail) identified as a traditional English melody.  The song can be used with other tunes as well, including one (Cradle Song), composed in 1895 also for “Away in a Manger” by William James Kirkpatrick.

Still another such tune (Afton) was composed by Jonathan Edwards Spilman, a Kentucky lawyer, minister, and composer, who was born on April 15, 1812, at Greenville in Muhlenberg County, KY, to Benjamin Spilman, and graduated from Illinois College in 1835.  While at Transylvania Law School in 1837, he provided the music for Robert Burns’ “Flow gently, sweet Afton,” the best remembered of his seven melodies. An adaptation of this music has been used for one of the tunes to “Away in a Manger” as well.  He was married to Mary V. J. Menefee, who died in 1843. Two years later, he married Eliza Sarah Taylor (1822–1866), a niece of U.S. President Zachary Taylor. To them were born ten children, of whom six survived.  His second wife died on August 10, 1866, as the result of a fire aboard the steamboat “Bostona No. 3” in Maysville, KY.  Working as a lawyer for eighteen years, he became Presbyterian minister at the age of 46 and died on May 23, 1896, at the age of 84, in Flora, IL.

The hymn identifies some of the blessings which Jehovah as our Shepherd provides us.

I. Stanza 1 talks about His provisions

Jehovah’s my shepherd; no want shall come nigh.

Within the green pastures He makes me to lie.

Beside the still waters He leads me to rest.

My soul He revives when I’m faint and oppressed.

A. For Christians, Jehovah’s role as Shepherd is fulfilled in Jesus Christ: Jn. 10:11

B. The green pastures represent His provision for our spiritual food: Jn. 6:27

C. The still waters represent His provision for our spiritual thirst: Jn. 4:13-14

II. Stanza 2 talks about His guidance

In right ways He leads me, for his own name’s sake.

Although through the vale of death’s shadow I walk

Since Thou are there with me, no evil I fear.

Thy rod and thy staff give me comfort and cheer.

A. The Shepherd leads His sheep in right ways as they hear His voice and follow Him: Jn. 10:27

B. He even leads us through the vale of death’s shadow as it is appointed for all of us to die: Heb. 9:27

C. But no matter what happens, we have nothing to fear: Heb. 13:5-6

III. Stanza 3 talks about His hope

Thou hast me a table before all my foes;

My head thou anointest, my cup overflows.

Thy goodness and mercy attend my life’s ways;

I’ll dwell in the house of the Lord endless days.

A. The table represents the fact that the Shepherd provides for all our spiritual needs: Eph. 1:3

B. The Shepherd’s goodness and mercy makes it possible for us to be saved: Tit. 3:5

C. And He makes it possible for His sheep to dwell in His house endless days by giving them eternal life: Jn. 10:28-29

CONCL.:  I have made one further alteration in the text.  Since so many other hymn versions of Psalm 23 begin, “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” I changed the first line to read what is seen above.  The 23rd Psalm is likely one of the best known and most beloved passages of Scripture found in the Bible.  When we teach and admonish one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, it is good for me to be reminded from time to time that “Jehovah’s My Shepherd.”

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