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Words: James Montgomery (b. Nov. 4, 1771; d. Apr. 30, 1854)
Music: Poland (or Koschat), by Thomas Koschat (b. Aug. 8, 1845; d. May 19, 1914)
Note: This beautiful paraphrase of Psalm 23 has been sung to a variety of tunes since it was written in 1822. Most familiar to me is Thomas Koschat’s Poland (which the Cyber Hymnal calls The Lord Is My Shepherd).
The stately flow of this melody suggests a serenity befitting the theme. (The tune requires a repeat of the last line of each stanza, which works as a means of emphasis.) The harmony of the alto part enhances it wonderfully and, at times, becomes a kind of counter melody. If it is still found on YouTube when you read this, you can find a rendition of it here.
One further note on the words. The Cyber Hymnal drops the word “the,” several times when I don’t believe it’s necessary–nor do most printings of the hymn do this. Lines where it is done: CH-2, line 1: “Through the valley of shadow;” CH-3, line 1: “In the midst of affliction;” and CH-4, line 4: “Through the land of their sojourn”
The work of shepherds with their flocks is a prominent subject in the Bible. Words such as shepherd, sheep, and flock are found over four hundred and sixty times within its pages.
There are several reasons for that. First, Israel was an agrarian society, and sheep provided both food and clothing for the people. Then there was the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Beginning with Abel (Gen. 4:4), many thousands of sheep–and other animals–were sacrificed upon ancient altars. They provided a picture of the innocent dying in place of the guilty, pointing forward to the great and final sacrifice of Christ, “the Lamb of God” (Jn. 1:29).
In addition, the watchful care of the shepherd, and the proneness of sheep to wander and put themselves in danger, provides a wonderful picture of the Lord’s concern for us often wayward human beings.
It’s particularly the analogy to shepherd care that hymn writers have employed again and again. There are dozens of English hymns on the theme, some closely following the wording of Psalm 23, “The Shepherd Psalm.” Others are a paraphrase of it, or of other passages on the subject. Saviour, Like a Shepherd Lead Us is an example, and He Leadeth Me, and The Ninety and Nine. Montgomery’s version is a paraphrase, though it follows the text quite closely.
CH-1) 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 wand’ring, redeems when oppressed.
The Lord Jesus is called the Shepherd of His flock several times in the New Testament. He refers to Himself as “the good Shepherd,” who gives His life to save the sheep (Jn. 10:11). He is also “that great Shepherd of the sheep” who continues to work in the lives of believers, bringing spiritual growth (Heb. 13:20-21). As “the Chief Shepherd,” He will one day reward faithful servants who do His will (I Pet. 5:2-4).
CH-2) 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.
CH-3) 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 shall I ask of Thy providence more?
It’s not that the Christian will have no trouble in his life, no challenging obstacles, no distracting pain. But the Lord has promised sustaining grace through all these things (cf. Paul’s experience, II Cor. 12:7-10). Not only that, but we are assured of a happy ending. In all such things the Lord works continually for our good and His own glory.
CH-4) 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.
1) What aspect of the Lord’s shepherd care is especially meaningful to you?
2) What hymns on the shepherd theme are particular favourites of yours?