Praying Psalms 23 and 138

One day while praying Psalm 138, I discovered that it had a parallel line of thought as Psalm 23.  Let’s explore this together.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd;

I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.


Psalm 138

I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.   On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.  All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth, and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord.

The beginning of each Psalm is where they are most different.  Not only does Psalm 138 have more to say at the onset, but their tone is different.  Psalm 23 is a meditation on the character of God, particularly highlighting the Good Shepherd image.  Specifically, it’s a Trust Psalm, and its simple statements of having no needs with God looking after us is probably the root of its claim to fame.  Psalm 138, by contrast, is a Psalm of Thanksgiving, as the opening verse makes plain.  Rather than focusing on God the Provider, it focuses on God the exalted king.  Rather than reflecting on the rest we have in God, it declares the universal praise of God’s glory.  But from these differing beginnings, they suddenly take a turn onto the same street:

He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.


As you can see, both have turned to the topic of God’s relationship with his faithful people.  For Psalm 23 this was not much of a change of course, but for Psalm 138 it was one of many topics that could’ve been explored after its beginning.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.


Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life;


Now the parallelism between them is really cool: both Psalms reflect on the danger of this life, and how God protects us in the midst of that.  But not only is this prayerful reflection explored from the perspective of our own hearts (as above), it’s also explored from a more action-of-God perspective:

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me.


God’s blessing and protection in the midst of danger is always a wonderful theme to come across in prayer, and the famous Psalm 23 is certainly not alone in treating this subject with stately beauty.

And then both Psalms end on essentially same note as well:

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.  Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Psalm 23 is a pure expression of trust, as it has been doing throughout.  Psalm 138 starts with the same expression of trust, but includes a final prayerful plea for God to continue the work that he has begun.  But both rest assured in the promise of God’s love and mercy that lasts forever.

I have no profound revelations to share today; just this observation of more beauty in Scripture. 🙂  May God’s prayers bless us, this day and always.

About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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