Psalm 23 is the most familiar and best loved of all the psalms. It is a source of comfort and encouragement for Christians throughout the vicissitudes of life, and its reassuring words are often read at funeral services. There is truly a spiritual bond between the writer of this psalm—King David of Israel—and modern Christians. Yet there is also a profound gap of time and culture that forms a barrier to our understanding of the psalm’s meaning. David lived 3,000 years ago in a cultural world that was vastly different from the United States of America. Many helpful studies on Psalm 23 have been written, often focused on the theme of shepherding. But there has never been a study published which uses photographs to elucidate the historical and cultural setting of this ancient psalm. This gap is now filled with a new book I have coauthored with my friend and fellow Bible scholar, Todd Bolen. Psalm 23: A Photo Commentary illustrates Psalm 23 with more than 60 high-quality photographs. The photographs include traditional cultural scenes, modern landscapes, and museum artifacts. The accompanying text explains the visual information in the photographs and relates it to Psalm 23 through a verse-by-verse commentary. The book is available from Amazon in both print and Kindle editions. The Kindle (Matchbook) price will be lowered to $0.00 after purchase of the print book. The photographs are also available in PowerPoint format from BiblePlaces.com.
As would be expected, many of the photographs in our book show shepherds and sheep. We have taken care to use photos from the land of Israel that match the cultural and historical setting of Psalm 23 as closely as possible. For example, the “still waters” where sheep found refreshment (Psalm 23:2) are illustrated by photos of pools and streams in the areas of Judah where David may have traveled with his flock of sheep, like this one:
The book also includes many historic photographs from the late 19th century through the first half of the 20th century in order to show Palestinian shepherds in traditional garb, like the scene we chose for the front cover:
The valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4) is a concept that may seem foreign to modern readers. The Judean wilderness, which is largely barren, contains many deep valleys with seasonal streams and vegetation that would be needed to sustain a flock of sheep. However, the steep walls of these valleys cast dark shadows throughout the day, and predatory animals often lurked behind the rocks and thickets. Our book provides a number of examples of these valleys, such as this one:
The shepherd-sheep metaphor ends after verse 4, and in the last two verses of Psalm 23 David speaks of his relationship with the Lord under the metaphor of a host and guest. One of the things David affirms in this section is that the Lord prepares a table before him in the presence of his enemies (Psalm 23:5). Our photos give visual proof that the territory of Israel’s enemy Moab can be seen from either Jerusalem or Bethlehem on a clear day. The Lord literally built up David’s kingdom in full view of his enemies.
As these examples demonstrate, our goal is connect modern readers with the historical and cultural world of King David in order to better understand Psalm 23. A picture is truly worth a thousand words; photos can communicate concepts that would be difficult to understand through a written description. Our personal understanding of Psalm 23 was deepened through the research we did to write this book, and our hope is that our readers also will literally see this beloved psalm more clearly through this unique photo commentary.