This coming Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The Collect, Psalm 23 and Gospel (John 10:1-10) appointed for the day include imagery of sheep and the Good Shepherd.
Psalm 23 has inspired many composers, poets, artists and hymn writers over the millennia. One way which has inspired poets is in the writing of metrical Psalm paraphrases that are meant to be sung to hymn tunes. The Hymnal 1982 includes 3 metrical paraphrases of Psalm 23. The tradition of singing the Psalms in poetic meter began with Martin Luther and was adopted by John Calvin. Calvin had the entire Psalter translated into French. By the mid 1530’s this new method of singing the Psalms had arrived in England. Whole metrical Psalters of all 150 Psalms were published in England over the next 150-200 years. These paraphrases were faithful original Old Testament text.
In the early 18th Century England, Isaac Watts (1674-1748) began writing metrical paraphrases that included language and imagery of the New Testament. Watts was a minister, hymn writer, theologian and logician. He believed in embracing all of scripture in his metrical Psalm paraphrases which laid the foundation of English Hymnody and the writing of hymns not based solely on the Psalms. Watts wrote over 750 hymns and is considered by many to be the father of English Hymnody. Among his most famous hymns are: Joy to the World (based on Psalm 98); Jesus shall reign where’er the Sun (based on Psalm 72); Come Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove; Come ye that love the Lord; O God our help in ages past (based on Psalm 90); When I survey the wondrous cross; and My shepherd will supply my need (based on Psalm 23).
Hymn #664, My shepherd will supply my need, is a metrical paraphrase of Psalm 23 by Watts that was first published in Psalms of David, 1719. The text is written in Common Meter (alternating lines of 8 syllables and 6 syllables, abbreviated CM). It is paired with the American folk melody Resignation. Resignation in written in Common Meter Doubled (abbreviated CMD). With CMD 2 stanzas of text fit into the space of one line of music. The tune and text were included in the 1854 edition of Walker’s Southern Harmony and began appearing in many hymnals after that publication. Hymn#664 will be our opening hymn on Sunday.
My Shepherd will supply my need:
Jehovah is His Name;
in pastures fresh he makes me feed,
beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back
when I forsake his ways,
and leads me, for his mercy’s sake,
in paths of truth and grace.
When I walk through the shades of death,
thy presence is my stay;
one word of thy supporting breath
drives all my fears away.
Thy hand, in sight of all my foes,
doth still my table spread;
my cup with blessings overflows,
thy oil anoints my head.
The sure provisions of my God
attend me all my days;
O may thy house be mine abode,
and all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
while others go and come;
no more a stranger or a guest,
but like a child at home.
Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Here is a link to a beautiful choral arrangement of My shepherd will supply my need.
Hymns #645 and #646, The King of love my shepherd is, are another metrical paraphrase of Psalm 23 written by Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877). Baker, like Watts, included New Testament imagery into his psalm version. Hymn #645 is paired with a traditional Irish melody, St. Colomba. The pair first appeared together in the English Hymnal of 1906.
Recording link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjcImI7nA7Y
The King of love my shepherd is,
whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his,
and he is mine for ever.
Where streams of living water flow,
my ransomed soul he leadeth,
and where the verdant pastures grow,
with food celestial feedeth.
Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
but yet in love he sought me,
and on his shoulder gently laid,
and home, rejoicing, brought me.
In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
with thee, dear Lord, beside me;
thy rod and staff my comfort still,
thy cross before to guide me.
Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
thy unction grace bestoweth;
and oh, what transport of delight
from thy pure chalice floweth!
And so through all the length of days
thy goodness faileth never:
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise
within thy house for ever.
Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877)
Hymn #646 is paired with the tune Dominus Regit Me by John Bacchus Dykes and was written specifically for this text at the request of Henry Williams Baker. They first appeared together in the Supplement to Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1868.
Recording link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28Mx-0Jd-S8
Hymn #663, The Lord my God my shepherd is, is the most recent Psalm 23 paraphrase to be included in our hymnal. It was written in the early 1950’s by the Rev. Dr. F. Bland Tucker (1895-1984) while he was Rector of Christ Church in Savannah, Georgia and facing surgery to remove a tumor. Dr. Tucker served on the Theological Committee that prepared and selected texts for use in The Hymnal 1982. Hymn #663 has been paired with the Scottish tune Crimond. There are two attributions: David Grant (1833-1893), from Aberdeen and Jessie Seymour Irvine (18636-1887), daughter of the minister of Crimond Parish Church.
The Lord my God my shepherd is;
how could I want or need?
In pastures green, by streams serene,
he safely doth me lead.
To wholeness he restores my soul
and doth in mercy bless,
and helps me take for his Name’s sake
the paths of righteousness.
Yea, even when I pass through
the valley of death’s shade,
I will not fear, for thou are here,
to comfort and to aid.
Thou hast in grace my table spread
secure in all alarms,
and filled my cup, and borne me up
in everlasting arms.
Then surely I can trust thy love
for all the days to come,
that I may tell thy praise,
and dwell forever in thy home.
F. Bland Tucker (1895-1984)
Unfortunately, I could not find an example of Crimond with The Lord my God my shepherd is on YouTube. Here is a pairing of Crimond with Psalm 23 from the Scottish Psalter, 1650: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHQoRfFr1rE
Below are other musical examples of Psalm 23 for additional listening:
The Lord is my shepherd from Requiem by John Rutter
The Lord is my shepherd by Howard Goodall which you may recognize from the opening credit of “The Vicar of Dibley”
Psalm 23 set to Anglican Chant by Hylton Stewart
Psalm 23 paraphrase from Scottish Psalter, 1650 set to Brother James’ Air
I hope you will take the time to listen and meditate on some of these examples of Psalm 23. Which paraphrase is your favorite?
Let the music play on,
Director of Music