You know the saying, "Pride goes before the fall"? Well, that's a religious saying, and it's very relevant to Psalm 23. Pride, and specifically the kind of pride that makes lesser beings want to put themselves on par with God, is a sin in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
The speaker of Psalm 23 is a blessed and fortunate individual who perhaps has a lot of reasons to feel proud, but he demonstrates the virtue of humility by giving all the credit for his success to God. Like a sheep that follows the shepherd to fertile pastures, the speaker doesn't do all the legwork – he merely follows the sound guidance of his leader. The humility of the psalm is all the more remarkable when you consider that it's author was traditionally said to be King David, the powerful king of Israel who is still famous for taking out Goliath. Of all types of people, rulers are perhaps the most tempted by pride, but Psalm 23 doesn't focus on control over others. Instead, it focuses on God's beneficent influence on the speaker.
Questions About Humility
- Is "humility" the same thing as "submission" and "passivity" in this poem? If not, how does it differ?
- How do the language and imagery of shepherding relate to the theme of humility?
- What would you guess about the social status of the speaker just from reading the text? Does the poem provide any clues, or is the speaker's "real" life completely hidden from us?
- Why does the address of the speaker shift from "he" (referring to the Lord) to "thou," and how does this shift change the speaker's position relative to the Lord?
- How can the speaker be humble and yet so confident of his continued good fortune?
Chew on This
In claiming to enjoy the favor of the Lord but providing no evidence for why he deserves it, the speaker opens himself up to the charge that his humility is false and self-serving.
The speaker demonstrates his humility by disclaiming any credit for the good things that have happened to him and placing himself in complete submission to God.
The speaker's humility is better demonstrated by the form of Psalm 23 than by its content.