King David of Israel is traditionally reckoned to have written 73 of the 150 Psalms in the Bible. These ancient Hebrew hymns stand out as great poetry that spotlights the heights and depths of human experience.
During the 16th century Protestant Reformation, the reformers particularly commended the Psalms for singing. Because the reformers felt the need to have versions of the Psalms in the common vernacular in popular song forms, they published several metrical versions of all the Psalms. By the mid-17th century, the Churches of England and Scotland needed a new translation.
In 1643, the English puritan religious author Francis Rous published The Psalms of David set forth in English meeter. After a committee of translators extensively edited his text, they approved his Psalms for the 1650 Scottish Psalter. Though heavily revised, Rous's text for Psalm 23 is the basis of the hymn "The Lord's my Shepherd" that appeared in the Psalter. This versification of Psalm 23 has stood the test of time and churches still sing it four centuries later.
In Psalm 23, David pictures God as a caring shepherd who guides, leads, preserves, and directs us. If we follow our Shepherd and obey His commands, we will dwell with Him forever.
Congregations often sing the hymn to the tune Crimond, written by Miss Jessie Irvine (1836-67), whose father was for 30 years the minister of Crimond in Aberdeenshire. "The Lord's My Shepherd" has been associated with the Crimond since Princess Elizabeth chose it for her marriage service in 1947. It was sung again at the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey on September 19, 2022.
Other well-known versions of Psalm 23 include:
The sixth movement of John Rutter's "The Requiem." An adaptation of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass completed in 1985, "The Lord is my Shepherd" is the highlight of Rutter's choral masterpiece.
"The Lord Is My Shepherd" by Howard Goodall. The English composer wrote the piece when the BBC commissioned him to create a theme song for the comedy series The Vicar of Dibley.
Worship songwriter Stuart Townend's 1996 version of "The Lord Is My Shepherd." Struggling to write a different song, Townend took a break and flicked to Psalm 23 in his Bible. A simple melody popped into his head and within 10 minutes he'd written the whole hymn.