By Dan Gibson
My Shepherd Will Supply My Need
Versification of Psalm 23 by Isaac Watts, 1674-1748, to tune of Resignation, a shape-note melody with an unknown composer, but collected as one of the pieces of church-sung music from southern Appalachia by William Walker and gathered into his Southern Harmony published in 1835.
The third and final verse of this song offers us Isaac Watts’s particular insight into the climax of this beautiful psalm of David, the shepherd-king.
“The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days;
O may your house be my 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.”
As I age, I find my mind returning to my childhood home, with its redolent aromas of bread baking in the oven, the songs (whether hummed, sung, whistled, or played on the piano), the warmth, the peculiar cast of winter sunlight streaming through the western windows on a late afternoon, and the familiar people—Mom, Dad, brothers, sisters—gone now or re-moved to homes of their own. Another memory is that of the frequent journey by car back to my grandparents’ home, a distance of about 80 miles, after we had moved away from that small village where my parents had grown up. It was strangely comforting, traveling from one place we knew as home to another that was also home. Which was better? It was hard to say. Yet both are now distant in the rear-view mirror, and even my current home, by far my longest residence yet, is but a way-station on the journey home.
In writing about my favorite musical setting of Psalm 23, Alfred V. Fedak says this:
“Isaac Watts (1674-1748) is rightfully considered the father of English hymnody. Psalm
23 is the best known and best loved of all the psalms. And RESIGNATION, a
nineteenth-century tune from southern Appalachia, is one of the most hauntingly
beautiful melodies ever composed. All three—poet, psalm, and music—unite in this
hymn to give us a new vision of the providence of God.” (Reformed Worship, June1990)
So here we have it: great hymn-writer, favorite psalm of many, hauntingly beautiful melody. How do we sing such a song?
It’s for all of God’s children heading home, young and old, and we’re shown the way here in this glorious rendition (arr. by Mack Wilberg) provided by the Baylor University A Cappella Choir.