He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Psalm 23:3
The twenty-third Psalm is a psalm of amazing comfort for the child of God. Our lives in the midst of this world are filled with cares, trials, and tribulations. But this psalm brings peace and quiet trust to the souls of God’s children. In the midst of all of the storms of life we behold our Shepherd, Jehovah God. He provides for our every need: “I shall not want,” we confess in verse 1. He cares for us, constantly alert to our welfare. He makes provision for our rest: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures” (v. 2). It is His desire to see us, as the sheep of His pasture, content, refreshed, well fed, safe, and flourishing.
This third verse emphasizes another aspect of our Shepherd’s care. Our faithful Shepherd guides us day by day in all our pilgrim way. A commonly held but serious misconception concerning sheep is that they can just “get along anywhere.” The reality is just the opposite. No other type of livestock requires more guidance, more detailed direction than sheep do. No doubt David knew this from his personal experience as a shepherd. He knew beyond dispute that, if the flock was to flourish, the sheep had to be under the shepherd’s meticulous control and guidance.
The same is true for us, as the spiritual sheep of Jehovah our Shepherd. We do not like to admit that. We like to think that we are independent and self-sufficient. We like to suppose that we can take care of ourselves and make our own way. But that simply is not so. We need a guide, a guide who leads us in the paths of righteousness. That guide we have in Jehovah our Shepherd!
Yes, sheep need the guidance and direction of a shepherd. If sheep are on a farm or ranch and the shepherd neglects this aspect of his calling, he will have very serious problems. On the one hand, sheep are notorious creatures of habit. If left to themselves, they will follow the same trails until they become ruts. They will graze the same hills until they are a barren wasteland. They will pollute their own ground until it is rife with disease and parasites. Fine sheep ranges around the world have been ruined by over-grazing and poor management due to negligent or ignorant shepherds. The sheep, instead of being led and guided by their shepherd, had been left to shift for themselves, left to the whims of their own destructive habits. And the pastures are ruined while the sheep become thin and sickly.
The conscientious shepherd is aware of all of this. For the welfare of his flock and his land he takes the necessary precautions to safeguard against these adverse traits of sheep. He leads and guides his flock. He leads them according to a planned rotation from one pasture area to another. That prevents over-grazing of the grass and avoids the rutting of trails and erosion. It forestalls the infestation of the sheep with internal parasites or disease.
On a more individual level, this guidance is also necessary. An individual sheep or a small group of sheep can get in very serious trouble without the guidance of the shepherd. A sheep may wander from the flock and become lost in the hills. It would need the leading of the shepherd to make its way back to the flock. In various ways a sheep could endanger itself. A sheep may get its head stuck in the wire fencing as it tries to nibble at the grass on the other side of the fence. It may become entrapped in the soft mud at the edge of a pond. All of this points to the necessity of the guidance and leadership of the shepherd.
Much of this has its parallel with us. It is no mere whim on God’s part to call His people “sheep.” Our nature and behavior patterns are so much like those of sheep that it is almost embarrassing. Scripture declares that by nature we too are a stiff-necked and stubborn lot. We are inclined to follow our own fancies and to turn to our own ways. The prophet Isaiah tells us, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (53:6).
And this we do deliberately, repeatedly, even to our own folly. How foolish, how wayward, how rebellious we can be! In our pride and self-assertion we insist that we know what is best for ourselves, that we can take care of ourselves, though the consequences may be obvious. We foolishly endanger ourselves, walking close to the edge of the cliff, wandering from the security of the flock. We can do that in spite of every warning! We read in Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” When we think of the temptations we face, the allurements of the world, and when we contemplate the reality of our own natural weakness and foolishness, we would almost despair!
But, thanks be to God, we have a faithful Shepherd who leads us in paths of righteousness! Jehovah, our Shepherd, is righteous in Himself. Righteousness, as a virtue of God, means that God, in all He is, says, and does is in harmony with the highest good, and that is His own Being. The psalmist declares that his shepherd leads him in paths of righteousness. These paths of righteousness are the ways that God has determined from all eternity for His people, the sheep of His pasture. These paths are the ways ordained by God that we, His sheep, should walk in. They are ways pleasing to Him, in harmony with His will, paths of righteousness.
Certainly our righteousness from a judicial, legal perspective, as it is imputed to the elect sinner, is the gift of God’s grace realized in Christ alone, through His death and resurrection. It is bestowed upon us through faith. But there is also a principle of righteousness granted in our regeneration that is manifest in our conversion and sanctification. Through the working of the grace and Spirit of Christ within us we “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:24). Our Shepherd leads us in paths of righteousness.
Oh, it is for us but a small beginning! We are yet inclined to go our own way. We often think that we can find the best paths. But, though we can be so foolish and wayward, Jehovah our Shepherd leads us in paths of righteousness. By His grace we submit to His leadership and we follow His leading. As Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
And the result is that our souls are restored: “He restoreth my soul.” Literally, it is restored, brought back, turned about. What does this mean? Perhaps once you were very sick. But in the providence of God, through the means of the doctor and medications, the sickness departed. You were restored to health. So our Shepherd restores the weary souls of His sheep. In Psalm 42:11 the psalmist cries out, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God….” A sheep that is lost, hurt, or helpless often simply gives up. So too, it is easy for us to despair when we find ourselves in time of trouble. We worry and fear; we have no peace.
But just as when a shepherd comes and sets free the trapped or helpless sheep, and it dashes away to rejoin the flock, delivered from its fears and frustrations, so our Shepherd comes to our aid. He leads us in paths of righteousness, restoring our souls. Christ Jesus, the good Shepherd, is touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Heb. 4:15). He came to seek, to save, to restore His sheep.
Why? For what reason does our Shepherd lead us in paths of righteousness? Is it perhaps because we are so deserving, such noble sheep? Oh, no! We are sheep, still inclined to be foolish and wayward. “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” His name is Jehovah! Do we not confess, “The Lord (Jehovah) is my shepherd; I shall not want”? And remember, God is His name. As Jehovah, He is the i am that i am, the perfectly independent, sovereign Creator and Lord of all.
But here the name Jehovah emphasizes especially that He is our faithful covenant God. His faithfulness shines forth! Jehovah will never leave or forsake His sheep. He cannot fail to fulfill His promises. For the sake of His own name He leads us in paths of righteousness. This is our Shepherd. We are guided by the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord! As our faithful Shepherd, He knows all the troubles and dangers we will encounter, every hour of suffering, sorrow, and tribulation. He faithfully guides us, even through the valley of the shadow of death. Yea, He causes all these things to work together for our good.
For His name’s sake He leads us. There is no way too steep for us to climb, for His strong hand upholds us and lifts us up. There is no darkness so thick and black that His light is not sufficient to lead us on. There is no ravine so deep that, should we stumble and fall, His might could not save us. There is no enemy so strong that He is not able to protect us. All the assaults of hell and the devil are vain with Jehovah as our Shepherd!
And further, for His name’s sake, He loves His sheep with a sovereign and eternal love in Christ. That love was manifest when He sent His only begotten Son into this world to be the good Shepherd who would lay down His life for His sheep. That love He sheds abroad in our hearts so that we love Him. Well may we be assured that we can press close to His side, committing our way unto our faithful Guide. And may we ever testify, “He restoreth my soul: he leadeth love me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
Do you hear His voice? Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.” Do you follow His leading? Jesus says, “…I know them, and they follow me.” Seek His grace that more and more you might find your delight in His paths of righteousness. For it is by grace alone that we hear His voice and follow Him. It is our faithful Shepherd who enables us to confess with the psalmist, also as we continue on in the year that lies before us, “For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even unto death” (Ps. 48:14).