“He restoreth my soul.”
How tremendously comforting is this twenty-third psalm! It is called, correctly, the shepherd’s psalm. Is a greater or higher glory conceivable than to have the Lord, Jehovah, the I AM, for one’s shepherd?! It is generally accepted that David is the writer of this psalm, and that he wrote it, divinely inspired, toward the end of his life when he was fleeing from before the face of his rebellious son, Absalom. This psalm, it is said in support of this contention, is rich in experience. Be this as it may, David is certainly referring to his life as a shepherd, and he does not hesitate to declare that eh Lord is his Shepherd and that he shall not want, even then when fleeing before his rebellious and apostate son. I repeat: is a greater or higher glory conceivable than to have Jehovah as one’s shepherd, to be a sheep of Him Who alone is the living God, in Himself the all-sufficient One, the Rock, the Unchangeable One, of Whom and by Whom and through Whom are all things, to Whom be all the glory forever?
The heart and core of this beautiful psalm is surely verse 1. The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord here is the I AM THAT I AM, the Rock, the Unchangeable God, unchangeable in Himself and therefore also in His relation to His people. Therefore it is true that the Lord is my Shepherd. He never changes. Hence, it is not only true that He was my Shepherd, or that Heshall be my Shepherd, but He is my Shepherd. Nothing can possibly change that fact. Indeed, do not overlook this small but tremendously significant word, this word “is.” A sheep may turn its back upon its shepherd, but that shepherd remains its shepherd. The Lord is my Shepherd. And therefore it is true that we shall not want; never shall we lack anything; never shall all our wants and needs not be completely satisfied. It may be that we will suffer affliction, experience trouble; fact is, however, we will never be in want, we will always receive what we need, also as far as our troubles and afflictions are concerned. And of this wonderful care the inspired psalmist sings in the verses that follow in this psalm.
He restoreth my soul. One need not doubt the meaning of these words in the light of their context. We read in Psalm 23:2: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.” We interpret these green pastures and still waters as referring to the same truth, from different aspects, a picture of perfect rest. Here we see the shepherd as he leads his flock to that wonderful spot where his sheep can receive food and drink and relax, leading them from hot and barren fields to this wonderful oasis of rest and refreshment. Indeed, He restoreth my soul. If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink; if any man hunger; let him eat of My bread, the bread of everlasting life.
The soul here is the seat of our natural life; it does not refer merely to the body, but to my entire life, such as my willing, thinking, desiring, etc. Hence, the restoration whereof the text speaks is not merely an outward, external restoration, but an inner, spiritual refreshing—a refreshing, therefore, which is not limited to external things, is not influenced by these outward circumstances, but is a profound, an inner, spiritual experience. Whatever may be our outward circumstances, such as health or sickness, plenty or want, joy or sorrow, etc., the soul is my inner life, the water, shall we say, below the surface, man as he is adapted in his creation to the living God and the fellowship of His covenant.
He restoreth my soul.
The English reads: He restoreth my soul; the Dutch reads: Hij verkwikt mijne ziel, or, He revives, refreshes, and so restores my soul. Literally the word means “to cause to return, to bring back.” A soul that is revived, quickened, can be said “to be brought back.” Before it was restored it languished, became weak, lost its life and vitality, appeared to be on the verge of dying. Such a soul is now brought back, restored, quickened, and revived. Such is the idea of this word of God.
Indeed, how necessary is this restoration!
The figure here is plain. The shepherd has been leading his sheep in a dry and thirsty land. Their strength was weakened; their spirits drooped and sagged; their vitality was disappearing, oozing away as it were. Now he leads them to green pastures and still waters. Here, at this oasis, they are revived.
Its spiritual application and reality?
The soul of man, we must bear in mind, is adapted to the living God, by virtue of its creation. Then do we live and experience joy and peace and life only when we may taste the love of God, the sweetness of His fellowship and communion, the joy of His love. That alone revives and restores and quickens my soul. But this also means that outside of the love and fellowship of the Lord nothing restores and quickens my soul. O, the natural man. may attempt and does attempt to revive and quicken his soul with the things of this present time, but all these things of this present time are but empty husks. They leave him empty and destitute. And now we sojourn in a dry and thirsty land where no waters flow. Everything around me is that dry and thirsty land which has nothing in it that satisfies. All the pleasures and treasures of this world, including health and strength, can never satisfy, restore, and revive my soul. Man was created in God’s image, adapted to His service, and in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. Then, in Adam, my soul rejoiced in the perfect service of the living God. Then, in Adam, my soul was satisfied. But man sinned. In willful and utter folly Adam turned his back upon the living God, sought the friendship of the devil, life in death, light in darkness, and his soul became utterly destitute, devoid of all life and joy—indeed, he found himself in a dry and thirsty land where no waters flow.
And then, how desperately hungry and thirsty we became when the Lord, by His grace and Spirit, regenerated our hearts and minds and understanding! By nature, of course, we know not our misery. We are blind but imagine that we see, are deaf and imagine that we hear, are dumb and lame and imagine that we speak and walk, are bound, hopelessly bound, and imagine ourselves to be free. Such was also the boast of the wicked Jews when confronted by the Lord Jesus Christ. How they resisted the word of the Rabbi of Nazareth when told by Him that the truth would make them free, according to the Word of God in John 8! How could they be made free when they had never been in bondage to any man?! This is the spiritual folly of sin, characteristic of all men as they are of themselves. But when the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ opens our hearts and minds and souls; when He recreates within us the longing for the living God; when He opens our eyes so that we see that all life and joy are in God alone and in the blessedness of fellowship with Him; then we become hungry and thirsty—we long for the living God. And we cannot reach Him! We cannot pay for our sins and guilt, or satisfy the justice and righteousness of the Lord. We cannot break these spiritual chains of sin and darkness and death. The fellowship of God, which has become more precious than life itself to us, lies completely and hopelessly beyond our reach.
He restoreth my soul.
How vain are man’s efforts to restore and revive his soul! Indeed, be attempts to do this. How he loves a social gospel, a gospel that is geared to this world’s society, to making this world a better place in which to live! How man strives to remove the results of sin without removing sin itself! How he would remove God’s curse upon him and this world, while continuing to walk in sin! All such efforts are vain. The Lord will not be mocked. He will surely maintain Himself. Whoever forsakes the living God forsakes the only Fountain of living waters. Such an one will never find relief. Only misery will be his lot, now and forevermore.
He restoreth my soul.
We read in verse 2 of green pastures and still waters. In the old dispensation these green pastures and still waters surely refer to the operations of the Holy Spirit as He operated in the people of God through and in connection with the shadows of that day, looking forward to that wondrous day when Jehovah, the faithful God of His covenant, would visit His people in Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord. And this He did. The Bread of Life descended from heaven. He came Who gives us living water, of Whom we read in John 4:14: “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” He became for us the Bread and Water of Life. He suffered and died atoningly for all those given Him of the Father. He paid for all their sins and guilt, merited for them everlasting life and glory. Whosoever eats of His broken body and drinks of His shed blood, whoever appropriates by a true and living faith His sacrifice of Himself upon the cross of Calvary, eats and drinks unto everlasting life.
He restoreth my soul! He does not merely provide this living bread and water for me, but He also gives it to me, makes me a partaker of it. He does not merely set it before me and then leave it to me to “come and get it.” He not only makes me hungry and thirsty by His almighty and regenerating Spirit within my heart, but He also gives me the power and activity of faith to take hold of these “green pastures and still waters.” Indeed, He restores my soul. He works also in me by His good and holy Spirit. And as He enables me to take hold of Him Who died that I might live, He restores and quickens me so that I will be wholly quickened and revived, even forever. This crucified and glorified Christ blots out all my sin, protects me from every enemy, causes all things to work together for my good, becomes in me a well of water springing up into everlasting life. He restores and revives me forevermore.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He revives and quickens my fainting heart and soul.
He restores me forevermore.