A Study on Psalm 23 – #4
v3 ‘He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his names sake.’
Usually we think of this verse as continuing the theme of verse two where the sheep has been fully supplied with food and drink and now satisfied is at rest. This indeed is one possible meaning, but there is another shade of meaning and it is this that I want to concentrate on here. In verse three we come to an event without which the rest of the psalm would have fallen outside of David’s experience as a sheep in Yahweh’s flock. That may seem a strange statement considering how this verse is normally interpreted, but bare with me. In this understanding then the theme has moved from reviving the inner man through spiritual nourishing, to the bringing back of a straying member of the flock.
David was a person who knew what it was to fall into personal sin. He knew the effect this had on his walk with God and how sin separates from God. David had on occasion gone his own way and had suffered the consequences. The wonder of David’s experience was that God pursued him, disciplined him and restored him to relationship, it is this that verse three can refer to. In it we see a wonderful picture of the shepherd looking for the sheep that has gone astray, finding it and restoring it to the right path. What a wonderful Good Shepherd!
Goodrick and Kohlenberger III (Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance 2nd Edition 1999) give the following explanation for the meaning of the Hebrew word rendered ‘restores’ in our verse; ‘…from the base meaning of turning back comes the figurative extension of restoration of relationship, as when one turns in repentance to God.’
In his book ‘The Good Shepherd’ (SPCK London, 2015) Kenneth Bailey quotes one ancient translation as rendering our verse in this way, “He brings me from the wrong path to the right path.” Oh the restorative love of God, forgiving and restoring those who come to him in confession and repentance.
God shows us how to live our lives in a way that is pleasing to him, ‘paths of righteousness’. Notice the ultimate aim of this direction, ‘…for his names sake’, for his praise, glory and renown. We live to bring glory to his name, the planting of the Lord for the display of his glory.
God’s heart is to restore the one caught in sin, Galatians 6:1 (notice other believers potential role in this as God’s instruments of restoration). Sometimes sin, if not dealt with in a timely manner through confession and repentance, can lead us some distance from God’s righteous paths but do not despair, our God is a restoring Shepherd, one who brings back that which has gone astray. He seeks the sinner, brings them back to the fold and then leads them forth with the rest of the flock. While this may not apply to us personally today, what a wonderful guide to use as we seek to pray for those who are caught in sin and need to be brought back by the Lord our Good Shepherd. Amen.