The Shepherd Psalm: Psalm 23 – Part 2

“He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake”, v.3

The words, “He restoreth my soul”, are not the experience of David as a shepherd, as it may appear, but they are those of David, as of a sheep! Although all the sheep in the flock took their respective positions in the grazing line at the beginning of the day and kept to them throughout the day, each sheep left its place once during the day and went to the shepherd, who then stretched out his hand and rubbed the animal’s nose and ears, scratched its chin, and whispered affectionately into its ears. Meanwhile, the sheep rubbed itself against the shepherd’s leg or, if the shepherd was sitting down on the grass, it nibbled at his ear and rubbed its cheek against his face. After these few minutes of communion with its shepherd, which was apparently the daily experience of David as a shepherd, the sheep returned to its position in the grazing line.

Based upon such treatment received from his sheep, David describes so beautifully, by putting himself in the place of one of his sheep, the experience of his own soul restored through sweet communion with the divine Shepherd. How much deeper, more intimate and even vital should be our fellowship under grace than David’s under the law!

This delightful pastoral scene illustrates our private devotions and fellowship with the Lord. If a mute animal like a sheep felt the need of communion with its shepherd and took the initiative each day to go to the shepherd for it, how much more necessary it is for us to commune with the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls every day in the privacy of our closet, shut out from the world and shut in with the Lord! Both David and Daniel did it, not once, but three times a day, Psa. 55. 17; Dan. 6. 10.

The daily quiet time with the Lord spent in prayer and meditative study of the Scriptures will produce growth in grace and the knowledge of Christ. Neglect of this regular habit of communion with the Lord leads to lukewarmness towards the Lord, and spiritual declension. But a return to the Word of God has a restorative effect, as known by David when he said, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul”, Psa. 19. 7. The word “converting”, being the same as in the verse before us, may be rendered “restoring”, and so the Holy Spirit uses the Scriptures for restoring one’s soul.

Our private devotions are also times of fellowship. John, the disciple who leaned on Jesus’ bosom and whom Jesus loved, brings out the intimacy of fellowship. In his first Epistle, John does not say “our fellowship is with God”, because the name “God” contains the thought of a distant relationship with His people, but he says, “our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ”, 1 John 1. 3. With a father and son relationship, as it is within the Godhead, there is the thought of a close connection, and so believers, as children of God through regeneration, enjoy intimate fellowship with the Father and, as sons of God by adoption, with His Son.

Across the hills, there were many paths, some of which were narrow and precipitous, but the sheep were not left to roam and wander. The shepherd chose the right path and led his sheep, and so of the divine Shepherd the psalmist’s sheep says, “he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake”.

“He leadeth me”. In these two personal pronouns “He” and “me”, we find the Shepherd in heaven and the sheep on earth, and they are linked by the word “leadeth”. Clearly, the One who leads is not “me” but the Shepherd. An important principle is contained in these three words. Daily, our attention should be focussed upon the Shepherd. In the words of Scripture, we should be “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith”, Heb. 12. 2. Although the background of this and the previous verse is that of an oriental stadium with its competing athletes, the thought in the first part of the verse serves our purpose. The word “author” means “one who has precedence” or “file-leader”. As the Shepherd, Christ takes the precedence over His sheep, for He alone is worthy of that foremost position, and so we, as His sheep, should be “looking unto Jesus the File-leader” across the hills and through the valleys of life. Our look, which is “unto Jesus”, should be upward and towards Him, an objective with only Him in view. As the Fileleader, Christ takes the lead and we follow. If we attempt to go ahead, then we displace Christ from His advanced position. If we linger behind, then we deny the Lordship of Christ in our lives. Wrongfully, we may seek prominence; rightfully, Christ demands preeminence.

“The paths of righteousness”, along which the Shepherd leads, are the right paths. As the leadings of Christ are always right, the right path is not necessarily an easy path, and it may be difficult to traverse. It may be the path of chastening, because “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth”. At the time, “no chastening (is) … joyous, but grievous”, that is to say, chastening is not pleasant but painful. We may be perplexed by the path of chastening, along which the Lord is leading us, but let us not pass judgment on the ways of the Lord or despise His chastening which is for an express purpose. The chastening hand of the Lord is likened to the pruning of a tree, so that “it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness”, Heb. 12. 6, 11. Although the Lord has placed us in an unrighteous world, He leads us in the paths of righteousness, expecting righteousness to be displayed in our lives. For faithfulness to the Lord during our earthly sojourn, there is laid up for us “a crown of righteousness” which “the Lord, the righteous judge” will award when we appear before His judgment seat, 2 Tim. 4. 8.

“For his name’s sake”: this is the sole reason for the Shepherd leading us in the paths of righteousness. We do not need to plead with Him to lead us in these paths, but He has pledged to lead us in them for the sake of His Name. As we walk in these paths, we should remember that the Lord’s honour and character, which are implied in His Name, are at stake, and so we need to avoid words or deeds that would dishonour His Name.

“What is thy name?”, asked Manoah when he was confronted by the Angel of the Lord. “Secret” was the Angel’s reply, Jud. 13. 17f. Alternatively, the word can be translated “Wonderful” (marg.). Of One to come, Isaiah prophesied that “his name shall be called Wonderful”, Isa. 9. 6, which is the same word uttered by the Angel. Think of the wonder of His Person: He is both God and Man, and He is my Shepherd! With a kid for a burnt offering, the Angel “did won-drously” as Manoah and his wife looked on, and it foreshadowed the wondrous work that the good Shepherd has done for us upon the cross!

(To be continued)

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