Summary: If Jesus is my shepherd He invites me to follow Him on His path
What do all the following men have in common? Jacob, Samson, David, Peter, Paul and Pat Damiani? Here’s what they all have in common. They are all men who love God deeply, but who have wandered away from God at various points in their lives and had to be restored to fellowship with God.
And I’d be really surprised if we couldn’t add your name to that list as well. That’s because it is the nature of sheep to wander away from the Shepherd. As Robert Robinson put it in the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
This morning, as we continue our study of Psalm 23, we’ll come to God’s antidote for my wandering. Let’s look at verse 3:
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
(Psalm 23:3 ESV)
As we’ve discussed before, Hebrew poetry is not characterized by rhyming words, but rather by parallelism or what we might even call “rhyming thoughts”. We’ve already seen this Psalm 23 where each of the first two verses contains two lines that basically say the same thing in two different ways:
The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
The reason that I don’t lack anything is because the Lord is my shepherd.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
Both lines are simply different ways of saying that God provides a place where I can be at peace as I rest in the Shepherd.
The same thing is true in verse 3. As we’ll see this morning, we can’t separate the idea of God restoring my soul from Him leading me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
But at the same time I believe that the first line of verse 3 also serves as an important bridge that connects verses 2 and 3. I think we can see that if we look at that text in more detail.
Especially in the New Testament, when the word “soul” is used in the Bible it usually refers to the immaterial part of man. When it is used in that way, it is helpful to think of it as consisting of our mind, will and emotions. But here in Psalm 23, the word David uses that is translated “soul” in English is the Hebrew word “nephesh” which has a much broader meaning.
“soul” (Hebrew “nephesh”) =
“the whole person”
The best way to understand the meaning of this word is to go back and see how it is used in the account of the creation of man in Genesis 2:
then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
(Genesis 2:7 ESV)
The word translated “creature” in that verse is also the Hebrew word “nephesh” and there it clearly refers not just to the immaterial part of man, but to his entire being – body, soul and spirit. So when David writes that God restores his soul, he is saying that God restores his entire person.
We also need to examine the verb “restores” here.
“to turn back”, “to return”
When we looked at this verse a few weeks ago on Monday morning, one of the men likened this to restoring a classic car. I think that is a great illustration. When someone restores a car what do they do? They attempt to return the entire car – inside and out – to its original condition. David says that is what his shepherd does for his sheep – he restores them completely - inside and out.
So that raises the question – to what is the Shepherd returning me? Before we answer that question, let me first make clear what David is not saying here. He is not in any way implying that a person can somehow lose his or her salvation and then have that salvation restored again. That would require that Jesus was someone’s Shepherd for a period of time and then ceased to be his Shepherd at some point. But remember what David wrote in verse 1:
The Lord is my shepherd…
The verb tense that is used there makes it clear that the Lord has never ceased to be his Shepherd. And yet David acknowledges that there are still times in his life where he needed the Shepherd to restore his soul. Let’s look at another Psalm that will help us to understand what David is writing here. In Psalm 42, the Sons of Korah cry out to God about the condition of their souls:
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?