By James Boice
Theme: Possessing Life and Guidance
In this week’s lessons we see how Jesus, as our shepherd, gives us everything we need in this world as well as in the world to come.
Scripture: Psalm 23:1-6
2. I shall not lack life. This is because “he restores my soul” (v. 3). In Hebrew idiom the words “restores my soul” can mean “brings me to repentance” (or conversion).5 But since the word translated “soul” is actually “life,” and since the metaphor here is that of shepherding, the words probably mean “the LORD restores me to physical health” (or salvation). In the book on this psalm which I referred to earlier, Phillip Keller explains this by the situation known to shepherds as a “cast (or cast down) sheep.” As Keller explains, “A heavy, fat or long-fleeced sheep will lie down comfortably in some little hollow or depression in the ground. It may roll on its side slightly to stretch out or relax. Suddenly the center of gravity in the body shifts so that it turns on its back far enough that the feet no longer touch the ground. It may feel a sense of panic and start to paw frantically. Frequently this only makes things worse. It rolls over even further. Now it is quite impossible for it to regain its feet.”6 In this position gases build up in the body, cutting off circulation to the legs, and often it is only a matter of a few hours before the sheep dies. The only one who can restore the sheep to health is the shepherd.
Sometimes we are like cast sheep. We are spiritually on our backs, quite helpless. But Jesus comes to us when we are in this condition, like he did to Peter after Peter had denied him even with oaths and cursing (Matt. 26:72, 74). Jesus restored Peter, just as he restores us. He gets us going again.
3. I shall not lack guidance. This is because the Lord “guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (v. 3).
Sheep are very foolish creatures. In fact, they are probably the most stupid animals on earth. One aspect of their stupidity is seen in the fact that they so easily wander away. They can have a good shepherd who can have brought them to the best grazing lands near an abundant supply of water, and they will still wander away to where the fields are barren and the water undrinkable. Again, they are creatures of habit. They can have been brought to good grazing land by their shepherd, but, having found it, they will keep on grazing it until every blade of grass and every root is eaten, the fields ruined and themselves impoverished. No other class of livestock requires more careful handling than do sheep. Therefore, having a shepherd who will move them from field to field yet always keep them near an abundant supply of water is essential for their welfare.
In his translation of this psalm Martin Luther rendered the phrase “paths of righteousness” by auf rechter Strasse (“in straight paths”), which is true enough. But that interpretation misses something because it is not only the straight way, it is also the righteous way. We stray by sinning, but God leads us into upright moral paths. Isaiah said, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (53:6).
- Explain what is meant by the expression is verse 3, “he restores my soul.”
- What is a “cast” or “cast down” sheep? How do we fit that description, and what does the Lord do for us in response?
- How do sheep demonstrate their need for the shepherd’s guidance?
Application: Recount some examples of how God lead you in the past. What harmful results did he perhaps keep you from experiencing had you gone your own way? How did his plans turn out better than your own desires?
5Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), p. 110.
6Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), p. 61.
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