June 4, 2020 by Steven Lulich
He leads me in paths of righteousness
For his name’s sake
Psalm 23 is perhaps the best-known and best-loved of all the Psalms. Any why not? It is a tremendous comfort to know that God is my Shepherd – He leads me beside still waters, He makes me lie down in green pastures (what a lovely, picturesque perspective!), He restores my soul, He prepares a table for me and anoints my head with oil. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever!” It all sounds so wonderfully peaceful, doesn’t it?
Of course, within this Psalm there are also hints of a darker reality – a reality into which the Psalm’s comforting words shine a warm light, and a reality that the Light of the World ultimately conquers (cf. John 1:5, 8:12). The Psalm affirms that we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death”, that there is evil in the world, and that we have our enemies. As in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the shadow is often so widespread and dark, that we might well be tempted to lose heart and hope. We might wonder if we will ever be strong enough to “fear no evil”. Even still waters and green pastures can be overshadowed by storm clouds. What then? After all, the words of Psalm 23 are comforting only if we believe them to be true. What comfort do they provide when we are despairing of faith? And what assurance do we have that God will always restore our soul, prepare a table for us, and anoint our heads with oil?
I think there are two kinds of assurance of God’s faithfulness in these matters. The first is that God loves us – so much, in fact, that He was willing to die for us, and at our own hands. The second kind of assurance of God’s faithfulness is greater still: God leads us in paths of righteousness “for His name’s sake.” Yes, the Lord is our shepherd for our sake, but He is also our shepherd for His sake.
The author of Hebrews picks up this theme and elaborates on it like this:
“When God made a promise to Abraham, since He had no one greater by whom to swear, He swore by Himself … When God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:13-20). Sometimes faith is hard to come by, and the words of Psalm 23 might feel like a tease. Let us find comfort and strength in the knowledge that God loves us not only for our own sake, but for His sake, and that we surely “shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” for God has promised it to us with an oath!