We have been looking at Psalm 23 in this column. Psalm 23 is perhaps one of the most familiar passages in all of scripture. We are generally familiar with the great words of comfort found in this psalm, but many of us don't know the deep riches of the text.
In this series of articles we are attempting to mine some of the depths of this familiar passage, and we've been looking at it phrase by glorious phrase.
"He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake." The paths of righteousness here mean simply, "right paths." The Good Shepherd will not lead you down the wrong path, though sometimes in might look like it.
The picture presented in this part of verse 3 is a picture of the shepherd moving his flock from their winter quarters to their summer lands. To do that, he takes them along a predetermined course.
Sheep are creatures of habit. If left alone, they will always follow the same path, and in doing so, they will ruin their own land. People are creatures of habit as well. If left alone, we will always follow the same path. Someone once said, "the definition of insanity is doing the same things the same way and expecting different results."
It doesn't take long before one realizes we all are insane to some extent. For instance, with all the clinical studies done on the dangers of smoking, smokers persist in their habit and then seem surprised when they develop lung disease or heart disease.
When it comes to the habits of sheep (and of people), the skilled shepherd knows his sheep, by nature, will want to always travel the same pathway. The shepherd knows that this is not only bad for the land since soon that route would be barren, but it is also bad for the sheep who may not even be aware of the stalking wolf or lion who soon comes to recognize their pattern and could easily lie in wait. The good shepherd precludes both possibilities by careful planning an alternate route.
But there is another truth to this beautiful picture. The shepherd doesn't just "map" his route, he takes it before he takes his sheep along that route - he knows what dangers may exist along that route because he has been there.
There are some marvelous verses in Hebrews 4. Let me remind you of them: "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV). That is how the writer of Hebrews put it. David said the same thing this way: "He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake."
One final thought. Notice that immediately after this phrase, "He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake," comes the familiar, "even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." Now remember, verse 4 comes after the promise that the Good Shepherd will never lead us astray.
I don't know what you may be facing today, but I know that if you know Jesus as your personal savior, you can relax knowing that the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise and loving Good Shepherd not only knows the path you take, but he's scouted it out before hand and knows exactly why he is leading you along the path and where the pathway will end.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church. Write him in care of the church at 11677 Brown Bridge Road Covington, GA 30016. Or e-mail him at email@example.com For more information visit the Gateway Web site at www.gatewaycommunity.org