A few weeks ago, as I was reading Psalm 23, I was arrested by two words in verse 3: "He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name sake." This week, as I re-read Psalm 23 I felt compelled to investigate this verse more closely. First of all, the word "guide" is interchanged with the word lead in different versions of the Bible. It means to escort and show the way. There are many definitions for the word "in." Some found in Webster's New World Dictionary include contained by, amidst, inside, within, affected by. As I read these definitions I pictured myself walking in a space that is easy to walk in, protected, warm, surrounded by light and filled with a spirit of joy and expectation for good. I am following our Shepherd who delights in leading us into the paths He has already chosen for us to walk in for He knows they are best for us. He leads us into His paths.
"We are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture." (Psalm 100:3) Phillip Keller, in his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, writes about the ways in which people behave as sheep and how Jesus is the perfect One to shepherd us. Keller writes, "No other class of livestock requires more careful handling, more detailed direction, than do sheep. No doubt David, as a shepherd himself, had learned this firsthand from tough experience. He knew beyond dispute that if a flock was to flourish and the owner's reputation was to be held in high esteem as a good manager, the sheep had to be constantly under his meticulous control and guidance."
Sheep, left to their own devices, will follow the same trails and destroy the ground around them, polluting it so that parasites can infect the areas where they feed. The good shepherd has a plan to keep his flock on the move, bringing them fresh "manna" for each day. Keller says, "No other single aspect of the ranch operations commanded more of my careful attention than this moving of the sheep...A pattern of grazing is worked out carefully in advance so that the sheep do not feed over the same ground too long or too frequently...He (the shepherd) knows where his flock will thrive and he is aware of where the feed is poor. So he acts accordingly."
So too our Shepherd. He is well aware of our behavior patterns and of the places where we will thrive and the places that are destructive. That is why He guides/directs us into the paths of righteousness--the places where He has already walked. He asks us to follow Him even though the road may be difficult. He says, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34)
Jesus has walked the ground of heaven and earth. He has prepared the paths for us to walk in--the paths of righteousness. We must lay down the self-life and surrender unconditionally to the Lordship of Jesus so that He can show us the way. After all, He is the way! (John 14:6) Doing this, we will reflect His character and His name and demonstrate that Jesus is the King, worthy of worship.
The only way this walk is possible is through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. As Paul tells us, "No one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit," (1 Corinthians 12:3) and "Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you--guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us." (2 Timothy 1:14) We are God's people, the sheep of His pasture. Let us praise Him forever; from generation to generation let us recount His praise. (Psalm 79:13)
Joan E. Mathias