Before he was king of Israel, David had been a young shepherd boy, caring for his father’s sheep. Through his experiences, he gained firsthand knowledge about the characteristics of sheep and shepherds. This picture became an apt metaphor for who he was—one of the LORD’s sheep.
Possessing all the weaknesses of a sheep, David knew he needed a shepherd to restore and guide him. He too easily could lose sight of the path and wander away. He could be drawn in the wrong direction where he found himself exposed to many threatening dangers. In those times, the LORD had to go after him, like a shepherd, and bring him back into the safety of the fold—just like David had done with his father’s sheep.
In this psalm, David draws upon this shepherd-sheep relationship as He describes his personal walk with the LORD. He writes, “He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (verse 3). What David reflects about himself applies to each one of us as believers.
In the first verse, we already noted that the LORD graciously cares for us and is unconditionally committed to meeting all our needs. In the second verse, we saw that He is lovingly feeding us in green pastures and wisely leading us beside still waters. Now, in verse three, we see that He patiently restores our soul and guides us in His chosen paths of righteousness.
“He Restores My Soul”
David says the LORD “restores my soul” (verse 3). The word “restore” means ‘to turn back, to return.’ The idea is for something or someone to go back to where it previously was. For example, Noah released a dove from the ark and waited for it to return back to him (Genesis 8:8-11). In like manner, the LORD “restores” David’s “soul,” meaning He brings him back to where he once was before he drifted away and suffered spiritual decline.
This restoration of David’s soul came through various means of grace. It came by the Holy Spirit, who convicted him of sin. It came by the LORD’s painful, yet loving discipline. It came by the ministry of “the law of the LORD” that is “is perfect, restoring the soul” (Psalm 19:7).
In each of our lives, God works in similar ways. He brings us back to where we need to be by reviving our hearts when we become spiritually sluggish or lukewarm. Left to ourselves, we would wander away from the LORD and be slow to return. But by His restoring grace, He brings us back to our first love (Revelation 2: 4-7).
Reviving and Replenishing
When we are down, the Lord lifts us up. When we are discouraged, the Lord encourages us. When we are depleted, the Lord replenishes us. When we are dry, the Lord revives us. When we leave our first love, He brings us back to Him. This is God’s continual work of sanctification in our lives.
Maybe you are feeling distant from the LORD. Be encouraged to know that God is always at work within you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). When we go astray, He is constantly pursuing us in order to bring us back to Himself.
God Guides Our Steps
Further, David said, “He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (verse 3). This is to say, the LORD is directing David’s steps along His chosen path. So personal is this divine guidance, it is as if David is the only sheep in His care. God is that intimately involved in ordering his way. In the same way, God is closely guiding us in our unique circumstances.
These “paths” are represented in the plural, indicating their comprehensive nature. They include every area of David’s life, including his personal, family, and work life. No part of his life is to be lived excluded from these “paths.” Every choice he makes and every act he performs is to be conducted on this clearly marked route.
The same is true for your Christian life. Every step of life’s journey is to be taken on this divinely-prepared course. There can be no sidetrack that you pursue. No shortcut that you take. No alternate route that you travel. Whether you are at home, at work, or with your family, your Shepherd is guiding you on His chosen paths.
“In Paths of Righteousness”
This guidance of the LORD is always onto paths of “righteousness.” This represents practical righteousness or personal holiness. David knows that the LORD will never lead him into sin. Instead, he will be directed away from iniquity. David could never lay blame on God for any moral failure in his life. Such responsibility—and accountability—always lay at his own feet.
When David fell into sin with Bathsheba, his decision was certainly not the result of the Lord’s leadership. That act of willful sin was David choosing to go his own way, departing from “paths of righteousness” that had been clearly designated by God.
“For His Name’s Sake”
David states that the Lord guides His sheep “for His name’s sake.” In the Bible, a person’s “name” represents all that they are. It is a summary of their character and reputation. This says that all God does is for the magnification of His own “name.” This self-exaltation of His own greatness is the highest of His motives. Ultimately, everything that God does is to bring honor to Himself.
Specifically, the LORD is glorified when we follow His leadership on “paths of righteousness.” His “name” is elevated when His character is manifested in our lives. Seeing God’s holy character reflected in His people puts His glory on display.
At the same time, whatever most glorifies God results in our greatest good. These two realities––God’s glory and our good––are never at odds or in competition with each other. They work in perfect harmony with each other. That which most glorifies Him is what works for our greatest good.
Our Shepherd Leads Us
What David says in this verse becomes a perfect guide for our prayers. We should pray these words back to God: “Lord, make my way straight. Do not let me wander from your path. Do not allow me to be led astray by my own impulses. Mark my path in the way that I should go. God, I want to do what most honors You.”
This path is clearly marked out by Scripture. Specifically, the way is shown by the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the Lord’s Prayer. It is marked by every godly example in the Bible, most of all by the manner in which Jesus walked. It is revealed by every imperative in the Scripture, especially in the New Testament.
We should pray what David is praying here, “Lord, lead me in your righteousness. Make your way straight before me.”
Are You Following?
God is constantly guiding you in paths of righteousness. The searching question is: Are you following His path? Are you obeying His word? Are you pursuing His will? Are you submitting to His leadership? If you are one of His sheep, be assured that He will always restore and guide you, now and into eternity with Him.