“He leads me in paths of righteousness…”
Psalm 23 speaks of God as a good shepherd who leads us beside “still waters” of safety and refreshment but also to paths that are straight. Specifically, this shepherd will lead you in paths that are “righteous.”
When I think of the word “righteous,” positive connotations don’t come to mind immediately. For example, when someone is called “self-righteous,” that certainly isn’t a compliment! Thinking of people who are considered “righteous” may elicit a picture of someone adhering to rigid fundamentalism or legalistic religion. So, what did the Psalmist intend to convey with the phrase “paths of righteousness”?
When Psalm 23 was read in the synagogue, it would immediately bring the exodus from Egypt to mind—when Israel wandered through the wilderness for 40 years with Yahweh as their Shepherd. The phrase “I do not lack” or “I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1) would remind them of Moses leading them and God providing manna, quail and fresh water in the desert. In fact the Hebrew word for “leads” (nachah) is also used to refer to Israel’s journey through the wilderness. Exodus 13:21 says, “And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead (nachah) them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and by night”. So these righteous paths that Yahweh is leading them on are less about religious festivals or adherence to cleanliness laws and more about a life aligned with God—who leads them on good paths that result in sustenance, security, peace and wholeness.
I recently shared my testimony at Carmel Presbyterian Church, where I was preaching for the first time as a candidate to become their new senior pastor. In the sermon I mentioned the fact that some years ago I personally experienced God tangibly reaching me, turning me away from a path of self-destruction and emptiness and towards a new path filled with joy, hope, life and purpose. My journey of following the Shepherd began with a tangible experience of the 23rd Psalm! When God promises to lead you in righteous paths, it’s not just spiritual talk. God means it when he says he wants to shepherd you toward good things in this life and secure you until the next life. Why does God go through so much trouble to care for his wandering sheep? It’s for “his name’s sake” (23:3c), which we’ll look at more closely in the next devotion.
Something to Think About:
Margaret Feinberg writes, “Sheep also trust each other immensely and, in extreme cases, have been known to follow each other right off of a cliff. Partly, this is due to the fact that sheep travel in a straight line, which creates issues when a shepherd calls to sheep across a ditch or hillside. To prevent the sheep from getting hurt, shepherds will guide their sheep in zig-zag patterns down the side of hills…The Israelites recognized that the path of righteousness is the one that leads straight to the shepherd” (Scouting the Divine, p. 55).
Something to Do:
As you reflect on the past 10 years of your work and personal life, where have things gone “straight” and where have they “zig-zagged”? Spend some time thanking God for being there in the past and for wisdom as you navigate this next season of life.
“We are so thankful to believe that this is a life for us, a life without lack, a life of sufficiency. It’s so clear in you, the sufficiency of your Father and the fullness of life that was poured through you, and we’re so thankful that you have promised that same love, that same life, that same joy, that same power for us. Lord, slip up on us today.” (Dallas Willard, Life Without Lack, p. xiii)