There is no inspired title to this psalm, and none is needed, for it records no special event, and needs no other key than that which every Christian may find in his own bosom. It is David’s Heavenly Pastoral; a surpassing ode, which none of the daughters of music can excel. The clarion of war here gives place to the pipe of peace, and he who so lately bewailed the woes of the Shepherd tunefully rehearses the joys of the flock. Sitting under a spreading tree, with his flock around him, like Bunyan’s shepherd boy in the Valley of Humiliation, we picture David singing this unrivalled pastoral with a heart as full of gladness as it could hold; or, if the psalm be the product of his after years, we are sure that his soul returned in contemplation to the lonely water brooks which rippled among the pastures of the wilderness, where in early days she had been wont to dwell. This is the pearl of psalms whose soft and pure radiance delights every eye; a pearl of which Helicon need not be ashamed, though Jordan claims it. Of this delightful song it may be affirmed that its piety and its poetry are equal, its sweetness and its spirituality are unsurpassed.
The position of this psalm is worthy of notice. It follows the twenty-second, which is peculiarly the Psalm of the Cross. There are no green pastures, no still waters on the other side of the twenty-second psalm. It is only after we have read, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” that we come to “The Lord is my Shepherd.” We must by experience know the value of blood shedding, and see the sword awakened against the Shepherd, before we shall be able truly to know the Sweetness of the good Shepherd’s care.
It has been said that what the nightingale is among birds, that is this divine ode among the psalms, for it has sung sweetly in the ear of many a mourner in his night of weeping, and has bidden him hope for a morning of joy. I will venture to compare it also to the lark, which sings as it mounts, and mounts as it sings, until it is out of sight, and even then is not out of hearing. Note the last words of the psalm—”I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever; “these are celestial notes, more fitted for the eternal mansions than for these dwelling places below the clouds. Oh that we may enter into the spirit of the psalm as we read it, and then we shall experience the days of heaven upon the earth!
The Treasury of David.
He restoreth my soul. When the soul grows sorrowful he revives it; when it is sinful he sanctifies it; when it is weak he strengthens it. “He” does it. His ministers could not do it if he did not. His Word would not avail by itself. “He restoreth my soul.” Are any of us low in grace? Do we feel that our spirituality is at its lowest ebb? He who turns the ebb into the flood can soon restore our soul. Pray to him, then, for the blessing—”Restore thou me, thou Shepherd of my soul!”
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. The Christian delights to be obedient, but it is the obedience of love, to which he is constrained by the example of his Master. “He leadeth me.” The Christian is not obedient to some commandments and neglectful of others; he does not pick and choose, but yields to all. Observe, that the plural is used—”the paths of righteousness.” Whatever God may give us to do we would do it, led by his love. Some Christians overlook the blessing of sanctification, and yet to a thoroughly renewed heart this is one of the sweetest gifts of the covenant. If we could be saved from wrath, and yet remain unregenerate, impenitent sinners, we should not be saved as we desire, for we mainly and chiefly pant to be saved from sin and led in the way of holiness. All this is done out of pure free grace; “for his name’s sake.” It is to the honour of our great Shepherd that we should be a holy people, walking in the narrow way of righteousness. If we be so led and guided we must not fail to adore our heavenly Shepherd’s care.
He restoreth my soul, etc. The subjects experimentally treated in this verse are, first, the believer’s liability to fall, or deviate even within the fold of the church, else wherefore should he need to be “restored?” Next, the promptitude of the Good Shepherd to interpose for his rescue. “He restoreth my soul.” Then Christ’s subsequent care to lead him in the paths of righteousness; and lastly, the reason assigned wherefore he will do this—resolving all into the spontaneousness, the supremacy, the omnipotence of grace. He will do all for his own name’s sake. Thomas Dale.
He restoreth my soul. The same hand which first rescued us from ruin, reclaims us from all our subsequent aberrations. Chastisement itself is blended with tenderness; and the voice which speaks reproof, saying, “They have perverted their way, and they have forsaken the Lord their God, “utters the kindest invitation, “Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings.” Nor is the voice unheard, and the call unanswered or unfelt. “Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God.” Jeremiah 3:22. “When thou saidst, Seek my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.” J. Thornton’s “Shepherd of Israel”, 1826.
He restoreth my soul. He restores it to its original purity, that was now grown foul and black with sin; for also, what good were it to have “green” pastures and a black soul! He “restores” it to its natural temper in affections, that was grown distempered with violence of passions; for alas! what good were it to have “still” waters and turbulent spirits! He “restores” it indeed to life, that was grown before in a manner quite dead; and who could “restore my soul” to life, but he only that is the Good Shepherd and gave his life for his sheep? Sir Richard Baker.
He shall convert my soul; turn me not only from sin and ignorance, but from every false confidence, and every deceitful refuge. He shall bring me forth in paths of righteousness; in those paths of imputed righteousness which are always adorned with the trees of holiness, are always watered with the fountains of consolation, and always terminate in everlasting rest. Some, perhaps, may ask, why I give this sense to the passage? Why may it not signify the paths of duty, and the way of our own obedience? Because such effects are here mentioned as never have resulted, and never can result, from any duties of our own. These are not green pastures, but a parched and blasted heath. These are not still waters, but a troubled and disorderly stream. Neither can these speak peace or administer comfort when we pass through the valley and shadow of death. To yield these blessings, is the exalted office of Christ, and the sole prerogative of his obedience. James Hervey.
He restoreth my soul: Hebrew. “He bringeth it back;” either,
Paths of righteousness. Alas! O Lord, these “paths of righteousness”, have a long time so little been frequented, that the prints of a path are almost clean worn out; that it is a hard matter now, but to find where the paths lie, and if we can find them, yet they are so narrow and so full of ruts, that without special assistance it is an impossible thing not to fall or go astray. Even so angels, and those no mean ones, were not able to go right in these “paths of righteousness”, but for want of leading, went away and perished. O, therefore, thou the Great Shepherd of my soul, as thou art pleased of thy grace to lead me into them, so vouchsafe with thy grace to lead me in them; for though in themselves they be “paths of righteousness“, yet to me they will be but paths of error if thou vouchsafe not, as well to lead me in them, as into them. Sir Richard Baker.
Paths. In the wilderness and in the desert there are no raised paths, the paths being merely tracks; and sometimes there are six or eight paths running unevenly along side each other. No doubt this is what is figuratively referred to in Psalms 23:3, “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness”, all leading to one point. John Gadsby.
For his name’s sake. Seeing he hath taken upon him the name of a “Good Shepherd”, he will discharge his part, whatever his sheep be. It is not their being bad sheep that can make him leave being a “Good Shepherd”, but he will be “good”, and maintain the credit of “his name” in spite of all their badness; and though no benefit come to them of it, yet there shall glory accrue to him by it, and “his name” shall nevertheless be magnified and extolled. Sir Richard Baker.
Gracious restoration, holy guidance, and divine motives.
The Treasury of David.
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