Psalm 23:3 – He restores my soul…
This article is inspired by chapter 5 of the book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller.
According to Albert Barnes in his commentary, this phrase “He restores my soul” means literally “He causes my life to return.” This leaves us with a question, why would a sheep in the excellent care of the loving Shepherd need restoring?
We know that even under the best shepherd’s care, a sheep can get himself into danger. Sheep wander. Sheep end up on their backs and find themselves in a bad way because they can’t get back up. Keller, as a shepherd in the field, saw many sheep who were “cast” or “cast down.” He points out that this term for a “cast” sheep is an old English term for a sheep that is on its back and cannot get up on its feet. The sheep is in danger and will die if the shepherd does not find the sheep and help set it back on its feet. He sometimes knew a sheep was downcast by looking in the air above the pasture and seeing buzzards circling. The other animals knew the sheep was in trouble and close to death.
David himself was “cast down” at times and in need of restoration. Sometimes it was because of the oppression of the enemies around him. Other times it was other adversities in life. Even more than that, David found himself downcast and on his back because of his own sins before God. David, as God’s sheep, needed the Lord as His shepherd to help set him back on his feet and work with him until he could stand and walk again.
Keller observes three reasons why his sheep would get downcast (on their backs and unable to get back up).
- Seeking a soft spot – His sheep would find a nice soft spot in the ground where there is a depression in the ground. Eventually the sheep would be laying such that she couldn’t get her feet to contact the ground.
- Too much wool – Sometimes it was just too much wool, and all that heavy and soft coating disabled the sheep from rolling back on its feet.
- Too fat – The sheep was at times just too heavy and it couldn’t move or adjust itself like it should.
If you think about the parallels to ourselves spiritually, you can see why sometimes we are cast down and in need of restoration. Maybe we got too comfortable in life, and we lost sight of the important things. It might be that we just want to seek the soft spots of life and avoid anything that might cause us discomfort. We fail to grow, and we end up on our backs spiritually flailing and in desperate need of the Shepherd’s restoration. Other times, we just got too fat on the blessings of life, and we can’t move too well spiritually.
This is not to say, and please hear me, that anytime we are suffering that we have lost sight of what’s important. That wasn’t true for Job, for Jesus, or for many other people that follow God. Sometimes the most faithful suffer the most. Elijah was downcast and despondent because of how bad it was in Israel at the time, and God lovingly set him back on his feet (1 Kings 19). God restored the depressed Elijah’s soul.
For others followers of God the problem is complacency. We need some loving training from the Lord as our Shepherd. We might have to lose weight spiritually (Hebrews 12:1-2). Jesus offers us His clothing and not the cumbersome fleeces of material prosperity (Revelation 3:14-22, see below). It might be that the Lord has to take us through some difficult training to set us back on our feet again (Hebrews 12:5-11).
But its worth it, isn’t it? What’s the alternative? If you as a sheep stay on your back flailing, you will die. The wolves will find you, and the vultures will clean up what’s left. You don’t want that for yourself, and certainly your Loving Shepherd doesn’t want that for you.
Thank Jesus that He seeks us out when we are downcast and works to set us back on our feet. He restores our soul. God brings us back to life again!