“He guides me in the paths of righteousness . . . (Psalm 23:3b)
We’ve already touched down on this part of Psalm 23, but there is still more to consider here. The verb form of “to guide” in Hebrew is causative. That means it is more than just happenstance; the sheep don’t just bumble and stumble onto a certain pathway. Instead, there is a definite process of the Shepherd directing the sheep and steering them onto the right pathway. In this case the direction is also clearly marked out because it is a wagon trail that the writer has in mind. The Hebrew word used here signifies the track of a wagon. The way of righteousness has been clearly defined and is well marked. This is the kind of roadway that the LORD sets before his sheep and urges them and guides them to walk down. In other words, it cannot be missed except by some willful act of disobedience or blindness.
The Righteous Pathway and True Worship
As we have laid out previously, it is for the sake of his name that the LORD guides his sheep onto the righteous roadway. When his sheep follow this clearly marked way, his name is magnified and glorified. But what exactly are these pathways of righteousness? What specific things does David have in mind here? What is being set before the sheep is any thought, word or action that magnifies the goodness, truth and beauty of the Shepherd-King. The torah or instruction of God is what the writer has in mind. In other words, the ten words of instruction given by God to Moses, plus all their implications and applications to the varied circumstances of life. Following the path of righteousness means worshiping God alone and not giving first priority in my life to any other person, place or thing. Recall what Jesus said on one occasion: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21a). Why did Jesus say this? If you remember, that statement was spoken to a bunch of Jewish leaders attempting to lure Jesus into a verbal trap by asking if a Jew should pay tax to Caesar. Jesus’ response was to borrow a coin and ask whose image and inscription was on that coin. Of course, Caesar’s image was stamped on it. That meant, in essence, that the coin belonged to Caesar and hence it should be returned to him. But then Jesus went a step further. It is the last part of his reply to the tricksters that conjures the unasked but implied question: “And whose image is on you?” The answer: God’s image, of course! “Then,” says Jesus, “be sure you give to God what belongs to him, that is, your whole self!” (Matthew 22:21b). That is what true worship of God looks like and this is what traveling the road of righteousness includes. It means prioritizing and prizing that relationship with God over all other relationships even to the point of death!
The Righteous Pathway and Applying the Torah
Taking the righteous roadway also means living rightly with people, that is, with other human beings created in the image of God. The section of the Old Testament called The Torah (or Law), describes many practical ways in which this can be applied in an ancient agrarian culture. As twenty-first century Christians we need to contextualize those same instructions for our place and time in history. Living righteously means practicing the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) in all places and all circumstances and with all the various dispositions of people we encounter. It means going back to the Sermon on the Mount and discovering what thinking and acting like a disciple of Jesus really looks like. It means tuning our thought patterns to God’s frequency. That itself will include tuning out most of what the world says is worth pursuing in the sphere of finances, relationships, sexuality, the future, and spirituality. The experts and pundits may give great soundbites, but the pathway they promote is frequently not the pathway of righteousness that Jesus wants his sheep walk. Being led in that pathway means filtering out the mindless mantras of the masses who spout the same PC nonsense without giving a moment’s serious thought to what underlies those words or to their eventual consequences.
The road of righteousness is neither popular nor easy to navigate. But as Psalm 23 goes on to point out, its destination and payoff is well worth every effort.
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