The Guiding God: Psalm 23
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Not only does the shepherd pick us up when we go astray, he guides us so that we get it right; ‘He guides me in paths of righteousness’, or more simply ‘the right paths’. For literal sheep this means that the shepherd will go ahead of the sheep to make sure the track along which they are travelling is the correct one and clear in order to get to the place intended such as new pasture or a watering hole. But when applied to God and his people it is a way of life which is ‘right’ - a life of righteousness, the kind of life we were made for. Put simply, ‘God’s ways are the best ways’, both in terms of the way to live and the direction in which to go.
God does this for ‘his name’s sake’.
Many reasons could be given as to why God saves us and guides us. It could be because he loves us, that he wants the best for us, or it is all part of his plan. All of these answers are true of course. But the ultimate reason why God acts faithfully, lovingly and does not give up on us is because of his own honour - the sake of his ‘name’, his good reputation if you will. We know how at the human level a person’s reputation is precious, that is why we have laws of libel and slander to protect it. It is sadly only too possible to rob a person of his good name as surely as he can be robbed of his wallet. The former is often much, much harder to restore. But with God it is far more important. Everything that God is and stands for is bound up in his name - Yahweh. As we have seen it is a name which means faithful, provider, holy, righteous and true. He is the Supreme Being upon which the moral order, let alone the physical order, of the universe depends. He is perfect within his own being and so cannot allow his name or reputation to be tarnished in any way for that would be tantamount to ceasing to be God, which is impossible. Therefore he acts in such a way that his reputation, his ‘name’, is enhanced and glorified and seen to stand for what it means.
This is the reason God gives to his people who were in exile in Babylon because of their rebellion for why he will bring them back, ‘"Therefore say to the Israelites, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone."’ (Ez.36:22), a passage which comes on the heels of another prophecy in which God is portrayed as Shepherd (Ez. 34).
And he did. God is faithful; he doesn’t lead us so far along the road only to abandon us for that would be to deny his name which he can’t do. This gives assurance to his sheep that the Shepherd will ensure that his flock arrive at their final destination come what may. After all, he is the Good Shepherd whose name is Jesus (John 10:11).
By your grace I’ve learned to boast in my weakness, and pose and pretend less. For when I come to the end of my strength, you faithfully meet me there—granting me rest in my weariness and strength for my tired heart and body. I am so grateful that you have both marked the path for me, and that you yourself are my Way, Truth and Life. I want to honour your name much more than I want to go my way and get my way. For your name’s sake, Amen.