By Sally Lombardo
“He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:3–4)
A modern-day translation of verse 3, “He restores my soul,” could read instead, “God brings me back.” The Hebrew word used here—shuv—means to return and points toward the people’s need to repent and return to the Lord. Later, when the Septuagint was written, the Greek word used was metanoia—which means turning, remorse, and repentance. Without a shepherd, the sheep wander and take the wrong path. Without a shepherd to restore them from their wandering, the sheep fall down and can’t get up, or they get caught in the brambles and can’t free themselves. Sound familiar?
Our Good Shepherd rescues and restores us, even from dark valleys. The valley of darkness was familiar to the ancient shepherd, because deep sandstone gorges would become so dark at night along their paths that the shepherd could not see the sky. Travelers can still walk through one of these gorges today, on the long journey toward the ancient temple of Petra in Jordan. The walls hem you in, and if it rains, water can rush into these gorges, and sheep can get lost or die. The imagery of deep darkness was very real for shepherds in the ancient Middle East. They understood the psalmist’s picture that the Lord was the only person who could rescue them.
What is our deepest darkness? I am often afraid of what the future might bring, I am afraid of forgiving someone who might hurt me again, and I am afraid of making a wrong choice or taking the wrong path. Jesus came to rescue us from our fears and our bad decisions—but most of all from our sin. He saved us “while we were still sinners,” not after we had gotten ourselves all together (Rom 5:6–8). He rescued us while we were lost sheep.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Our Good Shepherd became the spotless Lamb of God to take away the sin that separates us from God. He came as the true light into darkness (John 1:4¬5), and his Word guides our paths (Psalm 119:105). His rod and staff still comfort us when we look to Him.
Reflection: How does God’s Word light your path, even on dark days? How has the Shepherd restored your soul? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
In our six-week small group Bible study on the book of 1 John, you are invited to live and celebrate true life in Christ. Throughout his first letter, John wrestles with the assurance of salvation. How do we know that we are genuine Christians, and how can we recognize authentic faith in others? The Apostle John taught that you can enjoy full assurance through believing in the incarnate Son of God, walking in the light of obedience, and loving God and his children. Embark on this study with us today!
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