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“…He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”
The Shepherd leads us. Just think on that. God leads. No matter what hell is breaking loose. He leads. In all things, He leads. So much in the world is topsy turvy right now, and getting more so every minute. But He leads. Something is about to happen that will change everything yet again. But, He leads. Satan is out to steal, kill and destroy us. But God is leading still. And though He leads us through the Valley of the Shadow or seats us in the presence of our enemies, and we can’t see clearly and all is foreign and frightening, He leads. He is Emmanuel – God with us. And though we may not always understand the whys or hows or whats or whens of life, we never have to wonder where God is because He is our Shepherd who is always leading, and He is always with us.
What does “lead” mean?
We could say the above till we are blue in the face though, and we still may not grasp the meaning of what it means for God to lead. How does a Shepherd lead? Does He herd the sheep from behind? Does He round them up on all sides? Does He crack a whip like cattlemen do with cattle?
According to the Miriam-Webster Dictionary, to lead means “to guide on a way especially by going in advance.” To be at the head of the group. It also can mean, “to direct the operations, activity, or performance of” and “to guide someone or something along a way.” So, one can lead by being at the head, by directing, and by guiding.
The Hebrew word being used here for “lead” is nachah (5148), which is different from the word used in verse 2 (5095) of the Shepherd when he “leads me beside the still waters.” In verse 2, the Shepherd’s leading was specifically to a refreshing place, a restful place (https://holylight4u.wordpress.com/2021/05/12/psalm-23-i-shall-not-want/). The meaning here, however, is “ to lead, guide”, “to govern” or “transport”, “to lead forth”. Furthermore, its verbal form is that of Hiphil Imperfect which is a causative verbal form wherein someone or something is causing another to do something. In other words, the Shepherd by leading is causing His sheep to follow. The Shepherd is out in front, not behind, not to the side. The sheep only know where to go because the Shepherd goes there first, and when they see Him moving, they inevitably follow. He picks the path. He clears the path. He walks the path. He treads the path. He leads by example. He calls to the sheep and the sheep know His voice, and eagerly respond. Indeed, the sheep probably know their Shepherd best from behind, because a good little lamb is always following and a good shepherd is always leading.
This makes me think of Moses when he asked to see God’s glory in Exodus 33. “18 And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.19 And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.20 And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.21 And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:22 And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:23 And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.” (emphasis mine).
Even as the sheep see the back of the Shepherd more often than not, especially when going to another place for grazing, even so, Moses saw the LORD’s back as He passed by on that incredible day. God’s glory was seen from behind. From behind. Think about that.
So, the question, therefore, is not “who” is leading or where is God, for clearly God is leading, directing and guiding. The question is: where is He leading us? Where does He want us to follow?
Before we get into what righteousness is, let’s begin by defining what path means here in Psalm 23. Is it a new trail? Is it an old trail? Is it long? Is it short? Is there anything implicit in the word for path that will help us to better understand what it is? And if it seems a bit over the top to study the word path, it is not. Each time I think to overlook a word because its meaning seems clear, a majority of the time I am astounded when the meaning of a simple word is made even more clear when looking at its Hebrew or Greek definition.
Now, without further ado, let’s proceed!
The Hebrew word for path is magal or magalah (4570) meaning “an entrenchment or track”. In Hebrew it is nearly always important and helpful to investigate what a word’s root is, for it sheds more light on the its meaning. In this case, its root is an unused one meaning “to revolve”. In Scripture magal is a word that is used of the encampment of an army, for it was “circular” and was “entrenched” for the sake of defense. In 1 Samuel 17:20 this exact same word is used of the camp of the Israelites when David traveled to check on his brothers and the progress of the battle on behalf of his father Jesse. It says, “And David rose up early in the morning, and left the sheep with a keeper, and took, and went, as Jesse had commanded him; and he came to the trench, as the host was going forth to the fight, and shouted for the battle.” (emphasis mine). The word in this sense “may mean either, (a) the circular rampart round the camp; or (b) a barrier formed by the baggage waggons round the camp; or (c) the place where the baggage waggons of the army were kept,” (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges Commentary). According to the Pulpit Commentary “Strictly the word means a wagon track, but the primary meaning of the verb is to be round. This was the shape of camps in old time, and they were protected against surprise by having the wagons and baggage placed round them.”
In other passages the word is translated as “way” or “path,” like one that is worn by wheel tracks as in the wagon trains of the old west. It is a deeply, well-worn, narrow path. And though the path may not literally be circular, what is implied by this word is that it is used repetitively.
And these paths are not just any paths, but are paths that lead to lush, restful pastures and cool, refreshing, quiet waters. However, they also lead us to overwhelming places like the valley of the shadow, and to dangerous places in the presence of our enemies. These are not paths of entertainment nor of pleasing yourself or paths of individuality or paths of self-preservation. These are paths of righteousness.
So, what is this righteousness exactly?
In Hebrew the word is tsedeq (6664) meaning “rightness, righteousness,” which comes from an unused root (6663) meaning, “to be just or righteous.” It has everything to do with “what is right, just, normal; rightness, justness, of weights and measures.” (Bible Hub). Righteousness is moral, ethical, and judicial. It is to be on the side of the law, morality, and ethical behavior in all situations no matter the consequences. Righteousness is “the conformity to the claims of higher authority and stands in opposition to… lawlessness,” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary, pg 458). Thus, righteousness is the crucifying of our way of living and the complete surrender to living life God’s way.
Incredibly, God is our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:5-6) and is righteous in all of His ways (Psalm 145:17). Along with being truth and just, He IS righteous (Deuteronomy 32:4; Isaiah 45:21; Jeremiah 12:1; John 17:25). His right hand is full of righteousness (Psalm 48:10) that reaches to the heavens (Psalm 71:19), and the heavens declare His righteousness (Psalm 97:6). And incredibly, righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne (Psalm 89:14; 97:2). God’s righteousness will be forever and His salvation from generation to generation (Isaiah 51:8).
That being said, what does righteousness look like? Job 29 gives the best example of what righteousness in living color looks like when Job says, “11 When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me:12 Because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him.13 The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.14 I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem.15 I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame.16 I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out.17 And I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth.” (emphasis mine)
In this we see the heart of God, for God expressed His righteousness through Jesus, by saving us through Him. After all, He left His glory…to save us. As Philippians 2 says, “5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Jesus descended from His majestic throne and position of equality with God. Why? Because He saw us wallowing, destitute and condemned in sin’s muck and mire, enslaved and tormented, blind, deaf, lame and hopeless. And God, selflessly came down…to seek and save that which was lost….and went to the cross, for your sin and mine. After all, the Gospel is a revelation of God’s righteousness. As Romans 1 states, “16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” (emphasis mine)
Jesus: Righteousness Personified
Jesus walked on the paths of righteousness when He lived and moved among us. Just Him being here was righteousness in action. Everything He was was righteous; everything He did was righteous. He even was baptized to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3). Jesus did not need the baptism of repentance. He was sinless. He was perfect. He was God in human flesh. He was righteousness itself. Nevertheless, Colossians 1 so adeptly says that He was and is the first in all things, and thus, He also lead the way in baptism to fulfill all righteousness.
Matthew 3:16-17 says, “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Emphasis mine) Just as God in the beginning after creating on each of the 6 days of creation said at the close of each creation day “it is good,” God the Father says the same in this passage. When He says “I am well pleased” He is saying “it is good.” The word in Greek for “pleased” is eudokeó (2106) meaning, “I am well-pleased or think it good.” This is beyond amazing.
Furthermore, the Father calls Jesus “My beloved,” which is agapétos (27) in the Greek. The word in Hebrew for “My beloved” is dodi (1730).
What does this have to do with paths of righteousness? You’ll see.
Think on this a moment… Jesus was called “My beloved.” The word “My” implies that first and foremost, He was God’s. 100% – every breath, every thought, every word, every cell, every hair of His head, every desire, every action – all of Him was 100% God’s. “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,” (Colossians 2:9). Secondly, the word “beloved” is incredibly powerful. Looking more closely at it, we find that the “word beloved in Hebrew is dodi which is where the word David comes from and is really a form of the word yadiyad which means beloved friend.The word yadiyad is the word yad which means hand repeated two times meaning hand in hand.” (Chaim Bentorah). Now, David was the apple of God’s eye, a man after God’s own heart, and the one through whom Messiah would come. Not just anyone is called beloved. Only those who are super close, intimately connected, hand-in-hand are called this.
When God said those words to Jesus, He was in effect declaring Him righteous, one in heart with Him, holy and set apart. This baptismal scene fulfilled Jeremiah 23 which says, “5 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.6 In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (emphasis mine)
Paths of Righteousness
So, when the “beloved” Shepherd leads us on paths of righteousness, He leads us in His own footsteps as the One who has walked hand-in-hand with God, and the only One who is the first born of all creation declared “good”. And “Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps,” (Psalm 85:13). These paths are the Gospel lived out in living color.
Do we have to do something to become righteous? No. After all, there is no one righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10), and all of our righteousness are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Thus, God did what we cannot do. He accounted us righteous, like Abraham (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4; Galatians 3:6; Philippians 3:9), for when we believed in Christ’s death and resurrection we believed unto righteousness (Romans 10:10). It is a gift to those who receive it. And thus, even as Christ is “beloved” we are now beloved too (Ephesians 5:1). And we are new creations in Christ; the old has passed away, and all has become new (2 Corinthians 5).
The way of the Shepherd’s steps are the well-worn Gospel paths of salvation by grace through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ (Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2), of loving God with all of one’s heart, soul, strength and mind and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self (Luke 10:27); for indeed, the world will know us by our love for one another (John 13:35). As it states so succinctly in Ephesians 5:1-2, “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear [beloved] children;2 And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.”
For His Name’s Sake
And we are not on these paths for our own selfish purposes, for there is no room for selfishness on the narrow paths of righteousness. You see, we are on these paths not for our own gain or purpose, but rather, for God’s name’s sake. We wear the name of Christ – “Christians”. And one day we will have His name manifest on our person. As Revelation 3:12 says, “and I will write upon him my new name,” and Revelation 22:4, “And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads.” We wear His name, and will some day literally wear His name.
When Jesus came as the beloved Son who was righteousness in the flesh, He did not come for His own pleasure, but rather, He came to fulfill the purpose of the Father. Even so, we as His sheep, are called to walk in those same paths of righteousness and fulfill the purpose of God, not for our benefit, but as Ambassadors of Christ. And ambassadors never represent themselves, but represent the kingdom and king from whence they’ve come. In other words, they do all for the sake of king and kingdom. We too are to do this. We represent Jesus and His eternal Kingdom, and thus, we are to walk in the righteous edicts of that Kingdom – for His name’s sake. After all, He forgave us all of our sins, FOR HIS NAME’S Sake (1 John 2:12). So, having received so great a salvation (Hebrews 2:3) and having been made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21), why would we not deny ourselves, take up our crosses (Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23) and follow Him on paths of righteousness for His name’s sake?
We are not invited to follow Christ in righteousness because we are good or worthy, but rather, because He is good and worthy and has fulfilled all righteousness. We are invited to follow in His righteous footsteps, however, for His name’s sake. First John 2:5-6 says so clearly, “But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.6 He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” (emphasis mine) Selflessly. As a servant. Meekly. Holy. Obediently. Godly. Justly. Righteously.
As the Bride, let us be robed in righteousness “as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10) — for righteousness is what makes us a glorious Bride. As the priests of Christ let us be clothed in righteousness (Psalm 132:9) — for it’s what sets us apart for holy service. As soldiers of the cross, let us be suited up in the breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6), even faith and love (1 Thessalonians 5:8) — for it’s what guards our hearts that are the well-spring of life (Proverbs 4).
Our King is not of this world, and He is coming for us very soon. Let’s keep our robes of righteousness white and without wrinkle. The trumpet of God is about to sound. Let’s be ready!
For part 1, part 2, and part 4 of this series please select the links below:
“The Breastplate of Righteousness,” https://holylight4u.wordpress.com/2018/10/01/we-are-at-war-the-breastplate-of-righteousness/
The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament by Spiros Zodhiates
Bible Hub, “1 Samuel 17:20” from the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, https://biblehub.com/commentaries/1_samuel/17-20.htm
Bible Hub, “1 Samuel 17:20” from the Pulpit Commentary, https://biblehub.com/commentaries/1_samuel/17-20.htm
Merriam-Webster, “Lead,” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lead
“Hebrew Word Study – I Am My Beloved,” Chaim Bentorah, Feb 2019, https://www.chaimbentorah.com/2019/02/hebrew-word-study-i-am-my-beloved/
“Hebrew Word Study – Beloved,” Chaim Bentorah, May 2020, https://www.chaimbentorah.com/2020/05/hebrew-word-study-beloved/
“What does it mean that Jesus’ baptism fulfilled “all righteousness”?” Never Thirsty, https://www.neverthirsty.org/bible-qa/qa-archives/question/what-does-it-mean-that-jesus-baptism-fulfilled-all-righteousness/
“The Righteous Branch: Jeremiah 23:1-8,” Michael Mccray of the Ambassadors for Christ website, 2016, https://godsambassadors.com/2012/12/16/the-righteous-branch-jeremiah-231-8/
“Robes of Righteousness,” Timothy II, 1992, https://timothy2.org/studyguides/THE-ROBES-OF-RIGHTEOUSNESS-FOR-WEB.pdf
“Learning Hebrew: Hiphil Stem,” http://www.becomingjewish.org/pdf/hiphil_stem-hebrew.pdf
“Stem Hiphil,” https://uhg.readthedocs.io/en/latest/stem_hiphil.html