Old Testament Psalms Psalm 23 He Leadeth Me

He Leadeth Me

I love the Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. I love this novel for many reasons, however one that gives a Pilgrim in this world great comfort. Right at the start of the novel, Christian feels a great sense of his sin and guilt. He knows this burden upon his back and what this would mean for him. He was the word of God and it has convicted him of Sin. Then in steps the evangelist who hears of the pain and sorrow of pure little pilgrim. Evangelist asks a simple question that is the impetus of the whole story, “If this is thy condition, why standest thou still?” [1] Does Christian ask where I am meant to go? Right then evangelist tells him where he needs to go, and he tells him the end of the journey, to the purpose the goal. “Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly thereto, so shalt thou see the gate; at which, when thou knockest, it shall be told thee what thou shalt do.”[2] Christianity is not a moment in time, but a great journey, a pilgrimage.  Throughout Pilgrim’s journey, he is given direction from the King and those who serve the king along the King’s way. Although he only meets the King in the celestial city it is the King who leads and guides Christian through his pilgrimage. Men and women today want to be strong and dependent making their paths and ways. However, Psalm 23 teaches us that any sheep that wanders from the shepherd is lost.

I.  He leads me

A shepherd walks in front of the sheep and the sheep follow the shepherd. The beginning of John 10 paints the picture of the shepherd coming to the gate and calling his sheep out:

But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him, the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:2–5).

We have a great passage in John chapter 10 that we do not have a large amount of time to be able to unpack. But I want to point out one simple thing, the shepherd’s sheep follow him because of his voice. They do not know the strangers because they do not know the strangers’ voices. But they follow the shepherd’s voice. The shepherd leads them out following him. You could say Jesus summarizes this later in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The good shepherd leads the way. Now before we get to where he leads us we must seriously ponder this in our own lives. Do we follow the shepherd? Do we know his voice? Can we separate the voice of the stranger who has come to steal, kill, and destroy? We are all sheep following something or someone the question needs to be asked, who are you following? John Stevenson points out it is not only the shepherd who leads but the sheep who follow, “This expression of the Psalmist, “he leadeth me,” evidently implies not only the precedence and guidance of the Shepherd but likewise the obedient following of the sheep. All the flock of the Good Shepherd are made willing to be led.”[3]

II. Paths of Righteousness

The Psalmist does not only explain that he leads us but also tells us where the Shepherd leads his sheep, in paths of righteousness. Christianity in the Pilgrim’s progress was to walk on the King’s way. He did not always do this, but the path was always there. The world says that it doesn’t matter what path you take, as long as you feel good about the path. However, the shepherd leads his sheep on a single type of path, the path of righteousness. The words of Psalm 23 are important but also the order. Once we have been restored we then walk on the path of righteousness as the shepherd leads the way. The author of Proverbs leaves wisdom to his son. The loving father tells his son;

“Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble. Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life. Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble” (Proverbs 4:10–19).

His advice to his son is to stay on the narrow path and avoid the path of the wicked. The right path seems pleasant, you will step and not be hampered, and there will be no stumbling, filled with light that gets brighter and brighter. The wicked path seems like a horrific journey, stumbling and falling, being robbed, surrounded by violence, in utter darkness. However, how often do we think the opposite? This is what the world does, when you begin to study the word of God you see a complete disconnect between how the world and the word define goodness and good things. In the children’s book by RC Sproul, “The Lightings” he explains that it is not people who are afraid of the dark but more so that they are afraid of the light. Again, we love the poetic nature of “The Lord is my Shepherd,” but we often do not think that we are sheep who need to be led by a shepherd, where he wants to lead us. Again, we need to ask the heart probing questions, do we want to follow the Lord in the path he has set before us? Are we willing to walk on the narrow path being guided by the Word of God rather than the world?

III. For His Name Sake

I think the most challenging part of this line of the Psalm is the last portion, for his name’s sake. We are not led for my own sake (although the shepherd knows best). We are not led by our own happiness, pleasures, or desires. We are lead for his name’s sake. Think of how God leads the people of the Bible. The most frequent image of God leading his people in the Bible is found when they are wandering in the wilderness (Ex 13:21, Ps 77:21, 78:14, 53, Neh 9:12). Think about this for a moment, The Lord is leading them into the desert to wander for 40 years. His concern was not if they were happy at that time, we know they were not. However, if he did do that his name would be gloried. In Numbers 14, we hear of the story of the people’s rebellion against Moses and the Lord. They want to go back to Egypt, they end up crying out saying, “Let us choose a new leader and go back to Egypt.” They got ready to stone Moses and Aaron, but then God appeared in the tent of meeting and explained that he would wipe them all out and start again with Moses.

Moses intercedes for the people and when Moses intercedes for his people his argument is based on one central point, God’s name. Moses says in Numbers 14:15-16, “Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’” Moses does not intercede and seek to explain that the people of God have been faithful, or had offered the right sacrifices, he does not try and make excuses for their behavior, or anything to do with the people of God, but the God of the people. His argument is, “do not wipe out the people for your names sake.” Ezekiel summarizes this, “But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out” (Ezekiel 20:14).

The Lord has to lead them out of slavery but into the wilderness. His concern is that his glory might be seen throughout the whole world. Again, Ezekiel highlights the reason for the Exodus, “But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20:9).

Again, under Joshua when the Israelites went to battle at Ai, and after they were defeated, Joshua went before the Lord on behalf of the people of Israel and he asked God, “For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?” His plea is not based on the good name of the Israelites (because they are sinners), but upon the good name of God. Again, we see this principle in 1 Samuel 12:22, “For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.” Matthew Poole says this about this verse in Psalm 23, “not for any worth in me, but merely for the demonstration and glory of his justice, and faithfulness, and goodness.”[4] John Calvin says, “And certainly his choosing us to be his sheep, and his performing towards us all the offices of a shepherd, is a blessing which proceeds entirely from his free and sovereign goodness.”[5]

We often do not want to wander in the wilderness. When we being to see the Lord the shepherd leads us in paths of righteousness, not in pleasure and happiness. The focus is not on us but on God and his glory. We will realize that he will lead us to green waters and still waters, but he will also lead us through the valley of Shadow of death but are the leading of the good shepherd.

“On a Wednesday evening, Joseph Gilmore was preaching at a mid-week prayer service on the topic of Psalm 23. He wrote later, “I set out to give the people an exposition of the 23rd Psalm, but I got no further than the words ‘He leadeth me.’ Those words took hold of me as they had never done before. I saw in them a significance and beauty of which I had never dreamed…At the close of the meeting a few of us kept on talking about the thoughts which I had emphasized; and then and there, on a back page of my sermon notes, I penciled the hymn just as it stands today, handed it to my wife, and thought no more of it…She sent it without my knowledge to the Watchman and Reflector magazine, and there it first appeared in print December 4, 1862”[6]

He leadeth me: O blessed thought!

O words with heavenly comfort fraught!

Whate’er I do, where’er I be,

still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

Sometimes mid scenes of deepest gloom,

sometimes where Eden’s flowers bloom,

by waters calm, o’er troubled sea,

still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

Lord, I would clasp thy hand in mine,

nor ever murmur nor repine;

content, whatever lot I see,

since ’tis my God that leadeth me.

And when my task on earth is done,

when, by thy grace, the victory’s won,

e’en death’s cold wave I will not flee,

since God through Jordan leadeth me.


[1] John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995).

[2] John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995).

[3] John Stevenson, The Lord Our Shepherd: An Exposition of the Twenty-Third Psalm (New York; Pittsburg: Robert Carter, 1846), 108.

[4] Matthew Poole, Annotations upon the Holy Bible (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1853), 37.

[5] John Calvin and James Anderson, Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 394.

[6] Psalter Hymnal Handbook, 616

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