His Name’s Sake (Psalm 23:3)

He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Psalm 23:3

I’m not sure how this parses in Hebrew, not being a speaker of Hebrew, but the semicolon after soul indicates, in English, that both restoration of my soul and leading in the paths of righteousness are done for His name’s sake.

There was a time when to speak of someone’s name was to speak of their reputation. People had a good name or a bad name, depending on how they had lived and what their actions had established as their pattern of behavior. This extended from the individual to the family. A family’s name was established by the actions of all of the family’s members. So, if my actions and my wife’s actions and my parents actions were all honorable and upright, then my daughter would have inherited a good family name. A person’s name was also a stand-in for what we moderns call “credit.” A good name was equivalent to a good credit score, it meant lending to that person was a good bet. A bad name was equivalent to a bad credit score and made lending to that person a poor decision. None of this was always true. A person with a bad name was perfectly capable of upstanding actions and a person with a good name was perfectly capable of skullduggery. But the name was the pattern, the established normal for that individual or family. So, when David writes that God will lead me in the paths of righteousness and restore my soul for the sake of His Name, David is basically saying that God’s established pattern of behavior is to restore souls and lead in righteous paths. Further, David is asserting that God is maintaining that reputation by doing those things in David’s life. God is continuing the pattern of behavior. We might say that God was servicing His credit and making sure that His score stayed amazing.

The question for an assertion like this is: Why? Short answer: we human beings are wired for pattern recognition. We see patterns, recognize them as such, and behave based on what those patterns tell us we can expect. If we see a pattern of a particular socioeconomic group behaving in a certain way — the petty economies of the wealthy and the equally inexplicable excesses of the poor come to mind — then we come to expect that behavior to continue. If we asked an evolutionist about it, they might say that we had evolved the faculty (pattern recognition) to predict when and where animals we use for food would be and when the best times to plant and harvest our crops are (once we had developed agriculture). If I’m asked, I say that God placed it in us so we can recognize a couple of things.

First, we can see the pattern of God’s faithfulness. To see His faithfulness and to recognize it as an established habit; a character trait, we must be able to recognize patterns. If I cannot see patterns, then I cannot determine an individual’s character — this extends upward to God, as well. David states that God’s established pattern is to restore souls and lead in the paths of righteousness. Read through The Bible and look at the lives of people who have genuinely come to know and walk with God and the pattern is supported. We see it. We recognize it. We can then extrapolate part of His character from that pattern of behavior.

Second, we can see when patterns break, as when a person is saved. I’ve heard story upon story over the years of a person who was a drug addict or an abuser or some other terrible thing that was going to destroy that person and/or everyone around them. The person meets God and challenges Him to break the pattern; change their name, if you will. And He does. That, I think, is why God changes names in The Bible. Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah. Jacob becomes Israel. Simon becomes Peter. Saul becomes Paul. When God performs such a fundamental shift in a person that a drug addict can be sober from that second onward until their death; a drunk can never again have even a sip, it is noticeable. It is a seismic shift in the person’s character — in their name. This, I think, is one possible meaning of God restoring souls. Yes, restoring a person’s soul can mean encouraging them and picking up the one who has faceplanted. But I think that restoring souls can also be this deep-down alteration of who the person was into who the person will be. Also, Jesus promises stones with new names to everyone who overcomes (Revelation 2:17). Everyone who enters Heaven will have undergone that change so deep that a new pattern of behavior; a new name has emerged.

The one thing I haven’t really addressed is the leading in paths of righteousness. Soul restoration? Check. Thing is, once restored, a soul will just slide back into old habits unless it is lead into new ones; in the paths of righteousness. Emily Dickinson wrote:

All the other Distance
He hath traversed first—
No New Mile remaineth—
Far as Paradise—

His sure foot preceding—
Tender Pioneer—
Base must be the Coward
Dare not venture—now—

In order for us to walk in the paths (could also be read “tracks”) of righteousness, those paths had to be created. And God walked them in front of us to show us where they are and how we could walk in them. My wife’s older sister lives in a place where it snows. Being the largest member of the family, I sometimes go wandering off into the virgin snow with others following in my tracks. Those who live in or spend time in snow will know the advantage, folks who’ve never left places like California or Arizona — places where snow is something that falls on mountains that we don’t have time to get to — are likely to miss it. Those tracks present a path that has supported a larger individual. The depth is known. The strength is known. The paths of righteousness are sufficient to bear the weight of God. Our feathery selves can safely follow without fear of the road collapsing beneath us.

Now to attempt to bring all this meandering together. God, for the sake of His name; His reputation; His pattern of behavior; His character restores souls and leads in paths of righteousness. He does this because it is Who He is. He does it because it is what He does. This affects me. Since God is holy and since He has called me His child, He will make me holy. Since God is righteous, He will make me righteous. Since God is glorious, He will make me glorious. As C.S. Lewis wrote (I paraphrase), God will make me glorious and righteous and thoroughly His child no matter the cost to Himself (His own death was a portion of that cost) and no matter the cost to me (I may lose what seems, for the moment, to be a great deal in favor of the far greater treasures of eternal life spent in God’s presence). He will not stop with me being merely “good” (whatever that means), but He will thoroughly restore my soul to what it was meant to be at the creation and lead me steadfastly in the paths of righteousness. And these He will do for His Name’s sake.

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