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What does David mean when he says, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness” (Psalm 23:3)?

He leads me in the paths of righteousness

For the soul in need of restoration, Psalm 23 is perhaps the most comforting place to turn in all the Bible. King David, who had tended his father’s flocks as a boy, had come to know God as the shepherd of his life. In Psalm 23:3, David declares of the Lord, “He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (ESV).

David wrote this psalm during a time of spiritual renewal or revival. “He refreshes my soul,” says the New Living Translation; “He renews my life,” affirms the Christian Standard Bible. Like a sheep who lacks the typical animal sense of direction, David had lost his way. He had wandered off the right path.

But here, David affirms, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness.” The primary jobs of the shepherd in pasturing his flock were to lead the sheep in the right way, to food and water, and to fend off predators. The shepherd was responsible for the welfare and safety of the sheep.

The word paths in Psalm 23:3 refers to one’s “course of conduct.” The word for “righteousness” in the original language means “adhering to moral standards like honesty, justice, and uprightness.” Like a shepherd guides his sheep along the right way, God effectively leads His people on the correct path by His Word and through the Holy Spirit’s guidance (Psalm 19:7; 119:105; Isaiah 59:21; 63:11–14; Romans 8:14 ). God does all this “for his name’s sake” or, in other words, to bring honor and glory to His name.

In ancient Israel, one’s name was inseparably linked with his reputation and standing. God leads us in paths of righteousness because He is a righteous shepherd: “For you are my rock and my fortress,” David acknowledged, “and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me” (Psalm 31:3, ESV).

In Psalm 5:8, David prayed, “Lead me, LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies—make your way straight before me.” As our life guide, the Lord assures us of faultless leading in straight paths. He is the ultimate companion for our journey. Like a professional travel guide, He stakes His name and reputation to guarantee our protection and safe arrival at the promised destination (Psalm 23:6).

The “paths of righteousness” depict the journey that leads to eternal life (Psalm 16:11). Proverbs 12:28 assures, “There is life in the path of righteousness, and in its path there is no death” (CSB). The Lord watches over those who walk on these paths (Psalm 1:6). As the proverb says, “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day” (Proverbs 4:18).

Believers are made righteous by faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Ephesians 2:8–9). By faith, we enter into a relationship with the one true God through Jesus Christ, His Son. Through the Holy Spirit, our Good Shepherd leads us on paths of righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:7; John 17:3; 1 John 2:25).

Sheep are known to stray from the path, and so are Christians. Yet, even if a believer falls into sin, as David did with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1—12:15), the Lord is committed to leading him back to the right path. The Good Shepherd goes after the one lost sheep (Luke 15:1–7). The Father waits for the prodigal son to return (Luke 15:11–32). The Lord shows us our wandering ways so that we can repent and have our souls refreshed and restored. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

The disciple Peter is an excellent example of a straying follower who was pursued by the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord (Luke 22:58–62). After he fell, Peter, like David, was forgiven and restored by the Lord (John 21:15–19).

According to Scripture, paths of righteousness are the safest roads to travel (Proverbs 4:11–12; 10:2, 9). These paths are ultimately avenues of safety, wisdom, justice, right living, integrity, and eternal blessings (Isaiah 42:16; Psalm 119:35; Proverbs 8:20; 11:3). They are “ways of pleasantness” and “paths of peace” (Proverbs 3:17).

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Questions about Psalms

What does David mean when he says, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness” (Psalm 23:3)?
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This page last updated: October 5, 2023