He restores my soul

A reflection on Psalm 23

9. May 2020In DevotionalBy Karsten Risseeuw5 Minutes

Psalm 23 is well-known, but still holds some treasures that can be discovered. I have recently made such a discovery when I took a closer look at a word from this Psalm. Here is what the psalmist says:

A Psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23

A personal testimony

Some Bible passages you read over and over again. Maybe you even know them by heart. In spite of all familiarity, an aspect can shine out anew even after years or decades. Something becomes clear that has never been seen so clear before. I had this experience with a sentence from psalm 23: “He restores my soul”.

David wrote from his own experience. It may be a psalm, a song, but at the same time it is also something like a testimony of his own experience. It’s not a report from a journalistic perspective, but it’s relating to personal experience. Poetry is an apt way to describe this. David uses a visual language – He is my shepherd. And like a shepherd cares for his sheep, David experiences this safe care by God and reflects on it: “I shall not want” (ESV) or “I lack nothing” (NIV). David writes the psalm as a praise and with a thankful heart.

What stunned me was the statement: “He restores my soul”. The NIV has “refresh”. As I dove into the original meaning, I learned that both “restore” and “refresh” are derivations and interpretations of the original meaning “bringing back”. The Hebrew word (hb. shuv) indicates a restoration, a bringing back to an old and familiar place, to what is familiar.

Bringing back my soul

According to Jeff A. Benner (Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible, p. 271), the root of the word (hb. sh-v) is formed from two letters that unite the thought “(teeth) clench” and “tent”. It is the pressure, the determination with which one returns to the tent, to the home. From this original description more abstract terms emerged, such as return, turn around, bring back or restore.

David testifies that this happened to his soul. His life was often exhausting and dangerous. The psalm only hints on those circumstances. It describes how he was led to calm waters – suggesting that it was probably less calm before.

Challenges and persecutions made it necessary to go out. But he also found his way back. The Lord was his shepherd. He leads him “beside still waters”. The NIV has “He leads me beside quiet waters”. There, his soul is being restored. David regains his balance, finds harmony in his life.

In God’s presence we not only come back to Him but also return to ourselves and to peace, for these things go hand in hand. Here we enter into a true and revitalizing relationship.

The original German text can be found here: «Die Seele mir bringt er zurück».