The 23rd Psalm is a favorite for many people. It is memorized and recited, and often displayed and framed around church buildings and homes. I want to focus for a minute on the first line of the third verse—“He restores me soul.”
When we hear the word soul, we might think of the part of us that goes on to be with the Lord when we pass away, and in that regard, having our souls restored doesn’t really make sense. However, that part that goes to be with the Lord is actually our spirit, while our soul is our personality, that invisible part of us that makes us who we are (our soul remains with our spirit, so we will keep our uniqueness for eternity).
So why would our soul need to be restored? Well, sometimes we are cast down. David wrote Psalm 23, but he also wrote Psalm 42, where he asks, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”
In the book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Phillip Keller explains being “cast down,” writing, “That is an Old English shepherd’s term for a sheep that has turned over on its back and cannot get up again by itself.” He further describes the scene:
“A cast sheep is a very pathetic sight. Lying on its back, its feet in the air, it flays away frantically trying to stand up, without success.” The sheep’s rumen will soon fill up with gasses and the animal will die.
So in Psalm 42 David describes his soul as being cast down because of the turmoil within him. Life has a way of knocking us on our back. We end up like that pathetic lamb, flaying and kicking to no avail. The ewe cannot get back on her feet, no matter how hard she tries.
But her shepherd will come to the rescue. Good shepherds know to be on the lookout for this very real danger, and they will rush to the sheep’s side, turn her over, and help her back onto her feet. That is what David meant by the phrase “He restores my soul.” He sets me back up on my feet every time I fall down.
In Psalm 42 David asks the question of why his soul is cast down, but in the second half of the verse he tells himself, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” When your soul is cast down, keep your hope in the Good Shepherd, and you will soon have a new reason to rejoice.