Psalm 23 is often called the “nightingale” song because, like the bird of that name, it sings so sweetly at the midnight hour. And life does have its midnight hours! In that song, the shepherd poet extols the qualities of the great Shepherd who, among other things, “restores my soul.” Might we reflect upon this phrase momentarily?
In the Hebrew Bible the term “soul” is nephesh (756 times). The word can refer to “life” (Genesis 1:30), or simply the “person” (Deuteronomy 10:22).
It also can designate the immaterial part of a human, equivalent to the “spirit” (Genesis 35:18; James 2:26; see: Clarke, 212). Materialists (both secular and some quasi-religious) deny that human beings have been endowed with souls. An example of the secular materialist would be the atheist, while an illustration of the latter are the “Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
But we are not mere hunks of molded “dust” (Genesis 2:7); there is an inner essence, the soul (Matthew 10:28) that has been made in the very image of God himself (Genesis 1:26-27).
But what is the meaning of the verb “restores” (used about 1,060 times in the Old Testament)? Some suggest that the sense is this: the soul (life) is “refreshed” by God.
While the word can signify “to refresh,” it certainly is not the physical life that is in view in this text. This is evidenced by the Psalmist’s earlier appeal to the “law of Jehovah” as accomplishing the restoration (19:7).
The basic word indicates a “movement back to the point of departure” (Unger & White, 333). A noun form is found in Hosea 14:4, where the Lord promises: “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for my anger is turned away from him” (emp. WJ).
It hardly needs to be pointed out that David “slid” backwards on occasion, and when he did, his soul was plunged into distress (cf. Psalm 32; 51). The term can also carry the sense of “converting,” “reviving” or “transforming.” The passage in Hosea suggests a “healing.”
The word hints of the damage that sin can do to the soul, or as we might express it, to the “psyche,” the emotions, one’s mental state of well-being. In this regard we cannot but think of such mental turbulence as worry, guilt, regret, sadness, unrest, frustration, and fear.
How refreshingly sweet it is to have confidence in the fact that the Good Shepherd (cf. John 10:11, 14) can assuage these woes and provide us with peace once more. A beautiful song has these lyrics: “Bring Christ your broken life, so marred by sin; He will create anew, make whole again.”
But how is restoration effected? As mentioned earlier, elsewhere the Psalmist declares: “The law of Jehovah is perfect, restoring the soul” (19:7).
The Hebrew term for law is torah, indicating God’s instruction for the regulation of life. The “law” was embodied in Scripture; David had only a portion of what we enjoy. We have the whole Bible (cf. 1 Timothy 5:18 where both Deuteronomy and the Gospel of Luke are quoted and identified as “scripture”; see also 2 Peter 3:16).
The word “perfect” reflects that which is without blemish, complete, characterized by integrity and truth. Professor A.F. Kirkpatrick noted that the word carries the idea of that which is “without defect or error” (104). That is the pristine nature of Holy Scripture.
A generous application of God’s Word to our lives each day would do wonders for “restoring” mental stability. Such would eliminate the need for millions of pills, needles, cocktails, and psychiatrists. Health specialists assert that more hospital beds are occupied by those who have emotional problems, than all physical and surgical ailments combined (McMillen, 116).
Christ has the remedy for all ills that are not physiological in nature, and even when the ailments are physical, he can motivate us to endure by means of the encouragement within his sacred Word.
Make an appointment with him. Listen carefully to him. Resolve to take the remedy he prescribes, and watch your soul prosper!