Psalm 23 is one of the best known passages of scripture. It is familiar to both believers and the unchurched, and has brought comfort to millions over the years. In this Psalm the Lord is described as a shepherd who does these things:
- He makes me lie down in meadows of fresh grass
- He leads me beside calm waters
- He restores my soul
- He leads me along the paths of righteousness
At this point the form address changes from He to You:
- You are with me
- Your shepherd’s staff brings comfort (security)
- You prepare a banquet for me as my enemies watch
- You anoint my head with oil
The results of all this are:
- I have everything I need (lack nothing)
- My cup is full to overflowing
- I have the expectation of His goodness and mercy with me daily
- I have a certain hope that His house is my home for my whole life (or forever)
(Wording above is an amalgam of various translations.)
That covers the entire Psalm except for two phrases. One of course, concerns walking through the deep, sunless valley of death. The other is our focus today:
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. (v. 3b, NIV)
Other translations have:
- You are true to your name (CEV) or your Word (Message)
- for the ·good [sake] of his ·name [reputation] (Expanded Bible)
- for the sake of his reputation (NET)
- bringing honor to his name (NLT)
- truth and righteousness echo His name (The Voice)
Elliott’s Bible Commentary says: “God’s providential dealings are recognized as in accordance with His character for great graciousness.” In other words, his provision in this Psalm is simply a natural consequence of nature in general and his compassion specifically. It’s who he is, which should remind us of the popular worship song, Good, Good Father (see below).
The Benson Commentary states the phrase means, “Not for any merit in me, but merely for the demonstration and glory of his mercy, faithfulness, and goodness.” As Max Lucado reminds us in a book of the same name, “It’s not about me.” Matthew Poole reiterates this: “not for any worth in me, but merely for the demonstration and glory of his justice, and faithfulness, and goodness.”
Barnes Notes extend this thought:
For His own sake; or, that His name may be honored. It is not primarily on their account; it is not solely that they may be saved. It is that He may be honored:
(a) in their being saved at all;
(b) in the manner in which it is done;
(c) in the influence of their whole life, under His guidance, as making known His own character and perfections.
Finally, Matthew Henry would argue that the previous verse is key to understanding the whole Psalm, namely that this is the testimony of a dying saint who would say,
Having had such experience of God’s goodness to me all my days, in six troubles and in seven, I will never distrust him, no, not in the last extremity; the rather because all he has done for me hitherto was not for any merit or desert of mine, but purely for his name’s sake, in pursuance of his word, in performance of his promise, and for the glory of his own attributes and relations to his people. That name therefore shall still be my strong tower, and shall assure me that he who has led me, and fed me, all my life long, will not leave me at last.
So many times we pray and our prayers may not be entirely unselfish, but their us-focused instead of God-focused. The full accomplishment of God working in our lives should be that His name is honored and glorified.
“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else, nor share my praise with carved idols.
– Isaiah 42:8 NLT
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus
– Col. 3:17a NASB
We’ve looked at Psalm 23 before:
- January, 2011 – Psalm 23 Continues to Comfort
- July, 2008 – Phrase by Phrase Response to Ps. 23 at Thinking Out Loud
For Psalm 23 in all English translations at Bible Gateway, click this link to get to verse 1, and then change the very last character in the URL in your browser to move to the multiple translations of verse 2, etc.
The classic commentaries on verse 3, with the exception of Matthew Henry were sourced at BibleHub.