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Ruts of Righteousness

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey
The Truth Network Radio
January 17, 2024 12:00 am

Ruts of Righteousness

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey

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January 17, 2024 12:00 am

When quoting the third and fourth verses of Psalm 23, we often miss the deeper meaning inherent in the text. What we usually translate as "the way of righteousness" is actually better translated, "the ruts of righteousness." Join Stephen now as he explains the many implications that truth has for us today. Access all of the resources and lessons in this series: https://www.wisdomonline.org/the-song-volume-1

 

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So far this song has been singing about God, and now he's going to shift and begin to sing to God. He makes me lie down. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.

He leads me. But now it's you are with me. And isn't it true, isn't it wonderful to think that you really are never more conscious?

You are never more grateful. You are never more in need of this personal sense of intimacy with God than when you walk into a valley. In Psalm 23, David refers to a valley.

Do you remember that? David refers to it as the valley of the shadow of death. Death, of course, is a universal experience.

We've all experienced the loss that comes from the death of a loved one. So David was referring to what all people face. But David also reminds us that because of our loving shepherd, we can find comfort even in death. Today, Stephen Davies is going to remind you that you are in the land of the dying, moving toward the land of the living. That's only possible because of your shepherd, Jesus Christ. Several years ago, I was sitting on the porch of a medical clinic in Togo, West Africa, and seated next to me was a member of a missions team that had come from another church.

And they had been traveling as well to help out at the clinic and the mission station. I hadn't seen this one particular member for a number of years, but I had known him when I was a young seminary student years past. We sat out there and we talked of our lives, past and present, and he made a statement that comes back to me, and I think of it actually often, both convicting and encouraging. He said to me, you know, Stephen, I've been challenged by the fact that God does not refer to us as his cattle, but as his sheep.

Cattle are driven. Sheep are most often led. Then he said, I'm trying to make a shift in my Christian walk from being driven to being led. Well said. Part of the problem with being a sheep and being led is it only works if we're willing to follow the shepherd.

And that's our great challenge, isn't it? I mean, you're barely into David's introduction and exaltation of his really amazing, caring, personal, sovereign shepherd, Yahweh. And he mentions effectively that he is often wayward. Let's pick it up there at Psalm chapter 23 and verse 3. David writes this phrase that can only be understood within the context of a wayward sheep. Notice he sings, he restores my soul. He, Yahweh, my shepherd, restores my soul.

The word or the verb to restore has the idea of repairing or turning, sort of in the idea of turning back, causing one to be returned. David is referring to the danger of a sheep who is in need of turning, returning to their feet. He's literally talking about a sheep that have become cast. A cast sheep is actually an old English term to translate what David is referring to here. It's a term for a sheep that has turned over on its back, and it can't get back up on its feet again.

In fact, let me read you what Philip Keller writes about this problem. He says, here's how it happens. A heavy or long-fleeced sheep will lie down comfortably in some little hollow or depression in the ground. It may roll over on its side slightly to stretch out or relax, and suddenly the center of gravity in the body shifts so that it turns on its back far enough that the feet no longer touch the ground. It may feel a sense of panic and start to paw the air, which only makes things worse. It rolls over even further, and now it is impossible for the sheep to regain its footing. Keller goes on to say that sheep are like many insects.

Maybe you see them out in the garage when you walk out there. They're on their back, and all they can do is wiggle their legs in the air helplessly. Now, the problem for sheep is that immediately, evidently, the way they're constructed, gases begin to build up in the rumen. I had to look that up, so I looked it up. The rumen is a compartment of the stomach.

It's a forest stomach, actually, in sheep and other ruminating animals, where partially digested foods effectively ferment in acid as they break down in the process of digestion. That's a long way of saying this is a bad thing to be in this condition. So here they are, flat on their backs, wiggling their helpless legs and feet in the air, able to turn back over and get back up on their feet.

And it's going to get worse. In fact, Keller adds this. If the weather is hot and sunny, the process will accelerate, and a cast sheep can die in just a few hours. Of course, even sooner, if wild animals are on the lookout, and they often are from what I've read, shepherds will take note of buzzards, vultures circling in the air. It'll signal to him that perhaps there's a cast sheep out there that can't regain its footing. You see, for the sheep, there's only one solution, the shepherd. Isn't it wonderful then to be reminded that we have a personal omniscient shepherd who doesn't need to look for the buzzards? He knows when and where we're flat on our back and we're helpless, and we need help being turned back over and stood back up on our feet. Sheep are always getting into trouble.

It provides a wonderful metaphor. Timothy Laniac writes in his Journal of Experiences, having worked with Middle Eastern shepherds. He said, even the hardy mountain breed push their heads through fences, get cut or stuck. They climb up trees with their front hooves to pick at foliage, and they get hung up by their horns or their legs. They fall down banks. They get bitten by snakes and stung by wasps.

They tumble into ponds and gorge themselves on fallen ash leaves, then roll on their backs and swell up like balloons. Listen to this. But every affliction they face can be countered by a good shepherd. Listen, it makes all the difference in the world who your shepherd is, right? David begins by saying, hey, look, I want everybody to know who my shepherd is.

It's Yahweh. I've got the best shepherd. He is always ready.

He is always available. Time after time again, when I get stuck, in trouble, entangled, he's ready to stand me back up on my feet. In fact, Galatians chapter 6 is an interesting thought, and it came back to me as I studied this text, because the shepherding role of the Savior is actually delegated.

It's offered to us to join him in this. When we see another believer, Galatians 6.1, who has become entangled in a sin, ensnared, we who are spiritual restore them in a spirit of gentleness. See, here's where we don't understand the Lord. And we get out of whack, too. We have the idea that when a Christian falls down, when they get stuck, when they get ensnared in some trap, some sin, that God gets frustrated, the Lord gets disgusted and fed up.

That's eight times this week you did that, and you can now pull yourself up, and you just wiggle there until all those gases build up. That isn't the heart of our shepherd. He is actually on the lookout. He's ready. He's watching. He's willing.

Think about it. Have you ever gone to Jesus Christ in repentance and confessed some sinful attitude or act, and you've got to talk him into listening to you? He's barred the gate or the corral. You can't get in. Has any believer among us ever gotten a cold shoulder from Jesus Christ?

Never. He's the Good Shepherd. He is effectively on the lookout for cast sheep. In fact, one shepherd I read said that every morning he got up, the first thing he did was look for cast sheep. David says, I know what it's like to be cast.

I know what it's like to be flat on my back, and I need my shepherd to put me back up on my feet. Notice the next phrase. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. He leads me in paths. That Hebrew word can be literally translated wagon tracks. If you really wanted to translate it woodenly, you would translate it ruts.

That's what a wagon track is. It's a rut. In fact, one author, I think, caught it perfectly when he said, He leads me in the ruts of righteousness.

It's an interesting thought, isn't it? He leads me in the ruts of righteousness. The truth is, we are always traveling in a rut, aren't we? Or we're creating a rut. Our lives are made up of patterns and habits. The question is, are they righteous ruts? Simply put, are they ruts of rightness with God? That's what righteous means. Part of the problem with sheep is they get out of the rut, and they follow somebody making the wrong rut, and they track him. And we don't have to tell each other what that looks like.

And it's multicolored, varied patterns. The trouble is, we just think we know better than God. One of the reasons we're given the Holy Spirit, by the way, is so that he can do internally what my wife put my daughter up to doing externally, right? It's that still, small voice that effectively says, You're not in a righteous rut. That habit will not produce rightness with God. Just because everybody else is doing it around you, don't tail them.

You have no idea. There may be a cliff ahead. Some of those habits that are righteous would be reading Scripture, right? Meditating on the Word, praying, talking about the Lord to others, receiving godly counsel, listening to godly music, reading good stuff.

I got a book for Christmas from somebody, an anonymous source, fiction, and I enjoy reading fiction, and I got two chapters in and knew I needed to throw that away. It was in the wrong rut. To this day, we tell each other to stay on track. That's shepherding terminology. It resonates with David. And it's very important because your path, even the righteous ruts, are going to lead you into places of deep, dark shadows.

In fact, that's the next verse, verse 4. Even though I walk, I'm in the path of righteousness. Even still, I'm going to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Would you notice that David does not write, Even if I walk through? No, no, no. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.

Why? For you are with me. Would you notice maybe even circle the change in pronoun? So far, this song has been singing about God, and now he's going to shift and begin to sing to God. So far, it's been, He makes me lie down. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me, but now it's, You are with me. He speaks with the intimacy of fellowship.

You. And isn't it true, isn't it wonderful to think that you really are never more conscious? You are never more grateful. You are never more in need of this personal sense of intimacy with God than when you walk into a valley. Keep in mind, you have a shadow, he writes here, because you have a source of light. You can't have a shadow without a source of light, and the Lord is the light, John chapter 3. Notice, David didn't write here, Even though I walk through the valley of death.

Look carefully. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. The shadow of a wolf can't bite. The shadow of a bear can't capture. The shadow of death can't grip you. Death is a shadow. So the valley of the shadow of death, then, isn't a dead end. It's a highway.

And is it ever busy? In fact, more than 6,000 people somewhere in the world are going to die before I finish this sermon. Today, a little more than 150,000 people died somewhere on the planet. Listen, the valley of the shadow of death is more like an interstate highway, and at any given moment, it looks like rush hour. I'm often reminded of the fact, thought of it again, however, that we are not in the land of the living, heading for the land of the dying. We are in the land of the dying, but we are heading for the land of the living.

Right? Would you notice David does not write, even though I stop in the valley. No, he's moving through it. In fact, can I turn the coin over here and add another dimension to this that I think is missed? Certainly, it would include that context of dying, but David doesn't actually say, we're going to die in this valley.

Did you notice that? He doesn't say, even though I'm going to die in the valley of the shadow of death. No, David says, I'm going to walk through it. The word he uses for the shadow of death is a compound noun in the Hebrew language that could be translated simply deep shadows. Deep shadows.

Another Old Testament scholar translated it deadly darkness. David can certainly be including the fearful context of dying, but since he refers to actually walking through this place, this valley, he's more than likely referring to a repeated event in the life of a shepherd and his sheep. Sheep find rich pasture and plenty of water, where? In the valley. Valleys are places of grave danger because other animals want water too. They're down there as well.

They lurk in the broken canyon walls, watching and waiting. Furthermore, storms can suddenly send flash floods through the valley floor, and the sun doesn't shine as well as clearly down in the valley. There are shadows that spell danger. Keep in mind, though, the sheep get into the valley because they are led there by the shepherd.

So deep, dark valleys are often the will of the shepherd or his sheep, even valleys. David said, I'm not afraid. Why? Because I'm just really brave?

No, because you are. You're with me. Job entered a dark valley, didn't he? From the midst of that valley, he actually used the same word David used here for shadow of death. He writes, God uncovers the deep out of darkness and brings deep darkness, same word, to light.

Job 12 22. Isaiah, prophesying of the coming Messiah, uses the same word as well. He says, those who dwell in a land of deep shadows, deep darkness, same word, on them the light, that is the Messiah, has appeared. Isaiah 9, verse 2. This is the light of the presence of the shepherd. So this valley David refers to symbolizes the painful, the hazardous, the dangerous, the difficult seasons of life, trials of life. You can't avoid the valley evidently in the mind of God.

He's going to take you there. In fact, therein is a place of pasture and clean water. David relates his sense of comfort and confidence to two instruments used by every shepherd. You notice in verse 4, he finds comfort in the rod and the staff. Now the rod was typically made from a young sapling about two feet tall.

The natural bulb on the end of it, the root end, would be shaped and carved and soaked into a round head of hard wood. Shepherds, in fact, would often pound bits of stone or some metal into it to make it a rather fearful weapon. Over the centuries, the shepherd's rod would eventually morph into a royal scepter.

It would shift from wood to gold, from bits of stone to jewels. In Psalm chapter 2, David prophesies the Messiah will one day rule the nations with a what? A rod, not made out of wood, a rod of, you remember, a rod of iron.

In other words, he will be invincible. Another aspect of a shepherd's rod is in the personal care of his sheep that's lost to us. It would be easy to assume all is well by simply looking at your sheep, their long wool, everything seems to be alright. But a careful shepherd does what he called bringing them under the rod.

A shepherd would use his rod to part their wool and examine the sheep to make sure that they weren't troubled by wounds or skin problems or even ticks, diseases. I was sent an email about one mother, her name was Sharon, who wrote about the challenge of shepherding. She said, I was trying to corral my daughter Emily, it was bedtime. Emily was four years old, get that, only four years old. And she complained that she wasn't ready to go to sleep. I explained that when she was born, God gave me the job of taking care of her, making sure she ate right, got enough sleep at night. She said, now I'm not trying to be a mean mother, but this is the job God gave me.

To which Emily responded, well, then you're fired. We do the same thing to our Lord. In fact, a man in our church sent me this email that kind of reworked the disobedience of Adam and Eve into the context of children rather humorously. He wrote, when your kids are out of control, remember that after creating the universe, the heavens and the earth and all the animals in the animal kingdom, God created Adam and Eve. And the first thing he said to his children was, don't.

Don't what, Adam replied. Don't eat the forbidden fruit, God said. Forbidden fruit, we've got forbidden fruit. Hey, Eve, we've got forbidden fruit.

No way, yes way. Don't eat that fruit, God repeated. Why not, why can't we, why not, why can't we, why not? They were pouted because I said so. God said, wondering why he hadn't stopped creating after making the elephants. A few days later, God saw his children eating the forbidden fruit. Come here, God called.

What have you done? Didn't I tell you not to eat that fruit? Yes, Adam replied. Then why did you eat it? Well, Adam said, pointing at Eve, she made me. Did not, did so, did not, did so, did not, did so. Having had it with the two of them, God punished them. God's punishment was that Adam and Eve would have children of their own. Listen, the practice of pulling the wool over the eyes of authority began a long time ago.

In fact, its first appearance was in the fashion of fig leaves. We're fine. We look good. See, David's passionate request in Psalm 139 is so critical where he says, Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any grievous, literally any hurtful way in me, because I'm going to hurt myself and others and you. David also mentions the staff in verse 4. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. The staff was formed by a young sapling.

One end would be heated and rubbed with oil and bent so that it hardened eventually in the shape of a crook. These two wooden instruments, the rod, the club, that is, and the crook, the staff, were the extension of the shepherd's life. They represented him. The rod symbolized his power, his authority, his discipline, his rule. The staff represented his care and his assistance and his direction.

Why? As one of these shepherds wrote, he said it this way, The staff with its crook is useful for pulling branches down for goats to get to the leaves, for rescuing animals trapped just out of reach, for pulling sheep caught in pits, fences, bushes, crevices, and mud. One shepherd said, We would use our crook to lift a newborn and lay it beside its mother. Tender care. The staff would be used to guide. They were from behind, just to nudge. In fact, one author said that he would often watch as a shepherd walked beside his sheep, and he would rest his staff on the back of one of his sheep that he knew needed his attention. It was appreciated.

It kept him in touch as if the author wrote, They were holding hands. So here, remember the context. You are being led into a valley of dark shadows. Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come, right? But by means of the authority and the strength and the power and the rule and the care and the love and the tenderness and the guiding, you're walking into this valley effectively holding hands with your shepherd.

He doesn't say to you, You see that long dark valley over there? Here's what you do. You start over here and then you work this way and you'll come out over here. Go for it. I believe in you. You know, you believe in yourself too.

I'm sure you can do it. Ready? You said go. Let me take your hand. I'm going to lead you into this valley. We're going to go through it together. The extensions of the shepherd's strength and care with his rod and his staff.

There's no need to fear. We go through this valley hand in hand with him and with each other. Our shepherd, Jesus Christ, guards and guides us through this life. And we, his sheep, simply follow.

What a great reminder for us today. Stephen Davey was teaching today from Psalm 23 in a message called The Ruts of Righteousness. We're in a series looking at several of the songs King David wrote and that we have recorded for us in the book of Psalms. If it would bless you to be able to listen to this message again, we'd be happy to make that possible. You can listen to this and all of Stephen's messages at wisdomonline.org. We can also help you own this entire series if you want to have it on compact discs. Please call us at 866-48-BIBLE. Once again, that's wisdomonline.org or 866-48-BIBLE. We'll continue this series next time on Wisdom for the Heart. . .
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-01-17 00:31:19 / 2024-01-17 00:41:01 / 10

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