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April 13, 2013 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 

 It is almost impossible not to think of the moral condition of our nation today with the subjects of marriage, abortion pills, gun control, fair taxation and probably a number of other matters usually considered ethical considerations constantly in the news.  What has changed is that these matters are being discussed as political questions, as if there were no laws operative that addressed these issues.  The language of ethics seems never to enter the conversations.  In the midst of all these discussions it occurred to me how politically incorrect the Twenty Third Psalm is.

It is of course comforting to know that Jehovah (Yahweh in the Hebrew) leads us to green pastures and still waters.  It is encouraging to hear that he restores our soul, or personhood.  The word in the Hebrew is “nephesh,” which refers to the whole self; body, mind and spirit.


But here is where the text of this Psalm, so dear to so many, gets testy.

The providing and restoring God leads us in paths of righteousness.  The word “righteous” in the Hebrew is “sedeq” or “zedeq”.   Literally it translates as “straight.”  However, it often has a relational implication.  It is conduct which is consistent with a relationship and conducive to strengthening that relationship.  As it is used in this Psalm it clearly means a life direction which honors the God who provides and restores.

The God of Psalm 23 is a good shepherd who is most willing to provide the needs of the flock, but he is also insistent that the flock follow the paths of righteousness.


In these moral and ethical questions of our nation today have we any idea where the paths of righteousness are?  In our discussions of rights and freedom do we understand that the universe is structured morally as well as materially?

It is interesting that after the promise of Jehovah that he will lead his sheep on the paths of righteousness that he talks about protecting them as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Those who walk the paths of righteousness evidently confront evil, and they need the assurance that the Lord God is with them in this conflict.  It even seems like there might be a fight, since the shepherd mentions his rod and staff.

I admit that I feel concern when the flock of God is unaware of what the paths of righteousness entail.   We should certainly walk the talk, but silence is hardly appropriate in the face of evil.  Jesus was never quiet when he faced down the evil of his time.  He was loving and kind, but he was not quiet.

Someone needs to ask the question as to what is right.  Government cannot enforce morality, but they can encourage righteousness.  Somehow we need to get beyond what will get me the most votes or what the latest polls tell us the people are thinking and ask what is right.  This is the mark of leadership, and we are sorely lacking it in the public sphere.

The leader who walks the paths of righteousness may not get elected again, but he or she will be followed by goodness and mercy all the days of their life.  This ought to be enough.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at