November 29, 2005
"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me." (Psalm 23: 1-4)
I have been obsessed with sheep lately. Yes - sheep. I have researched sheep, studied about sheep, read about sheep. Sheep keep coming up in my daily devotion time. Tonight, I will probably count sheep! I figure that they must be important to God, because they are mentioned 186 times in the Bible. (The New Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, pg. 1210-1211)
I'm really not flattered by Jesus' reference to me as a sheep. Sheep are stupid. They sometimes fall on their backs and are unable to get up again by themselves. Picture that...flailing legs up in the air - it's almost comical. They will eat anywhere and drink anything. They overeat until they become sick. They wander off looking for food or romance and sometimes fall into creeks. Their wool grows heavy and they drown (Grace for the Moment, Max Lucado). Not very smart, are they?
Naturally, if you think about sheep, you must think about the shepherd. Shepherds watch their flocks in the fields to guard them. They give tender care and continuing watchfulness. A shepherd will lead his sheep into rest and reviving, provide for their needs and protect them from fear of danger.
So if I am a sheep, I must be since Jesus said I am, and if He is the Shepherd (John 10: 11,14), what does that imply?
Look at Psalm 23, verse 1: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want." Another translation says, "I have everything I need." The shepherd leads his sheep to all that they need: food, rest, water and safety. My Good Shepherd, Jesus, provides for all of my needs. This is His job and responsibility. He leads me to all that I need. Not necessarily all that I want, but all that I need.
Verse 2 says, "He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters." Philip Keller is a modern day shepherd. Keller tells us that sheep will never lie down until four conditions are met: 1) they must be free from all fear. 2) they must be free of torment by flies or parasites. 3) they must have a full belly. 4) they must be in harmony with their fellow sheep. Green pastures means tender grass. A good shepherd leads the sheep to the best places to graze to keep them healthy. Keller says that a good shepherd will put tremendous labor into clearing rough, rocky ground into lush pasture land. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, removes our fear, fills us with His Spirit until we are full in Him and gives us peace so that we may lie down and rest.
The sheep are led to "quiet waters". Remember the running creeks - the sheep drown. Sheep also scare easily so calm waters put them at ease. If we follow Jesus, He will lead us to those calm, quiet waters where we have inner peace, calmness and stillness from the living water that only He can give - the water that when I drink, I will never thirst again (John 4:13-14).
"He restores my soul" (verse 3a). When I am heavy laden and burdened, when life bruises and batters, when I am downcast, He restores my soul. We restore things that are old, battered and in bad shape. We restore houses, cars and furniture. We make them look brand new. Jesus restores us - He makes us brand new. Remember the sheep on his back, unable to get up? That is what is meant by being downcast. In that position, they can get sunstroke, or be attacked by wild animals. The Good Shepherd will restore the sheep who has become downcast. He will set us right side up.
"He guides me" (verse 3b). He leads me. Where? Into paths of righteousness. Right paths. Sheep have no sense of direction. They need someone to lead them in paths that are right. They have to be led or they will wander. Sounding familiar? He leads us into the best places. The word "lead" literally means to "drive" us. At times He guides me gently - at times I need to be driven - pushed and prodded. But that's what a Good Shepherd does. He wants to lead me into those paths that have been marked out by Him. They have been checked for safety and only for my good. But my eyes must stay on Him as He leads.
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me" (verse 4). Sheep have no way to defend themselves. They have no incisors (cutting teeth) in their upper jaws. They have no claws or pointed horns. They are defenseless. The only way they can defend themselves is by running away. They need a shepherd with a rod (a stick that is used to fight enemies) and a staff (a special stick that helps people walk) to protect them. When we are afraid, when we're lost and not sure where we are or where we are going, the Lord is there. Sometimes with a gentle word and a soft touch. Sometimes poking and prodding with His rod and staff. He may also have to use his rod to get us out of deep waters or get us down from a high ledge that we are afraid to come down from. Either way - He is leading us and guiding us and protecting us. And protect us He must! Apart from Him we have no defense against the lion who is seeking after whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).
It is important for a sheep to see it's shepherd and hear his voice to know that it is safe. In John 10:27, Jesus said, "My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me." Sheep know their shepherd's voice so well that when they get intermingled with another flock, each shepherd can call out and the sheep will quickly start following their own shepherd. Only then are they able to lie down and rest, restored, because they know their shepherd will protect them and care for them. He will lay down His life if He has to (John 10:11). He doesn't run away when the wolf comes (John 10: 12-13). And if one strays, He will leave the rest of the flock to find it. He will put it on His shoulders and carry it home. You know that wandering can be harmful and tiring - sometimes we can't even walk when we're found. But He will rejoice as He carries us and say, "I have found my lost sheep." (Luke 15: 4-6)
Just before Jacob died he said, "God has been my shepherd all my life" (Genesis 48:15). He is my Good Shepherd. Is He yours?
Until next time,