Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Good Shepherd

Psalm 23:1-6

A Psalm of David.

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1)

Domesticated sheep are extremely vulnerable to many things.  They are not particularly fast or strong, and are small enough most predators find them relatively easy to kill.  There are a lot of plants that are harmful to them and they are susceptible to lot of diseases, as well as infestations of insects and parasites.  For protection they tend to gather in herds, allowing the herd to decide what they do rather than acting independently.   As a result they usually do not develop strong thinking skills for themselves.  Perhaps the most frustrating thing about working with them is realizing that they are intelligent creatures that rarely use their intelligence to the full. 

Since even the lead sheep have the same tendencies, a shepherd is invaluable to the herd.  The shepherd protects them from predators, moves them to where there is food while avoiding areas where harmful plants grow.  He shears excess wool so that it doesn’t become so heavy they can’t walk, and applies sprays and salves to protect them from parasites and infections.  Without a shepherd few sheep would survive their first year.  With this in mind, David describes the Lord as his shepherd, the one who protects and supplies every need.   

“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.” (Psalm 23:2)

While they are grazing, sheep bite off the plants and stuff them into the first stomach where the acid starts to break down the fibers.  Later they need to rest while they bring the food up and chew it thoroughly so their intestines can extract all the nutrients.  Without that time to relax and chew the cud, the sheep will become malnourished.  In green pastures, they can take the time to relax and chew the food, because they don’t constantly have to be looking for more.  The Lord provides plenty, and gives us time to digest what he has done. 

Wool holds and immense amount of water, sometimes as much as sixty pounds on a single sheep, making it very hard for him to get to his feet when wet.  It is important that the shepherd keeps his away from fast flowing water where he might be knocked off his feet and be unable to get up and drown. The Lord leads us to areas where we are unlikely to be trapped and unable to escape. 

“He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.” (Psalm 23:3)

The Lord applies the salves and medications to keep out insects and infections and ease our pain.  He leads us in paths where we are not overly tempted to go into sin, just as a shepherd leads the flock in places where they are unlikely to fall or be lost. 

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. “ (Psalm 23:4)

Sheep are extremely aware of their vulnerability, and something new terrifies them, but as they learn to trust their shepherd, they depend on him to deal with the things that frightened them.  As we get to know the Lord, we grow increasingly confident that he knows what is best and how to protect us. 

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” (Psalm 23:5)

The very best pastures often lie high in the mountains where there are a lot of predators, who are drawn to them.  Confident of the shepherd’s care, the sheep can focus on eating, without constantly worrying about one of the predators attacking them.  For reassurance, they can go to th shepherd to be petted and he will apply repellents to drive away the insects.    Life could hardly be better.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” (Psalm 23:6)

The best part is that this is not a temporary state.  We experience these blessings throughout our earthly life, then will dwell with the Lord throughout eternity.  I Timothy 4:8 tells us, “…but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.”  Why would anyone insist on going their own way and not to let the Good Shepherd lead them? 

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