” My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” ~ Jesus
The Bible. It has to be the most enigmatic book ever written. It is arguably the most sought after, despised, memorized and studied, misunderstood and rejected book in the whole of human history. It was the first major book printed for wide distribution on the famous printing press ~ the Gutenberg Press ~ in the 15th century. It has been translated into more languages and dialects than any other book. Some people think it is Holy. Some people think only parts of if are Holy. And, I suppose, some people think it is stupid. Whatever any of us thinks about it, I think we can all agree it is a bit confusing.
The other day, for some reason, I was thinking about the 23rd Psalm. That gentle little poem written by the most famous king of Israel long before the coming of Christ, is probably the most familiar passage of the Bible to almost everyone.
But what in the world does it mean?
So I started thinking about it. I mean really thinking about it. I really started digging into it; I even took notes as I thought about it.
When I was 8 years old, my Sunday school teacher had her class memorize it. She also had us memorize other Bible verses, but I hadn’t remembered them as well. For some reason, Psalm 23 stuck with me. I remember wondering why guys were always saying it in old cowboy movies over the dying cowboy just before they got out the shovel. What the heck did sheep and shepherds have to do with dying and giving someone a “proper burial”? I figured it must be the only part of the Bible those lawless gun-slingers knew. After all, it was all I could’ve recited too if I was standing there nervously in their filthy boots.
I also just happen to know a little bit about sheep. Not a lot, but enough to know that they must be the stupidest, most helpless creatures in all of creation.
When I was growing up, we lived on a 20 acre farm. It wasn’t a real working farm, but we raised all our own food. And we had horses. And a small herd of sheep. It was my mother who loved and cared for the sheep. I loved the horses. But I did have these observations about the sheep:
Sheep are easily frightened, nervous and emotional. They are totally without their own direction. We only had ewes. Therefore it appeared to me that they were the only animals I had ever seen from which no leader arose amongst the herd. They need an External Constant to do pretty much everything for them. They can’t even successfully give birth without human intervention to deliver and protect the lambs. They are born helpless and remain that way.
They appeared to me to have no ability to find their own food or water. They are completely without any natural defenses for survival. They can’t run very fast. They can’t fight off an attacker. They don’t have a hard outer shell to protect themselves.They can’t stand perfectly still so nobody notices them as they blend into the background with natural camouflaged bodies. They aren’t poisonous. They don’t taste bad ~ in fact, they taste really good. The only thing they know how to do when danger approaches them is to pack themselves tightly together and scream hysterically. At least they know they are helpless. So they call for help. But they don’t trust easily. I don’t think they can see very well, to add even more to their helpless state. But they can hear. A particular herd of sheep trusts only one voice.
Their One Constant. Their Shepherd.
After thinking about sheep more than long enough, I turned my thoughts to the shepherds. What lovely, patient souls they must have been to care for, keep from harm’s way and even love the sheep. It was a humble job in the days when Jesus walked upon the earth, as well as so many years before ~ when King David wrote this Psalm. Suddenly I remembered that as a young guy, long before he was king or had the slightest notion of anything like that occurring ~ David was a shepherd. Being the youngest of a man named Jesse’s 8 sons, I guess he got stuck with the job. Anyway, as young as he was, apparently he was pretty good at it.
Whether or not a person chooses to believe they are true, there are some pretty exciting stories in the Bible; David and Goliath is certainly one of them. In that story we discover David was not just a tender little boy. He was also tough and very brave. And we discover how much he loved the God of Israel. And his herd of sheep.
So what made David a Good Shepherd and gave him the guts to be the only one to stand up, incredulous at the audacity of that braggart Goliath who was calling God and His own army names? So he was a giant around 10 feet tall? Whatever.
His arms were WAY too short to box with God.
So little David said to him, ” Who are YOU to revile the Name of The Living God?”, while the entire army stood there quivering with fear. David reveals that while he was being a good shepherd, he not only stood guard over his father’s stupid and totally helpless sheep, he also protected them day and night and just happened to chase down and kill some lions and bears with his shepherd’s stick. So he picks up five river rocks and whips out his shepherd’s sling, whirls it around and lets fly one little rock. And the rock hits that mouthy Goliath right in the forehead ~ right between the eyes. Goliath falls on his face, and since David wasn’t even carrying a sword, he used Goliath’s own sword and cut off his head ( 1 Samuel 17 ). What a great story that is!
We also find out later that David was chosen by God when he was still quite young to be the 2nd king of Israel. Apparently, the way that was shown was by a prophet pouring expensive oil over a person’s head. This gesture was considered the highest honor possible and called “anointing”. And David was a poet and a musician who played an instrument called a lyre to comfort people and probably his hysterical sheep.
So, getting back to Psalm 23. Based on my humble knowledge of Sheep and the Bible, I think this could be something like what the beloved 23rd Psalm means:
Psalm 23 ~ What do you mean?
Because The Lord is my Sheperd (Best Friend, Fierce Protector, Tender Comforter and Trusted King) and I know I am helpless without Him, just like a sheep without a shepherd, I will have EVERYTHING that He decides is good for me. Therefore, I will lack NO good thing.
Sometimes He decides it is best for me to rest in a peaceful place where things are not so hard. In those times, He surrounds me with beautiful things, good food and a bubbling brook all around me to help me get strong again because He understands that this life is not easy.
He also understands that I am too weak to be a good person without His help. But that doesn’t make Him mad at me. Because He helps me, that makes everyone see He is kind, not harsh, and He a Good Shepherd.
Sometimes I find myself in a dark place where I cannot see any sunshine, like when my son died. Even though that was six years ago, I still cry about it almost every day. And I don’t understand why it happened. And I know I never will. But because I know my Shepherd is good, I don’t have to be afraid. He has promised me He will never leave me. He will always protect me, lead me and guide me through the darkness.
He shows me how precious I am to Him by making sure other people can see I am His own ~ in fact, He pours expensive perfume in my hair like a crown on my head and makes me a princess in front of everyone ~ even people who don’t like me and think I’m worthless.
I know, even when I do or say stupid, wrong things, His love for me is like a roof of protection over me. He will work out my mistakes so I can be clean. He also teaches me to look beyond the things that are wrong about other people ~ even if they have wounded me horribly. He helps me forgive them. In fact, He promises to do these things every single day of my life ~ if I just let Him.
…and He will be right next to me and I will belong to Him