We hear people called sheep in negative terms, however, Psalm 23 gives us a better idea of what it means to be a sheep in the care of The Good Shepherd. W. Philip Keller wrote a great book called "A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23" we'll get into some of that book in this episode.
Let’s read Psalm 23 in the NIV-1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[a] I will fear no evil, for you are with me your rod and your staff they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.OK, let me just take a second to gather my thoughts here. I’ve recently finished a great book on this scripture and it’s given me a whole new outlook on it. The book is called “A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23” written by W. Phillip Keller. I’ll put a link to this book on the website. Mr Keller was a shepherd and wrote his book from the point of view of what all being a shepherd entails and some of what David refers to in the passage. As I’m sure you’re aware, David was a shepherd. When Samuel came to anoint David as king of Israel, he wasn’t at the house, he was in the fields tending to the flock. David is intimately aware of what it means to be a good shepherd. Part of the scripture is written from the point of view of the sheep, and the other part is directed at the Shepherd. The success and life of a sheep is completely dependent on how good the shepherd is and how much he cares about his sheep. So let’s look at the passage.So David opens with, the Lord is my Shepherd. In John 10:11 Jesus says “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” and he says in verse 14, “I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” How amazing is it that as the book notes and is stated in Colossians 1:15-16 the Son is the image of God and through him all things were created! That is who my shepherd is and he calls me his sheep. Let that sink in for a minute. The creator of all things, the King of the Universe is your caretaker in whom your entire life depends. Could we have a better shepherd than that? I don’t think so. So when David says, the Lord is MY shepherd, it’s not a clever saying, he’s literally saying that I am in the care of the king, the creator of all things. As the book also notes, it’s as if he is bragging to everyone, Look at who my shepherd is! And I share that same feeling of joy. And it’s not that we just belong to him, as with any shepherd and their flock, we were bought, and we were bought at the highest price. Remember in John 10:11 Jesus says the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. We were bought and paid for with the life of Jesus, more correctly, the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s interesting that throughout the bible we are referred to as sheep and Jesus as the shepherd. I don’t think that is by chance. The author notes that “Sheep do not “just take care of themselves” as some might suppose. They require, more than any other class of Livestock, endless attention and meticulous care.” That is so true about us isn’t it?As the Psalm goes on in verse 1 to say I lack nothing, or I shall not be in want. As Keller points out, “it’s absurd to assert” that we “will never experience lack or need”. Jesus spoke to the disciples about the hardships they would face, but he also reassured them that he has overcome the world! Keller also points out that even those who truly lack no material things don’t have the “I shall not be in want” that David is referring to. As is pointed out in the scripture in Revelations 3:17, “You say, I am rich, I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But what you do not realize is that you are wretched, poor, blind, and naked.” No, you see, the lack nothing attitude David is talking about goes much deeper than cool T.V.s and fast cars. David is referring to being content in every situation because he is satisfied with the care he receives. Philippians 4:11-13 Paul reminds us what it means to be content in any situation when he says I can do all this through him who gives me strength. What David is saying with The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want is that, I, the sheep, and completely satisfied and contented with His management of my life.Verse 2 starts with “He makes me lie down in green pastures. This is another line I used to read and think, cool, that sounds comfortable, but I don’t know about the whole makes me lie down, Why can’t you just lay down when you want to. So, Keller opened my eyes yet again to a deeper meaning in this part of the passage. He says that it’s almost impossible to make sheep lie down unless there’s are 4 requirements met. One being the fact that they’re timid animals and will refuse to lay down unless they are free from fear. Another requirement is that they are very social animals, and they won’t lay down if there is friction between them, If they are being pestered by flys or other insects, they won’t lay down, and the last thing he points out is that if sheep are hungry they won’t lay down. Keller goes on to point out that it’s interesting that “sheep won’t lie down unless they are free from fear, hunger, tensions, and aggregations, and it’s only the shepherd who can provide a release from those anxieties.” So what David is pointing out is that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, frees him from his anxieties and gives him opportunity to rest. The next line of the passage is one of my favorites now that I understand what is behind it. He leads me beside quiet waters. In he book it’s noted that water for sheep typically comes from one of three places, dew on the grass, wells, or streams. He goes on to say that “Sheep, by habit, rise just before dawn and start to feed” because it’s in those very early hours of the morning when the grass is “drenched with dew, and sheep can keep fit with the amount of water” they get while eating in the early morning hours. Keller points out that dew is a “clear, clean, and pure” source of water. For the sheep to be able to do that, the shepherd himself will have to get up before dawn to be out in the pasture with the sheep. What strikes me about this line is what he points out next because I find it to be very true in my experience with others. He says “ In the Christian life it is of more than passing significance to observe that those who are often the most serene, most confident, and able to cope with life’s complexities are those who rise early each day to feed on God’s word. It is in the quiet, early hours of the morning that they are led beside the quiet, still waters where they imbibe the very life of Christ for the day.” The people I know who are up early every day reading and praying are pretty much as he described. And I know I am when I’m up early reading and praying. There are no distractions, no pounding thoughts about what has gone on during the day, no aggregations, just me at the table, getting sustenance. Now, I’m not normally an early riser unless I have somewhere to be, but on occasion, I’m awake early, before everyone else, and the times I have gotten out of bed, read my Bible, and spent time in prayer I feel so prepared for my day, I feel for lack of better words, full. If you haven’t tried that, I’ll encourage you right now to get up early tomorrow and read some scripture, and talk with God before you start in to anything else and see how your day goes. I bet it’s better than normal. I wish I had the discipline to do it every day honestly.Keller draws an interesting picture regarding the next verse, He restores my soul. I’ve wondered about that line and his explanation makes good sense to me. He acknowledges the question and says basically, how could someone in the care of the Good Shepherd need their soul restored. And then follows that up with, it happens. He references Psalm 42:11 where David cry’s out, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me…” And Keller shows the similarity with sheep here. There’s an old English term for a sheep that has turned over on its back and can’t get up on its own, that term is a “cast or downcast” sheep. And he notes that it’s not only the shepherd who keeps a lookout for cast sheep, but also the predators. What easy prey that would make, a sheep stuck on it’s back, or for the enemy, a child of God stuck in a bad place. Keller goes on to draw some parallels between us and sheep as well, he talks about the things that cause a sheep to be cast down. Things like finding a soft spot to lay down. When sheep lay in a “soft, rounded hollow in the ground” it’s easy for them to end up on their backs and not able to roll over. As with us, it’s pretty dangerous to live a life always looking for the easy button or staying buried in our comfort zone. . He goes on with somethies a sheep is cast because it has to much wool. It can get matted with all kinds of stuff and become pretty heavy. He points out that wool in the Bible depicts our “old self-life. The outward expression of an inner attitude, the assertion of my own desire and hopes, and aspirations.” He points out that it’s not a coincidence that high priests weren’t allowed to wear wool when they entered the Holy of Holies, or the inner chambers of the temple. So, the fix for the sheep is a good shearing. The fix for us, is our conviction by the Holy Spirit with the Word of God. He points out that for the sheep, initially it’s awful and uncomfortable to be sheared, but there’s an amazing relief when it’s over. That is true for us as well. Deny yourself daily, the Lord says. “It may be “unpleasant business” but the outcome is so worth it. Keller goes on to say another cause of a cast sheep is basically because it’s to fat. For us, It’s arrival syndrome, we thing we have it made, then all of a sudden as is said in Proverbs, pride comes before the fall, and there we are on our backs feet up in the air. When the shepherd realized his sheep are being cast because they’re fat, he changes their diet and fixes the problem. Keller points out that “often when we are most sure of ourselves we are the most prone to fall flat. Don’t thing that because you’ve done well with business or personal successes that your set and can go on autopilot. Keller points out that “material success is no spiritual heath.” The point is as David stated earlier, be content and trust that God knows what he’s doing. He leads me on path’s of righteousness for his names sake. Keller points out here that sheep will blindly follow each other on the same paths until they become ruts and have major erosion, and us, like them, will “cling to the same habits we’ve seen ruin other lives.” He points out the best way to keep his flock safe is to keep them on the move, periodically going to new pasture. But we like sheep often want to go our own way and exert our will instead of following the will of the shepherd. In John 14:6 Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Our way, our will, is not the way to the Father. But man, it can be so hard to just follow Jesus, to go the right way, the only way that leads to the Father. And Jesus never presented that way of being anything other than difficult. Keller points out that following Jesus carries a high cost and that it’s not the way normal people live and that “that is what has made the price so prohibitive to most people.” A good friend of mine described it as living with uncommon purpose. I love that description. Keller points out seven attitudes that we have to adopt. The first being that instead of loving ourself the most, we have to love Jesus the most, and others more than ourselves. Next, “Instead of being one of the crowd, I am wiling to be singled out, set apart from the gang.”The third attitude is, “ Instead of insisting on my rights, I am willing to forgo them in favor of others.” And he describes this as “a person who is willing to pocket his pride, to take a back seat, to play second fiddle without a feeling of being abused or put upon has gone a long way onto new ground with God.” The next attitude he talks about is instead of being the boss, we have to be willing to be on the bottom of the heap. He notes when self-pleasing gives way to pleasing God and others a lot of the stress of daily living gives way. The 5th attitude - “ Instead of finding fault with life and always asking why, I am willing to accept every circumstance of life in an attitude of gratitude. He points out that “we are often quick to forget out blessings and slow to forget our misfortunes. When you start digging a hole of negative thought, you gt to a point when it becomes very hard to dig out of it. There’s a great book on personal accountability that I sometimes give away to people, it’s called Extreme Ownership. It’s worth your time to read it.The 6th attitude is forgoing your own will to cooperate and comply with the will of God. And the 7th and final attitude relates to the previous one, instead of going my own way, I am willing to follow Christ and do what he asks. He notes that all of these attitudes have to do with will and that all the way back to the early Saints, they point out that “9/10ths of becoming a true follower and a dedicated disciple has to do with Will. Basically it comes down to simple, straightforward obedience. Which as simple as it sounds, isn’t so easy for most of us. “Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil.” Keller notes that the valleys are the easiest way up a mountain and also, the most watered spots, afterall, thats where all the water runs down so it makes sense that you would find water on the way up. He also notes that predators like to hide along the cliffs and crevices along the valleys, at times you face flash floods, however, through the valley is “still the best way to get the flock to the high country.” Jesus told us John 16:33, there will be trouble in this world, and also to take heart, which basically means to have your confidence boosted, he has overcome the world. Keller notes that “the questions is not whether we have many or few valleys. It is not whether those valleys are dark or merely dim with shadows. The question is how do I react to them?” “With Christ I face them calmly. With His gracious Holy Spirit to guide me I face them fearlessly.”As David talks about the rod and the staff, he finds comfort in those. The book talks about how the rod was a cherished tool of the shepherd and an extension of his right hand and a symbol of strength, and authority that he would use to keep himself and his flock safe and also to discipline his sheep if needed. Keller relates the rod of the shepherd to the Word of God. In it we find comfort and if applied properly a tool of discipline and guidance and protection. The staff represents the Spirit of God. Keller notes how often times a shepherd will walk along his flock and keep his staff on the side of a favorite sheep as a way to keep in contact. He notes the sheep love it and it is comforting to them to have that contact. The same as it is for us when we feel in contact with the Spirit of the Lord. You prepare a table before me-I was unaware that before a flock make it to the high country for summer grazing, the shepherd will, on multiple occasions, make several trips to the mesas, which by the way is Spanish for table. He goes before the sheep to clear noxious or poisonous weeds, look for fertile feeding ground, spread important minerals in specific areas to encourage feeding and kill or trap predators before his flock arrives. What an incredible image that out Lord is going before us to clear the poison and predators so that we can be at peace and be fed on fertile ground. He recalls a time when he had his flock on a summer Mesa and although he never heard or saw a cougar in his flock at night, morning would come to show that one had indeed been among the flock, killed many sheep, and disappeared like it was never the. He goes on to point out that “At all times we would be wise to walk a little closer to Christ. This is one sure place of safety. It was always the distant sheep, the roamers, the wanderers tha were picked off by predators . “He calls in to question whether we truly appreciate the cost to our Good Shepherd that it took on him to prepare our table. When we partake in communion, an act of thanksgiving for His sacrifice, are we really appreciating what he went through in those lonely moments in the Garden of Gethsemane, and in Pilates Hall where he was beaten, and on Calvary where He hung from a cross and ultimately gave himself up for all of us. He points out that there’s a great mystery that most of us will never figure out, and “It’s bound up inexorably in God’s divine love of self-sacrifice which is so foreign to must of us who are so self-centered.” That was a gut punch for me.In the passage regarding annointing our head with oil he talks about how sheep suffer greatly from parasites, especially one called a nose fly which will burrow in the sheep’s nose and lay it’s eggs. When they hatch that drive the sheep mad to the point where they are flailing their heads around or even at times kill themselves in an effort to get reprieve from the contestant maddening of the flys in their nose. To prevent this, the shepherd applies an oil concoction to the head and nose of the sheep. This protects the sheep from these flys. Another application of oil to the head of sheep is during the rut when testosterone is high and the rams are constantly butting heads, literally. He will apply an oil to their heads so they slide off each other instead of injuring each other. As applied to the life of the Christian, our Lord anoints us with the Holy Spirit. Jesus told the his disciples about the coming of the comforter and how with the Spirit we would know Peace. Keller makes a special note that one application of the oil is never enough to get a sheep all the way through the summer, it takes multiple applications, so it is with us as well, one encounter with the Holy Spirit is not enough, it’s a daily need for us to be filled with eh Spirit of God. Surely Goodness and Mercy will follow me all the days of my life- it’s a powerful statement of satisfaction in knowing that you are receiving goodness and mercy from your Master, but it is also a statement of what we leave behind. He points out that if goodness and mercy flow to me, they should also follow behind me, we should leave that as our legacy. He talks about sheep manure as a great benefit to the soil, eating in the low lands and dispensing the nutrients to the sparse areas of the mountains. And he asks, are we leaving a blessing behind us wherever we go. For me this book was eye opening for Psalm 23. It make a lot of the passage make more sense and gave a much deeper meaning to many of the verses. I know this was a longer episode than normal, but I wanted to give the book justice and encourage you if you haven’t read it, get a copy. There’s a link in the show notes over on the website, seekpodcast.show. Let’s close in a prayer
Closing PrayerLord we are so grateful for your protection and care as the Good Shepherd over your flock. I praise you for leaving the 99 to rescue me and so many others. I pray Lord that you increase our faith in you and give us opportunity to share your blessings with others as we go along on our paths. Amen.
A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23https://www.amazon.com/s?k=a+shepherd+look+at+psalm+23&crid=1NA571M28WRMN&sprefix=A+shepherd+look%2Caps%2C166&ref=nb_sb_ss_ts-do-p_1_15