[¶ A Psalm of David.] ¶ The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. He leads 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 Your staff, they comfort me.
¶ You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Of all the 150 Psalms, Psalm 23 is probably the most loved. As we read it we can easily imagine its author, the young shepherd-boy David, making the trek through a ravine where bandits, bears, and predators lurked as he led his small flock of sheep through to fresh water and green pastures. As he reflected on how he led and cared for his flock he must have pondered of how the LORD was like a shepherd to him. As easy as it is for us to imagine teenage David composing this beautiful Psalm, it is also easy to imagine how the God he describes as his shepherd in this Psalm is also a shepherd to us. God, as a shepherd, provides what we need (vs 1), restores our soul (vs 3), when we are unsure He leads on the right path (vs 3), He protects us from evil (vs 4), comforts us in times of distress (vs 4), strengthens us in our moments of weakness (vs 5), He gives us honour when our opponents attempt to bring us shame (vs 5), and He provides a place of belonging for us (vs 6). This is what a shepherd does, David tells us, and it is ultimately only found in the True Shepherd, the Lord Immanuel.
DAVID’S EXPERIENCE AS A SHEPHERD
But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father.
And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock,
I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth.
And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him.
Your servant has struck down both lions and bears,
and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them,
for he has defied the armies of the living God.”
First Samuel 17:34-36
David understood how important his role as a shepherd to his sheep was. He brought this understanding with him when he took on the Philistine giant and when he became king of Israel. He knew that a sheep – and especially a lamb – was doomed without the protective gaze of a shepherd. He also knew that people in his care were also doomed unless he acted like a shepherd to them (Acts 20:29).
He chose David His servant and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
to shepherd Jacob His people,
Israel His inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
and guided them with his skilful hand.
WHEN SHEEP ARE LEFT DEFENCELESS
Sheep without a shepherd are defenceless against predators – especially wolves (Jn. 10:12). This is something the Jesus stessed in John 10. Without the provision and leading of a shepherd they could also starve or die of thirst. When David became king of Israel, he understood his role as their king was just as critical as his role as a shepherd to his childhood flock of sheep and lambs.
THE SPIRITUAL PARALLELS OF SHEEP AND SHEPHERD
But we Your people, the sheep of Your pasture,
will give thanks to You forever;
from generation to generation we will recount Your praise.
People are like sheep, the prophet tells us (Isa 53:6). who are easily led astray. Kim and I live next door to sheep, literally. In our morning walk Kim would often go up to the sheep and invite them to come over for a hello pat. It would usually only take one sheep to come over and then the others in the paddock would then join in. Similarly we would observe that if one sheep walked off in a direction the others were certain to follow. People are like sheep and the rise of social media, if there is such a thing, has arguably contributed to very ultra-sheepish behaviour which sociologists have referred to as social contagion. This social contagion has led to people, especially young people and particularly young girls, acting very irrationally en-masse. As Christians though we understand that this is not merely people acting like sheep, or the rise of social contagions, but an indication that we live in a world that is comprised of much more than just atoms.
We are all like sheep living in a spiritually dangerous world where there are predators who despise the Shepherd and would do anything to harm His sheep. In this world of wolves and predators the Shepherd offers protection within the fold. The fold is where the sheep are safe. The fold is where the sheep are fed. The fold is where the sheep are tended to by the Shepherd who binds up their wounds, removes the thorns and thistles that cling to fleece. We are all like sheep looking for a Shepherd and a fold where we can belong. The immaterial spiritual beings opposed to the Shepherd manipulate their minions to scoff at those who think that the Shepherd can protect them in such a pathetic fold as a “church”. What these manipulated minions do not know, but their dark evil overlords do know, is that the Shepherd’s fold, the Church, is not just a place comprised of a spiritual collection of sticks and bushes coupled together to form a makeshift flimsy fence! No. The church is a fully-armed, military unit equipped by the Shepherd with officers who regularly conduct rescue missions into enemy territory and bring lost sheep out of darkness into the light, shelter, and supplies of the Shepherd’s fold. It is a place, a relationship, where the gathered rescued sheep can say, The LORD is my Shepherd, I have all my wants taken care of by Him.
This is why we need realise that when David described himself as a sheep under that care of God as His Shepherd, he presenting a picture of a militant Shepherd! This is the kind of shepherd who used weapons against the foes of his sheep and would risk his own life in the face of such deadly threats. This is the kind of shepherd who would “kill lions and bears and wolves”! Shepherding is a military exercise! Consider the implications of this benediction in the Epistle to the Hebrews:
¶ Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus,
the Great Shepherd of the sheep,
by the blood of the eternal covenant,
equip you with everything good that you may do His will,
working in us that which is pleasing in His sight,
through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
The spiritual reality of the Great Shepherd’s relationship with His sheep is that He equips sheep to become shepherds! And He does this because He is not just the Shepherd — He does this because He is the LORD!
THE SHEPHERD WHO BECAME A LAMB TRANSFORMS HIS SHEEP INTO SHEPHERDS
¶ “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a Ruler
who will shepherd My people Israel.’”
The LORD transforms His people from being defenceless sheep into being warriors of the Lamb! He, the Great Shepherd, The Commander of the Hosts of Heaven, The Almighty LORD of Heaven and Earth, became Lamb. In the closing book of the Bible, the Great Shepherd is described as “a Lion” and, in the same passage, as “a Lamb”.
And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that He can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
¶ And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And He went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne. And when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
Depending on your perspective, the apostle John reveals in his vision of heaven, Jesus was either a ferocious Lion or an apparently defenceless Lamb! As the revelation of who Jesus throughout the Book of Revelation becomes clearer we see that what initially appeared as a little Lamb was actually the military Rider of a white horse riding into battle against the Lord’s foes. The God who came as the babe of Bethlehem entered our world like a defenceless lamb. But in reality, He was the Great Shepherd, the Commander of the LORD’s Hosts, the One who could summon twelve legions of angels to do His bidding! What an amazing transformation! He, the LORD, became an arnion a defenceless little Lamb. And today, because the Lamb has conquered, He continues to transform His previously defenceless sheep into full equiped shepherds of His great flock. This is His mission for you child of God – to walk through the valley of the shadow of death with a rod and staff in your hand to bring healing and comfort to the lost and scattered defenceless sheep of this world. Our Shepherd is the LORD.
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