A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23
[14 pages of short excerpts from Phillip Keller’s 142 page book]
“The Lord is my Shepherd” (Verse 1a)
“The Lord! But who is the Lord? What is His character? Does He have adequate credentials to be my Shepherd—my manager—my owner? And if He does—how do I come under His control? In what way do I become the object of His concern and diligent care?
One of the calamities of Christianity is our tendency to talk in ambiguous generalities. David, the author of the poem, himself a shepherd, and the son of a shepherd, later to be known as the “Shepherd King” of Israel, stated explicitly, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” To whom did he refer? He referred to Jehovah, the Lord God of Israel [Yahweh, I AM, the one who became Jesus Christ]. His statement was confirmed by Jesus the Christ. When He was God incarnate amongst men, He declared emphatically, “I am the good Shepherd.”
But who was Christ? Our view of Him is often too small—too cramped—to provincial—too human. And because it is we feel unwilling to allow Him to have authority or control—much less outright ownership of our lives. He is was who was directly responsible for the creation of all things both natural and supernatural (see Colossians 1:15-20). If we pause to reflect on the person of Christ—on His power and upon His achievements—suddenly like David we will be glad to state proudly, “The Lord—He is my Shepherd!”
But before we do this it helps to hold clearly in mind the particular part played upon our history by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God the Father is God the author—originator of all that exists. It was in His mind, first, that all took shape. God the Son, our Saviour, is God the artisan—the artist—the Creator of all that exists. He brought into being all that had been originally formulated in His Father’s mind. God the Holy Spirit is God the agent who presents these facts to both my mind and my spiritual understanding so that they become both real and relative to me as an individual…So when the simple—though sublime—statement is made by a man or woman that “The Lord is my Shepherd,” it immediately implies a profound yet practical working relationship between a human being and his Maker. It links a lump of common clay to divine destiny—it means a mere mortal becomes the cherished object of divine diligence.
To think that God in Christ is deeply concerned about me as a particular person immediately gives great purpose and enormous meaning to my short sojourn upon this planet.
And the greater, the wider, the more majestic my concept is of the Christ—the more vital will be my relationship to Him. Obviously, David, in this Psalm, is speaking not as the shepherd, though he is one, but as a sheep; one of the flock. He spoke with a strong sense of pride and devotion and admiration. It was as though he literally boasted aloud, “Look at who my shepherd is—my owner—my manager!” The Lord is!
Under one man sheep would struggle, starve and suffer endless hardship. In another man’s care they would flourish and thrive contentedly. So if the Lord is my Shepherd I should know something of His ability. To meditate on this I frequently go out at night to walk alone under the starts and remind myself of His majesty and might. Looking up at the star-studded sky I remember that at least 250,000,000 x 250,000,000 such bodies—each larger than our sun, one of the smallest starts, have been scattered across the vast spaces of the universe by His hand. [Actually, now with the Hubble Space Telescope, that number has increased exponentially, since the Hubble alone has now spotted over 100,000,000,000 (100-billion) galaxies alone. And the estimated star population of each galaxy on average is 100,000,000,000 stars!] I recall that the planet earth, which is my temporary home for a few short years, is so minute a speck of matter in space that if it were possible to transport our most powerful telescope to our nearest star, Alpha Centauri, and look back this way, the earth could not be seen, even with the aid of that powerful instrument. All this is a bit humbling. It drains the “ego” from a man and puts things in proper perspective. It makes me see myself as a mere mite of material in an enormous universe. Yet the staggering fact remains that Christ the Creator of such an enormous universe of overwhelming magnitude deigns to call Himself my Shepherd and invites me to consider myself His sheep—His special object of affection and attention. Who better could care for me?
By the same sort of process I stoop down and pick up a handful of soil from the backyard or roadside. Placing it under an electron microscope I am astounded to discover it teems with billions upon billions of micro-organisms. Many of them are so complex in their own peculiar cellular structure that even a fraction of their functions in the earth are not yet properly understood. Yes, He the Christ—the Son of God brought all of this into being. From the most gigantic galaxy to the most minute microbe all function flawlessly in accordance with definite laws of order and unity which are utterly beyond the mind of man to master. It is in this sense, first of all, that I am basically bound to admit that His ownership of me as a human being is legitimate—simply because it is He who brought me into being and no one is better able to understand or care for me. I belong to Him simply because He deliberately chose to create me as the object of His own affection…
Again in Christ He demonstrated at Calvary the deep desire of His heart to have men come under His benevolent care. He Himself absorbed the penalty for their perverseness, stating clearly that “all we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Thus, in a second very real and vital sense I truly belong to Him simply because He has bought me again at the incredible price of His own laid-down life and shed blood. Therefore He was entitled to say, “I am the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” So there remains the moving realization that we have been bought with a price, that we are really not our own and He is well within His rights to lay claim upon our lives. I recall quite clearly how in my first venture with sheep, the question of paying a price for my ewes was so terribly important. They belonged to me only by virtue of the fact that I paid hard cash for them. It was money earned by the blood and sweat and tears drawn from my own body during the desperate grinding years of the depression. And when I bought that first small flock I was buying them literally with my own body which had been laid down with this day in mind.
But the day I bought them I also realized that this was but the first stage in a long, lasting endeavor in which from then on, I would, as their owner, have to continually lay down my life for them, if they were to flourish and prosper. 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. It is no accident that God has chosen to call us sheep. The behavior of sheep and human beings is similar in many ways as will be seen in further chapters. Our mass mind (or mob mind), our fears and timidity, our stubbornness and stupidity, our perverse habits are all parallels of profound importance. Yet despite these adverse characteristics Christ chose us, buys us, calls us by name, makes us His own and delights in caring for us.
It is this last aspect which is really the third reason why we are under obligation to recognize His ownership of us. He literally lays Himself out for us constantly. He is ever interceding for us; He is ever guiding us by His gracious Spirit; He is ever working on our behalf to ensure that we will benefit from His care.
In memory I can still see one of the sheep ranches in our district which was operated by a tenant sheepman. He ought never to have been allowed to keep sheep. His stock were always thin, weak and riddled with disease or parasites. Again and again they would come and stand at the fence staring blankly through the woven wire at the green lush pastures which my flock enjoyed. Had they been able to speak I am sure they would have said, “Oh, to be set free from this awful owner!” This is a picture which has never left my memory. It is a picture of pathetic people the world over who have not known what it is to belong to the Good Shepherd…who suffer instead under sin and Satan. How amazing it is that individual men and women vehemently refuse and reject the claims of Christ on their lives. They fear that to acknowledge His ownership is to come under the rule of a tyrant. This is difficult to comprehend when one pauses to consider the character of Christ… an unbiased look at His life quickly reveals an individual of enormous compassion and incredible integrity…Though he enjoyed no special advantages as a child, either in education or employment, His entire philosophy and outlook on life were the highest standards of human conduct ever set before mankind. Though He had no vast economic assets, political power or military might, no other person ever made such an enormous impact on the world’s history. Because of Him millions of people across twenty centuries of time have come into the life of decency and honor and noble conduct.
Not only was He gentle and tender and true but also righteous, stern as steel, and terribly tough on phony people. He was magnificent in His magnanimous spirit of forgiveness for fallen folk but a terror to those who indulged in double talk or false pretenses. He came to set men free from their sins, their own selves, their own fears. Those so liberated loved Him with fierce loyalty. It is this One who insists that He was the Good Shepherd, the understanding Shepherd who cares enough to seek out and save and restore lost men and women. He never hesitated to make it clear that when an individual once came under His management and control there would be a certain new and unique relationship between Him and them…
Each sheep-man has his own distinctive earmark which he cuts into one or other of the ears of his sheep. In this way, even at a distance, it is easy to determine to whom the sheep belongs. [In Old Testament times this mark was circumcision on God’s people. In the New Testament times this mark or brand is baptism. Also…] There is an exciting parallel to this in the Old Testament. When a slave in any Hebrew household chose, of his own freewill, to become a life-time member of that home, he was subjected to a certain ritual. His master and owner would take him to his door, put his ear lobe against the door post and with an awl puncture a hole through the ear. From then on he was a man marked for life as belonging to that house…[with the Good Shepherd] Basically what it amounts to is this: A person exchanges the fickle fortunes of living life by sheer whimsy for the more productive and satisfying adventure of being guided by God. [Ask for the guidance daily] It is a tragic truth that many people who really have never come under His direction or management claim that “The Lord is my Shepherd.” They seem to hope that by merely admitting that He is their Shepherd somehow they will enjoy the benefits of His care and management without paying the price of forfeiting their own fickle and foolish way of life. One cannot have it both ways. Either we belong or we don’t. Jesus Himself warned us that there would come a day when many would say, “Lord, in Your name we did many wonderful things,” but He will retort that He never knew [them] as His own. It is a most serious and sobering thought which should make us search our own hearts and motives and personal relationship to Himself. Do I really belong to Him? Do I really recognize His right to me? Do I respond to His authority and acknowledge His ownership? Do I find freedom and complete fulfillment in this arrangement? Do I sense a purpose and deep commitment because I am under His direction? Do I know rest and repose, besides a definite sense of exciting adventure, in belonging to Him? [cf. II Corinthians 13:5] If so, then with genuine gratitude and exaltation I can exclaim proudly, just as David did, “The Lord is my Shepherd!” and I’m thrilled to belong to Him, for it is thus that I shall flourish and thrive no matter what life may bring to me.”
Verse 1b, “I shall not want” (verse 1b)
What a proud, positive, bold statement to make! Obviously, this is the sentiment of a sheep utterly satisfied with its owner, perfectly content with its lot in life….No doubt the main concept is that of not lacking—not deficient—in proper care, management or husbandry. But a second emphasis is the idea of being utterly contented in the Good Shepherd’s care and consequently not craving or desiring anything more. This may seem a strange statement for a man like David to have made if we think in terms only of physical or material needs. After all he had been hounded and harried repeatedly by the forces of his enemy Saul as well as those of his own estranged son Absalom. He was obviously a man who had known intense privation: deep personal poverty, acute hardship and anguish of spirit. Therefore it is absurd to assert on the basis of this statement that the child of God, the sheep in the Good Shepherd’s care, will never experience lack or need. It is imperative to keep a balanced view of the Christian life. To do this it is well to consider the careers of men like Elijah, John the Baptist, our Lord Himself—and even modern men of faith such as Livingstone—to realize that all of them experienced great personal privation and adversity. When He was among us, the Great Shepherd Himself warned His disciples before His departure for glory, that—“In this world ye shall have tribulation—but be of good cheer—I have overcome the world.”…
Based on the teachings of the Bible we can only conclude that David was not referring to material or physical poverty when he made the statement “I shall not want.” For this reason the Christian has to take a long, hard look at life. He has to recognize that as with many of God’s choice people before him, he may be called on to experience lack of wealth or material benefits. He has to see his sojourn upon the planet as a brief interlude during which there may well be some privation in a physical sense. Yet amid such hardship he can still boast, “I shall not want…I shall not lack the expert care and management of my Master.” To grasp the inner significance of this simple statement it is necessary to understand the difference between belonging to one master or another—to the Good Shepherd or to an imposter…
A bad shepherd
When all is said and done the welfare of any flock is entirely dependent upon the management afforded them by their owner. The tenant sheepman on the farm next to my first ranch was the most indifferent manager I had ever met. He was not concerned about the condition of his sheep. His land was neglected. He gave little or no time to his flock, letting them pretty well forage for themselves as best they could, both summer and winter. They fell prey to dogs, cougars and rustlers. Every year these poor creatures were forced to gnaw away at bare brown fields and impoverished pastures. Every winter there was a shortage of nourishing hay and wholesome grain to feed the hungry ewes. Shelter to safeguard and protect the suffering sheep from storms and blizzards was scanty and inadequate. They had only polluted, muddy water to drink. There had been a lack of salt and other trace minerals needed to offset their sickly pastures. In their thin, weak and diseased condition these poor sheep were a pathetic sight. In my mind’s eye I can still see them standing at the fence, huddled sadly in little knots, staring wistfully through the wires at the rich pastures on the other side. To all their distress, the heartless, selfish owner seemed callous and indifferent. He simply did not care. What if his sheep did want green grass; fresh water; shade; safety or shelter from the storms? What if they did want relief from wounds, bruises, disease and parasites? He ignored their needs—he couldn’t care less. Why should he—they were just sheep—fit only for the slaughterhouse. I never looked at those poor sheep without an acute awareness that this was a precise picture of those wretched old taskmasters, Sin and Satan, on their derelict ranch—scoffing at the plight of those within their power.
As I have moved among men and women from all strata of society as both a lay pastor and as a scientist I have become increasingly aware of one thing. It is the boss—the manager—the Master in people’s lives who makes the difference in their destiny. I have known some of the wealthiest men on this continent intimately—also some of the leading scientists and professional people. Despite their dazzling outward show of success, despite their affluence and their prestige, they remained poor in spirit, shriveled in soul, and unhappy in life. They were joyless people held in the iron grip and heartless ownership of the wrong master. By the way of contrast, I have numerous friends among relatively poor people—people who have known hardship, disaster and the struggle to stay afloat financially. But because they belong to Christ and have recognized Him as Lord and Master of their lives, their owner and manager, they are permeated by a deep, quiet, settled peace that is beautiful to behold. It is indeed a delight to visit some of these humble homes where men and women are rich in spirit, generous in heart and large of soul. They radiate a serene confidence and quiet joy that surmounts all the tragedies of their time. They are under God’s care and they know it. They have entrusted themselves to Christ’s control and found contentment. Contentment should be a hallmark of the man or woman who has put his or her affairs in the hands of God. This especially applies in our affluent age…Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd—the Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” And again, “I am come that ye might have life and that ye might have it more abundantly.”
In spite of having such a master and owner, the fact remains that some Christians are still not content with His control. They are somewhat dissatisfied, always feeling that somehow the grass beyond the fence must be a little greener. These are carnal Christians—one might almost call them “fence crawlers” or “half-Christians” who want the best of both worlds. I once owned an ewe whose conduct exactly typified this sort of person. She was one of the most attractive sheep that ever belonged to me. Her body was beautifully proportioned. She had a strong constitution and an excellent coat of wool. Her head was clean, alert, well-set with bright eyes. She bore sturdy lambs that matured rapidly. But in spite of all these attractive attributes she had one pronounced fault. She was restless—discontented—a fence crawler. So much so that I cam to call her “Mrs. Gadabout.” This one ewe produced more problems for me than almost all the rest of the flock combined. No matter what field or pasture the sheep were in, she would search all along the fences or shoreline (we lived by the sea) looking for a loophole she could crawl through and start to feed on the other side. It was not that she lacked pasturage. My fields were my joy and delight. No sheep in the district had better grazing. With “Mrs. Gadabout” it was an ingrained habit. She was simply never contented with things as they were. But she never learned and continued to fence crawl time after time.
Now it would have been bad enough if she was the only one who did this. It was a sufficient problem to find her and bring her back. But the further point was that she taught her lambs the same tricks. They simply followed her example and soon were as skilled at escaping as their mother. Even worse, however, was the example she set the other sheep. In short time she began to lead others through the same holes Andover the same dangerous paths down by the sea. After putting up with her perverseness for a summer I finally came to the conclusion that to save the rest of the flock from becoming unsettled, she would have to go. I could not allow one obstinate, discontented ewe to ruin the whole ranch operation. It was a difficult decision to make, for I loved her in the same way I loved the rest. Her strength and beauty and alertness were a delight to the eye. But one morning I took the killing knife in hand and butchered her…It was the only solution to the dilemma. She was a sheep, who in spite of all that I had done to give her the very best care—still wanted something else. She was not like the one who said, “The Lord is my Shepherd—I shall not want.” It is a solemn warning to the carnal Christian—backslider—the half-Christian—the one who wants the best of both worlds. Sometimes in short order they can be cut down.
“He Maketh Me to Lie Down in Green Pastures” (verse 2a)
The strange thing about sheep is that because of their very make-up it is almost impossible for them to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met.
1. Owing to their timidity they refuse to lie down unless they are free of all fear.
2. Because of the social behavior within a flock sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others of their kind.
3. If tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down. Only when free of these pests can they relax.
4. Lastly, sheep will not lie down as long as they feel in need of finding food. They must be free from hunger.
It is significant that to be at rest there must be a significant sense of freedom from fear, tension, aggravations and hunger. The unique aspect of the picture is that it is only the sheepman himself who can provide release from these anxieties. It all depends upon the diligence of the owner whether or not his flock is free of disturbing influences…A flock that is restless, discontented, always agitated and disturbed never does well. And the same is true of people. It is not generally known that sheep are so timid and easily panicked that even a stray jackrabbit suddenly bounding from behind a bush can stampede a whole flock. When one startled sheep runs in fright a dozen others will bolt with it in blind fear, not waiting to see what frightened them…As long as there is even the slightest suspicion of danger from dogs, coyotes, cougars, bears or other enemies the sheep stand up ready to flee for their lives. They have little or no means of self-defense. They are helpless, timid, feeble creatures whose only recourse is to run…Ewes heavy in lamb, when chased by dogs or other predators will slip their unborn lambs and lose them in abortions. A shepherd’s loss from such forays can be appalling. One morning at dawn I found nine of my choicest ewes, all soon to lamb, lying dead in the field where a cougar had harried the flock during the night. It was a terrible shock to a young man like myself just new to the business and unfamiliar with such attacks. From then on I slept with a .303 rifle and flashlight by my bed. At the least sound of the flock being disturbed I would leap from bed and calling my faithful collie, dash out into the night, rifle in hand, ready to protect my sheep. In the course of time I came to realize that nothing so quieted and reassured the sheep as to see me in the field. The presence of their master and owner and protector put them at ease as nothing else could do, and this applied day and night. There was one summer when sheep rustling was a common occurrence in our district. Night after night the dog and I were out under the stars, keeping watch over the flock, ready to defend them from the raids of any rustlers. The news of my diligence spread along the grapevine of our backcountry roads and the rustlers quickly decided to leave us alone and try their tactics elsewhere.
1. “He maketh me to lie down.” In the Christian’s life there is no substitute for the keen awareness that my Shepherd is nearby. There is nothing like Christ’s presence to dispel the fear, the panic, the terror of the unknown. We live a most uncertain life. Any hour can bring disaster, danger and distress from unknown quarters. Life is full of hazards. No one can tell what a day will produce in new trouble. We live either in a sense of anxiety, fear and foreboding, or in a sense of quiet rest. Which is it? Generally it is the “unknown,” the “unexpected,” that produces the greatest panic. It is in the grip of fear that most of us are unable to cope with the cruel circumstances and harsh complexities of life. We feel they are foes which endanger our tranquility. Often our first impulse is simply to get up and run from them. Then in the midst of our misfortunes there suddenly comes the awareness that He, the Christ, the Good Shepherd is there. It makes all the difference. His presence in the picture throws a different light on the whole scene. Suddenly things are not half so black nor nearly so terrifying. The outlook changes and there is hope. I find myself delivered from fear. Rest returns and I can relax. This has come to me again and again as I grow older. It is the knowledge that my Master, my Friend, my Owner has things under control even when they may appear calamitous. This gives me great consolation, repose and rest. “Now I lay me down in peace and sleep, for Thou God keepest me.” It is the special office work of God’s gracious Spirit to convey this sense of the Christ to our fearful hearts. He comes quietly to reassure us that Christ Himself is aware of our dilemma and deeply involved in it with us. And it is this fact in this assurance that we rest and relax. “For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound [disciplined] mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). The idea of a sound mind is that of a mind at ease—at peace—not perturbed or harassed or obsessed with fear and foreboding for the future. “I will both lay me down in peace and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me to dwell in safety.”
2. The second source of fear from which the sheepman delivers his sheep is that of tension, rivalry and cruel competition within the flock itself. In every animal society there is established an order of dominance or status within the group. In a penful of chickens it is referred to as the “pecking order.” With cattle it is called the “horning order.” Among sheep we speak of the “butting order.” Generally an arrogant, cunning and domineering old ewe will be boss of any bunch of sheep. She maintains her position of prestige by butting and driving other ewes or lambs away from the best grazing or favorite bedgrounds. Succeeding her in precise order the other sheep all establish and maintain their exact position in the flock by using the same tactics of butting and thrusting at those below and around them. A vivid and accurate word picture of this process is given in Ezekiel 34:15-22. This is a startling example, in fact, of the scientific accuracy of the Scriptures in describing a natural phenomenon. “I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment. And as for you, O my flock, thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats. Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures? and to have drunk of the deep waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet? And as for my flock, they eat that which ye have trodden with your feet: and they drink that which ye have fouled with your feet. Therefore thus saith the Lord God unto them; Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat cattle and between the lean cattle. Because ye have thrust with the side and with the shoulder, and pushed all the diseased with your horns, till ye have scattered them abroad; therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even, my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the Lord have spoken it.” [Now that’s quite a prophecy. After the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ, the risen and returned Christ will set up David as the head shepherd over His people Israel, all 12 tribes, during the Millennial reign of Christ.]
why a pastor has to be within his flock at all times
Because of this rivalry, tension and competition for status and self-assertion, there is friction in a flock. The sheep cannot lie down and rest in contentment. Always they must stand up and defend their rights and contest the challenge of the intruder….This continuous conflict and jealousy within the flock can be a most detrimental thing. The sheep become edgy, tense, discontented and restless. They lose weight and become irritable. But one point that always interested me very much was that whenever I came into view and my presence attracted their attention, the sheep quickly forgot their foolish rivalries and stopped their fighting. The shepherd’s presence made all the difference in their behavior. This, to me, has always been a graphic picture of the struggle for status in human society. There is the eternal competition “to keep up with the Joneses” or, as it is now—“to keep up with the Joneses’ kids.” In any business firm, any office, any family, any community, any church, any human organization or group, be it large or small, the struggle for self-assertion and self-recognition goes on. Most of us fight to be “top sheep.” We butt and quarrel and compete to “get ahead.” And in the process people are hurt. It is here that much jealousy arises. This is where petty peeves grow into horrible hate. It is where ill-will and contempt come into being, the place where heated rivalry and deep discontent is born. It is here that discontent gradually grows into a covetous way of life where one has to be forever “standing up” for himself, for his rights, “standing up” just to get ahead of the crowd.
In contrast to this, the picture in the Psalm shows us God’s people lying down in quiet contentment. One of the outstanding marks of a Christian should be a serene sense of gentle contentment. “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” Paul put it this way, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content,” and certainly this applies to my status in society…In His own way, Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd, in His earthly life pointed out that the last would be first and the first last…For any shepherd has great compassion for the poor, weak sheep that get butted about by the more domineering ones. More than once I have strongly trounced a belligerent ewe for abusing a weaker one. Or when they butted lambs not their own. I found it necessary to discipline them severely, and certainly they were not the first in my esteem for their aggressiveness. Another point that impressed me, too, was that the less aggressive sheep were often far more contented, quiet and restful. So that there were definite advantages in being “bottom sheep.” But more important was the fact that it was the shepherd’s presence that put an end to rivalry. And in our human relationships when we become acutely aware of being in the presence of Christ, our foolish, selfish snobbery and rivalry will end. It is the humble heart walking quietly and contentedly in the close intimate companionship of Christ that is at rest, that can relax, simply glad to lie down and let the world go by. When my eyes are on m Master they are not on those around me. This is the place of peace…To be thus, close to Him, conscious of His abiding presence, made real in my mind, emotions and will by the indwelling gracious Spirit, is to be set free from fear of my fellow man and whatever he might think of me. I would much rather have the affection of the Good Shepherd than occupy a place of prominence in society…especially if I had attained it by fighting, quarreling and bitter rivalry with my fellow human beings. “Blessed [happy, to be envied] are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7).
3. As is the case with freedom from fear of predators or friction within the flock, the freedom of fear from the torment of parasites and insects is essential to the contentment of sheep. Sheep, especially in the summer, can be driven to absolute distraction by nasal flies, bot flies, warble flies and ticks. When tormented by these pests it is literally impossible for them to lie down and rest. Instead they are up and on their feet, stamping their legs, shaking their heads, ready to rush off into the bush for relief from the pests. Only the diligent care of the owner who keeps a constant lookout for these insects will prevent them from annoying his flock. A good shepherd will apply various types of insect repellents to his sheep. He will see that they are dipped to clear their fleeces of ticks. And h will see that there are shelter belts of trees and bush available where they can find refuge and release from their tormentors. This all entails considerable extra care. It takes time and labor and expensive chemicals to do the job thoroughly. It means, too, that the sheepman must be amongst his charges daily, keeping close watch on their behavior. As soon as there is the least evidence that they are being disturbed he must take steps to provide them with relief. Always uppermost in his mind is the aim of keeping his flock quiet, contented and at peace.
Similarly in the Christian life there are bound to be many small irritations. There are the annoyances of petty frustrations and ever-recurring disagreeable experiences. In modern technology we refer to these upsetting circumstances or people as “being bugged.” Is there an antidote to them? Can one come to the place of quiet contentment despite them? The answer is “Yes!” This is one of the main functions of the gracious Holy Spirit. In Scripture He is often symbolized by oil—by that which bring healing and comfort and relief from the harsh and abrasive aspects of life. The gracious Holy Spirit makes real in me the very presence of the Christ. He brings quietness, serenity, strength and calmness in the face of frustrations and futility. When I turn to Him and expose the problem to Him, allowing Him to see that I have a dilemma, a difficulty, a disagreeable experience beyond my control, He comes to assist. Often a helpful approach is simply to say aloud, “O Master, this is beyond me—I can’t cope with it—it’s bugging me—I can’t rest—please take over!” Then it is He who does take over in His own wondrous way. He applies the healing, soothing, effective antidote of His own person and presence to my particular problem. There immediately comes into my consciousness the awareness of His dealing with the difficulty in a way I had not anticipated. And because of the assurance that He has become active on my behalf, there steals over me a sense of quiet contentment. I am then able to lie down in peace and rest. All because of what He does.
4. Finally, to produce the conditions necessary for a sheep to lie down there must be freedom from the fear of hunger. This of course is clearly implied in the statement, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” It is not generally recognized that many of the great sheep countries of the world are dry, semi-arid areas. Most breeds of sheep flourish best in this sort of terrain. They are susceptible to fewer hazards of health or parasites where the climate is dry. But in those same regions it is neither natural or common to find green pastures. For example, Palestine where David wrote this Psalm and kept his father’s flocks, especially near Bethlehem, is a dry, brown, sun-burned wasteland.
Green pastures did not just happen by chance
Green pastures did not just happen by chance. Green pastures were the product of tremendous labor, time and skill in land use. Green pastures were the result of clearing rough, rocky land, of tearing out brush and roots and stumps; of deep plowing and careful soil preparation; of seeding and planting special grains and legumes; of irrigating with water and husbanding with care the crops of forage that would feed the flocks. All of this represented tremendous toil and skill and time for the careful shepherd. If his sheep were to enjoy green pastures amid the brown, barren hills it meant he had a tremendous job to do. But green pastures are essential to success with sheep. When lambs are maturing and the ewes need green, succulent feed for a heavy milk flow, there is no substitute for good pasturage. No sight so satisfies the sheep owner as to see his flock well and quietly fed to repletion on rich green forage, able to lie down to rest, ruminate and gain. [Comment: You pastors in the Sabbatarian Churches of God, this is your job as shepherds over the flock, the congregation Jesus has entrusted you with. I have found, and actually seen by directly witnessing it, that a church congregation can and will grow both spiritually and numerically (healthy sheep reproduce healthy sheep) when “fed” spiritually by way of the “connective expository sermon.” And as part of that ministry, maintaining a sound tape or CD library of those sermons, which after sufficient time should go through the 4 Gospel and Epistles in the New Testament—and going through the Old Testament from Wednesday night Bible studies. This amounts to preparing specific fields of green spiritual pasturage. This website, UNITYINCHRIST.COM, has already produced just such a pasturage which has been prepared for sheep to feed on, Matthew, Mark, John so far, as well a Romans, 1st Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, 1st John, 2nd John and 3rd John (and I will be working on the Gospel of Luke, God willing, this coming year). This is a direct example of what you all need to do in order to better feed your individual flocks. That is also why it is essential that you master the art of giving a “connective expository sermon.”] In my own ranching operations one of the keys to the entire enterprise lay in developing rich, lush pastures for my flock. On at least two ranches there were old, warn out, impoverished fields that were either bare or infested with inferior forage plants. [Now this would be like a young pastor coming into an old church where the previous pastor had been teaching weak topical sermons that really didn’t cover much of what the Bible taught, like when Pastor Chuck Smith came into the tiny Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa as their new pastor. They had 25 members and were ready to shut their doors. To see what actually happened, log onto http://www.unityinchrist.com/history/smith.htm.] By skillful management and scientific land use these were soon converted into flourishing fields knee deep in rich green grass and legumes. On such forage it was common to have lambs reach 100 pounds in weight within 100 days from birth. [The local Calvary Chapel in my town started out with 12 members attending a Sunday Bible study. In 2.5 years they were 125 members attending as a church. In four years they were up to and perhaps over 400 meeting every week. The entire gospel of John on UNITYINCHRIST.COM are from the pastor of this local Calvary Chapel, as well as 1st John, 2nd John, and 3rd John. Those are rich spiritual sermon fields he planted, and I transcribed by permission. Don’t scoff at the “connective expository sermon” thinking you can do better with another method of preaching. It is tried and true.]
“A hungry, ill-fed sheep is ever on its feet, on the move, searching for another scanty mouthful of forage to try and satisfy its gnawing hunger. Such sheep are not contented, they do not thrive, they are no use to themselves nor to their owners. They languish and lack vigor and vitality.”
To learn about the Calvary Chapel model of giving connective expository sermons going through the Word of God, see:
Some small house-churches formed out of people who have come out of overbearing toxic churches have shied away from having or appointing a godly pastor, simply because they have never experienced the benefits of what a real godly pastor-shepherd can do for them. This is a shame on ministry in general. It’s time for some hard self-examination for all pastors, as we come into these scary end-times.
A hilariously funny, but graphic reason why sheep need a shepherd, see:
Be sure to order a copy of Phillip Keller’s book “A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23”, at http://www.christianbook.com.