The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me besides the still waters.
This is one of the most beautiful verses written by the psalmist, a common chapter easily memorised and loved by everyone, but we need to understand the situation and how the psalmist wrote this in order to taste and feel the beautiful love of Christ for us. This is actually a beautiful story of a sheep and a shepherd. It is a story narrated by a sheep about its journey with the Shepherd.
When every person reads this passage the first thing that appears in our mind is the lush green pastures where the sheep rests close to a still water ,where even the sheep appears so satisfied enjoying its afternoon nap. This visualisation is actually our expectation and dreams but in reality it is totally different, there is actually no fertile land and the path was not easy. This psalm was written by David and he is from Judea ,so we need to have a closer look on the sheep, the shepherd and the pastures of Judea for understanding the story.
What is a green pasture?
The green pastures mentioned by David are pastures found in the wilderness of Judea which experience very meagre amount of rain, there is so much of water scarcity in this wilderness. For need of water people need to walk for several miles. There is no green lush fertile land in Judea till today. It is a place filled with rocky terrains, barren grades with scant vegetation . Only the shepherd knows the wilderness very well and the paths where to find pastures. The pastures mentioned here are green grasses which grows in between stones due to the moist condition present on the stones during the night. These are small short green grasses that grow in between stones in the dry and hot wilderness. The Judean wilderness is place uninhabited throughout history due to its lack of water. Only during spring time grasses grow and in a short time the sun comes out and dries up everything. The only way for the sheep to survive is to depend and follow the shepherd daily, because if it grazes today there is nothing left in the wilderness for tomorrow, it has to totally rely on the shepherd daily for its food. This is how the Lord leads us , He provides our daily needs .
The sheep and the shepherd:
A good shepherd always leads His flock to their needed amount of food each day, He never overgrazes or never leaves his flock to starve. Only the shepherd knows the right path in the wilderness, the right path are not plentiful but only the shepherd can guide in the desert. Even for us the right path is not plentiful in this world but when we follow our shepherd Jesus Christ He will open our eyes and lead us in the right path. He will never make us want for anything. (We shall not want as He is our Shepherd . Psalms23:1). Sheep are creatures which grazes only on fresh green grasses they don’t usually adjust by grazing any other plants like goat. Whatever the character of sheep may be God never makes the sheep lack for anything , He gives us everything new. His tender mercies are new every morning, great is His faithfulness (Lam 3:22). Why the bible mentions still waters?? After grazing in the wilderness just following its shepherd the sheep now needs water. It is never easy to get water in the wilderness, it is a long journey in a hot and rugged path just to get water for that day, not to store for ages together. In the wilderness of Judea there are hills made of chalk and lime which are slippery and dangerous. There are also large amount of rocky terrains on the way. The journey involves passing through this hot rugged pathway and slowly they have to get all the way down safely in between these canyons were waters are stagnant and still. These areas are called Wadi in middle east. The wadis are called as dangerous killing walls. These are places where water passes through the land on the way to the dead sea. To reach this place is very risky, the shepherd always goes infront or beside the sheep and he takes all the risk , He never allows anything to come to the sheep, but it is the sheep’s duty to trust the shepherd and follow Him without murmuring. The path is not easy the sheep still has to go through all the difficult roads which are actually little because the shepherd already has made a path and is walking beside it. This journey becomes a journey of endurance. Only the sheep that endures receives blessings. Endurance leads to joy. Some sheep instead of enduring this difficult path gets fed up and run astray as they donot trust their shepherd, they think they can find a better path , thinking they are smart , ends up like the one lost sheep among the hundred. But still the shepherd never leaves even one sheep out of His sight He comes and rescues it risking His life. A single middle eastern shepherd usually manages hundred sheep but he never leaves one out of his sight , they usually call every sheep by name. Each sheep in the flock has its own name and the shepherd knows his own sheep. He gives pet names by some incident relating to the sheep. (He calleth each sheep by name. John 10:13). Even if one is lost an eastern shepherd spends hours together in this wilderness and mountains to find the lost sheep. After weary hours of hunting the sheep will usually be found in some waterless hollow in the wilderness or in some desolate ravine. The exhausted creature is then borne home on the shoulders of the sturdy shepherd. Sometimes frustrated we like the one sheep from the hundred tend to get out of God’s control thinking we can make a better life for ourselves, murmuring for all the barriers that came our way, murmuring about the leading of our Lord instead of trusting Him, (Though we like sheep go astray He finds us in the wilderness and carries us on His shoulder, He never leaves us , we are so precious to Him)(Ye were as sheep going astray: but are now returned unto the shepherd. I Pet 2:25). This is what Jesus speaks in His parable about.
How think ye? if a man had hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety nine and goeth into the mountains and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep than the ninety nine which went not astray. Matt 18:12,13.
Jesus even did not let go of that one disobedient, arrogant, self relying unfaithful sheep. He loved it so much that He even risked His life for it. He did not punish it but Did carry her over His shoulders. The shepherd is deeply interested in every single one of His flock He has intimate knowledge of every sheep.
Sheep are actually not so smart as described by middle eastern shepherds they say that when they go through these steep slippery cliffs and mountains the sheep used to jump while another sheep is in front unmindful of the dangers it might cause it, as these valleys are called death valleys. To avoid these the Shepherd calls it by name or He just slings a stone beyond the sheep to discipline it and grab its attention. Sometimes we like these sheep actually do dumb things but just as these sheep we must know the voice of our shepherd , when he warns we must listen or else he corrects us with His rod , but He never leaves even one of His sheep to slip down. This is why the psalmist says (Yea though I walk through the valley of shadow of death , I will fear no evil: for thou art with me ; thy rod and thy staff comfort me. Ps 23:4). After all these difficult path the sheep gets to endure the still waters. Both the sheep and shepherd cross through the waters and some young lambs are not able to walk across so the Shepherd carries the young ones over His shoulders and some in His bosom and they cross the tough path and finally reach the beautiful still water present in the wilderness. What an amazing love our Saviour the good shepherd has for us(He leadeth me beside the still waters). Though tough the journey was He never let them out of His sight. Sometimes in this tough journey and in want for food they pass through some grain fields which are actually fenced and they are forbidden for a sheep to touch the growing crops , it is the duty of the shepherd to guide the sheep without allowing it to pass through the forbidden area because if it does he must pay the damages created by it to the owner. This is the reason psalmist quotes (He leads us in the path of righteousness for His name sake. Ps 23:3).Sometimes God leads us beautifully in a different and disciplined way we won’t understand, though the riches and blessings may be close to us we will not be able to endure them , that is when question arises for us , we start arguing with God , But God knows which is best , He leads us away from worldly temptation, H e keeps his flock righteous to avoid the consequences which we cannot see with our eyes that moment . Our eyes will be blinded with the present lust and temptation on our way but since we are in his flock he will never let us fall to sin. The day we gave ourselves to him, just as the sheep was bought by the shepherd, He became our shepherd and He is always responsible though we as flesh try to commit sin unknowingly he pulls us away from that path, and He leads us beautifully in the path of righteousness.
Now after their tough travel they journey back and on their way they encounter darkness and wild animals , but the sheep has no need to fear because her shepherd is beside her willing to take all the risks . The shepherd uses His rod which is like a club to fight against any beasts which comes by its way, this is why it is mentioned as thy rod and staff comfort me. Our saviour has already won everything for us on the cross there is nothing for us to fear as long as He is by our side we can happily rest. The shepherd cures every wound of the sheep which it got in its journey. The shepherd always gives personal attention. Sometimes a lamb suffers from rays of the sun or its body was badly scratched by some thorny bushes ,the shepherd pours olive oil and cures its wound. This is why the psalmist says (Thou anointest my head with oil. Ps23:5). Our saviour heals every broken hearted and he anoints us spiritually through His word and spirit which comforts us at the end of the day when we have finished enduring the days difficulty or the rugged path. The shepherd makes shelter in the wilderness and He counts every sheep as it passes under His staff and makes it to sleep , but in the cold wilderness the shepherd always stays awake to protect His sheep from wild beasts and bandits and robbers of the desert.(He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. Psalm 121:4). In our case our shepherd Jesus Christ did not only risk His life He also gave His life for us. (I am the good shepherd:the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. John 10:11).While the sheep are resting the bandits in middle east sometimes even manage to climb up over the wall and get into the fold, where they cut the throats of as many of animals possible and sling them ,over the wall to their other bands and tend to escape. This is why the shepherd often stays awake risking his life for the sheep, but the sheep is peacefully sleeping unaware of all the risk as it knows nothing than its shepherd. Some even sleeps in the bosom of the shepherd as they are so young. This is what Jesus speaks in His parable that
(He that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep to him the door openeth and he that enterth not by the door but climbeth up some other way is a thief and a robber. John 10:1-3) (The thief comes to steal and to kill).
Christ our saviour saves us from the plot of the devil when we are his sheep and fold. No matter what the enemy tries or tempts we like the young sheep sleeps in the bosom of God peacefully without any troubles as He protects us. He even prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies and gives us comfort and joy. He makes us bold enough to face our enemy without fear as He is also beside us in the table. Not a single scar will be on God’s children the beloved sheep of God. The sheep will be protected as long as it does not follow the voice of a stranger ( the devil who plays with our mind imitating himself as the shepherd and diverting our paths)(John 10:4,5 A stranger will they not follow but will flee from him for they know not the voice of the stranger).
But most of the time when we pass through failures and difficulties even after God promised us wonderful blessings like psalms 23, it is difficult for us to accept the situation. This is because our expectation of the green pastures is different , it is the green lush grassy land with waters and rivers running by, but in reality it is nothing but a dry land. Most of the time we argue ,we get angry , we leave Him stating that He forgot us and that our life is dry and He did nothing good for us other than troubles. But in reality there is nothing for us to be angry on because He went through that path before us to lead his flock and He opened our eyes to the green pastures which are very meagre in the wilderness of this world. He never made us lack even once. So its always good to thank God our shepherd for every little thing , because in the wilderness whatever we get though the fact it is little is also a blessing. It is needed for us to endure the still waters. Most of all in this tough and rugged journey there is no one with us other than the shepherd we get to have an intimate relationship with our shepherd, we feel his warmth care an love every single minute when we pass through this journey. God is actually leading us in this dry land , let us face the reality and thank him. In reality the path was never green , but when he came we could see the green pastures. Many a times we like Joseph and Abraham have different dreams and promises given by the Lord but we expect them in a different way , in reality tough times , betrayals, ill-treatment and accuses on us comes first which shatters our dreams and heart, But Joseph knew the voice of the shepherd he held onto him, though the path was tough He knew God’s promise will truly come to pass, but it took him endurance to see the joy. He didn’t instantly see His dream come true , But wherever he was God was with him. Abraham was a man of faith he was promised by God about blessing his generation and entering promised land but in reality he and his generation had to wait long to endure the blessing, he had to go through tests and losses, but he knew the shepherd will finally lead him to the dwelling place. He knew that God is not a man to lie , He is the God of promises, He believed though he didn’t see it . Our expectation are the ones which blocks us from enduring God’s promise. W e should be as the sheep which blindly follows the Shepherd each day. Totally relying and trusting on God. We never knew what was coming ahead with God leading us, it was a faith walk. When we do so the story of the sheep and shepherd ends with the beautiful verse ,
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 and ever. Ps 23:6.
When we have passed through all these paths and experienced every single incidents God put us through, like passing through valley of death, receiving waters in the dry wilderness after a crazy journey, enduring his caring and warmth care and battles across wild beasts and robbers where we didn’t do anything , we became so close to him that He keeps us in His house as His dearly beloved where He dwells forever and ever. In the end this should be our blessed story after a faith walk and a wonderful journey with God our Shepherd.
Are we now able to narrate this beautiful story with joy as the sheep from Psalms 23??
What an amazing love…..