It was 2:38 a.m. and only eighteen degrees outside. I was soundly sleeping in my warm, comfortable bed when I heard a deep growl and loud barking in our yard. Two large dogs were attacking our lambs and three-month-old horse.
The nightmare scenario of every shepherd enfolded in front of my eyes. What could I do? By the time I dressed and ran outside, the battle for survival had begun. As a shepherd, I used the power at my disposal to dispatch one of the attacking dogs and ran the other dog off.
This time the shepherd won, and the animals were safe for another day of life. But what about next time? Would I always be there for my little flock of sheep?
David was a shepherd too. He understood my job and how it applies to people. That’s why I often turn to Psalm 23 for encouragement. Here are just a few observations.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Every day I must take care of my little flock. I must work with them, comfort them, protect them, feed them, and give them fresh, nourishing water for their thirst. My flock shall not “want.”
Winters are bone-chilling cold in Montana. The first lamb we ever had was born outside when the temperature was negative six degrees. “Lambsickles” are a sad sight — frozen baby lambs that could never get up off the snow. A shepherd tries to be there at all times so his flock will not want, but I cannot always be there. However, Jesus, our Shepherd, is always there for us. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He’s more of a shepherd than any of us could ever be for sheep.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
Green pastures are plush and comfortable and edible. Many spring evenings when the sun is setting and the birds have returned to chirp in the nightfall, I find myself sitting in “green pastures” with my little flock of sheep and lambs. All is peaceful. The evening is quiet; the sheep are content. I am relaxed. My day is done.
As I sit on the pile of hay, the ewe mamas wander over to their shepherd. I pet them, talk to them, and console them. They baa a reply. One by one, I call their name, and one by one they answer me. One sheep named Eve puts her head on my shoulder and won’t leave me until I have rubbed her behind the ears. When I stop, she takes her front hoof and hits me, asking for more. She always wins. Her babies sit on my lap until they run off to leap and play.
“Still waters” create a most satisfying sensation, quenching the thirst. The waters by green pastures keep sheep alive. Cool, clear, clean, calm water is what sheep need. In green pastures, by still waters, peace reigns — until a coyote or dog enters the scene. Then the shepherd must do what is necessary to protect the flock from the evils of this wicked world. In the same way, we, as God’s flock, rely on the Good Shepherd for the comfort, refreshment, and protection only He can give (John 10:1-9).
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Sheep are timid by nature, easily killed and afraid of danger. They often just wither and die weeks after a dog attack. Only a good shepherd can “restore their soul.” I do my best, but no amount of consolation seems to cure them after a vicious animal has torn their young lamb to pieces.
Sheep do not have a soul like you and I have. They have no “life ever after” as our Shepherd will give us at His wonderful return. But as our Shepherd, Jesus restores our souls every day of our lives. We have His Spirit, His love, His kindness, His shepherding of our lives. I lead my sheep to physical food and water; He leads us to His eternal life. He’s our example of righteousness. What Jesus does for us can never be done for my physical sheep. His shepherding leads us to perfect peace.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
It was my daughter’s eleventh birthday — a rainy June day. Dismal. Pouring. Thunder. Wind. We brought our sheep guard dog, Leo, into our home because the weather was so frightful.
In his distraction, this shepherd let his guard down. We found four lambs in the corner of the field just a few yards from our front door. Four beautiful little lambs piled in a corner by a fence, dead. A throat was ripped out of one. Another was gutted by a coyote. The mama ewes were cowering in another part of the small field.
Thank God, our Shepherd never lets His guard down. Every day we walk through the “valley of the shadow of death.” It is part of life; we will all die. But Jesus is there for us at all times. Therefore, “I will fear no evil.” Really? My sheep fear evil. How can we overcome fear? By trusting our Shepherd.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Protection. Food. Water. Even in the face of dogs, coyotes, wolves, or lions and bears like David faced, a shepherd must make sure the flock is strong and healthy. Well fed. Watched over. Taken care of. Night, day, weekends, holidays, vacations, I must be there for them. How often does God do this for us? Every day!
Oil on a sheep’s head? What could that be? Medicine for ticks and worms? Soothing ointment that protects from the elements? Maybe it’s healing balm from the physical shepherd just like, as God’s flock, we have the presence and the healing powers of His Spirit. He anoints us with oil, the symbol of His Spirit, His soothing, loving protection from the elements, both physical and spiritual.
Our Shepherd loves us so much that He gave Himself to save all of us. Our Passover Lamb, God on the cross. Love so great and fantastic that it “runneth over” for all humanity — the John 3:16 Shepherd.
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.
Goodness and mercy for sheep are unusual. Dogs do not have mercy on sheep. Dogs aren’t mean; they are just following instinct. Dogs do not understand goodness and mercy, but shepherds do! We care for our flock because we love the flock. A good shepherd is kind and caring to his sheep. But our Shepherd is good as only God can be good (Luke 18:19). He gives us His all. His home. His power. His protection. His majesty. His life so we can have life with Him forever after: “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:10, 11).
I often think about our Lamb of God. He raises us, takes care of us, doctors us, feeds us, gives us the physical and spiritual medicines we need. He protects us from that roaring lion, Satan. He fights for us when danger is present. He holds us in His loving arms of grace when we are little and cute and when we are old and gray.
We do differ from sheep. Once a sheep dies, it goes back to the dust forever. But our Shepherd gives us His resurrection to life eternal in His kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:50-53). He makes sure we will live forever with Him in perfect harmony without thoughts of danger or death. He delights in giving His kingdom to us. He is our Shepherd of life for life: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:20b).