A Good Shepherd
Text: Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; 2 he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
When I was a child I had heard many adults comment that the 23rd Psalm was so comforting to them. Verses 1-3 seemed fine to me; I wasn’t so sure about verse 4 and was absolutely terrified of verse 5. Walking through the valley of the shadow of death was confusing. Couldn’t we go around or over the mountain to avoid death? Why on earth wouldn’t I fear evil?!
I could not fathom why my loving God would prepare a table for me and expect me to eat sitting at a long wooden table (in a castle) as my enemies stood over me with spears while I trembled in fear attempting to eat!
It was many years before I was able to reconcile my misunderstandings of the 23rd Psalm. I learned that a shepherd makes sheep lie down in green pastures by taking care of all of their needs, including still water for them to drink from. The shepherd puts a combination of oils on the head of the sheep to keep the nose flies away. These flies try to lay eggs in the nose of the sheep and when the flies buzz about the face, the sheep shake their heads, stamp their feet, and may run from place to place in an attempt to get away from the flies. After the oil has been applied the flies stay away, the sheep calm, feed again and finally lie down to rest.
As for those enemies I was going to eat in front of? The shepherd prepares the tabletop (mesa) of the mountain by clearing mud and debris from the water source and pulling noxious weeds to keep the sheep from becoming poisoned by eating them; he does this in the presence of wolves, coyotes, and cougars risking harm to himself to take care of his sheep. The shepherd also hunts down or traps the enemies so they will not cause harm to the sheep when they arrive on the mountaintop.
Sheep under the care of a good shepherd thrive.
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