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The Lord Is My Shepherd
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THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD
A. Introduction: We are talking about dealing with fear so that we can walk in the kind of faith that moves mountains and kills fig trees. God’s message to His people in the face of fearful, worrisome situations is always, “Fear not”, followed by statements about why you have no reason to fear.
1. In Luke 12:32 Jesus gives us two key facts which tell us why we do not have to fear. Number one, according to Jesus, it is your Father’s will to meet your needs. Number two, we are our Father’s flock.
a. In the Bible God uses many pictures to describe Himself, to describe us, and to describe the relationship He desires to have with us. One of the images He uses is that of shepherd and sheep.
1. Both the Old and the New Testament refer to God as the Shepherd of His people comparing God’s care, guidance, and protection of His people to that of a good shepherd (or a shepherd who does a good job) for his sheep. Ps 77:20; Ps 78:52; Ps 79:13; Ps 80:1; Ps 95:7; Ps 100:3; John 10:11,14; Heb 13:20; etc.
2. God calls Himself our Shepherd and us His sheep because He wants to convey something to us about Himself, about us, and about our relationship to Him.
b. Sheep require more attention and care than any other class of livestock. A shepherd’s life was one of dedication to the welfare and protection of his flock. It was a hard life that required long hours and the efforts of the whole family. Even the children worked with flocks. Gen 29:6; I Sam 16:11
c. The fate of a sheep depends entirely on what his master is like. A good shepherd (a shepherd who does a good job) means well cared for sheep. A poor shepherd means neglected sheep.
d. Through creation and redemption we belong to a Good Shepherd who cares for us watchfully and affectionately. Therefore, we need not fear. In this lesson we want to continue our discussion.
2. Ps 23 was written by a shepherd, David, who knew the Lord as his shepherd. Through this psalm we can learn some things about what God means to convey to us through calling Himself our Shepherd.
a. For David, Ps 23 was not a sweet little religious poem. It was a heartfelt expression that came out of his understanding of the work necessary to properly care for sheep -- to guide them, provide for them, and to protect them, and it came out of a lifetime of David experiencing the Lord as his Shepherd, as the one who guided him, provided for him, and protected him.
b. Do not hear or read this psalm religiously. Hear it as a statement of reality. God is our Shepherd who leads and guides us, protects us, and provides for us. He is good at what He does. He is a Good Shepherd, therefore, we need not fear.
3. In Psalm 23 we have a picture of a contented sheep who has been well cared for by his shepherd.
a. David opens with the statement: The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. Want means lack.
1. v1--The Lord takes care of me as his sheep; I will not be without any good thing (Basic); Because the Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need! (Taylor)
2. v1--I shall never be in need (Harrison); The Lord is my shepherd [to feed, guide and shield me]; I shall not lack (Amp).
b. If you have no lack in any area, no lack of protection, power, or provision, then you have no reason to fear. David understood the care of a good shepherd for his sheep and that knowledge inspired this psalm. In this psalm we see what it means to have a good shepherd care for his sheep.
B. The goal of a shepherd who is good at his job was to keep his flock quiet, contented, and at peace. Ps 23:2
1. Because of their makeup it is almost impossible to get sheep to lie down unless they are free from friction with other sheep, free from pests and parasites, free from hunger, and free from fear.
a. These are all issues the shepherd must address before the sheep can lie down, before they can rest, relax, be content, and flourish. Sheep are extremely timid and easily frightened. Sheep that are restless, agitated, and discontented do not flourish. It is the shepherd who makes them lie down. 1. The presence of their shepherd with them in the field helps to calm them and put them at ease. That is why the shepherd must stay with his sheep.
2. Sheep have a pecking order. They butt each other for the best grazing spots. This agitation makes the flock uneasy, discontented, restless. But, when they see the shepherd, they take their focus off each other and direct their attention to their shepherd and stop their fighting.
2. Sheep who are hungry and thirsty will not lie down in peace and contentment. Ewes, especially, need green pasture to produce a heavy milk flow. A land flowing with milk and honey means a land of rich, green, luxuriant pastures -- abundant green plants for milk flow and flowers for honey-producing bees.
a. A good shepherd must have a plan for moving and directing his sheep to pasture and water.
1. If not properly led to adequate pasture and water sheep will overgraze, destroying their own food source, and drink from polluted water and pick up parasites.
2. There were two types of shepherds in the Middle East -- nomads who practiced seasonal movement of sheep between lowland pastures and mountain pastures as they migrated to new pastures and water sources, and those who lived in towns, tending flocks in nearby meadows.
b. David said his shepherd led him in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. That means many things, but in the context of a sheep and a shepherd it means He led him on paths that would ensure he was provided for. But notice, the Shepherd did it for His name’s sake. For His name’s sake is literally “on account of His name”. God’s names reveal His character.
1. It is not the sheep’s “badness or goodness” that accounts for the shepherds care of them. It is the character of the shepherd himself. Ezek 34:14,15
2. Ps 23:3--He guides me on a virtuous course in accordance with His nature. (Harrison); He restores my failing health. He helps me do what honors him the most. (Taylor).
3. The land near Bethlehem where David kept his father’s flocks is dry, brown, sunburned wasteland. It took great thought and effort to supply sheep with green pastures and waters -- land clearing, soil preparation, seeding plants to feed the flocks, irrigating or digging wells to provide water.
a. The Judean Desert to the east of Bethlehem moves down to the Dead Sea in a series of steps which form rough terraces. It is not like the Sahara with miles of sand. It has semi-arid areas, especially close to the Dead Sea, but much of it is suitable for grazing sheep at certain times of the year. 1. Rainfall goes from 28 inches at the western edge to 6 inches at the Dead Sea. Depending on rainfall, you can graze sheep on the lower steps in winter (rainy season) and move to higher ones (which have more rainfall) as summer approaches.
2. Gen 37:12-17--Jacob’s sons (Joseph’s brothers) took the flocks from Hebron to Shechem (almost 47 miles as the crow flies) and from Shechem to Dothan (almost 22 miles as the crow flies). Lack of rainfall made it impossible to graze in the desert east of Hebron and they had to go to the more fertile northern hills. That is where Joseph went to look for them.
3. David encountered both lions and bears while tending his father’s sheep (I Sam 17:34-36). They may have come from the forests of the Hebron hills or the caves of the Judean Desert.
b. Ps 23:5--David spoke of his Shepherd preparing a table for him in the presence of his enemies. That image refers to many aspects of the Lord’s care for him, but no doubt David had the summer season (dry season) in mind when it was necessary for many shepherds to move their sheep to higher elevations to find water and green pasture.
1. In Europe and the western United States such areas are known as mesas (the Spanish word for table). A good shepherd would scout out the area before hand making sure it was prepared.
2. He would survey it, picking out the best resting spots and determining where heavy and light grazing should occur, looking for poisonous plants and either avoid them or wipe them out.
3. The shepherd would also look for predators. They often hid in the rocks surrounding the mesa, but a good shepherd was ever diligent to protect the sheep.
c. This is still a common schedule for sheepherders in Palestine. They go to the high country alone with their shepherd in summer. That’s where David was when Samuel came to anoint David as king. I Sam 16:11; Ps 78:70-72; II Sam 7:8
4. Sheep are vulnerable to many insects, especially in the summer. They will not lie down with parasites.
The shepherd must be present with his sheep and on alert watching for any signs of infestation.
a. Nose or nasal flies buzz around the head of the sheep in an attempt to lay eggs on their noses. When they hatch the worm-like larvae work their way up the nasal cavity and burrow into flesh, resulting in intense irritation and inflammation. The infection can lead to blindness.
1. When the flies hover, the sheep panic with fear to get away from them. They stamp their feet, race around, toss their heads, beat or rub their heads against stuff, refuse to graze., etc. 2. The only solution is to cover their heads and nose with ointment (linseed oil, sulphur, tar)
b. Scab is a highly contagious disease caused by microscopic parasites. It is spread by direct contact between sheep. They like to rub their heads together in an affectionate manner.
1. When Old Testament says sacrificial lambs should be without blemish meant free from scab. 2. The only effective antidote is to apply linseed oil, and sulfur, and other chemicals. In many countries sheep are dipped. To make sure the head is treated it is done by hand. The shepherd anointed the sheep with oil. Ps 23:5
5. Sheep sometimes turn over on their backs and then cannot get up again. They will flail their legs frantically in fearful frustration and can die within a few hours, especially in hot weather as gas build up cuts off blood flow. Predators also look for cast sheep because they are easy prey.
a. One reason a shepherd must be attentive to his sheep, including counting them, is to see who is up. If one sheep is missing the shepherd’s first thought is that it is cast down. Cast down is an old English term for a sheep on his back who cannot get up again.
b. If a count comes up short the shepherd has to leave the ninety nine and find the one (Luke 15:4-6). He would search diligently and quickly because every minute counted.
1. There was the anxiety over “Will it be alright?” followed by the joy of finding it. Then, the shepherd set the sheep upright, helping it stand, rubbing it to relive the pressure of gas build up, rubbing its legs to restore circulation.
2. A good shepherd was not disgusted with sheep that fell. He did not abandon them. He ran to find them. Remember God’s attitude toward lost men, toward his sheep who go astray.
c. David spoke of his Shepherd restoring his soul. No doubt he had the picture of his Shepherd in mind when he wrote: Why are you cast down, oh my soul? Ps 42:11
6. In the Middle East, shepherds carried a rod and a staff. They were made to fit the owners size.
a. The rod had a knob on the end that fit the owners hand. It was his main weapon of defense for himself and his flock. To carry a rod, meaning a gun, comes form this idea.
1. The rod was used to drive off predators such as coyotes, wolves, cougars, and wild dogs. It was used to beat the brush for snakes and other creatures.
2. David would have used his rod when the lion and the bear attacked. The rod was a comfort to the sheep because it was there to protect them.
b. The rod was also used to count and examine the sheep. Shepherds stayed with their sheep at night, sometimes guiding them into simple enclosures or caves to ensure their safety.
1. At evening the shepherd brought the sheep back to the pen or fold and counted them by passing them “under the rod” as they entered the door of the enclosure. Lev 27:32; Ezek 20:37
2. Each sheep was checked as it passed through with a wave of the shepherd’s hand (Jer 33:13), The shepherd then watched the entrance to the sheepfold through the night (John 10:3).
c. The staff was designed for use with sheep. It only works with sheep. It, too, provided comfort.
1. It was used to lift newborn lambs and put them next to their mother if they become separated. (Ewes reject newborns with the smell of human hands). In a flock of thousands, ewes can lamb simultaneously and the shepherd must be attentive and skilled at his job. Isa 40:11
2. It was used to reach out and catch sheep and draw them to the shepherd for examinations, especially the shy ones. It was used to rescue sheep who fell into cracks or water or get stuck in brambles. With his staff the shepherd could lift them out.
3. The staff was used to guide sheep. The shepherd pressed the end of the stick against the sheep’s side and applied pressure to guide the direction of the sheep. Sometimes a shepherd would hold his staff against a favorite or a pet sheep and they walk along like that “hand-in- hand”. The sheep enjoy the attention, the close contact.
7. Because David was a shepherd himself he understood the commitment and care on the part of the shepherd for him to do a good job caring for his sheep. David experienced that kind of care and commitment from the hands of his shepherd.
a. David knew His Shepherd was with him continually and he knew the presence of his Shepherd meant salvation no matter what he was facing. Ps 139:7-10; Ps 42:5; Ps 4:8; Ps 121:4-8
b. When David walked through the valley of the shadow of death (valley of Elah--I Sam 17:2) where he faced Goliath he did not fear (Ps 23:4) because he knew, just as he defended his sheep from a lion and a bear, his Shepherd would defend him from the uncircumcised giant. I Sam 17:34-36
8. For David life with his Shepherd meant: You have anointed me and my cup runs over. Ps 23:5 a. Anointed is a verb meaning to be fat, to grow fat, to fatten. In a figurative sense it is used to mean to anoint, to satisfy-- My cup is full! (Young’s Literal Translation); My fortunes prosper greatly (Harrison); Blessings overflow! (Taylor); My [brimming] cup runs over. (Amp)
b. Ps 35:27--God has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant. Prosperity is the word SHALOM. It includes the idea of safe, well, happy, and can be translated health, welfare, peace, and prosperity.
1. He wills the prosperity of His servant (Douay). He is pleased when all is going well for His servant (New Life). Who loves to see His servant prospering (Moffatt). Delights in the well being (NIV). (Deaf). Great is the Lord who enjoys helping His child (Living).
2. A good shepherd is delighted when his flock is content, well fed, safe, and secure.
c. David’s testimony about life with his Shepherd was: Goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. David could look back and see the Shepherd’s care, knowing it would continue.
1. He knew he would dwell in the house of the Shepherd all the days of his life. Ps 23:6--And through the length of days the house of the Lord [and His presence] shall be my dwelling place. (Amp)
2. David knew his life was hidden in God, in the presence of his shepherd forever. Ps 27:4; 65:4
C. Conclusion: We have not said all there is to say about the Lord our Shepherd. But, consider these points.
1. It is the shepherd’s continual presence with his sheep that guarantees there will be no lack of any sort. He is always on alert, watching, caring, protecting.
a. We have an ever present shepherd. We are always in His view. He should always in our view.
b. We must be aware our shepherd is with us. The knowledge of the presence of the shepherd removes fear. When we are looking at the Shepherd we aren’t looking at what is around us.
2. Fear is banished when you know the shepherd is a good one. David’s Shepherd was and is a Good Shepherd. David’s Shepherd is our Shepherd.