I received an email from my cell group leader regarding this famous chapter of Psalm and thought I'd like to share with you. A shepherd is here talking and it goes like this :
"Shalom, my friends. My name is Yeshua ben Yosef. I am from the ancient land of Palestine and I'm a shepherd by trade. It is an honour for a man of my occupation to be allowed to stand here and speak with you today. You see in my nation shepherding is not looked upon with favour. For most of my countrymen it is a job to be avoided rather than sought. The hours are long.
The work is dirty and backbreaking. You should see the thick calluses on my feet. And the pay … well let's just say you'll never get rich tending sheep for a living. I learned the trade from my father and I continue the family tradition.
Your pastor thought it would be helpful for me to come and speak with you today about my lowly occupation. I'm not really sure what a humble man such as I could teach you, but I'll tell you everything that I know.
Did you know that in the Bible you read, God refers to his people, you and me, as sheep nearly two hundred times? You may have never considered the significance of that comparison but I have because I work with sheep day and night. Let me tell you it's not a compliment to be called a sheep. Why not rather eagles – majestic, swift and beautiful? No, God calls us his sheep. Why not lions – strong, fearless, terrifying? No, instead, God calls us his sheep.
Oh they're unique, but to be compared to one is nearly an insult. A sheep is perhaps the stupidest animal on the face of the earth.
Have you ever seen a trained sheep in the circus? You'll see elephants, horses, bears, seals even hippos, but not sheep. They're too stupid to train. Sheep are also quite filthy. The wool that you see in clothing has been cleaned thoroughly. The fluffy white sheep that you view on your television sets didn't get that way on their own. Sheep will not and cannot clean themselves. The shepherd or his hired hands must do it for them.
Not only are they dumb and dirty, sheep are utterly defenceless. They have no claws, no fangs, no wings. They can't run fast or scare an enemy off with a loud roar or spray a predator with a noxious scent. All they can do is bleat.
Sheep are completely reliant on their shepherds. Their lives and well-being depend on the person who oversees them each day. If God calls us his sheep I wonder just what he's trying to say.
Maybe you would understand God a little better if you spent a day with me. Come with me on a journey shepherding sheep.
The day begins early, before dawn. It is my job to provide food and water for my sheep. This is not an easy task. You see in my country the land is parched and dry. We have nothing like the vast green pasture lands that your sheep and cattle enjoy here. You can just turn your animals loose and they have all the food they need. But not in my country. Oh no! Grass can be found only in narrow strips separated by long stretches of rock and dust. Except during the rainy season, water is provided by natural springs or wells spread out here and there. I sometimes have to lead my sheep miles just for a few yards of grass or a quick drink of water. It is for that reason that we arise early. It takes all day to find the nourishment my sheep need.
I know the area like the back of my hand. I've walked every square foot of it many times. This is how I'm able to lead my sheep. You may have imagined that shepherding is like those old Westerns you've seen where the cowboys, riding their horses behind the herd, drive the cattle forward. Shepherding is somewhat different. I walk in front of the herd and they follow me.
Wherever I go they go. If I were unfamiliar with the land or the sheep were left on their own they'd starve to death. But I lead them. I know where the grass is. I've been there beforehand.
We spend the entire morning travelling from pasture to pasture. By mid-day the sheep are exhausted and thirsty. They need refreshing or they will die.
Along the route I know the location of several oases. These places have shade and lush pasture for the sheep to rest. I make them lie down and drink. Speaking of which, did you know that sheep won't drink from just any water source. Oh no. They will only drink from quiet still pools. They have a natural fear of fast moving water and for good reason. If a sheep should slip into a river or stream its wool would soon soak up the water and become completely saturated. Sheep are poor swimmers anyway, but the weight of the water in their wool would cause them to sink and drown. That's why the waters must be gentle and still. If I can't find a pool I have to create one by diverting water from a stream. Now you're beginning to understand what hard work shepherding is.
My sheep will be fine and have everything that they need as long as they follow me. I lead them along well-worn paths where I know we will find food and water. They need my guidance.
My sheep also need my protection. The land where we travel is fraught with dangers. Predators like lions and bears stalk the herds. There's the occasional pack of wild dogs. Some harmless looking plants, though tasty, prove to be poisonous. A sheep might easily stumble over a cliff or fall into a ravine and die. But my sheep have no need to fear. I watch out for them. If they begin to wander off in the wrong direction I have my trusty shepherd's staff to prod them back in the right direction. If they should fall into a pit or a ravine I use the other end of my staff to reach down and lift them to safety. I carry two sticks, though. One is a staff, but the other is a club. The staff is for my sheep, but the club is for predators. My sheep may be dumb, but I'm quite attached to them. I'll fight tooth and nail for their lives. Some of the hirelings and other shepherds I'm acquainted with have seen me battle a few of those big carnivores.
They laugh and joke and tell me that some day one of those lions or bears will have me for lunch. That may be true, but I can tell you that I won't look the other way or run the other way like those cowards. No, that's the difference between a good and a bad shepherd. A good shepherd will lay down his life for his sheep.
As long as they follow me I guide and protect my sheep. Its tough work, but I always make sure my sheep have food to eat. I always check out the fields before I allow them to graze. If there are poisonous plants in the area and go through and weed out everyone by hand. I also check the ground for snake holes. I told you it's dangerous in my land. We have tiny little vipers that live underground in some of the pasturelands. When they sense the sheep grazing, they pop their ugly heads out of the ground and bite the sheep on the nose. The infection or venom from the bite could kill them.
But I have a remedy for those viscous little enemies. I walk off the entire area looking for snake holes. When I find them I pour a little olive oil into the entrance of the hole. Then I anoint the head and nose of each sheep with the same oil and allow them to graze. The oil prevents the slick bodies of the snakes from crawling out of their holes. They're powerless to harm my sheep. It makes me laugh to watch my little lambs have a picnic in the very presence of their enemies.
By evening we return to the sheepfold. One by one I examine each of them. If I find any cuts or scraps on their bodies I apply healing ointment to their wounds. I make sure they have water to drink. If I find one nearly overcome with thirst I have a special cup-shaped bucket and let him drink by himself. Sometimes those sheep are so thirsty that they stick their heads in too fast and too far and the water overflows and wets their heads.
Before bedding down for the night I always count my flock. Occasionally one of the lambs will stray, and there's nothing more vulnerable than a sheep without its shepherd. I go immediately to find it and bring it back to the sheepfold.
Every once in a while one of my lambs will develop a habit of straying. I remember one little fellow. I named him Jake. He came from a fine family. His grandfather was one of my very first sheep. I called him Old Abe. Jake's father was Isaac. Both Old Abe and Isaac faithfully followed me and stayed on the path, but not that little rascal Jake. He turned up missing more times than I could count. Sometimes he was in search of greener pastures while at other times I found him chasing butterflies. He never realized the danger he's in, but I understood it clearly.
Something had to be done. We shepherds have developed a technique guaranteed to prevent straying. It is used only as a last resort — when a sheep refuses to stay with the flock. The last time I caught him straying I used it on little Jake. No doubt you will think that it's cruel, but it saves the life of my sheep. At the end of the day I found little Jake wandering dangerously toward a steep gorge. I picked him up, put him on my shoulders and carried him back to the sheepfold. He didn't struggle. Jake just looked at me with only trust in his eyes. I sat him down and quickly placed his right front leg across my staff. With one swift motion I pulled down of the long bone of his leg and broke it.
Wild-eyed, Jake struggled to get away. He immediately fell to the ground in pain. He couldn't understand. The one who provided for him and rescued him, the one who he trusted was inflicting the most excruciating suffering he'd ever endured. I didn't want to, but I had to do it to save his life.
Over the next few days, little Jake could barely get up. As the flocks moved from pasture to pasture I carried him every step of the way. I held him close in those days. He was suffering with that broken leg, but all the while I carried him close to my heart. I sat him down to eat and drink.
Gradually he was able to walk again, but the smallest hill looked like a mountain to him and the shallowest stream like a mile-wide river. Whenever he encountered an obstacle all he could do was stop and look to me. Then I'd pick him up and help him over. Jake learned to trust and to follow. I had to break him to save his life. It worked. Jake is still with me today and one of my most loyal sheep. Well that's a day in the life of a shepherd. It's not glamorous, but it's a living.
As undignified as my profession is it still amazes me that God compares himself to a shepherd and his people to sheep. I can see the truth in it though. After all he meets our needs by providing the necessities of life, by guiding us each day and by protecting us. I guess we would be as contented and at peace as my sheep if we'd just learn to trust and follow him. Even if we don't understand where he's leading or what he's doing in our lives, if we'd just trust him and follow him we'd be satisfied.
Thank you for listening. I've got to get back to work. This shepherding is a never-ending job if you know what I mean?"
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever. (Psalm 23).