A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23
As a way of introduction, Phillip Keller writes, “This book has been developed against a rather unique background which has perhaps given me a deeper appreciation than most men of what David had in mind when he wrote his beautiful poem. First of all I grew up and lived in East Africa, surrounded by simple native herders whose customs closely resembled those of their counterparts in the Middle East. So I am intimately acquainted with the romance, the pathos, the picturesque life of an Eastern shepherd. Secondly, as a young man, I actually made my own livelihood for about eight years as a sheep owner and sheep rancher. Consequently I write as one who has had firsthand experience with every phase of sheep management. Later, as the lay pastor of a community church, I shared the truths of this Psalm, as a shepherd, with my ‘flock,’ every Sunday for several months.”
For this brief paper, I have chosen only one small part, “He Restoreth My Soul.” Now, I have picked again one section of this chapter regarding “cast” or “cast down.”
Psalm 42:11 again cries out. There is an exact parallel to this in caring for sheep. This is an old English shepherd’s term for a sheep that has turned over on its back and cannot get up again by itself. If the owner does not arrive on the scene within a reasonably short time, the sheep will die. The author gives several reasons as to what caused the sheep to be “cast down.”
“There is the aspect, too, of a sheep simply having too much wool. Often when the fleece becomes very long, and heavily matted with mud, manure, burrs and other debris, it is much easier for a sheep to become cast, literally weighed down with its own wool.
“Wool in Scripture depicts the old self-life in the Christian. It is the outward expression of an inner attitude, the assertion of my own desire and hopes and aspirations. It is the area of my life in which and through which I am continually in contact with the world around me. Here is where I find the clinging accumulation of things, of possessions, of worldly ideas beginning to weigh me down, drag me down, hold me down.
“It is significant that no high priest was ever allowed to wear wool when he entered the Holy of Holies. This spoke of self, of pride, of personal preference-and God could not tolerate it…
“Whenever I found that a sheep was being cast because it had too long and heavy a fleece, I soon took swift steps to remedy the situation. In short order I would shear it clean and so forestall the danger of having the ewe lose her life. This was not always a pleasant process. Sheep do not really enjoy being sheared and it represents some hard work for the shepherd, but it must be done.
“Actually when it is all over both sheep and owner are relieved… And similarly in dealing with our old self-life, there will come a day when the Master must take us in hand and apply the keen cutting edge of His Word to our lives. It may be an unpleasant business for a time. No doubt we’ll struggle and kick about it. We may get a few cuts and wounds. But what a relief when it is all over. Oh, the pleasure of being set free from ourselves! What a restoration!” How about reading Hebrews 12.
“This Psalm opened with the proud, joyous statement, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd.’
“Now it closes with the equally positive, buoyant affirmation, ‘And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’
“Here is a sheep so utterly satisfied with its lot in life, so fully contented with the care it receives, so much ‘at home’ with the shepherd that there is not a shred of desire for a change… Conversely on the shepherd’s side there has developed a great affection and devotion to his flock. He would never think of parting with such a sheep. Healthy, contented, productive sheep are his delight and profit. So strong, now, are the bonds between them that it is in very truth-forever.”