Only Sheep Appreciate A Shepherd.
“The Lord is my shepherd. I have all that I need.” – Psalm 12:1 NLT
What do you say about what is arguably the most well-known and popular Psalm of all? The 23rd Psalm is probably the most familiar of all the Psalms, for believers and non-believers. You can find it printed on plaques, coffee mugs, illustrated in paintings, and explained in countless books. It is short and simple, and yet the real message escapes most of us – because we don’t live in an agrarian society. We don’t know much about sheep or shepherds. So a lot of the imagery found in Psalm 23 escapes us. The relationship between a shepherd and his sheep seems rather pedestrian and simplistic to us. I mean, how hard could it be to care for sheep? They appear rather docile and far from demanding. But it’s fascinating that God chose to use the metaphor of sheep on a regular basis when speaking of His people. In Matthew 10:6, Jesus referred to the Jews as the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Reminiscent of Psalm 23, in the book of Ezekiel, God tells the people of Israel, ” I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!” (Ezekiel 34:15-16 NLT). Earlier in that same chapter, God refers to His people as sheep again, saying, “They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them” (Ezekiel 34:6 NLT).
God saw His people as sheep. Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd. Why? What is the point behind this analogy of sheep and shepherds? The key to me is found in the words used in Psalm 23. David chooses his words carefully, and each carries significance. He speaks of need, rest, leading, renewal, guidance, fear, protection, and comfort. He paints a picture of total dependency as opposed to self-sufficiency. Sheep are not meant to defend for themselves. They are inherently dumb animals who wander easily and are prone to a herd mentality. Unlike deer, they do not readily sense impending danger. Unlike other animals, they lack any means of self-defense. In essence, they are defenseless against attack. They are easily led astray. When feeding, sheep can become so consumed with what they are doing, that they can walk right off the edge of a cliff. Sheep can’t heal, fend for, or lead themselves.
In Isaiah 53:6 we are given a perfect picture of how God views us. “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own.” At one time we were like wandering, ignorant, stubborn sheep. We had lost our way. We had wandered off the path and gotten lost. We were defenseless, helpless and hopeless. The prophet Isaiah went on to prophesy that God had a solution for those lost sheep: “Yet the LORD laid on him the sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away” (Isaiah 53:6a-8b NLT). God’s solution for lost, wandering sheep was the Good Shepherd. Peter reminds us, “Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25 NLT).
God is our Shepherd. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. We are their sheep. We are needy, prone to wander, inherently restless, lacking in strength, defenseless, directionless, and hopeless if left to our own devices. But God leads us, loves us, guides us, protects us, comforts us, feeds us, and heals us. He sent His Son to die for us because we couldn’t save ourselves. His Son became a sheep just like us so that He could be the sacrificial lamb that satisfied the just demands of a holy, righteous God. He died so that we might live. The key to understanding the 23rd Psalm is understanding our role as sheep and our total dependency on God for all that we need and have. It is because of His goodness and unfailing love that we are even alive and that we have a future. Dependency comes hard to most of us. Learning to rely on God is not easy. We have convinced ourselves that self-sufficiency is a virtue. But sheep rely on their shepherd. They trust their shepherd. They listen to their shepherd. They follow their shepherd. They depend on their shepherd for everything. And they are blessed.
Father, give me a sheep-like attitude. Let me continually die to my stubborn need for self-sufficiency and learn to live in total dependence on You. You are my Shepherd. Your Son is my Good Shepherd. All my needs are met in You. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men