Summary: A first person sermon to start the series on Psalm 23 from a Shepherd’s view.
First Baptist Church
August 6, 2006
Shalom!! My name is Yoseph ben Benyamin. I am from the land of Palestine and I’m a shepherd. It is an honor 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 favor. 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 my father’s father.
I’m not really sure what a humble man such as I could teach you, but I’ll tell you everything that I know about being a shepherd.
Did you know that in the Bible, God refers to His people, you and me, as sheep almost 200 times? Let me tell you it’s not a compliment to be called a sheep. Why not eagles - majestic, swift and beautiful? No, God calls us His sheep. Why not lions - strong, fearless, terrifying? No, instead, God calls us His sheep.
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 filthy. The fluffy white sheep you see on television 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 defenseless. They have no claws, no fangs, no wings. They can’t run fast or scare an enemy with a loud roar or spray a yucky scent at a predator. All they can do is bleat.
Sheep are completely reliant on their shepherds. Their lives and well-being depend on their shepherd. If God calls us His sheep I wonder 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, my country is an arid desert. We have nothing like the pastures cattle enjoy here. You can just turn your animals loose and they have all the food they need. But not in my country. 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. That is why we rise 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 ride their horses behind the herd, drive the cattle forward. Shepherding is very 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 traveling from pasture to pasture. By mid-day the sheep are exhausted and thirsty. They need water or they will die. Along the route I know the location of several oasis. 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, 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.
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.