Summary: The shepherd must provide freedom for the sheep to find rest and providing them with still water comes at great cost to the shepherd.
As we continue to walk through the 23rd Psalm we see that David knew who would provide for him. The answer was God. Last week we looked at the first verse, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” We saw that this verse contains the beautiful promise that God will provide for our needs. We should never take for granted not just what is provided but who is providing. The creator of the universe, the one who holds everything together, cares for us and will provide for us. What a great privilege we have to be able to say that the Lord is our shepherd. But we also saw the warning that we will not want. When we refuse to be content with what He has provided, we are really questioning Him and what He has chosen to provide. It doesn’t mean that we are not to work to better ourselves or have goals, but it also means that in our present state we need to also be able to be content.
This week as we look at verse two we will again see God’s provision. Let’s start by reading this scripter together. Psalms 23, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even thought 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 overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Today we are going to focus on the second verse, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” And as we saw last week, when we stop to think about he context of these verses, there is more to them then a surface reading will allow. To really understand them, we have to understand the real needs of the sheep and the cost to the shepherd to fulfill the promise that is contained in the scriptures.
The more I study for this passage the less impressed I am with sheep and the more I understand about the relationship that God has with us. You see putting the sheep down to rest was not as simple as saying, “Good nights sheep and turning off the light.” Because even though sheep may not be the brightest or hardiest of animals, they still think about things and what they think about can deny them rest. Because they aren’t that hardy because they can’t take care of themselves there are also little things that can deny them rest as well. In order for sheep to rest they must be free of four things.
The first is that the sheep must be free from fear. There are a lot of things for sheep to be afraid of, after all they can’t really protect themselves. Every predator our there is a cause for fear and alarm. Phillip Keller the shepherd/pasture tells about shepherds who would go do sleep at night and wake in the morning to find that just a few wild dogs had decimated their flocks. He personally woke one morning to find that a mountain lion came during the night and had killed 9 of his best ewes. After that he slept with a rifle ready to check on the sheep at the least little sound in the middle of the night. Sheep have reason to be afraid when they lie down and the only real protection they have is the diligence of the shepherd. A shepherd who will not come to check on the flock to see what is going bump in the night, and to protect them from whatever it is, is a shepherd with tired sheep. But our God has already said that no matter what is out there, He will protect us.
I think of the imagery in the New Testament not just of Jesus as the Good Shepherd in John 10, but Peter’s picture of Satan as the roaring lion seeking whom he may devour becomes much clearer when we think about God as our shepherd. We have an enemy and only God can overcome him.
But we also live in a scary world, and we can think about those things too much. Keller tells about a friend who came to visit him and brought over a tiny Pekinese pup, the minute the puppy got out of the car and hit the grass over 200 sheep jumped up and rushed from one pasture to another. It was a sheep stampede if you will. It seems silly to us, but Keller also tells the story of 2 dogs killing 292 sheep in one night. Sheep have a reason to be afraid of the things that go bump in the night. We have a reason to be afraid of the things that happen in this world. But we have the same answer as the sheep, when we put our faith in the shepherd we can find rest, in fact only when we put our faith in the shepherd can we find rest.