Summary: While we are familiar with Psalm 23, we may not understand it if we don't know much about sheep and shepherds.
Savior, Like a Shepherd
This week, I came across a list of 75 occupations that are either obsolete or really rare in the 21st century. Things like “chandler”—someone who makes candles. Or “Fletcher”—a maker of arrows. And I thought I’d start off this morning by givng you guys a little bit of a pop quiz. Let’s see how well you do with these:
A collier is:
A. A dog breeder
B. A coal miner
C. A tailor specializing in men’s formal wear
A Wainwright is:
A. A wagon maker
B. A werewolf hunter
C. A concrete mixer
A Farrier is:
A. Someone who operates a passenger ferry
B. Someone who man’s a toll booth
C. Someone who trims hooves and shoes horses
Now, all this might be intresting trivia to you, but you are having a hard time seeing what any of this has to do with Psalm 23. So here it is: let’s imagine that our local farrier is a committed follower of Jesus, and he serves as a part time worship leader at his church. And one Sunday he gets up in front of his church with his guitar and says, “I wrote a new song for our worship service today.” And he starts singing:
The Lord is my Farrier. I shall not be unshoed. He maketh me to trot without thrush or abcess…
See, unless you knew what a farrier was, you would have no appreciation for his song. You’d probably nod politely, but in the back of your mind you’re thinking, “Could we just go back to ‘Shout to the Lord?’” You wouldn’t have an appreciation for the song because you really don’t understand what it’s like to be a farrier.
This morning, we are going to study Psalm 23 together. We know Psalm 23—its one of the most beloved chapters in the entire bible, and, other than the Lord’s prayer, the most memorized. And when David wrote Psalm 23, he was writing to a group of people who understood what a shepherd was. But today, a lot of that is lost on us.
But how many of us really understand it? The answer is, unless you’re a shepherd, a lot of the images and metaphors about sheep kind of get lost on you. And that’s where a man named Phillip Keller comes in.
Phillip Keller was born in Kenya in 1920 and grew up in East Africa, surrounded by nomadic shpherds whose way of life hasn’t changed much from that of the shepherds David would have been acquainted with four thousand years ago. As a young man, he made his living as a shepherd, both as an owner of one flock and later as a rancher managing several flocks. So when he wrote the classic devotional book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, it was with a whole lot of credibility. By the way, I have several copies of his book available. I found them online this week for $2.50. If you’re a first time guest this week, please take a copy as our gift to your family.
In each chapter, Keller takes a line from Psalm 23 and relates it back to what he knows about the nature of sheep. [Sales pitch—books for $3]. And truthfully, the more we learn about sheep, the more we don’t want to admit that we are a lot like them. For example:
• Sheep are dumb. They have no sense of direction, and if they are in an unfamiliar territory, they will become completely disoriented. And they absolutely refuse to ask for directions. Also, they don’t discriminate between what is healthy and unhealthy to eat. They will even graze on toxic plants and make themselves sick.
• Sheep are not the cleanest animals. Their wool produces a lot of sticky oils, and without a shepherd to keep them sheared, those oils will mat up the wool, attract pests and parasites, and eventually kill the sheep. themselves.
• Sheep have no natural defenses against predators. They don’t have sharp teeth or claws, they can’t run fast, they have poor eyesight, and unless you’re in the middle of a snowstorm, they tend to not be able to camouflage themselves very well. There’s a reason there isn’t a single high school or college football team whose mascot is the sheep. No one wants to be a sheep.
He writes early on in the book on The State of the Sheep:
“It is no accident that God has chosen to call us sheep. The behavior of sheep and human beings is similar in many ways… our mass mind, our fears and timidity, our stubbornness and stupidity, our perverse habits are all parallels of profound importance. Yet despite these adverse characteristics, Christ chooses us, buys us, calls us by name, makes us His own, and delights in caring for us.”