Summary: The relationship of the shepherd and the sheep is much deeper than many of us realize.
It’s interesting that the 23rd Psalm is one of the most loved and familiar passages in the Bible and yet so many people live their lives as if the version that I just read is true rather than the one in the Bible. We can live with such a wonderful sense of denial about the things of God and the reality of life. The truth is that all of those statements can appear to be true in our lives and then be completely taken away in a matter of moments, or perhaps months.
I was talking with a friend of mine, he’s been very successful, he not only owns his own business but on the side does a lot of real estate investing. A few years back he bought a prime piece of land and built his families dream home on it. It was going to be the home that they raised their children in and retired in. His total investment in it was $1.5 million. Last year he sold it in a short sale and walked away with nothing from it. But he was still happy, you know why, because it was just a house. His family was still doing well, he still had his business, and most importantly, he still had God in his life.
We’re going to start this year off by spending the next six weeks looking that the truth and the meaning of the Psalm. You see I think that we can face anything, both in life and in death, when we understand that the Lord is our shepherd.
It is a line that has captivated people across the world for centuries. For those of us who grew up in the city there is more to the words then perhaps we are aware of. As we begin our study we’re going to look today just at that first verse, “The Lord is My Shepherd, I shall not want.” As we look at this verse today we need to start by looking at the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd.
Some of these concepts are going to seem so obvious but I want us to picture what they really mean, in nature and then what it means that God can say these things about us. The first concept is that the sheep belong to the shepherd. Now this is not always the case today, but it is the implication of the Psalm, it doesn’t say that the Lord is a shepherd, but my shepherd, it implies permanence.
The shepherd owns that sheep, not the other way around. Think about what it means that the shepherd owns the sheep. If you own something then you can do what you want with it. Because the shepherd owns the sheep, he controls their fate, all of it. Those sheep that he desires to keep for their wool, he keeps. Those sheep that he decides to make a stew out of, he does. The sheep belong to the shepherd and he will use them in the ways that he thinks are appropriate.
The flip side of this is that the sheep belong to the shepherd because he purchased them. In order to start his own flock a shepherd would go to the sheep pens and examine the sheep that are for sale. Not only is he going to have to spend his hard earned money on them but he is going to have to depend on them for his livelihood and card for them over a long period of time. So he’s going to pick his sheep carefully, they will literally become very important to him and emotionally become very important to him.
Even in the case of a son who inherited the flock from his father there was still a price that was paid. The son would be expected to work with the father to care for the flock. If his mother survived it would be his duty to care for his mother and the same with his sisters until they were married. Even though there would not be a cash purchase of the sheep there was still a price that was paid. The labor of the son for years working for the father as part of the family was required in order to inherit the sheep. The sheep belonged to the shepherd because the shepherd purchased the sheep.
There’s another side to this allegory however. So often we think about the shepherd but what about the sheep. Sheep are not exactly the most hardy of animals in the wild. Think about it. We read about or see on TV herds of deer, elk, buffalo, horses, gazelles and zebras in Africa. How come we never hear about a flock of wild sheep? Easy answer because sheep just don’t last long without a shepherd. They constantly need to be cared for. Everyday there were things that the shepherd needed to do for them or they just wouldn’t thrive.