Part 2: Understand how the Shepherd behaves.
In the light of the past 24 hours, I want to pick out two parts of the journey described in Psalm 23:
the absence of fear and presence of comfort in the valley of the shadow of death, brought about by the shepherd’s rod and staff;
and the table prepared for us in the presence of our enemies.
The story of this psalm is of a flock of sheep, being called out from the low winter pastures (where several flocks of sheep are ‘pooled’, and wild animals tend not to venture, unless unusually hungry, for fear of many shepherds); and led up the mountainside side, up a valley where the sheep can smell predators in the bush, but can’t see them (a place of fear-of-death, and death itself; a place of confusion); to the high summer pastures, on the table-top plateau.
The shepherd carries two sticks. One is a club, to beat, and kill, lions and wolves and bears. And knowing that the shepherd swings the club enables the sheep to follow. The other stick is the crook, to press against the side of the wayward sheep and steer them back onto the safe path; or to lift up a sheep that has fallen over the edge. And knowing that the shepherd leans on the crook enables the sheep to follow. Fear recedes; comfort fills the space left in its wake.
When a sheep was caught-up in the jaws of a predator, the shepherd would fight the attacker off; dress the wounds, bind any broken bones, and carry the sheep on his shoulders until the broken leg was mended. And sometimes, when a sheep consistently wandered away into danger, the shepherd would actually break one of its legs himself; bind it, and carry the sheep on his shoulders, whispering to it, until the leg was mended. And a sheep that had been carried, for either reason, would not wander far from the shepherd again.
The shepherd does not only steer the sheep; he provides them with grace. The prepared table is the pasture of the plateau, an expanse of fresh grass and wild flowers, beneath the open sky. The sheep that has come through the valley of the shadow of death and out the other side needs space to be restored.
The predators are still there; on the edges, prowling the perimeter. But this is no longer an arduous climb up a steep and narrow margin of safety. It is time and space secured in order that the sheep might regain strength – before the next time they will face the valley.
To follow: Part 3: Understand how to behave as a shepherd.
(some practical applications.)
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Even though 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 love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
(Psalms 23, New International Version)
a sheep in lion country , pastoral care , community , church , leading churches