Last Updated on :
A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23
By Phillip Keller
"HE MAKETH ME TO LIE DOWN IN GREEN PASTURES"
The strange thing about sheep is that because of their very make-up, it is almost impossible for them to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met.
Owing to their timidity they refuse to lie down unless they are free of all fear.
Because of the social behavior within a flock, sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others of their kind.
If tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down. Only when free of these pests can they relax.
Lastly, sheep will not lie down as long as they feel in need of finding food. They must be free from hunger.
It is significant that to be at rest there must be a definite sense of freedom from fear, tension, aggravations and hunger. The unique aspect of the picture is that it is only the sheepman himself who can provide release from these anxieties. It all depends upon the diligence of the owner, whether or not his flock is free of disturbing influences.
When we examine each of these four factors that affect sheep so severely, we will understand why the part the owner plays in their management is so tremendously important. It is actually he who makes it possible for them to lie down, to rest, to relax, to be content, and quiet, and flourishing.
A flock that is restless, discontented, always agitated and disturbed never does well. And the same is true of people.
It is not generally known that sheep are so timid and easily panicked that even a stray jackrabbit suddenly bounding from behind a bush can stampede a whole flock. When one startled sheep runs in fright, a dozen others will bolt with it in blind fear, not waiting to see what frightened them.
As long as there is even the slightest suspicion of danger from dogs, coyotes, cougars, bears or other enemies, the sheep stand up ready to flee for their lives. They have little or no means of self-defense. They are helpless, timid, feeble creatures whose only recourse is to run.
Two dogs have been known to kill as many as 292 sheep in a single night of unbridled slaughter.
Ewes, heavy in lamb, when chased by dogs or other predators will slip their unborn lambs and lose them in abortions. A shepherd's loss from such forays can be appalling. One morning at dawn, I found nine of my choicest ewes, all soon to lamb, lying dead in the field where a cougar had harried the flock during the night.
From then on, I slept with a .303 rifle and flashlight by my bed. At the least sound of the flock being disturbed, I would leap from bed and calling my faithful collie, dash out into the night, rifle in hand, ready to protect my sheep. In the course of time, I came to realize that nothing so quieted and reassured my sheep as to see me in the field. The presence of their master and owner and protector put them at ease as nothing else could do, and this applied day and night.
"He maketh me to lie down."
In the Christian's life there is no substitute for the keen awareness that my Shepherd is nearby. There is nothing like Christ's presence to dispel the fear, the panic, the terror of the unknown.
The second source of fear from which the sheepman delivers his sheep is that of tension, rivalry, and cruel competition within the flock itself.
In every animal society there is established an order of dominance or status within the group. In a penful of chickens it is referred to as the "pecking order." With cattle it is called the "horning order." Among sheep we speak of the "butting order."
Generally an arrogant, cunning and domineering old ewe will be boss of any bunch of sheep. She maintains her position of prestige by butting and driving other ewes or lambs away from the best grazing or favorite bedgrounds. Succeeding her in precise order, the other sheep all establish and maintain their exact position in the flock by using the same tactics of butting and thrusting at those below and around them.
A vivid and accurate word picture of this process is given to us in Ezek. 34:15-16 and 20-22:
I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment. (Ezekiel 34:15-16, KJV).
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD unto them; Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat cattle and between the lean cattle. Because ye have thrust with side and with shoulder, and pushed all the diseased with your horns, till ye have scattered them abroad; Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle. (Ezekiel 34:20-22, KJV).
This is a startling example, in fact, of the scientific accuracy of the Scriptures in describing a natural phenomenon.
Because of this rivalry, tension, and competition for status and self assertion, there is friction in a flock. The sheep cannot lie down and rest in contentment. Always they must stand up and defend their rights and contest the challenge of the intruder.
The continuous conflict and jealousy within the flock can be a most detrimental thing. The sheep become edgy, tense, discontented and restless. They lose weight and become irritable.
But one point always interested me very much, was that whenever I came into view and my presence attracted their attention, the sheep quickly forgot their foolish rivalries and stopped their fighting. The shepherd's presence made all the difference in their behavior.
In any ... human organization or group, be it large or small, the struggle for self-assertion and self-recognition goes on. Most of us fight to be "top sheep." We butt and quarrel and compete to "get ahead." And in the process, people are hurt.
It is here that much jealousy arises ... It is where ill-will and contempt come into being, the place where heated rivalry and deep discontent is born. It is here that discontent gradually grows into a covetous way of life where one has to be forever "standing up" for himself, for his rights, "standing up" just to get ahead of the crowd.
In contrast to this, the picture in the Psalm shows us God's people lying down in quiet contentment.
One of the outstanding marks of a Christian should be a serene sense of gentle contentment. "Godliness with contentment is great gain."
In His own unique way, Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd ... pointed out that the last would be first and the first last ... any shepherd has great compassion for the poor, weak sheep that get butted about by the more domineering ones.
... the less aggressive sheep were often far more contented, quiet and restful ...
... it was the Shepherd's presence that put an end to all rivalry ... in our human relationships, when we become acutely aware of being in the presence of Christ, our foolish, selfish snobbery and rivalry will end. It is the humble heart walking quietly and contentedly in the close and intimate companionship of Christ that is at rest, that can relax, simply glad to lie down and let the world go by.
When my eyes are on my Master, they are not on those around me. This is the place of peace.
As in the case with freedom from fear of predators or friction within the flock, the freedom of fear from the torment of parasites and insects is essential to the contentment of sheep. This aspect of their behavior will be dealt with in greater detail later in the Psalm.
Sheep, especially in the summer, can be driven to absolute distraction by nasal flies, bot flies, warble flies and ticks. When tormented by these pests, it is literally impossible for them to lie down and rest. Instead they are up and on their feet, stamping their legs, shaking their heads, ready to rush off into the bush for relief from the pests.
Only the diligent care of the owner who keeps a contant lookout for these insects will prevent them from annoying his flock. A good shepherd will apply various types of insect repellents to his sheep. He will see that they are dipped to clear their fleeces of ticks. And he will see that there are shelter belts of trees and bush available where they can find refuge and release from their tormentors.
This all entails considerable extra care. It takes time and labor and expensive chemicals to do the job thoroughly. It means, too, that the sheepman must be amongst his charges daily, keeping a close watch on their behavior. As soon as there is the least evidence that they are being disturbed he must take steps to provide them with relief. Always uppermost in his mind is the aim of keeping his flock quiet, contented and at peace.
... thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. (Psa. 23:5)
Finally, to produce the conditions necessary for a sheep to lie down, there must be freedom from the fear of hunger. This of course, is clearly implied in the statement, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures."
It is not generally recognized that many of the great sheep countries of the world are dry, semi-arid areas. Most breeds of sheep flourish best in this sort of terrain. They are susceptible to fewer hazards of health or parasites where the climate is dry. But in those same regions it is neither natural nor common to find green pastures. For example, Palestine, where David wrote this Psalm and kept his father's flocks, especially near Bethlehem, is a dry, brown, sun-burned wasteland.
Green pastures did not just happen by chance. Green pastures were the product of tremendous labor, time and skill in land use. Green pastures were the result of clearing rough, rocky land; of tearing out brush and roots and stumps; of deep plowing and careful soil preparation; of seeding and planting special grains and legumes; of irrigating with water and husbanding with care the crops of forage that would fed the flocks.
... green pastures are essential to success with sheep. When lambs are maturing and the ewes need green, succulent feed for a heavy milk flow, there is no substitute for good pasturage.
In the Scriptures, the picture portrayed of the Promised Land ... was that of a "land flowing with milk and honey." Not only is this figurative language, but also essentially scientific terminology. In agricultural terms we speak of a "milk flow" and "honey flow." By this we mean the peak season of spring and summer when pastures are at their most productive stages. The livestock that feed on the forage and the bees that visit the blossoms are said to be producing a corresponding "flow" of milk or honey. So a land flowing with milk and honey is a land of rich, green, luxuriant pastures.
The Good Shepherd has supplied green pastures for those who care to move in onto them and there find peace and plenty.
All Books/Booklets, Editorials, and Articles are FREE and can be downloaded without permission.