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Psalm 23 From A Shepherd Boy's Perspective

Shalom, everyone. My name is David. I am the son of Jesse. I live in the little town of Bethlehem, about 5 miles south of Jerusalem. I have been a shepherd boy since my childhood days. Years ago, my father had taught me how to take good care of our sheep.

It is truly a great honor and privilege for me, a boy at this tender age, to be allowed to stand here and speak to you today.

As you know, shepherding is not really a glamorous job that many people would seek to do. They would try to avoid it as much as possible. Three of my oldest brothers had already left our sheep company, and joined the national army.

Our working hours are long. From early dawn to past midnight! The work is very tiring, dirty and smelly. Though I am still in my teens, I am already suffering from body fatigue, muscle aches and back pains. There are several thick lumps of calluses on my feet. And our pay is very meagre. One could never become super rich by tending sheep for a living. I have learned this livelihood from my father. And I would continue in this family tradition of ours as my seven brothers had already opted out.

I do not know how and what to share with you today. I don't know even where to begin. I'm not even sure whether you are really interested in our shepherding job. How can I, an ordinary Jewish boy, teach you anything? In any case, I'll still tell you everything I know about being a shepherd boy.

One thing I must bring to your special attention is that sheep are mentioned more frequently than any other animal in the Bible. About 750 times. God called His people, such as you and I, as His sheep. This was recorded nearly 200 times in the Bible! You may never understand the significance of this character reference. But I know this a little more than you do as I work with sheep day and night. To tell you the truth, it's definitely not a compliment to be called a sheep. Why not eagles? They are majestic, swift and soaring high up in the skies. And why not lions? They are strong, fearless and awesome over the land. Nevertheless God chooses to call us His sheep. To some, this can be an insult. But it is not. If we are His sheep, then He is our Shepherd! He will lead and guide us along all the paths of life!

For your information, shepherding is one of the most common occupations in my beloved country, Israel. The second son of Adam and Eve, Abel, was the first shepherd recorded in the Bible. Our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob tended sheep. Even Rachel was a shepherdess. Moses was a shepherd in the backside of the desert leading sheep before God commissioned him to lead our forefathers out of Egypt into the Promised Land! Shepherding is found to be an excellent preparation for future leadership roles and tasks.

Sheep are curious but dumb animals. They are perhaps the most stupid animals on the earth. Have you ever seen sheep doing special tricks in the circus? Monkeys, elephants, horses, bears, seals and dolphins are trainable, but not sheep. They're too dumb to learn anything. They are unable to find their way home even if their sheepfold is within their sight and reach. Knowing this very well, we, their shepherds, can never take our eyes off our sheep.

One more thing I must tell you is that our sheep love to wander about and often away from the rest of the flock. As a result, they always become very filthy and dirty, full of dirt and mud. Those clean fluffy sheep that you often see in the paintings and drawings didn't have that pure white colour on their own. Sheep simply will not and cannot clean themselves. And guess who have to do all these cleaning and washing for them. Their shepherds, of course. Sometimes, my father has to hire some extra hands just to do this shepherding job more properly. Our sheep and their wool must be thoroughly washed and cleaned to prevent any infection of diseases, fleas, maggots and lice.

Besides being dumb and dirty, sheep are utterly defenseless and helpless. They have no claws, no fangs and no wings. They can't run fast. They don't know how to scare off an enemy with a loud noise or spray a predator with a lethal odour. They don't bark. All they can do is bleat, bleat, bleat! As their shepherd, I have to protect them from any predators which seek to attack them. So far, I have killed a lion and a bear while tending my sheep!

Therefore, our sheep are completely dependent on us. There is a unique relationship existed between shepherds and sheep. Shepherds know their sheep by name, and the sheep in turn recognize their shepherd's voice. Sheep are very submissive to their shepherds. Sometimes several shepherds will pen their sheep together in the same cave or sheepfold at night. The next morning each shepherd will then call out to his own sheep with his own unique sounds and cries. Each sheep knows his shepherd's voice and responds immediately. The sheep are easily separated by their shepherd's voice. Even in the midst of a large flock, one individual sheep will run to his shepherd when his own name is being called. Sheep in clusters are easily led, so a single shepherd could watch over a large flock.

Before I bore you with more information about sheep and shepherds, I think a better way is for you to spend a day with me tending sheep.

Each morning I have to wake up very early before dawn. My basic job is to provide the daily food and drink for my sheep. This is not an easy task. Our land is parched and dry. Grasses and shrubs can only be found in narrow strips separated by long stretches of dry plains of rocks and wastelands. Water is also scarce. Unless it is the rainy season, water is only obtainable from natural springs or wells here and there.

Thank God that our sheep could go on for some hours without water. Sometimes I have to lead my sheep for miles before they could graze upon some small patches of grass or have a quick drink of water. It is for this very reason that we need to arise early to avoid the blazing heat of the midday sun. It may take some hours to find all the nourishment that my sheep need.

I know the land around Bethlehem relatively well. I've walked around it countless times. This is required if I have to feed and lead my sheep satisfactorily. Shepherding is very different from herding horses. The horses are in front of their herdsmen. And the horses can feed and drink on their own.

But shepherding is very different. I am in front of my sheep, and they follow me. Wherever I lead them, they will go. If I were unfamiliar with the area, my sheep will have nothing to eat and drink, and they will starve to death. They cannot be left on their own. They cannot find food and drink on their own! Thus, I must know beforehand where their food and drink are. I have to search diligently for water and pastures, sometimes for hours each day.

I will spend the entire morning leading my sheep from pasture to pasture. By noon, my sheep would be exhausted and thirsty. They need to be refreshed or they will die of thirst or heat stroke. I know the locations of several oases. These fertile places have great shades and lush pastures for my sheep to rest and take cover from the intense heat. Thereby I make them to lie down and drink.

I must give my sheep water daily. And my sheep won't drink just from any usual water source. Oh no. They will only drink from still pools of quiet waters. They have developed a phobia against fast moving waters and for very good reasons. If a sheep should slip into a river or a stream of running waters, his wool would soon become soaking wet. As sheep cannot swim, the bulky weight of their clumsy bodies plus the added water would cause them to sink further and drown. That's why the waters must be still and gentle. Some old wells have quiet pools or troughs of water. I usually carry a small pail with me, patiently refilling it many times so that my thirsty sheep who cannot reach the available water would get to drink somehow. Sometimes if I cannot find a pool, I have to create one by diverting water from a nearby stream. By now, you should realize that shepherding is indeed very hard work.

My sheep will be fine as long as they follow me closely. I will provide everything they need. I know what they need, and I will lead them there. I will only guide them along those paths which are safe and sound.

I have to protect my sheep wherever we go. The roads we travel daily are often filled with many hazards and dangers. Predators such as bears and lions love to eat mutton. Every now and then, there are ferocious packs of wild dogs and wolves. Some plants look harmless and tasty but are poisonous to consume. Some of my sheep might get themselves entangled in the thorns of some dry desert bushes. Some of them might just wander off, and fall over a cliff and hurt themselves putting their lives at risk.

But in the midst of all these fears and dangers, my sheep are safe as long as I am near them! I would ensure that they suffer no harm. They have no need to fear. I will keep my eyes on them. If ever they begin to wander off in a wrong direction, I will use my six-foot staff to gently guide them back in the right direction. Should they fall into a dark pit, I will use the other end of my staff to reach down and lift them out of darkness and back to safety. I use two sticks. One is a staff, but the other is a rod. The staff is for my sheep, but the rod is for their predators.

I love my sheep no matter how stupid and dumb they could be. We have a special loving relationship. I'll fight for them even if it means risking my own life. But the hirelings are not so. They will not risk their lives for my sheep! They run in the opposite direction if they see the predators approaching. After the ordeal, they will laugh at me and say that I am stupid, and that the lion or the bear might have me as their dinner someday! Regardless of what they think, I will remain faithful to my sheep! I love my sheep. And this is the difference between a good and a bad shepherd - a good shepherd will lay down his life for his sheep.

I will guide and protect my sheep. It's tough work, and I am not complaining. It is always a great joy to see that my sheep have plenty to eat and drink. And not only that, I have to ensure that what they eat and drink are alright for their stomachs. I have to check the fields before I allow my sheep to graze upon them. I know all the plants in my country. And I will weed out those poisonous ones by hand before my sheep chew them.

Another danger which my sheep face is snakes. There are many snake holes in our land. And they are dangerous. We have many vipers that live in some of the pasturelands. When they see my sheep grazing, they will pop their ugly heads out of the ground and bite my sheep on their noses. Their venom could kill my sheep. But I have a special remedy for them. Olive oil! I will anoint the head and nose of each injured sheep with olive oil. This will bring healing and comfort to their wounds. I would then walk and search the entire area for snake holes. Whenever I find one, I would pour some olive oil into the entrance of the hole. This oil prevents the snakes from crawling out of their holes. These snakes will slip back downwards before they could harm my sheep again. Thus in the presence of their enemies, my sheep can have a great feast of green deliciously sweet grass.

Before the sunset, I will lead my sheep back to their sheepfold. Then I will personally ensure that the door is properly closed. This is to prevent them from wandering away in the night, and also to prevent the night predators from coming in to attack them. After that, I will examine my sheep one by one. If I find any injuries or infections, I will apply some healing ointment to their wounds. I will also ensure that my sheep have water to drink in the night whenever they are thirsty. For some tired, weary or sick sheep, I have a special cup-shaped bucket of water for each of them personally so that they can have the whole drink to themselves. Sometimes some of my sheep are so thirsty that they stick their heads in too fast and too far in, and the water overflows and wets their heads.

Before I sleep, I have to count my sheep. Occasionally one of them will stray. Nothing is more vulnerable than a sheep without his shepherd. I will immediately go out to find him, and bring him back to the sheepfold.

Occasionally, some of my sheep develop the bad habit of straying. I remember this one little fellow named Joe. His grandfather was one of my first few sheep. I called him Abe. Joe's father was Ben. Both Abe and Ben are great and faithful followers. They follow me closely, and never wander away. Not once. But not this little Joe. He was found missing more times than any other sheep. Sometimes, he was in search of greener pastures. Sometimes, he was chasing butterflies. Sometimes, he was just dreaming away. He never realized that there were many dangers surrounding him. Something had to be done before things got worse.

Throughout the ages, shepherds had developed a unique technique that will prevent sheep from straying. It is to break their legs. But this method is only employed as the last resort for those stubborn sheep who refuse to stay with the flock. I had to finally apply it on Joe. You may think that it's cruel, but it saves his life!

One day, I found little Joe wandering away towards a steep cliff. I just picked him up, put him on my shoulders and carried him back to the sheepfold. He didn't struggle. He just looked at me in his eyes with trust and full assurance.

I sat him down, and quickly placed his right front leg across my staff. With one swift motion, I broke the long bone of his leg. Joe struggled to get away but could not. He immediately fell to the ground in excruciating pain. He couldn't understand my actions. The one who loved him, provided for him and rescued him, had become the one who was inflicting the most worst pain he'd ever suffered. It hurt me to see him suffer, but I had to do it in order to save his life. I then bandaged up his leg.

Over the next few days, little Joe could barely get up. As the other sheep moved from pasture to pasture, I would carry him upon my shoulders every step of the way. I held him closely during those days. As he was suffering with a broken leg, I would attend to his wounds and nurse him back to full recovery. Sometimes I would carry him close to my heart to show him that I truly loved him. I would also ensure that he had enough to eat and drink. In fact, he would get the best meals and the first drinks! Gradually Joe was able to walk again. Whenever he encountered an obstacle, all he could do was to stop and look at me. Then I would pick him up and help him over. Joe has learned to trust and to follow me. This technique always works. Joe is still with me today. He is one of my most loyal sheep.

Well, that's all, folks. A day in the life of a shepherd is not sensational but it can be very heartwarming.

Till today, I stand amazed to think that God is our Shepherd and that we are His sheep. As long as we follow Him, we will have no fear. He will lead and guide us! He will protect and preserve us! He will satisfy all of our needs! And we will have no lack!

As a closing hymn of prayer, I would like to sing all of you a song that I often sing upon my harp while shepherding my sheep. I hope that you will like it just as much as my sheep. They love to hear my music and my voice while they are having their siestas, lying down in the green pastures.

The LORD is my Shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.

He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name's sake.

Yea, 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 runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD

Thank you for listening. I have to get back to my sheep now. They really need my attention. This is a very special day. Our dad had told us this morning to be home early as we will be having a very important guest named Samuel in our house today. I am not sure what the prophet has in store for us. Even King Saul listened to him.

Bye now. Shalom.

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary

Written on:
4 November 2005