I taught at our 5/27 Sunday Gathering, but sadly the audio didn't work for the podcast, so I thought I'd share some thoughts in a blog post!
1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for His name's sake.
4 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.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
This is one of the most common Psalms.
Often quoted and tattooed, put on posters — it is a Psalm that we reference for peace, and for rest, for confidence in our current situations.
You could spend a ton of time dissecting each word and verse -
but I just want to hone in on one little piece of it.
“He makes me lie down in green pastures"
A few years ago, two of my good friends stumbled upon the same book, the same week.
My friend Brett was digging through books at a Goodwill, and a tattered and worn copy of a book called, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, by W. Phillip Keller. It intrigued him, so he picked it up, paid the one dollar or so for it, and took it home.
That same weekend, my friend and roommate Dietrich was at his mom’s house, and without knowing Brett had just found the same book, he found a copy, and was intrigued by it, and so he brought it home.
That week as we were hanging out, Brett brought up his new found discovered reading, and Dietrich was shocked and they were both ecstatic that they had discovered the same book! So they decided to read through it together.
A few weeks later, as I kept hearing from them separately about the incredible things they were learning from this book, I decided that I wanted to jump in as well. So I ordered my used copy on Amazon, and jumped right in.
As I started reading, I was blown away. The man that wrote the book, Phillip Keller, was an actual, sheep owning, staff carrying, real deal shepherd. And since I have no experience whatsoever in that ‘field’, (shepherd pun) hearing what this passage meant to someone who actually lives within that culture, gave me a totally new perspective.
So I’m going to refer a lot to some of the points made and applications from this book by Phillip Keller, in order to help us to hopefully deeper understand the truths of God.
As we look at the verse “He makes me lie down in green pastures”, we’re going to walk through it from the perspective of a literal, actual sheep herding Shepherd, and how it applies to actual sheep, and then how that parallels from our Good Shepherd (Jesus) to us, His sheep.
But today, that is becoming more and more untrue. How many people do we know that are still farmers? Shepherds? Yes, they’re still out there, but it is not anywhere as common as it was. It is definitely the minority. Most of us deal with computers more than dirt. I personally have never had to grow my own food in order to survive. Therefore, a lot of the teachings from Scripture can go right over our heads. And we miss core truths that God intended for us to understand.
The author of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, W. Phillip Keller, says this:
“Divine revelation is irrevocably bound up with the basic subjects of the natural world. Our Lord Himself, when He was amongst us, continually used natural phenomena to explain supernatural truth in His parables.”
This all makes sense when we remember and understand that God the Father is the Creator of all things in the physical, as well as the spiritual. So why wouldn’t they be relatable?
So thinking from that perspective, that God uses the natural to explain the supernatural, let’s look at this verse again. Keeping in mind, that everywhere we talk about a shepherd, we can parallel that to The Lord, and everywhere we talk about sheep, we can parallel that to ourselves.
“He makes me lie down in green pastures.”
Keller says that it is almost impossible for a sheep to be made to lie down unless four things are true of them.
- Sheep will not lie down unless they are free of all fear.
- Sheep will not lie down unless they are free from hunger.
- Sheep will not lie down if they are being tormented by flies or parasites.
- Sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others in their flock.
And the unique aspect of this situation is that it is only the shepherd who can provide release from these anxieties.
When we look at all four of these factors, we will then understand how important the role of the Shepherd is in the life of the sheep. It is actually Him who makes it possible for a sheep to lie down, to rest, to relax, to be free from anxiety, to be content, to be quiet, and even to flourish.
“A flock that is restless, discontented, always agitated and disturbed never does well. And the same is true of people.”
Sheep Will Not Lie Down Unless They Are Free Of All Fear
Keller says this,
“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.”
“In the course of time I came to realize that nothing so quieted and reassured the 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.”
When I was five years old, I began playing t-ball, so my dad took me to the batting cages for the first time ever. However, since I was five, I was pretty hesitant about it.
So I got in the cage, with my oversized helmet making me look like a bobble-head, stepped towards the plate, and stuck my little bat out. But when the ball came flying in, I was no where near hitting it. So my dad said to me, "get closer to the plate." So I did, but just a little bit.
Next ball came through - not even close. So again dad says, "get closer to the plate."
This process probably continued another four times until I was finally close enough.
The next ball comes in, and I look up to hit it, and it hits me right in the eye!
I remember it hurting for a second, but then looking over to my dad, and he reassured me.
In the end, I wasn’t fearful of the danger, that was in that moment flying in the form of a baseball at my head, because my dad was right there. My father was near me, reassuring me that it was ok.
Even after a brief moment of pain, he was still there to comfort me, and all was well.
In our lives, the life of a believer, there is nothing more reassuring than remembering that our Father is near to us. That our great Shepherd is close by.
We live an uncertain life, with hazards seemingly around every corner. We fear the unknown, we fear people that aren’t like us, fear is a huge part of most peoples’ lives. And so often, fear prevents us from seeing the Lord, and finding our rest in Him.
“It is the special office work of God’s gracious Spirit to convey this sense of the Christ to our fearful hearts. He comes quietly to reassure us that Christ Himself is aware of our dilemma and deeply involve in it with us.” - W. Phillip Keller
And it’s in His blessed assurance, that we find rest. Both physically and spiritually.
“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
2 Timothy 1:7
Sheep will not lie down unless they are free from hunger.
This point is one of the more obvious statements, as it is clearly implied in the verse, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.”
"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. No sight so satisfies the sheep owner as to see his flock well and quietly fed to repletion on rich green forage, able to lie down to rest, ruminate, and gain.”
Green pastures don’t just happen by chance. Many of the great sheep countries of the world are dry, semi-arid, brown and sun-burnt areas.
Green pastures are the product of much time, care and skilled labor by the shepherd.
“A hungry, ill-fed sheep is ever on its feet, on the move, searching for another scanty mouthful of forage to try and satisfy its gnawing hunger. Such sheep are not contented, they do no thrive, they are of no use to themselves no to their owners. They languish and lack vigor and vitality.”
How true is this for us as believers? When we are not being fed and filled by the Spirit of God, through the Word of God, we often stray and scavenge for other things to fill us, only to find discontent, having to move on to thing after thing to try and fill us, to try and satisfy our longing hunger.
The Lord, our Good Shepherd, loves us and wishes to see us, His sheep, satisfied and well-fed.
Because of our greediness & selfishness, we often choose to feed on the barren ground of the things of this world. But our Good Shepherd has provided us lush, green pastures for those who choose to move in to them and find peace and plenty.
Sheep will not lie down if they are being tormented by flies or parasites.
Sheep can be driven almost insane, and to absolute distraction by flies, ticks, and other parasites that come in different seasons. When they are bothered by these pests, it becomes literally impossible for them to lie down and rest. Instead they are up and around, stomping, pacing and in utter chaos trying to shake off the pests.
Only the diligent and detailed care of the Shepherd can prevent his flock from being annoyed by these disturbances. He will apply different repellents and ointments, as well as make sure that there are trees and brush around for them to find refuge and release from their tormentors.
Similarly in the life of the believer, there are bound to be small irritations, annoyances and frustrations that come in to our life. In modern terminology, we refer to this as ‘being bugged’ by something.
And for those of us in Christ’s care, in His flock, there is relief from these bugs.
This is one of the main functions of the gracious Holy Spirit.
In Scripture He is often symbolized by oil — which brings healing and comfort from the irritants of life.
"The Holy Spirit makes real in me the very presence of Christ. He brings quietness, serenity, strength and calmness in the face of frustrations and futility.” - W. Phillip Keller
Philippians 4 says
"do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication (the action of asking or begging for something earnestly or humbly.) with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Finally, Sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others in their flock.
In every animal society, humans included there is usually some sort of order of dominance or status within groups.
When it comes to sheep, it’s referred to as the butting order. Usually an arrogant, cunning and domineering older ewe is the boss of a fold of sheep. She will keep her high status by butting, fighting and driving other sheep from the best grazing areas or favorite places to lay. And starting with her, all the other sheep use the same tactics from top down to establish their exact roles in the fold. Always butting and moving aside the ones below them.
Because of this constant rivalry and tension, there is friction (or drama) in the flock. The sheep definitely can’t lie down and rest or be content. They’re always up defending their territory and position.
This continuous conflict, jealousy and rivalry within in a flock is detrimental.
Everyone is on edge, tense, discontent, and without rest.
Notice this insight from Keller about this particular condition amongst his sheep:
“But one point that 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 shepherds presence made all the difference in their behavior.”
The important thing to notice here is that it was the shepherd’s presence that stopped the rivalry and competition.
“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.” - W. Phillip Keller
We must also remember that at the end of the day, our identity is not found in our status, it’s not found in how much we have, for we can’t take any of it with us when death comes. But it is just our Father, our Good Shepherd who judges our standing, who gives us our righteousness, and our true status.
All of those things are cool sounding, and may be coincidence to parallels in my life. But how in the world are we supposed to figure out any of that. How do we actually apply any of this to our lives? How do we actually get rid of fear, become fulfilled, be rid of the annoyances in our lives and calm the friction and frustrations with others in our lives?
Look at Colossians 2.
Paul & Timothy are writing to the church in Colossae.
Paul writes about what his hopes and prayers are for the people that he hasn’t been able to yet talk to in person. This is what he prays for them.
"that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
to understand the mystery of God is to know Christ.
The mystery of God is Christ.
The answers to the questions are Christ.
The perfect peace is in Christ.
Fulfillment is in Christ.
Rest is in Christ.
He is our Good Shepherd, and we are indeed the sheep of His flock.
In Him are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.