Sweet Sisters

Writing this week’s lesson was a real challenge for me.  Monday came and went and I had no clue what I wanted to talk about.  All day Tuesday I still didn’t know what I wanted to do.  Finally, Tuesday night a thought “came to me” that I should sit down and read again the psalm that David is most known for writing, Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
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 your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Of the 150 psalms in the book of Psalms, Psalm 23 is best known.  It is often used at funerals.  Many people can quote it whether they attend church or not.  I suspect that we have become so familiar with it that we no longer are captured by the power and majesty of the Shepherd that David is portraying for us.

My goal today is to revisit this beloved psalm and share some insights I discovered in my research that may make it fresh and alive for you.  What I want to suggest to you first is that we may need to radically change our perception of what David meant when he said, “The Lord is my shepherd.”  

We have discussed before that in the Hebrew Bible there are many names for God that we miss in our English version.  In Psalms 23:1 the Hebrew phrase for “The Lord is my Shepherd” is YAHWEH ROI”.  It appears only once in the Old Testament.

YAHWEH can also be translated Jehovah.  For the Hebrews it was the most sacred name for God.  They would not say it out loud out of respect for God.  It means Lord or Master.  ROI means “to shepherd or to pasture”.  It can also mean “friend or companion”.

When David used this name for God he was telling us that God desires an intimate, close relationship with His people.  One in which we would become dependent on Him for all our needs.

Remember, David was a shepherd.  He understood what it meant to be willing to love and care for his sheep at all cost.  In Bible times, shepherds were a “force to be reckoned with”.  They were tough and rugged.  They spent their lives out doors in all kinds of weather and terrain.  They protected their sheep at all costs.  Think “Rambo”.  This concept reminds me of all the times in the Old Testament that God is referred to as a “mighty warrior”.  Being a shepherd was not a job for “sissies”.

Now that we have a clearer picture of what David meant when he referred to his Lord being his Shepherd, let’s look at what David said his Shepherd does.

In verse two we see that the shepherd makes the sheep lie down in green pastures.  The shepherd knows exactly where the best nourishment is for his sheep.  He leads them or provides for his sheep quiet places to get water.  Sheep will not drink from moving water.  It freaks them out.  The shepherd knows this and provide a place for them to drink where they feel safe.

I love the first part of verse three, “He refreshes my soul”.  The word soul here can be translated “breath”.  The idea here is that the shepherd helps sheep to “catch their breath”, to calm down.  Be still and “just breathe”.

The “paths” David talks about in verse three are well worn, established paths, ruts in the road from being used so much.  I can trust my shepherd to guide me down paths that he knows and has been down before.

These paths will sometimes go through dark, dangerous places where I can not see where I am going, but I will not be afraid because I can trust my shepherd to guide me and protect me.

David says, “your rod and your staff comfort me”.  Before I researched this verse this morning, I didn’t really understand the difference between a “rod” and a “staff”.

A “rod” takes us back to the concept of a “Rambo” shepherd.  A rod was typically about 2 1/2 feet long.  It was much like a club.  Long and slender with a head on it that was round and embedded with nails or metal.  It was a weapon the shepherd used to protect his sheep.  It could be thrown through the air if needed.  The shepherd wore it on his belt within easy reach if needed.  It represented power, authority, defense and discipline.  It was never used against the sheep.  It was used to protect them.

The “staff” was like a walking stick.  It had a curved hook on the end of it.  The shepherd used it to gently guide his sheep or to get them out of difficult places they had gotten themselves into.

Now that I understand the differences between a rod and a staff, I understand that whatever situation may come up, my shepherd is prepared to handle it.  He will go to battle in order to protect me and he will provide gentle, compassionate guidance when I get myself into places I never should have gone.

David continues his description of what a shepherd does in verse five by reassuring us that the shepherd will provide everything we need even when we are surrounded by our enemies.

When David talks about the shepherd “anointing his head with oil”, he may have been referring to a healing process.  Often times sheep would get parasites in their ears and the shepherd would pour oil over their heads to relieve them of the itching and get rid of the parasites.  Our shepherd is also our healer.

David closes the twenty-third psalm with the assurance that because the Lord is his Shepherd, he has everything he needs.

In John 10:11-15, Jesus talks about being our Shepherd.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 

Jesus says, I know my sheep and my sheep know me.  I learned in my research that a shepherd would make a notch on the ear of each sheep.  Each sheep had a different notch.  That way the shepherd knew which sheep was which.   Jesus says, I know my sheep.  Jesus knows each of us intimately.  He knows our fears, our struggles and the desires of our hearts.  Jesus also says that he loves His sheep so much that He would die for them.  Which He did.

Sweet Sisters, Psalm 23 teaches us that the Lord God Almighty is our Shepherd.  He wants a loving and intimate relationship with us.  He wants us to trust Him and depend on Him for everything we need because He knows the path and will keep us safe until we reach “the House of the Lord”.

Debbie ?