Post Mortem

The satisfying psalmist’s shepherd

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 5/1/2020 1:00:05 PM IST

 Psalm Twenty-third came out from the shepherd-turned-king David’s experiences. It immediately reveals a pledged relationship – “The Lord is my Shepherd.” We often talk about God as belonging to distant realm, but David testifies a highly personal intimate God. For the sheep, the shepherd is everything. They depend on him for provision, guidance and protection. So a sheep, under the care of a good shepherd, can say, “I shall not be in want.”

On the other hand, the shepherd knows the best for his sheep – the green pastures and quiet waters – and takes his sheep there. Thus, Jesus, the good Shepherd (Jn. 10:11), the great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20), and the chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4) leads his sheep to the right places and the sheep gets their fill if they follow his leading. 

He restores the weary souls, helps them to stay on course in the paths of righteousness. The reason being “for his name’s sake” and we can trust that the good Shepherd will not be untrue to himself. So in actuality, any rebellion against his leading is depriving one’s own benefits.  

The “talk about God” of the preceding verses has changed to the “talk to God” in verse 4; from comment to communion. 

The pronoun “he” changes to the more intimate person-to-person address “you,” and this happens when the going gets tough. 

The shepherd is no longer ahead to lead but is alongside as a caring companion now. 

A closer examination of this verse tells us that the path through the valley of the shadow of death is also one of the paths of righteousness! Going down the dark valley is not a case of astray! The shepherd does not attempt to snatch him back to green pasture either. Rather, it implies that the shepherd approves and leads him there too. 

Many people think that every painful experience, every hardship, and every frightening moment is from the devil, but that is not true! Yes, God certainly lavishes us with green pastures and refreshing waters. We receive them, often quite ungratefully, as if we deserve all such good blessings. 

But we need to remember that God does not intend to make another heaven on earth simply because there is already one up there. Here on earth, God in His wisdom allows dark valley intended for our good as Paul puts it, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). However, we find it difficult to remain silent in there, and quick to question why the dark valley?

Philip Keller, an Australian shepherd, in his book “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” provides an experiential knowledge about the barren valleys. He writes, “The shepherd knows from past experience that predators like coyotes, bears, wolves, or cougars can take cover in these broken cliffs and from their vantage point prey on his flock. 

He knows these valleys can be subject to sudden storms and flash floods that send walls of water rampaging down the slopes. There could be rockslides, mud, or . . . a dozen other natural disasters that would destroy or injure his sheep. But in spite of such hazards he also knows that this is still the best way to take his flock to the high country. He spares himself no pains or trouble or time to keep an eye out for any danger that might develop.”

If God requires us to go down the valley then we can trust that His plan is to take us to some better place! Every valley indeed is a pathway to a higher place. The valley per se is not good, but the Shepherd is, and He knows the way. Also, His presence helps in overcoming our crippling fear! He will never leave us there in the valley. Rather, He wishes us higher and stronger. So, our humble desire should be, “A higher plane than I have found; Lord, plant my feet on higher ground!”

The companionship in the dark valley now changes to “Guest and welcoming Host” scene in verses 5-6. In the Ancient Near East culture, a covenant was normally sealed with a meal signifying the bond of friendship and mutual loyalty. 

It was also customary to anoint the head of an honored guest with oil at the banquet, and his safety from ever-watchful enemies was the host’s foremost concern. Besides, in the Old Testament, “goodness and lovingkindness” summarizes all that the Lord had covenanted to show to Israel (Deut. 7:9, 12), and these covenant benefits are seen as following the Psalmist. 

The Psalmist’s Shepherd “LORD” is the abundant Provider, the ideal Pilot, the able Protector, the comforting Partner, and the gracious Party-giver. He is my Shepherd too. I have everything that I need; I couldn’t ask for more. Because the Psalmist’s Shepherd is truly satisfying! 

V. Atsi Dolie, ABCC Mission Compound Kohima

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