Today I’ve essentially finished the manuscript (due Monday) of a book on the Twenty-Third Psalm. I’m not sure of the release date, but we’ll keep you posted. Here is a brief excerpt.
John Muir, a early naturalist who wrote about life in the American West, once described a shepherd in the California Sierras named Billy. He was a solitary mountain man who slept fully clothed in the rotten dust of a log, wrapped in his a red blanket. Attached to one side of his belt was a six-shooter. On the other side was his lunch in a bag from which gravy and juices constantly dripped down his leg. These drippings were not wiped off, but were spread over the surface of the trousers so the garment never became threadbare but thickened with layers of grease, dust, insects, and vegetation. In this way they became “watertight and shiny.”
“These precious overalls are never taken off,” wrote Muir, “and nobody knows how old they are, though one may guess by their thickness and concentric structure. Instead of wearing thin they wear thick.” Their stratification, he added, resembled the rings of a tree.[i]
The life of a shepherd totally revolved around his sheep. There’s a masculine magnetism between a shepherd and his flock that’s hard to imagine. In writing Psalm 23, David understood this emotional bond very well. He never forgot how attached he had become to his wooly animals as he had migrated with his flocks for weeks and months in the remote pathways of Palestine.
A sheep is the one animal that is utterly clueless and helpless without a human being nearby. A flock of sheep without a shepherd is a pathetic sight. You never hear of sheep migrating along in great flocks, fending for themselves, or surviving without external protection. They panic at the slightest sound. They have no sense of direction, little native intelligence, and no way to defend themselves. They can butt a little with their heads, but they’re bulky and bungling and basically without defensive equipment. They can’t fight with their hoofs or teeth. They can’t run away very easily, or dig holes or climb trees. They can’t track down their own food. They can get lost even in their own pasture. Their wool, which becomes thick, matted, and tangled if not regularly sheared, can weigh them down or trap them in thorns. Insects bedevil them, and they don’t recover well from disease and injury unless treated individually. Sheep also need affection, and there’s something about them that seems to crave human care. They are utterly dependent on a shepherd to care for them.
They’re just like us. We may think we can make it on our own. The human race might think it can get along just fine without a good and gracious God, and many people deny and discredit Him. But in the end we’re nothing more than sheep without a shepherd when we distance ourselves from a loving Creator.
That’s why Psalm 23 is vital when it tells us: The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
To check out my shorter booklet on Psalm 23, available now, click here.
[i] John Muir, The Writings of John Muir, Volume 2 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916),129.