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Saint Matthew's Lutheran church

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Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd
I shall not want
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures
He leadth me beside still waters
He restoreth my soul
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil
For thou art with me
Thy rod and Thy Staff shall comfort me
Thou preparest a table before me
In the presence of my enemies
Thou anointest my head with oil
My cup overflows
Surely, goodness and mercy will follow me
All the days of my life
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord, Forever.

The twenty third Psalm is universally loved and admired as the most beautiful song from the book of psalms.

With the knowledge of what the shepherd meant to his flocks and the position he occupied in his community, it is easy to understand God's care for us as it is shown to us in this beautiful Psalm.

The Shepherd

Sheep raising throughout the centuries has been considered the highest occupation in Arabia, Palestine and Mesopotamia where agriculture is spare and life is simple.

The desert dwellers depend on their sheep and their camels for wool for tents and clothing and for food and transportatioin. Thus sheep are an economic resource. Butter and cheese are used as money in a barter system.

Sheep raising is an occupation where sharing and hospitality are seen as worthy and greed and dishonesty are discouraged. In sheep raising people do not deal so much with material goods devised by the human mind and made by human hands as much as they deal with living creations through whom God's love and his divine care for his children are generously manifested.

Sheep are gentle. They hardly resist their natural enemies when attacked. They tenderly mother their offspring and search for them in the flock to nurse them.

Sheep know their owners and those who love them, especially the shepherd who is with them daily and who calls them by name.

Helpless as they are, they put their trust in the shepherd who feeds them, protects them and guides them.

God is pictured in the bible as a shepherd and his people as sheep. No other illustration is more fitting to illustrate God's care for his children.

Just as sheep need the shepherd's guidance and protections while they are led up a mountain path, mankind needs God's guidance and care in order to be led in the narrow paths of life and to find the right way in a vast universe.

When a flock has a good shepherd, there is no fear of sheep being lost or any lack of grass and water. The sheep follow him.

Likewise, when mankind relies on and trusts in God for spiritual guidance, his daily bread will be supplied. They will hear the voice of the men of God and will be led into spiritual understanding and comfort, just as sheep are guided and led into green, virgin pastures and places where water is abundant.

On the other hand, sheep without a good shepherd cannot get directions, so they scatter and are lost and become prey of thieves and wild beasts.

 Mankind without a divine guide is also led astray by false prophets and teachers, who, like some of the hired shepherds, work for their own interests and betray their followers in time of need.

 Sheep, more than any other animal, are timid and fearful. They are very sensitive to the voices of strangers and are even disturbed by the rustling of dry grass. Moreover, sheep have to be led to pasture, water, shade and the fold.

People without a spiritual leader are often depicted as sheep without a shepherd. Israel went astray like sheep when there was no leader.

 Spiritual leaders, prophets and apostles are called shepherds. Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd." (John 10:14) He instructed his apostles to go and seek the lost sheep of Israel, that is, the ten tribes which had gone astray and were carried captive by the Assyrians.

After his resurrection, he told Peter to feed his female sheep, his lambs, and his rams; that is, to be chief shepherd and to take care of the entire flock, which is symbolical of men, women and children.
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses were known as good shepherds.

Their only occupation was raising and caring for sheep. When Pharaoh asked Joseph about his father's and his brethren's occupation, his reply was that his father and his brothers were shepherds and they knew no other occupation.

 Indeed, Abraham must have been an experienced shepherd to have led his people and their large flocks from Ur Chaldea to Haran and thence to Palestine. It took them years to reach their destination, not so much because of distance, as because they had to halt their migration so that the sheep might rest and give birth to their lambs.

 Abraham was the chief shepherd. He knew the land, its patures and wells. Sources of water were scarce and often hidden by the roaming hostile tribes.

Jacob served twenty one years with his uncle Laban as a shepherd. He proved to be a good shepherd. Laban's sheep were so wonderfully cared for, protected from wild animals and robbers and led to good pastures that the flock increased rapidly.

Both Jacob and Laban were rewarded and became very rich. The blessing was the result of Jacob's understanding of God and the trust he put in him when he left everything and fled his own home and went to Haran.

Moses was another great religious leader who spent forty years as a shepherd in the land of Midian and around the wilderness.

Undoubtedly, the long experience with the sheep and with the peope who lived with the flocks during the grazing season, gave

Moses a rich experience and understanding that qualified him to lead the Hebrew people and their large flocks in the wilderness for forty years.

It is interesting to see that for every year Moses cared for the sheep in the desert, he had to care a year for the people while they were wandering in the same desert.

Indeed, his tender care for the sheep of his father in law made him familiar with the conditions of the wilderness and the treacherous conditions there.

While living in the desert under the brilliant stars Moses learned about seasons, grass, oasis' and wells on which the desert people depend for water. The mysteries of life and of the universe were revealed to him in an abundant way.

 The contrast between the life he had spent in the palace and in the arid desert were great. During forty years in the desert, one will acquire a religious education that no modern seminary or university can offer.

 Without such a rich experience and God's guidance and care, the Hebrews could never have succeeded in leaving the land of bondage and entering into the promised land.

Experienced shepherds know every part of the desert, stars, seasons, wells, sheep and the people with whom they have to deal, as well as hostile tribes who surround them.

Such a knowledge is important for the welfare of both sheep and their owners who live with their flocks in the desert and mountains.

Then again, sheep are the only property in lands where there are no stock markets and factories are unknown and where people live on buttermilk, cheese and other by-products.

The position of experienced shepherds is unique and important. They act as arbitrators, judges, instructors to the young, musicians, legislators, and healers. The whole tribe looks up to them for spiritual advice and material welfare.

 Like statesmen, they make oral treaties with surrounding tribes. They seek the lost sheep. They also treat wounds and adjust the broken bones of both man and animal. Some of them are looked upon as spiritual healers and consulted by the sick and suffering.

Jesus also spent some years of his young life as a shepherd, just like all Easterners inhabiting villages and open country spaces do today.

In these ancient lands, no matter what a boy aspires to be when he reaches manhood, he has something to do with sheep in his early years.

In that part of the world nearly everyone knows something about sheep, whether he is a shepherd of not. This is because sheep are well liked and people depend upon them for their livelihood. Jesus called himself the door of the sheep, that is, the door of the fold where the sheep sleep at night.

 Like a good shepherd he gave his life for the sake of the sheep. The Psalmist calls God the Shepherd of Israel, who neither slumbers nor sleeps. Good shepherds sleep very little, and then only during the day when the sheep are resting near the camp.

At night, the shepherds keep constant watch over the sheep. Strange as it seems, many of the prophets and kings were called to leadership from tending the sheep.

David was a good shepherd whose fame spread throughout the land. He had slain a lion and a bear when they attacked the sheep. He risked his life while fighting wild animals because he was protecting his father's sheep.

 Jesus went to the cross for his people because they were his father's sheep.

 The prophet Amos, was also a shepherd who cared for a flock. He knew all of the sheep and protected them without discrimination. This experience helped him and led him to discover the universality of God, who watches over and cares for all his people and never discriminates between races and tribes.

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