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A SHEPHERD looks at Psalm 23

The Lord is my Shepherd!

It is will great please I produce for you this wonderfully
written book by a real life Shepherd. Keller has a way of getting
to your heart strings while bringing out the facts of 
shepherding sheep. You will never read Psalm 23 quite the way you
did before, after you read it from a Shepherd's understanding and
perspective. Keith Hunt



                       A SHEPHERD LOOKS AT PSALM 23


by Phillip Keller


THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD


     THE LORD! BUT who is the Lord? What is His character? Does
He have adequate credentials to be my Shepherd - my manager - my
owner?
     And if He does - how do I come under His control? In what
way do I become the object of His concern and diligent care?
These are penetrating, searching questions and they deserve
honest and basic examination.
     One of the calamities of Christianity is our tendency to
talk in ambiguous generalities.
     David, the author of the poem, himself a shepherd, and the
son of a shepherd, later to be known as the "Shepherd King" of
Israel, stated explicitly, "The Lord is my Shepherd." To whom did
he refer? He referred to Jehovah, the Lord God of Israel.
     His statement was confirmed by Jesus the Christ.
     When He was God incarnate amongst men, He declared
emphatically, "I am the good Shepherd."

But who was this Christ?

     Our view of Him is often too small - too cramped - too
provincial - too human. And because it is we feel unwilling to
allow Him to have authority or control - much less outright
ownership of our lives.
     He it was who was directly responsible for the creation of
all things both natural and supernatural (see Colossians
1:15-20). If we pause to reflect on the person of Christ - on His
power and upon His achievements - suddenly like David we will be
glad to state proudly, "The Lord - He is my Shepherd!"

     But before we do this it helps to hold clearly in mind the
particular part played upon our history by God the Father, God
the Son ....
     God the Father is God the author - the originator of all
that exists. It was in His mind, first, that all took shape.
God the Son, our Saviour, is God the artisan - the artist, the
Creator of all that exists. He brought into being all that had
been originally formulated in His Father's mind.....

     Now the beautiful relationships given to us repeatedly in
Scripture between God and man are those of a father to his
children and a shepherd to his sheep. These concepts were first
conceived in the mind of God our Father. They were made possible
and practical through the work of Christ. They are confirmed and
made real in me through the agency of the gracious Holy Spirit.
     So when the simple - though sublime - statement is made by a
man or woman that "The Lord is my Shepherd," it immediately
implies a profound yet practical working relationship between a
human being and his Maker.
     It links a lump of common clay to divine destiny - it means
a mere mortal becomes the cherished object of divine diligence.
This thought alone should stir my spirit, quicken my own sense of
awareness, and lend enormous dignity to myself as an individual.
To think that God in Christ is deeply concerned about me as a
particular person immediately gives great purpose and enormous
meaning to my short sojourn upon this planet.
     And the greater, the wider, the more majestic my concept is
of the Christ - the more vital will be my relationship to Him.

     Obviously, David, in this Psalm, is speaking not as the
shepherd, though he was one, but as a sheep; one of the flock. He
spoke with a strong sense of pride and devotion and admiration.
It was as though he literally boasted aloud, "Look at who my
shepherd is - my owner - my manager!" The Lord is! After all, he
knew from firsthand experience that the lot in life of any
particular sheep depended on the type of man who owned it. Some
men were gentle, kind, intelligent, brave and selfless in
their devotion to their stock. Under one man sheep would
struggle, starve and suffer endless hardship. In another's care
they would flourish and thrive contentedly.
     So if the Lord is my Shepherd I should know something of His
character and understand something of His ability.

     To meditate on this I frequently go out at night to walk
alone under the stars and remind myself of His majesty and might.
Looking up at the star-studded sky I remember that at least
250,000,000 x 250,000,000 such bodies - each larger than our sun,
one of the smallest of the stars, have been scattered across the
vast spaces of the universe by His hand. I recall that the planet
earth, which is my temporary home for a few short years, is so
minute a speck of matter in space that if it were possible to
transport our most powerful telescope to our nearest neighbor
star, Alpha Centauri, and look back this way, the earth could not
be seen, even with the aid of that powerful instrument.
     All this is a bit humbling. It drains the "ego" from a man
and puts things in proper perspective. It makes me see myself as
a mere mite of material in an enormous universe. Yet the
staggering fact remains that Christ the Creator of such an
enormous universe of overwhelming magnitude, deigns to call
Himself my Shepherd and invites me to consider myself His sheep -
His special object of affection and attention. Who better could
care for me?

     By the same sort of process I stoop down and pick up a
handful of soil from the backyard or roadside. Placing it under
an electron microscope I am astounded to discover it teems with
billions upon billions of micro-organisms. Many of them are so
complex in their own peculiar cellular structure that even a
fraction of their functions in the earth are not yet properly
understood.
     Yes, He the Christ - the Son of God brought all of this into
being. From the most gigantic galaxy to the most minute microbe
all function flawlessly in accordance with definite laws of order
and unity which are utterly beyond the mind of finite man to
master.  It is in this sense, first of all, that I am basically
bound to admit that His ownership of me as a human being is
legitimate - simply because it is He who brought me into being
and no one is better able to understand or care for me.

     I belong to Him simply because He deliberately chose to
create me as the object of His own affection.
     It is patently clear that most men and women refuse to
acknowledge this fact. Their deliberate attempts to deny that
such a relationship even exists or could exist between a man and
his Maker demonstrate their abhorrence for admitting that anyone
really can claim ownership or authority over them by virtue of
bringing them into being.
     This was of course the enormous "risk" or "calculated
chance," if we may use the term, which God took in making man
initially. But in His usual magnanimous manner He took the second
step in attempting to restore this relationship which is
repeatedly breached by men who turn their backs upon Him.
     Again in Christ He demonstrated at Calvary the deep desire
of His heart to have men come under His benevolent care. He
Himself absorbed the penalty for their perverseness, stating
clearly that "all we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned
every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him the
iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).
     Thus, in a second very real and vital sense I truly belong
to Him simply because He has bought me again at the incredible
price of His own laid-down life and shed blood.
     Therefore He was entitled to say, "I am the Good Shepherd,
the Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep."
     So there remains the moving realization that we have been
bought with a price, that we are really not our own and He is
well within His rights to lay claim upon our lives.

     I recall quite clearly how in my first venture with sheep,
the question of paying a price for my ewes was so terribly
important. They belonged to me only by virtue of the fact that I
paid hard cash for them. It was money earned by the blood and
sweat and tears drawn from my own body during the desperate
grinding years of the depression. And when I bought that first
small flock I was buying them literally with my own body which
had been laid down with this day in mind.
     Because of this I felt in a special way that they were in
very truth a part of me and I a part of them. There was an
intimate identity involved which though not apparent on the
surface to the casual observer, nonetheless made those thirty
ewes exceedingly precious to me.
     But the day I bought them I also realized that this was but
the first stage in a long, lasting endeavor in which from then
on, I would, as their owner, have to continually lay down my life
for them, if they were to flourish and prosper. Sheep do not
"just take care of themselves" as some might suppose. They
require, more than any other class of livestock, endless
attention and meticulous care.
     It is no accident that God has chosen to call us sheep. The
behavior of sheep and human beings is similar in many ways as
will be seen in further chapters. Our mass mind (or mob
instincts), our fears and timidity, our stubbornness and
stupidity, our perverse habits are all parallels of profound
importance.
     Yet despite these adverse characteristics Christ chooses us,
buys us, calls us by name, makes us His own and delights in
caring for us.
     It is this last aspect which is really the third reason why
we are under obligation to recognize His ownership of us. He
literally lays Himself out for us continually. He is ever
interceding for us; He is ever guiding us by His gracious Spirit;
He is ever working on our behalf to ensure that we will benefit
from His care.
     In fact, Psalm 23 might well be called "David's Hymn of
Praise to Divine Diligence." For the entire poem goes on to
recount the manner in which the Good Shepherd spares no pains for
the welfare of His sheep.

     Little wonder that the poet took pride in belonging to the
Good Shepherd. Why shouldn't he?

     In memory I can still see one of the sheep ranches in our
district which was operated by a tenant sheepman. He ought never
to have been allowed to keep sheep. His stock were always thin,
weak and riddled with disease or parasites. Again and again they
would come and stand at the fence staring blankly through the
woven wire at the green lush pastures which my flock enjoyed. Had
they been able to speak I am sure they would have said, "Oh, to
be set free from this awful owner!"

     This is a picture which has never left my memory. It is a
picture of pathetic people the world over who have not known what
it is to belong to the Good Shepherd ... who suffer instead under
sin and Satan.      
     How amazing it is that individual men and women vehemently
refuse and reject the claims of Christ on their lives. They fear
that to acknowledge His ownership is to come under the rule of a
tyrant.
     This is difficult to comprehend when one pauses to consider
the character of Christ. Admittedly there have been many false
caricatures of this Person, but an unbiased look at His life
quickly reveals an individual of enormous compassion and
incredible integrity.

     He was the most balanced and perhaps the most beloved being
ever to enter the society of men. Though born amid most
disgusting surroundings, the member of a modest working family,
He bore Himself always with great dignity and assurance. Though
He enjoyed no special advantages as a child, either in education
or employment, His entire philosophy and outlook on life were the
highest standards of human conduct ever set before mankind.
     Though He had no vast economic assets, political power or
military might, no other person ever made such an enormous impact
on the world's history. Because of Him millions of people across
almost twenty centuries of time have come into a life of decency
and honor and noble conduct.  
     Not only was He gentle and tender and true but also
righteous, stern as steel, and terribly tough on phony people.
He was magnificent in His magnanimous spirit of forgiveness for
fallen folk but a terror to those who indulged in double talk or
false pretences.
     He came to set men free from their own sins, their own
selves, their own fears. Those so liberated loved Him with fierce
loyalty. It is this One who insists that He was the Good
Shepherd, the understanding Shepherd, the concerned Shepherd who
cares enough to seek out and save and restore lost men and women.
He never hesitated to make it quite clear that when an individual
once came under His management and control there would be a
certain new and unique relationship between Him and them. There
would be something very special about belonging to this
particular Shepherd. There would be a distinct mark upon the man
or woman that differentiated them from the rest of the crowd.

     The day I bought my first thirty ewes, my neighbor and I sat
on the dusty corral rails that enclosed the sheep pens and
admired the choice, strong, well-bred ewes that had become mine.
     Turning to me he handed me a large, sharp, killing knife and
remarked tersely, "Well, Phillip, they're yours. Now you'll have
to put your mark on them."
     I knew exactly what he meant. Each sheep-man has his own
distinctive earmark which he cuts into one or other of the ears
of his sheep. In this way, even at a distance, it is easy to
determine to whom the sheep belongs.
     It was not the most pleasant procedure to catch each ewe in
turn and lay her ear on a wooden block then notch it deeply with
the razor-sharp edge of the knife. There was pain for both of us.
But from our mutual suffering an indelible lifelong mark of
ownership was made that could never be erased. And from then on
every sheep that came into my possession would bear my mark.

     There is an exciting parallel to this in the Old Testament.
When a slave in any Hebrew household chose, of his own freewill,
to become a lifetime member of that home, he was subjected to a
certain ritual. His master and owner would take him to his door,
put his ear lobe against the door post and with an awl puncture a
hole through the ear. From then on he was a man marked for life
as belonging to that house.

     For the man or woman who recognizes the claim of Christ and
gives allegiance to His absolute ownership, there comes the
question of bearing His mark. The mark of the cross is that which
should identify us with Himself for all time. The question is -
does it?
     Jesus made it clear when He stated emphatically, "If any man
would be my disciple [follower] let him deny himself and take up
his cross daily and follow me."
     Basically what it amounts to is this: A person exchanges the
fickle fortunes of living life by sheer whimsy for the more
productive and satisfying adventure of being guided by God.

     It is a tragic truth that many people who really have never
come under His direction or management claim that "The Lord is my
Shepherd." They seem to hope that by merely admitting that He is
their Shepherd somehow they will enjoy the benefits of His care
and management without paying the price of forfeiting their own
fickle and foolish way of life.
     One cannot have it both ways. Either we belong or we don't.
Jesus Himself warned us that there would come a day when many
would say, "Lord, in Your name we did many wonderful things," but
He will retort that He never knew us as His own.
     It is a most serious and sobering thought which should make
us search our own hearts and motives and personal relationship to
Himself.  
     
Do I really belong to Him?

Do I really recognize His right to me? 

Do I respond to His authority and acknowledge His ownership?

Do I find freedom and complete fulfilment in this 
arrangement? 

Do I sense a purpose and deep contentment because I am under His
direction?

Do I know rest and repose, besides a definite sense of exciting
Adventure, in belonging to Him?

     If so, then with genuine gratitude and exaltation I can
exclaim proudly, just as David did, "The Lord is my Shepherd!"
and I'm thrilled to belong to Him, for it is thus that I shall
flourish and thrive no matter what life may bring to me. 

                             .................


To be continued 


Entered on this Website October 2008

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