A SHEPHERD LOOKS AT PSALM 23 #2
I SHALL NOT WANT
WHAT A PROUD, positive, bold statement to make! Obviously,
this is the sentiment of a sheep utterly satisfied with its
owner, perfectly content with its lot in life.
Since the Lord is my Shepherd, then I shall not want.
Actually the word "want" as used here, has a broader meaning than
might at first be imagined. No doubt the main concept is that of
not lacking - not deficient - in proper care, management or
But a second emphasis is the idea of being utterly contented
in the Good Shepherd's care and consequently not craving or
desiring anything more.
This may seem a strange statement for a man like David to
have made if we think in terms only of physical or material
needs. After all he had been hounded and harried repeatedly by
the forces of his enemy Saul as well as those of his own
estranged son Absalom. He was obviously a man who had known
intense privation: deep personal poverty, acute hardship, and
anguish of spirit.
Therefore it is absurd to assert on the basis of this
statement that the child of God, the sheep in the Shepherd's
care, will never experience lack or need.
It is imperative to keep a balanced view of the Christian
life. To do this it is well to consider the careers of men like
Elijah, John the Baptist, our Lord Himself - and even modern men
of faith such as Livingstone - to realize that all of them
experienced great personal privation and adversity.
When He was among us, the Great Shepherd Himself warned His
disciples before His departure for glory, that - "In this world
ye shall have tribulation - but be of good cheer - I have
overcome the world."
One of the fallacies that is common among Christians today
is t the assertion that if a man or woman is prospering
materially it is a significant mark of the blessing of God upon
their lives. This simply is not so.
Rather, in bold contrast we read in Revelation 3:17,
"Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and
have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and
miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked . . ."
Or, in an equally pointed way, Jesus made clear to the rich
young ruler who wished to become His follower. "One thing thou
lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the
poor ... and come ... follow me" (Mark 10:21).
Based on the teachings of the Bible we can only conclude
that David was not referring to material or physical poverty when
he made the statement, "I shall not want."
For this very reason the Christian has to take a long, hard
look at life. He has to recognize that as with many of God's
choice people before him, he may be called on to experience lack
of wealth or material benefits. He has to see his sojourn upon
the planet as a brief interlude during which there may well be
some privation in a physical sense. Yet amid such hardship he can
still boast, "I shall not want ... I shall not lack the expert
care and management of my Master."
To grasp the inner significance of this simple statement it
is necessary to understand the difference between belonging to
one master or another - to the Good Shepherd or to an imposter.
Jesus Himself took great pains to point out to anyone who
contemplated following Him that it was quite impossible to serve
two masters. One belonged either to Him or to another.
When all is said and done the welfare of any flock is
entirely dependent upon the management afforded them by their
owner. The tenant sheepman on the farm next to my first ranch was
the most indifferent manager I had ever met. He was not concerned
about the condition of his sheep. His land was neglected. He gave
little or no time to his flock, letting them pretty well forage
for themselves as best they could, both summer and winter. They
fell prey to dogs, cougars and rustlers.
Every year these poor creatures were forced to gnaw away at
bare brown fields and impoverished pastures. Every winter there
was a shortage of nourishing hay and wholesome grain to feed the
hungry ewes. Shelter to safeguard and protect the suffering sheep
from storms and blizzards was scanty and inadequate. They had
only polluted, muddy water to drink. There had been a lack of
salt and other trace minerals needed to offset their sickly
pastures. In their thin, weak and diseased condition these poor
sheep were a pathetic sight.
In my mind's eye I can still see them standing at the fence,
huddled sadly in little knots, staring wistfully through the
wires at the rich pastures on the other side.
To all their distress, the heartless, selfish owner seemed
utterly callous and indifferent. He simply did not care. What if
his sheep did want green grass; fresh water; shade; safety or
shelter from the storms? What if they did want relief from
wounds, bruises, disease and parasites?
He ignored their needs - he couldn't care less. Why should
he, they were just sheep--fit only for the slaughterhouse.
I never looked at those poor sheep without an acute
awareness that this was a precise picture of those wretched old
taskmasters, Sin and Satan, on their derelict ranch - scoffing at
the plight of those within their power.
(Today, a person so neglecting their service to animals can be
reported and have the authorities come and take them away from
such inhumane treatment. Even imposing fines for cruelty to
animals - Keith Hunt).
As I have moved among men and women from all strata of
society as both a lay pastor and as a scientist I have become
increasingly aware of one thing. It is the boss - the manager -
the Master in people's lives who makes the difference in their
destiny. I have known some of the wealthiest men on this
continent intimately - also some of the leading scientists and
professional people. Despite their dazzling outward show of
success, despite their affluence and their prestige, they
remained poor in spirit, shrivelled in soul, and unhappy in life.
They were joyless people held in the iron grip and heartless
ownership of the wrong master.
By way of contrast, I have numerous friends among relatively
poor people - people who have known hardship, disaster and the
struggle to stay afloat financially. But because they belong to
Christ and have recognized Him as Lord and Master of their lives,
their owner and manager, they are permeated by a deep, quiet,
settled peace that is beautiful to behold.
It is indeed a delight to visit some of these humble homes
where men and women are rich in spirit, generous in heart, and
large of soul. They radiate a serene confidence and quiet joy
that surmounts all the tragedies of their time.
They are under God's care and they know it. They have
entrusted themselves to Christ's control and found contentment.
Contentment should be the hallmark of the man or woman who has
put his or her affairs in the hands of God. This especially
applies in our affluent age. But the outstanding paradox is the
intense fever of discontent among people who are ever speaking of
Despite an unparalleled wealth in material assets we are
outstandingly insecure and unsure of ourselves and well nigh
bankrupt in spiritual values.
Always men are searching for safety beyond themselves. They
are restless, unsettled, covetous, greedy for more - wanting this
and that, yet never really satisfied in spirit.
By contrast the simple Christian, the humble person, the
Shepherd's sheep can stand up proudly and boast. "The Lord is my
Shepherd - I shall not want."
I am completely satisfied with His management of my life.
Why? Because He is the sheepman to whom no trouble is too great
as He cares for His flock. He is the rancher who is outstanding
because of His fondness for sheep - who loves them for their own
sake as well as His personal pleasure in them. He will, if
necessary, be on the job twenty-four hours a day to see that they
are properly provided for in every detail. Above all, He is very
jealous of His name and high reputation as "The Good Shepherd."
He is the owner who delights in His flock. For Him there is no
greater reward, no deeper satisfaction, than that of seeing His
sheep contented, well fed, safe and flourishing under His care.
This is indeed His very "life." He gives all He has to it. He
literally lays Himself out for those who are His.
He will go to no end of trouble and labor to supply them
with the finest grazing, the richest pasturage, ample winter
feed, and clean water. He will spare Himself no pains to provide
shelter from storms, protection from ruthless enemies and the
diseases and parasites to which sheep are so susceptible.
No wonder Jesus said, "I am the Good Shepherd - the Good
Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." And again "I am come
that ye might have life and that ye might have it more
From early dawn until late at night this utterly self-less
Shepherd is alert to the welfare of His flock. For the diligent
sheepman rises early and goes out first thing every morning
without fail to look over his flock. It is the initial, intimate
contact of the day. With a practiced, searching, sympathetic eye
he examines the sheep to see that they are fit and content and
able to be on their feet. In an instant he can tell if they have
been molested during the night, whether any are ill or if there
are some which require special attention.
Repeatedly throughout the day he casts his eye over the
flock to make sure that all is well.
Nor even at night is he oblivious to their needs. He sleeps
as it were "with one eye and both ears open" ready at the least
sign of trouble to leap up and protect his own.
This is a sublime picture of the care given to those whose
lives are under Christ's control. He knows all about their lives
from morning to night. "Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us
with benefits - even the God of our salvation." "He that keepeth
thee will not slumber or sleep."
In spite of having such a master and owner, the fact remains
that some Christians are still not content with His control. They
are somewhat dissatisfied, always feeling that somehow the grass
beyond the fence must be a little greener. These are carnal
Christians - one might almost call them "fence crawlers" or "half
Christians" who want the best of both worlds.
I once owned an ewe whose conduct exactly typified this sort
of person. She was one of the most attractive sheep that ever
belonged to me. Her body was beautifully proportioned. She had a
strong constitution and an excellent coat of wool. Her head was
clean, alert, well-set with bright eyes. She bore sturdy lambs
that matured rapidly.
But in spite of all these attractive attributes she had one
pronounced fault. She was restless - discontented - a fence
crawler. So much so that I came to call her "Mrs.Gad-about."
This one ewe produced more problems for me than almost all the
rest of the flock combined. No matter what field or pasture the
sheep were in, she would search all along the fences or shoreline
(we lived by the sea) looking for a loophole she could crawl
through and start to feed on the other side.
It was not that she lacked pasturage. My fields were my joy
and delight. No sheep in the district had better grazing.
With "Mrs.Gad-about" it was an ingrained habit. She was
simply never contented with things as they were. Often when she
had forced her way through some such spot in a fence or found a
way around the end of the wire at low tide on the beaches, she
would end up feeding on bare, brown, burned-up pasturage of a
most inferior sort.
But she never learned her lesson and continued to fence
crawl time after time.
Now it would have been bad enough if she was the only one
who did this. It was a sufficient problem to find her and bring
her back. But the further point was that she taught her lambs the
same tricks. They simply followed her example and soon were as
skilled at escaping as their mother.
Even worse, however, was the example she set the other
sheep. In a short time she began to lead others through the same
holes and over the same dangerous paths down by the sea. After
putting up with her perverseness for a summer I finally came to
the conclusion that to save the rest of the flock from becoming
unsettled, she would have to go. I could not allow one obstinate,
discontented ewe to ruin the whole ranch operation. It was a
difficult decision to make, for I loved her in the same way I
loved the rest. Her strength and beauty and alertness were a
delight to the eye.
But one morning I took the killing knife in hand and
butchered her. Her career of fence crawling was cut short. It was
the only solution to the dilemma.
She was a sheep, who in spite of all that I had done to give
her the very best care - still wanted something else. She was not
like the one who said, "The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not
It is a solemn warning to the carnal Christian - backslider
- the half-Christian - the one who wants the best of both worlds.
Sometimes in short order they can be cut down.
To be continued