An Ode To The Shepherd

An Ode to the Shepherd

For you to Ponder – Psalm 23

By Frans Ammerlaan, Sassafras Baptist 

Throughout our lives, events just seem to happen apparently at random. God teaches that there is nothing random about our lives and that He is always in control. 

In times of weariness rest comes ‘beside quiet waters’, always aware that the purposes of our lives are to be accomplished.  

It soon emerges that strength and struggle are the means by which we become capable of growing up and gathering character. 

David, the future king of Israel, was led through a shepherd’s job, to acquire skills and character traits which would prove extremely useful to him in later life.  

He was aware of this as shown in Psalm 23. In awe of God’s input into his life and affairs, he wrote ‘The Lord is my shepherd’.  This was his Ode to the Shepherd.

Of all the people in the world, he could speak with authority of this fact. Seeing the defeat of Goliath, in front of the Israeli army and King Saul.  

He was just a lad then, a teenager. How could the pebble slung from his sling hit Goliath exactly in the right place, with such force as to kill him instantly. Such a strong and huge man! The major threat at that time to the baby nation of Israel. David instinctively knew the God of Israel had enabled him.  

More than anything he began to think that the anointing he received was the new reality in his life. That the power of God was released in his declarations before Saul and his army. Somehow the words he spoke empowered the actions he took. 

A resistless force!

A force that operated flawlessly without his trying. He realised it was the power of God almighty. His confidence grew enormously at this demonstration of power. Hereafter he was never again the demure youngest son of Jesse. Never again to be bullied by Eliab or any of his older brothers. He now had power in his spoken words. 

David knew that the job of a shepherd was to totally care for sheep.

It taught him responsibility as he learnt to deal with their wayward natures. (Just as he had to deal with the men of Israel later when he was their King.) 

Even though sheep often got in trouble by walking off on their own, he loved their gentle and placid nature. As their shepherd he provided for all their needs and kept them safe. Especially at night when predators were about in the dark. These sheep were not even his. They were his father, Jesse’s. 

This psalm finds its source in that experience. I suspect he realised that the Lord was doing the same for him, in his life, as he did for his sheep, and he was grateful. No doubt reminding himself that the anointing he received was for God’s purposes and it made sense that everything he experienced was in accord with those. 

The Creator of the universe wants to be an intimate friend with us.

At times when David was exhausted and weary of the whole job he would cry out to the Lord. Then he would be reminded that the hardships he endured now would prepare him for an extraordinary destiny! That is true for all of us. 

He grew up in this relationship with God, which became intimate, mature and personal. They became good, trusted friends. He, the created, with the Creator.  

Since Jesus opened the door for us, such an amazing relationship is now available to all of us believers. Difficult as this may be to accept, truly the Creator of the universe wants to be an intimate friend with us. A relationship such as David’s!  What a thought! What a vision! 

Even though David strayed a number of times from the ‘straight and narrow’, his friend the almighty God of the Universe never abandoned the relationship. David was only corrected by Him when it was absolutely necessary. 

All of his needs were always met and provision for him was abundant.   This impressed him to the point of declaring:  

He makes me to lie down in green pastures; 
He leads me beside the still waters. 
He restores my soul… Psalm 23:2-3 (NKJV) 

In trusting, he must, like us, have wondered often where he was being led to. 

This special relationship with God, based on the evidence, found expression in his whole life and affairs. He then lists many of the major events in his life where the road ahead looked awful, but then saying in the next verse: He restores my soul

God kept him morally upright for His name’s sake; though David was reluctant at times. When threatened by having to walk through the ‘valley of the shadow of death’, he feared no evil.  

He knew that God was with him as he says, ‘Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me’.
The rod and staff being a means of support and defence.  

Before we wish that we were David, remember he was exposed to extreme life events which would have taken all his acumen to survive. (We are reminded of him being pursued by King Saul and having to hide from his continual jealous wrath). 

David then notes, in wonder, God’s preparing a table before him though surrounded by enemies. Historically, this happened literally many times. Ever since he was anointed with oil by the prophet of Israel, ‘You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Psalm 23:5 (NKJV) 

He could not be happier at that moment and is prompted to say:  

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6 (NKVJ) 

This is all we ever wish to do! 

The Lord is involved in every aspect of our lives.

You could say: How could this apply to us? He was anointed and God seemed almost visibly present and looking after him!  

We can and do say that with Jesus in our hearts we have the equivalent and an even better provision. All the things David said are now equally true for us. Of course, he was one of the very few who could experience God’s presence at all times before the Messiah came. 

Whilst God had to be ‘about’ David; Jesus is actually in us and will never forsake or leave those who have accepted Him as their Saviour. Really a much better deal!  

This psalm does show us how involved the Lord is in every aspect of our lives although perhaps not as often as demonstrated with David. Maybe we are not as physically surrounded by enemies who seek to devour us, but even so, we are surrounded by enemies we cannot see but which can be, and often are, equally deadly.  

The most poignant observations David makes come at the end of this wonderful Psalm. Acutely aware of God’s presence in every aspect of his many struggles, he is moved to cry out:  ‘You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Psalm 23:5 (NKJV) 

Such an expression of awesome and exceeding joy. I often wonder why we do not declare that more often. For us it is equally true. We just have to accept it by faith and then have it! 

He ends with an exultant exclamation:  

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6 (NKJV) 

A confident statement. A confidence based on experience. 

For us who are still here, we should find real encouragement and even peace in this public declaration. An awareness of similar life experiences and a Presence, which makes it often obvious that He has intervened in our lives. To save us from ourselves, most likely.  

What David said had direct bearing on the outcome of his actions

Often overlooked is the fact that David was quite aware that what he said had a direct bearing on the outcome of his actions. Classic is the case of the actions he took and what he said when he took on Goliath. Then follow a series of events so invaluably instructive for us now. Nothing has changed much since then in human attitudes and beliefs. 

Firstly, his brother Eliab, apparently suspicious of his baby brother saying that he knew David to be proud and insolent and that the real reason he came was to see the battle (1 Sam 17:28).  

Eliab did not know that this was the beginning of David’s ministry to the state of Israel. That he was really led by the Lord God. David’s confidence, particularly for one so young, is led to say to those just standing about: 

What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” 1 Sam 17:26 (NKJV)

King Saul said:  

You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.” 1 Sam 17:33 (NKJV) 

King Saul was quite unable to scare David into abandoning this ‘silly’ adventure in his eyes. 

A sense of abandonment to a positive outcome rests entirely on trust

Our life lessons come from what David then said, in faith, to the King: 

Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it. Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.”

Moreover, David said, “The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.
1 Samuel 17:34-37 (NKJV) 

This demonstration of sheer faith in his companion the Lord God, should not be any different in its application to our lives now. We too have this presence within us to be utterly relied on. This is a sense of abandonment to a predictable and positive outcome rests entirely on trust. A reliance, a faith or trust we have guaranteed within each saved believer in Jesus.

The process: David spoke it; he believed it absolutely; he did it and the result was what he expected, was there.  

This whole historical saga is recorded for our benefit as an example to follow: Say it; Do it; Receive it; Tell the world. Now, do so likewise! 

The whole of this psalm is testimony to the wonder of His grace, love and kindness. 

May God bless you always, 

Frans 

 

Frans Ammerlaan attends Sassafras Baptist. He is a published Author, Linguist, Journalist and Student. He plans to publish a book of devotionals he has written, this one included.

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