One of my all-time favorite books is A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller, in which the author, as a shepherd, shares the traits and habits of sheep and attributes of Jesus, our Good Shepherd. [Except where indicated, all quotes about “sheep” are from Keller’s book.]
John 10: 11 & 3-4. [Jesus said] I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep…and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice
“The sheep pen was a round or square space enclosed by stone walls topped with briars or vines. The sheepfold had one entrance that a doorkeeper guarded. The door was the opening through which the sheep entered and exited. In Jesus’ day there was one large, central pen, or sheepfold, in a given community, and at the end of the day people brought their small individual flocks and led them into the big sheepfold. With their combined resources, they paid a gatekeeper, and it was his job to stay with the sheep during the night.”
“In the morning, the gatekeeper opened the gate to those who were truly shepherds, whose sheep were enclosed in the sheepfold. The shepherds entered by the door, for they had every right to do—the sheep were his and the gatekeeper was their paid servant. When a shepherd entered the sheepfold, the sheep of all the local flocks were mixed, but he began to call, and his sheep recognized his voice and came to him. In fact, a shepherd was so intimately involved with the care of his sheep that he had names for them, and he would call them by name. The sheep followed because they knew him.” R. C. Sproul
John 10: 4 Jesus walks ahead of his sheep. In this way, He knows what dangers are ahead and can lead them to places of food, water, and rest.
Psalm 23: 1 The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.
This “want” is not only… I “do not lack anything.” It also means “I am utterly content.”
From early dawn until late at night this utterly selfless shepherd is alert to the welfare of his flock. He goes out early to look over the flock. He examines the sheep to see they are fit and content and able to be on their feet. Throughout the day he casts his eye over the flock. At night he sleeps “with one eye and both ears open” ready to leap up and protect his own.
Psalm 23: 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
Because of their makeup it is almost impossible for sheep to lie down unless four requirements are met.
- They must be free from fear.
- They must be free from tension (friction with others of their own kind).
- They must be free of aggravation (pests or parasites).
- They must be free from hunger.
Fear of predators: The presence of their master and owner and protector puts them at ease as nothing else could do, and this applies day and night. In the Christian’s life there is no substitute for the keen awareness that my Shepherd is nearby.
Fear of tension in the flock: The sheep cannot lie down and rest in contentment if there is friction in the flock. They must stand and defend their rights and contest the challenge of the intruder. The sheep become edgy, tense, discontented and restless. Whenever the shepherd comes into view, the sheep forget their foolish rivalries and stop fighting. When our eyes are on our Master, they are not on those around us.
Fear of pests: Sheep can be driven mad by flies and ticks. Only the diligent care of the owner will prevent pests from annoying his flock. He will use repellents and will dip his sheep to clear their fleece. This is one of the main functions of the Holy Spirit. He is often symbolized by oil—by that which brings healing and comfort and relief.
Once oil had been applied to the sheep’s head, there was an immediate change in behavior. Gone was the aggravation, the frenzy, the irritability, and restlessness. It is the small irritations and annoyances that become burning issues that can drive us round the bend. There must be a continuous anointing of God’s Spirit to counteract the ever-present aggravations of life.
Fear of hunger: Green pastures do not happen by chance. They are the result of clearing rough, rocky land, tearing out brush and roots and stumps, or plowing and preparation, of seeding and planting., or irrigating.
“It is easy to say that the Lord has been our Shepherd in the past. It may not be so easy to say that He is our Shepherd in the present, and will be our Shepherd in the future. It is not for me to sit down, and make a plan of all I mean to do next week, or next month, and so on through all my life. I have no right to forestall my troubles, or to begin to calculate my future needs. I am bound to live in simple dependence upon God. I must remember that I am not my own shepherd, and that I am not to guide myself any more than the sheep is to guide itself—but that I am to look to my great Shepherd.” Charles Spurgeon