I have recently finished rereading one of my all-time favorite books, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller. What a journey!
Keller, as a younger man, was an honest-to-goodness shepherd in east Africa. He worked the land to prepare for his flock, toiled to earn the money to buy his flock, and takes the reader into that world of a selfless, unflinching man who was willing to not only die for his sheep, but live every moment for them. He would have to keep the most careful eye out; a lost or hurt sheep could die within minutes.
Sheep are stupid. There’s no nice word for them. Stupid, stupid, stupid. One ewe Keller talks about was constantly wiggling under his fence to go to another pasture. In Sheep World, that’s a big no-no. Even worse, she taught her lambs how to do it. She could have led her own babies to their death, and wouldn’t have batted an eye. Another sheep might be reaching for a blade of grass and fall off a cliff in its quest. Still another might bash its brother’s head in while competing for a female, and kill both rams.
But…aren’t I the same?
The title of the book reminds me that this isn’t about a shepherd’s woe-is-me-isms. This is to enlighten those of us who don’t live in shepherding country about the different aspects of a shepherd–and a sheep’s–life. David, when he wrote this psalm, wrote in terms the people understood then. They knew the dangers of being in the hills alone with the herd and facing down a ravenous bear with nothing more than a staff and a stick. They knew how the shepherd had to always be ready to cradle a lamb or force apart two stubborn males or spend hours trying to get a cast sheep back on its feet. (A cast sheep is one that’s fallen upside down into a groove in the ground and could die quickly. Restoring this sheep is no easy or quick task.)
And David himself tells us in the first verse, “The Lord is my shepherd.” He puts himself in the place of the sheep. There is a Shepherd greater than he. And David is proud to be a sheep–a stupid, headstrong, twitchy sheep–under his care!
I could go on for hours about everything Keller discussed. Suffice it to say, I started this book feeling more than a little lost, much like a lamb that ran off to find some new grass and found itself far from the herd. And now, I know how weak, foolish, and helpless I am. And I’m so very very glad that my Shepherd is as good as David wrote.