A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
Being a Texan could be bitter-sweet. People say that everything is big in Texas. That’s good! Yet “once upon a time” an uncle of mine who lived in San Francisco thought that Texas was all about cowboys, cows, sheep, and ranches. He thought that Dallas did not have Sam’s Club since Dallas is in Texas – the wild wild West. I was starting to wonder if I was the villager … or he was 🙂
Regardless, most of us -Texans or not – are familiar with the Wild West – the old days of Texas when cowboys were roaming around with their hats, boots, lassos, and revolvers. Some are old enough to watch John Wayne who has become an icon of a tough cowboy – the standoffs and bar fights. Yet truth be told, the main responsibility of cowboys was to take care of and guide herd of cows and horses. They used lassos to ensure that their herd remained on track. They pulled out their revolvers to protect the cows from wild beasts of the field and robbers.
David was a great warrior king of Israel. Before he was anointed to his kingship, he was a shepherd. While one may think that little sheep are easier to handle than big cows, it is not so. Sheep have a tendency to get distracted and wander around aimlessly. And sheep are more attractive for the predators – such as wolves and lions in the ancient Israel – since they are easier to subdue. In fact, a shepherd, just as a cowboy, needs to be a good caregiver and protector. It is no wonder that many great emperors of the ancient such as Hammurabi of Babylon proudly named themselves ‘the Shepherd’ of their people. Called to be a shepherd-king himself (2 Sam 5:2), David called God his shepherd and himself a sheep. When he wrote this psalm, it is likely that he was driven out of his palace by the rebellion of his own son Absalom. In the midst of this chaotic coup, King David found peace by knowing that God, Yahweh, was his shepherd who took care of and provided for him. David knew very well what this meant. Yet we now know something that David didn’t. The Son of David whom David also called Lord (Ps 110:1) later said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).
Green pasture …. There is something soothing about green grassy field and still waters. While we don’t eat grass or drink from oasis like Near Eastern sheep, we like to be around those. Houses have green sods planted around them simply for looks. We pay for lawn services to keep our yards tidy and grass mowed. Properly placed decorative pools add values to our properties. So it’s not far fetching to say that ‘green pastures’ and ‘still waters’ have multiple values: not only as physical sustenance for animals but also as spiritual sight for mankind.
When David used the images of ‘green pastures’ and ‘still waters’ in relation to sheep and the shepherd, he wanted to tell us that the Lord provides for us our basic daily needs: physical and spiritual. He might not have had our modern-day American outlook. Yet the basic message is clear. In terms of our needs, we are completely dependent upon God’s providence and direction just as the flock upon the shepherd.
In the Gospels, we find the setting of field with green grasses in the story of Jesus’ miracle feeding the 5000. As Jesus was about to perform the miracles of feeding 5000 hungry people with five loaves and two fish, he asked the crowd to lie down (or recline in literal translation) on the grassy ground (Matt 14:19, Mark 6:39, John 6:10) which conjures up the image of this psalm. Those who listened to Jesus’ preaching at the time were like sheep listening to their shepherd. In the same story it was said that Jesus had compassion on them since they were like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). So what happened there? Jesus wanted them to rest while waiting for him to give them sustenance. Sustenance surely restores our body and soul. Yet our Lord also provides a peaceful rest for us.
“The Lord is my shepherd”. When you hear this psalm, what do you have in mind? Do you feel peace that surpasses understanding? Do you feel secure in the midst of uncertainties and troubles, natural disasters, family issues, sickness, job securities? Do you trust him, our Lord who laid down his own life for us on the cross? Do we find our needs satisfied and our rest in God? Or do we wander from the path that he has set for us, thinking that we will find our satisfaction and rest somewhere else?
The flock knows that the shepherd knows the best. But in our rebellious tendency, we often think that we ourselves know what’s best for us. Yet we will do well if we trust the One who loves us before the world was created since he is our good shepherd who restores our soul. For in him we lack nothing.