I just finished reading Psalm 23 (the Shepherd’s Psalm) this morning during “coffee with the Lord.” As always with very well-known passages of Scripture, there is a risk… The risk is familiarity! We rush through them saying to ourselves, “I already know what this passage is about!” and we read past them or over them. In fact, many of us, have a passage like Psalm 23 memorized from childhood!
That is why I recommend something called “innocence of eye” when reading and reflecting on a passage like the 23rd Psalm. Ask my Bible Study students over the years what that means and they will tell you that it means we read passages like this, “as though we had never seen them before as a deliberate and conscious act.”
So today I tried to do that with Psalm 23… And here’s the challenge I faced… Maybe you can help me with it… The imagery of this Psalm is challenging for “moderns” – It is the image of the “shepherd” (and not just any shepherd – an ancient Bedouin shepherd! First of all, we didn’t live back then… and secondly, we have not had an opportunity to observe a Bedouin shepherd in action with a flock of sheep. Now we have “shepherds” where I come from in Montana – but most of them do their “shepherding” from the saddle of a horse… A Bedouin shepherd would NEVER “shepherd” that way! … You don’t “drive” sheep, you “lead” them! Oh, I wish it were possible to watch an ancient Bedouin shepherd in action – even be out on a Judean hillside with him over an extended period of time! I’ll bet after that experience Psalm 23 would mean a whole lot more to me!
But I can’t do that… So when it came to the imagery of this Psalm today I just had to depend on my imagination and reflection – as well as the words the Psalmist used. So what modern imagery might help us here? I went through several possibilities… “caregiver, leader, parent…” (You may have some good ideas as well to add). The best I could come up with was “A loving, caring parent of a large family” (You are aware, aren’t you, that the Psalm says, “The Lord is MY Shepherd” (i.e. He provides PERSONAL care within His loving concern for a large group)!
And then these wonderful words with profound significance… “I shall not want… He leads me… He restores… even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death [i.e. a valley as dark as death]… no fear… a prepared ‘table’ in the presence of my enemies… an ‘anointed’ head… an ‘overflowing cup’… goodness and mercy following me… and finally, dwelling in the house of the Lord forever!” Stuff to chew on – reflect on – for a long time! Rich, rich, profound imagery!
Take it from me… I’m still trying to practice “innocence of eye” on this one – still searching for the best of modern imagery to correspond with “shepherd” – and still soaking up all the Spirit-led significance I can to the descriptive terms for what the Lord [“my Shepherd”] does and provides! Listen, I’m just really glad “the Lord is MY shepherd!”