Resting – Sheep and Shepherds

sheep sleep

He makes me lie down in green pastures.  Psalm 23:2a

Sheep will lie down when they are:

  • free from fear
  • free from friction (within the flock)
  • free of pests (flies, parasites, etc.)
  • free from hunger

The shepherd makes it possible for sheep to lie down, to rest, to be quiet, content, and relaxed.

* Free from fear

Sheep are timid and can be panicked so very easily.  A jackrabbit can bound before a flock, sending them all into a stampede.  Most do not know what they are fleeing, but follow in fright.

  • Sheep are quieted and reassured when they actually see their shepherd, knowing he or she is near.

* Free from friction

Sheep, like most animals, have an order of dominance within the flock.  Shepherds call this the “butting order.”  This may bring tension, rivalry, conflict, even cruelty within the flock.  The sheep are always ready to defend their place in that order or against intruders.

  • The shepherd’s presence calms them.  They tend to forget their contests and discontent.  The less aggressive sheep will be more content as well as more restful and calm.  Sheep do not need to defend themselves when the shepherd is around.

* Free from pests

Sheep can be tormented by a number of insects and parasites.  It is virtually impossible for them to lie down and rest when this occurs.  They are shaking their heads, stamping around, always up on their feet.

  • A good shepherd is diligent to keep his flock free from these pests.  Insect repellents, dips, and other methods of care are most important to the sheep’s health.  The shepherd is in and among his flock, keeping a watchful eye for problems.  He wants to catch them early so as not to allow them to spread or cause serious disease in the flock.  He is there to provide relief.

* Free from hunger

Sheep will remain on their feet as long as they are hungry.  They are not content while they search for food.

  • David was a shepherd boy before he was a king.  He raised his father’s flocks in an arid, barren land.  Green pastures of rich foliage needed to be produced in such a place.  A shepherd works hard to clear land of rocks and brush.  The land is then plowed and prepared for seeds of grass, grain and legumes.  Watering the grasses is part of this preparation.  The sheep need to be moved from one pasture to another as they will eat the grasses down to stubble, even into the root, if left in one area for too long.  When sheep have this land of plenty, they flourish for they fill up quickly and then will lie down to rest and ruminate.

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How does our Shepherd, Jesus Christ, guide us into rest?

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.  Psalm 4:8

* Free from fear

We live in a world where anxiety, fear, and stress often knock upon our doors.  We can dwell upon these things or we can rest in the Lord.  When we are in the midst of those overwhelming feelings, it is truly hard to draw near to the One Who shepherds us.  We tend to run without knowing what we run from or stand still while shaking in our boots.   Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit Who reassures us that Christ is near, has all things under His control.  We do not need to do anything but rest in Him.

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.  2 Timothy 1:7

“It is the special office work of God’s gracious Spirit to convey this sense of the Christ to our fearful hearts.  He comes quietly to reassure us that Christ Himself is aware of our dilemma and deeply involved in it with us.”  W. Phillip Keller

* Free from friction

We also can live in friction.  We struggle with competition, keeping up with our neighbors, jealousy, hatred, rivalry, covetousness, and discontent.  When we are near to our Shepherd, in prayer, in reading His Word, in communion, in love, His Presence takes the discontent, hatred, and all else away.  Abiding in the One Who is worthy to be praised removes those feelings because we are praising Him, loving Him, and walking with Him.

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.  He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.  But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  1 Timothy 6:3-7

And He said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  Luke 12:15

“It is the humble heart walking quietly and contentedly in the close and intimate companionship of Christ that is at rest, that can relax, simply glad to lie down and let the world go by.  When my eyes are on my Master they are not on those around me.  This is the place of peace.”   W. Phillip Keller

* Free from pests

We live with many small irritations, things that “bug” us.  They may include disagreements with family members or friends, frustrations in traffic or at work, irritations that keep us awake at night.  Our tendency is to hash and rehash things while they keep us restless.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.  Romans 8:26-28

We have been given the Holy Spirit for intercession.  He is there for us.

“In Scripture He is often symbolized by oil — by that which brings healing and comfort and relief from harsh and abrasive aspects of life.  The gracious Holy Spirit makes real in me the very presence of Christ.  He brings quietness, serenity, strength and calmness in the face of frustrations and futility.”  W. Phillip Keller 

Resting in the Shepherd  by trusting Him with our cares and concerns is vital.

* Free from hunger

We have been given salvation and life in Christ.  He is our Shepherd, the Good Shepherd.  We have been given the gift to move from our sin into a life of overcoming victory.  Jesus desires a life of abundant joy and contentment for us if we will come to Him.  He will provide those green pastures.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”  Matthew 5:6

Jesus said to them, “I am the Bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.”  John 6:35

“How He works to clear the life of rocks of stoney unbelief.  How He tries to tear out the roots of bitterness.  He attempts to break up the hard, proud human heart that is set like sun-dried clay.  He then sows the seed of His own precious Word, which, if given half a chance to grow, will produce rich crops of contentment and peace.  He waters this with the dews and rain of His own presence by the Holy Spirit.  He tends and cares and cultivates the life, longing to see it become rich and green and productive.”  W. Phillip Keller

Our Good Shepherd prepares and then leads us to the lush green pastures where we can feed on His Word and rest in Him.

Will we follow Him there?

Will we obey His lead?

Father, I pray that this is so.  I ask You to open our eyes to the One Who gave His life for us.  He is our Shepherd.  I pray that we will obediently follow Him to these beautiful pastures of His loving care.  I pray that we will feed upon Your Word ravenously.  I pray that we will know the feeling of fulfillment so that our time of rest is calm, peaceful, filled with contentment.  Thank You, Father, for the words and thoughts of Mr. Keller for he has taught beautifully while Your Word is a fountain of knowledge from You.  I am grateful for this pasture.  I lie in it more often than not.  May I call upon Your Holy Spirit when I stray, finding myself lost.  I want to lie in it always.  Thank You, Lord, for being my Shepherd.  Thank You for Your forgiveness.  You are Beautiful to me, Lord Jesus.  I pray in Your Holy Name.  Amen.

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Photo 1:  https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=sheep+lie+down&view=detailv2&&id=9BC7072561ABB6981FAA1618A883ACE23BB9525E&selectedIndex=33&ccid=8gPrAn%2fY&simid=608030665586708327&thid=OIP.Mf203eb027fd81a768de47d6d20879251H0&ajaxhist=0

Photo 2: by Biegun Wschodni  https://unsplash.com/photos/vD3L-rN_qNw

and http://www.biegunwschodni.pl/?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash

Quotes from A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm by W. Phillip Keller

W. Phillip Keller, author of A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm, is due credit for the outline of this post. The 4 points of freedom are from this book.

Thirst – Sheep and Shepherds

He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.  Psalm 23:2

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“Water determines the vitality, strength, and vigor of the sheep and is essential to its health and general well-being.”  **

The physical body of sheep, of all animals, of all human beings, is made aware of a lack of water by thirst.  When a physical body has not had enough water, dehydration, weakness, and serious other problems and/or damages can occur.

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Interestingly, sheep do not require a pond or a water trough fed by a deep well in order to obtain the right amount of water for their physical well-being.  Sheep can even go for months without actually drinking.  Yet, they need water more often than “going for months without” might imply.  A very important source of water for sheep is a heavy dew on the grass…the pasture.  Sheep will usually begin feeding just before dawn.  They may also feed at night fall when the moon is bright.  If circumstances are right for dew, the grass would be drenched at those hours, making the sheep’s intake of water a feast enough for their bodies’ needs.

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In order for sheep to have enough grass upon which to feed, the shepherd leads them to the pastures that have a fresh growth of grass and a stream with clean, clear water nearby.  He knows just where he is leading them for exactly what they need so that the sheep remain healthy.

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When sheep become thirsty, they become restless, setting out on their own if the shepherd leaves them to their own devices.  They may end up at a mud hole or at a water supply that is contaminated.  Consequently, they may end up with internal parasites or other disease germs.

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The Good Shepherd will lead us, as well.  He knows where “the quiet, deep, clean, pure water is to be found that can satisfy His sheep and keep them fit.”

Dew is such a beautiful picture of the still waters as they hang heavy as water droplets. Looking into a droplet, a tiny reflection can be seen in its clarity.  May we see clearly as we look into our souls and see that we need Jesus.  

Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the LORD, for My people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken Me,
the Fountain of Living Waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.  Jeremiah 2:12-13
 

I went my our own way.  I tried to do things my way.  I did not even look for anyone (or any One) to help me.  I drank muddy water.  I wandered aimlessly into fields where there was no water for my thirst.  Oh, so many times I searched for something I thought I needed or wanted in my life only to find that I was lost.  I had gone the wrong way, hewing out my own way, my own cistern.  I became broken.  I could not do things myself without becoming hungry or thirsty.  I needed Jesus.  I needed a Shepherd.

For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.  1 Peter 2:25

Little did I know that I needed Him to lead me in His ways…to those still, clear, refreshing waters where I could be refreshed and made whole.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  John 7:37-38

διψάω

dipsaō

to suffer thirst, suffer from thirst

  • figuratively, those who are said to thirst who painfully feel their want of, and eagerly long for, those things by which the soul is refreshed, supported, strengthened

When one drinks, she/he takes in, accepts, believes.  When I drank of the Living Waters, the life of Christ became a part of me.  I believed and asked Him to be my LORD and Savior. The closer I walk with my Shepherd, the more I become like Jesus.  I do not thirst.  My Shepherd quenches all thirst as long as I stay close.

Jesus said to them, “I am the Bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.  John 6:35

Thirsty souls are only quenched in Jesus, by Jesus, through Jesus.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”  Matthew 5:6

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Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  John 4:13-15

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I will heal their apostasy;
I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned from them.

I will be like the dew to Israel;
he shall blossom like the lily;
he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon;
his shoots shall spread out;
his beauty shall be like the olive,
and his fragrance like Lebanon.  Hosea 14:4-6
Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.  

…from an old hymn, “Dear Lord and Father Of Mankind,” by John Greenleaf Whitter

When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I, the LORD, will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.  Isaiah 41:17

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.  (Hebrew 13:20-21)   Father God, I pray the words of Hebrew as my own and thank You for breathing new life into me through Your Son.  You led this sheep to water and I thirst no more.  I am sorry when I stray.  As I age, it seems I am doing that less and less.  I praise You for loving this sheep and never losing me.  I thank You and praise Your Name through Christ.  Amen.

 

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** quotes by W. Phillip Keller in “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23”
Photo: Dew17

Cast Down — Sheep and Shepherds

שָׁחַח

shachach

to sink or depress:—bend, bow (down), bring (cast) down, couch, crouch, humble self, be (bring) low, stoop

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If a sheep falls over, they have a very difficult time getting back up on their feet.  Their legs will be flailing in the air; they may cry and bleat.  More than likely though, the sheep will flail, be frightened and quiet, attempting to return to an upright position with little success. This position is referred to as “cast down.”

Their bodies are built in such a way that after several hours in this position, gas collects in their four-compartment stomach, which then hardens.  Then, the air passage becomes cut off, and the sheep will eventually suffocate if not righted in time.

The helpless are crushed, sink down,
and fall by his might.  Psalm 10:10

One of the ways a sheep can become cast is by looking for a soft, hollowed spot to lie down. Once down in there, a sheep can easily roll over on its back.

Another way it may end up cast is if the wool has become too thick.  If it lies down, even on a flat place, the thick wool may cause the sheep to roll over too far, becoming stuck in that cast position.  If the shepherd is tending to his sheep, he would be shearing them regularly and this should not happen.  But a sheep can escape from the watch of its shepherd and then may become lost.

Sheep also may get into blackberry brambles for munching or sidle up next to a barbed wire fence to rub.  In either cases, the wool may get caught.  If it should try to escape, but, instead, rolls over in the struggle, it would be cast.

Upside down sheep
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him,
my salvation and my God.  Psalm 42:11 

David often used the words “cast down” in the Psalms.  David had been a shepherd boy.  He knew the ways of sheep and he knew what a good shepherd must do to tend to his flock. Many of the Psalms were written during times of duress for David: enemies after him, his people disobedient, his own disobedience, wars, and so much more…David understood what it meant to be as a sheep cast down.  When we feel as though we cannot get up from where we have managed to get ourselves stuck, we are cast down or feel such anyway.

When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, evil, and sorrow, He pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes; but He raises up the needy out of affliction and makes their families like flocks.  The upright see it and are glad, and all wickedness shuts its mouth.  Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.  Psalm 107:39-43

 

W. Philip Keller wrote a powerful little book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, a classic now.  He writes from the perspective of a shepherd.  He actually was one for a number of years. When a shepherd restores a cast down sheep, he gives it reassurance; he massages its legs to restore circulation; he turns the sheep over gently, all the while reassuring it with the shepherd’s gentle touch and familiar voice.  He lifts the sheep up and holds it close while it gains its equilibrium back.

Mr. Keller paints a word-picture of a shepherd and his flock.  He also draws another word-picture of what our Good Shepherd wants to do for us.  Being on our backs, flailing because of sin, of guilt, of grief, of being unable to forgive or having someone unable to forgive us, our loving Shepherd is there to reassure us with His gentle touch and His grace.  He lifts us up, and holds us while we become spiritually balanced once again.

He restores my soul.  Psalm 23:3

God can and will restore us.  He wants us to be free of anything holding us down and making us less than who and what He created us to be.

When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Matthew 9:36

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LORD, You are my Shepherd.  I am your sheep.  I try to do things in my own strength at times, without You.  But I truly cannot do anything without You, LORD.  When I wander into the prickly brambles of this world, into ways not of You, plans that are mine rather than Yours, actions that are not upright, words that leak from my mouth that say that I am a foolish person or a lier or hurtful, passions of mine that are not full of compassion, or sounds from my heart that may not be heard by any human, but are heard by You…I am sorry, LORD.  I look for those hollow, soft places that I think will make life easier, or will take the sorrow away, or will help to convince me that what I just did or said was alright when it was not.  I carry the wool over my body to hide what I am ashamed of or I pull the wool over eyes so that they do not know what I have done or who I might pretend to be.  I run away from my Shepherd because I want to do things my way, to run in the pastures of my own choosing.  All of these ways lead me to become cast down.  It is You, my Shepherd, Who can see that I am on my back without a way to right myself.  It is You, my Shepherd, Who will gently love me so that when You place me back on my feet, I can stand and walk again.  I can stand uprightly before those who love me for the one that You created.  They can see me as I am because I abide in You.  You carry me across Your shoulders so that I may become connected to You once again.  Oh, my Shepherd, You bring me home.  You love me and will never forsake me.  You remind me of Whose I am and Who You are to me.  I praise You, my Shepherd.  In the Good Shepherd’s Name, I pray.  Amen.

 

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Photo – Cast down sheep

Sheep and Shepherds

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  Psalm 23:1

רָעָה

ra`ah

shepherd

to tend a flock; i.e. pasture it; intransitively, to graze (literally or figuratively); generally to rule; by extension, to associate with (as a friend):—× break, companion, keep company with, devour, eat up, evil entreat, feed, use as a friend, make friendship with, herdman, keep (sheep) (-er), pastor, shearing house, shepherd, wander, waste.

occurs 173 times in 144 verses in the Hebrew concordance of the KJV

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I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  John 10:11

ποιμήν

poimēn

a shepherd (literally or figuratively):—shepherd, pastor

occurs 18 times in 17 verses in the Greek concordance of the KJV

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Sheep do not have the ability to survive on their own.  They:

  • graze the same area until the pasture is destroyed.
  • pollute the same ground until it breeds dangerous parasites.
  • drink whatever water is available, clear or contaminated.
  • are fearful and become aggravated which can lead to improperly digesting foods.
  • are timid.
  • and can be stubborn.

They need a shepherd.

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Christians are compared to sheep quite frequently in God’s Word.

We wander down paths of our own devising rather than follow God’s way for our lives.  We delve into false beliefs.  We drink from unhealthy waters, figuratively.  We can be stubborn and fight against God’s best.

Looking at the natural habits of sheep when left on their own can be a reflection of ourselves.

Jesus is our Shepherd.  He is the Christ, the Son of God.  He created me and you.  Who better to care for me, for us?  He cared more than anything for the likes of me when He went to Calvary.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on Him
the iniquity of us all.  Isaiah 53:6

We are capable of doing right, yet often fail in our attempts using our own strength.  We drink waters of the world rather than the Living Water.  We live in fear rather than trusting in Him Who is trustworthy.  We wander away from our Maker and do not listen for His still, small voice directing us in the way in which we should go.

When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Matthew 9:36

Jesus is our faithful Shepherd, gentle, caring, and, yet, stern.

A shepherd owns his sheep and marks them with his special mark to determine ownership.  He will cut a notch, a distinctive mark, into his sheep’s ear while placing one ear on a wooden block.

In the Old Testament, Exodus 21, this was also done to a slave in a Hebrew household who chose, of his own free will, to become a lifetime member of that home.  His master/owner would take him to the door, put his ear lobe against the door post and, with an awl, puncture a hole through the ear.  He was marked.

1 “Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.  Exodus 21:1-6

We, as Christ’s, bear the mark of the Cross.  Jesus has authority over me.

Then Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.  Matthew 16:24

We need the Good Shepherd, the One Who truly is our Shepherd.

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the door.  If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.  10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  11 I am the good Shepherd.  The good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.  12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.  14 I am the good Shepherd.  I know My own and My own know Me, 15 just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice.  So there will be one flock, one Shepherd.  John 10:7-16

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Father God, You gave Your One and Only Son to pay the price for my iniquities.  Thank You so very much.  

As one of Your children, I so want to please You.  Carrying my cross daily and following Jesus is my call.  And I want that to always be my call.  I am grateful for being willing and able, for the sake of the Gospel.  I follow.  It is a privilege, LORD.  A privilege.  

As a sheep, I would wish that I were not so vulnerable, but I am.  It is by staying in Your Word, by listening to and for You, by praying, that I can remain in Your fold.  I know that the good Shepherd guards the gateway so that I remain safe.  He watches for the wolves, protecting me.  I am dependent upon Jesus and look to Him.  I am sorry for my past periods of straying away.  I am here now.  I must stay close for His protection is vital to my life.  Thank You, Father.  I lift up in prayer those who stray or are lost or have not yet found the Shepherd.  May they hear Your Voice and come to You before it is too late.  I have family and friends in those places and I so want them with us in Heaven.  In the Name of Jesus, I pray.  Amen.  

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Photo of shepherd and sheep

Photo of John 10