The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.
Do you know what I imagined for a shepherd? I imagined a shepherd walking in the lush, green hills, the ocean breeze cooling the sweat off his head. A shout away from his sister, who might run to him with a meal prepared by his mom, some rich stew, perhaps. I got the Middle East mixed up with "Heidi," or St. Francis!
David is talking about his land, not St. Patrick's. His Kingdom, at his death, roughly covered the Sinai peninsula to the south and current day Syria to the north, Jordan and a bit of Iraq. You can see on this map, how little of it is green. The rest, is "wilderness," or desert! The shepherd had to lead his animals through some rocky, rough terrain to find patches of green. What's with the geography lesson?
This is such a rich passage, and the analogies are striking. But here is what struck me Thanksgiving Sunday*, as I was worshipping in New England with my family:
The Shepherd has to lead His sheep through some dry, dusty land, some wilderness, to get to the green pastures. That is the reality of that land. Roughly the southern half of the Kingdom is the Negev! Probably, the more accurate picture is at left.
But surely, He will lead me. During the passage, He might need to take his staff and trip me or jerk my neck around to keep me to Himself. It probably won't feel good. But He will keep me safe. Safe? Children bullying my son? Surgery? The prospect of cancer?
I am in the wilderness, and He will keep me safe. He knows me by my name. I am one little sheep and He will take account of me. He will not let me go.
And then I shall rest in green pastures, for His name's sake.
*Thanks to Pastor O'Leary, of First Presbyterian Church Northshore, Ipswich, MA.