“The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.”
The above is the opening of David’s psalm 23, a song he wrote about the Lord’s shepherding role in his life. David has lived as a shepherd boy, and he knows what it means to be a shepherd. In his experience of shepherding, David realised that just as the sheep needs a shepherd, we too need a shepherd and that is the LORD God Almighty.
As a shepherd, David’s caring experience over the flock is that which he sees God perform in his life. When the Philistines were terrorising Israel, and the giant Goliath before whom all the Israelite soldiers appeared like young boys always roared and there was no one who could volunteer to fight him, David offered himself. He was despised by his brothers who actually wandered why he came to the battle field. His elder brother asked; “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness?” he continued to rebuke him, “I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.” (1 Samuel 17:28).
However, he insisted that he could fight Goliath. So he was presented before the king – Saul for examination and commissioning for the battle against the Philistines, more so, Goliath. Appearing before the king, Saul like David’s brother couldn’t think the young boy was that kind who can face Goliath. He despised David as a young inexperienced boy in these words: “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” (1 King 17:33).
Nevertheless, David knowing his experience in the wilderness as a shepherd insisted to be given a chance for the battle. He replied the king, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear…” (1 Kings 17:34-36). I wanted to show you David’s experience as a shepherd, how he rescued the sheep from attack even from the hands of ferocious animals like lion and bear. He didn’t only rescue the sheep but even killed the attacker.
Who or what is a shepherd?
Synonymous to the word shepherd are the words marshal, drive, guide, steer, propel or direct. Literally, to be a shepherd means to perform actions described by these verbs. Meriam Webster dictionary defines a shepherd as “a person whose job is to take care of sheep” or “a person who tends sheep.” The Hebrew origin for the word shepherd is רֹעִי (roi).
The role of a shepherd
Commenting on the role of a shepherd, Easton writes:
The duties of a shepherd in an unenclosed country like Palestine were very onerous. “In early morning he led forth the flock from the fold, marching at its head to the spot where they were to be pastured. Here he watched them all day, taking care that none of the sheep strayed, and if any for a time eluded his watch and wandered away from the rest, seeking diligently till he found and brought it back. In those lands sheep require to be supplied regularly with water, and the shepherd for this purpose has to guide them either to some running stream or to wells dug in the wilderness and furnished with troughs. At night he brought the flock home to the fold, counting them as they passed under the rod at the door to assure himself that none were missing. Nor did his labours always end with sunset. Often he had to guard the fold through the dark hours from the attack of wild beasts, or the wily attempts of the prowling thief (see 1 Samuel 17:34 ).”
In this six versed psalm David mediates on several ways in which the Lord shepherds him and I would like to mention a few.
The Lord, the shepherd provides water and pasture
Good healthy sheep are not just an accident, they are raised by providing good pasture and water for them daily. David always did this for his flock and he sees this what God equally does for him. He writes: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quite waters, he refreshes my soul…” (Psalm 23: 2-3). In my boyhood, my father had a good number of sheep in the flock. Every day, we had to take the sheep to the jungles where there is enough pasture and lead them to have enough water too. This was our daily routine and it was not a good experience during dry season when the pasture dries and gets burned, even available rivers and streams dry up and we had to drive the flock several miles in search of pasture and water under the scorching sun. The wet seasons often had enough pasture and water, however, we were often beaten by heavy tropical rains, occasionally with hailstorm.
We are like sheep unto the Lord, on several occasions, the bible always refers to God’s people as a flock and God the shepherd. If God is shepherd over us, then he is responsible for our daily bread and water. Jesus had a very long discourse on this matter in Matthew chapter 6. At Jesus’ time which also is true in our time, people often worried of these three things; food, drinks and clothes. He asked the people not to worry about what they will eat or drink or wear. He points us to look at the life of birds of the air who neither sow nor reap or store in barns, yet God supplies there needs every day.
We are being compared to sheep but we are not sheep, we are human beings. We have the capacity endowed on us by God to constructively manipulate our environment such that we can have food, drinks and clothes to wear. We shouldn’t therefore just sit and wait for God to miraculously provide breakfast, lunch and dinner on our tables. Neither do we have to just expect clothes to drop from above to cover us. We have our obligations to work in order to get these things, God had put Adam and Eve in Eden to work and till it and commissioned them over the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, the fish of the water and all fruit bearing plants and everything. Right from the word go, we have been commissioned to work.
How then does God become our shepherd if we are to work for our food, drinks and clothes. First, he has endowed us with wisdom for work much more than other creatures have. The ability to work, the wisdom to work has been generously given unto all mankind regardless of whether we acknowledge God or not. We are to use these abilities and wisdom to make food for ourselves. We should be able to dig and farm that we may have food. Laziness is condemned by the bible. Paul tells Timothy that those who do not provide for their own households are even worse than unbelievers. In another letter to the Thessalonians, he says that those who don’t work must not eat. It is therefore proper that we work such that we can provide food for ourselves. Remembering that God has endowed us with the hands, the legs, the wisdom to work.
Secondly, God has given us the natural resources that should help us work for our food and daily needs. Many of us live in countries with good fertile soils. Others have plenty of waters in form of rivers, lakes, oceans and seas. They contain God’s creatures which he has given us as food. We have plants and animals at our discretion. Who made the soil? who commanded the waters to gather into lakes, seas and rivers? Who has put the animals in the waters? God did it that we may have them as food and live. As a shepherd, he has provided for us, as his people, we have the obligation to have them on our tables for food.
Thirdly, God gives the sun, water and air that whatever we grow can yield. Those in deserts even have alternatives to getting food other than farming. There is no generosity than in God having blessed us with everything around us that we may be able to live.
Fourthly, God has given us life. We are living that’s why we need food and water. In his discourse which I briefly mentioned above, Jesus asked the people following him, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? (Matthew 6:25). Yes, it is true that food and water is needed to sustain life. God who has given us the life will definitely do all that it takes to have the life sustained till the time when he demands the life return to him again. There will be moments in life when our hard working to get food for us yields nothing. There are times when our toils are in vain. When we hardly know what we shall eat tomorrow. When we barely have anything in the stores and we worry.
Are you in such a moment when your hard work seems not yielding? That you aren’t sure of tomorrow’s food? Then know that God is the shepherd who will not let you just wither off, he needs you to seek him to realise that he is the shepherd. It is but in a moment when we don’t have surplus that we can easily see God’s providence. My family has many times had such a time when we never knew where our food for the following day comes. At such a time we always sought the Lord and endlessly seen his miracle similar to manner falling from above for us. When we are in a position able to make as much food as possible, we should.
When for certain reasons we seem to have nothing, we shouldn’t worry – we have God our father who says, “first seek the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [food, water, clothes etc.] will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33), because “The Lord is our shepherd, we shall lack nothing. He makes us lie down in green pastures, he leads us besides quite waters.”
The food that is more than bread
We seldom need only physical food and water; we need heavenly bread too. This bread is the Word of God. When tempted in the wilderness to turn the stone into bread, Jesus told the serpent, it is written that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God. As physical food satisfies the physical body, spiritual food satisfies the soul. It is interesting that David makes this clear in the first phrase of verse three: “he refreshes my soul.”
Many times we often seek after things that cares for the physical body and we neglect the needs of our soul. As such, our soul is left malnourished and wanders away from God. There is need to nourish both the soul and the body. The soul needs God’s word in two sense: the written word and the living word. The former referring to the bible while the latter to Jesus Christ.
We should be able to spend considerable time daily to seek God in his written word either by reading the bible, reading devotional materials, attending sermons and other opportunities where we get taught the word of God. It is for this reason that I always labour to write these messages at New Dawn Ministries to provide us with the spiritual food. It is the same reason why your pastor labours to teach God’s word every time you meet as a congregation. You need God’s word; you need it every day. Always create moments when you can feed on the word. Peter writes to the early believers saying: “Like newborn babies, crave pure milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2-3). The milk he writes about is God’s word which we must feed on it daily.
Above all, Christ, is the Living Word of God. “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:1, 14). He is the ultimate bread of life that we should long for. Physical bread gives life, life that is mortal. Jesus, the bread of life gives life eternal. He says “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty again.” (John 6:35)
What a promise we have – a promise that gives eternal food. I know God is my shepherd, he in Christ gives me eternal bread that never leaves me hungry and thirsty again. Do you have Christ in you? Rejoice because you have found the bread of life, and that you will live eternally. Aren’t you yet in a fellowship with God through Christ resident in you? You can ask him into your life, he knocks at the door, invite him in (Revelations 3:20) and he will come into your life.
Watch for part II of The LORD is my Shepherd coming soon here in two or three days.
This message is written by Rev. Julius Izza Tabi who is a pastor in the Anglican Church of Uganda, Ma’di & West Nile Diocese. Julius served as an assistant Chaplain and lecturer at the Arua Campus of the Uganda Christin University. He is currently a candidate of Master of Philosophy in Religion, Society and Global Issues at Det Teologiske Menighetsfakultet alias the Norwegian School of Theology, in Oslo, Norway. For pastoral assistance you can email him or check how you can reach him here.