Christianity 201

October 12, 2014

The Shepherd’s King

Today we look at the basics of Psalm 23. The author is Allan Connor, author and retired missionary. This is actually the first three of a number of shorter devotions; we’ll run the balance as Allan makes them available.

sheep in green pastureDavid, great King of Israel, had known the rugged life of a common sheep farmer – the hectic, 24 hour-a-day lambing season at the end of winter; the search for good summer pasture on far away fields, bedding down in a make-shift tent; the care of sick and wounded sheep; the never-ending battle with wild animals. He had cared for his sheep. Now, in the 23rd Psalm, he sees his experiences as a metaphor for God’s care.

The Bible Society’s Contemporary English Version of the Psalm provides a fresh translation so I thought it good to include it in full. Read it slowly and refresh your spirit. Take a few minutes to reflect on how these verses apply to your own life over the years.

“You, Lord, are my shepherd. I will never be in need.
You let me rest in fields of green grass.
You lead me to streams of peaceful water,
And you refresh my life.
You are true to your name, and you lead me along the right paths.
I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid.
You are with me, and your shepherd’s rod makes me feel safe.
You treat me to a feast, while my enemies watch.
You honor me as your guest, and you fill my cup until it overflows.
Your kindness and love will always be with me each day of my life,
And I will live forever in your house, Lord.”

Note the words “shepherd’s rod” in verse 4. The Hebrew text actually mentions two items carried by the shepherd: a club to defend against wild animals and a long pole to guide and control the sheep.


David writes in Psalm 23 that the Lord leads him “along the right paths.” But look how it’s done – from the front! When the shepherd has brought his sheep out of the sheepfold, “he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4). No cajoling or beating here; just solid leadership. The sheep follow automatically because they have learned to trust their master.

Think of the meaning for us! The great God, the God who built the universe and everything in it, will go on ahead of us, if we are his sheep. He’ll search out the places and the circumstances so nothing happens by accident. What a tremendous comfort – being in his will! But there is an important caution: The shepherd must have control. Here is a story:

John D. Rockefeller, America’s richest industrialist, owned a large oil refinery in Cleveland, Ohio. Not far away stood a shabby wooden shop where an older man sold peanuts and penny candy. As Rockefeller passed the store day after day, he felt sorry for the vendor. One late afternoon he stopped for a chat.

“My good fellow,” he began, “why don’t you come and work for me. I’ll give you a decent wage, holidays with pay, health benefits and a pension.” “I don’t know,” the man replied. I’ll have to think about it.” Rockefeller’s brow registered his surprise .

“Alright, take your time, then.“ Rockefeller answered.

A couple of week later, the industrialist stopped in again. “So,” he said, expecting a positive answer this time, “what’s the verdict?”

“Well, sir, it’s like this. Your offer is a fine one but I have to turn it down. I’ve decided that I want to run my own business.” Rockefeller knew by the tone that persuasion would fall on deaf ears. He pulled at the brim of his hat and strode briskly to the door. Now compare this:

Jim Elliot, while studying at Wheaton College in 1949, wrote in his journal, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Jim was killed in 1956 by Huaorani Indians of Ecuador , the very people he had come to share the Gospel with.


King David tells us, “I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid. You are with me and your shepherd’s rod makes me feel safe” (Psalm 23:4). David may well have been thinking of the numerous times his enemies had tried to kill him; yet he wasn’t afraid. He knew how to deal with fear. How does this apply to us?

We don’t have to face such life-threatening situations. But there is a universal fear that can harass us. It crosses all human barriers; no social group, class or country is immune. It is the fear of death.

The CEV translation above uses the words, “valleys as dark as death.” This phrase may also be rendered, “valley of the shadow of death,” as in the King James Version. The fear of death really is more like a shadow – it hangs around. It clings.

So how do we shake this fear? What is the shepherd’s rod that makes us feel safe? We get rid of the fear of death by receiving life – the life that Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, will give us under his own terms.

John 3:16 is one of the best known verses of Scripture. Here it is: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” For years I read this verse thinking only of its application to death and eternal life in heaven. It means that, of course; it is the Shepherd’s rod. But it also means much more.

The apostle Paul says, ”if anyone is in Christ, he (or she) is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17). I receive this brand-new life the very moment I place my faith in Christ as savior! So it’s like a two-for-one deal! I become a child of God, receive a new nature and at the same time don’t have to wait to become comfortable with death. As I learn to trust Jesus on earth I become comfortable with trusting him about my eternal life in heaven.

~Allan Connor

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