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A Sheep's Perspective

Over the next several weeks as we explore the psalms, you might find yourself asking questions such as, “Is God a rock, a shepherd, or a hiding place?” Or “Are humans sheep, trees, or worms?” Or “Is God’s word a lamp, plunder, or the way?”

 

Such images fill the lines of the psalms. If you think back to high school English class, such images are called metaphors.

 

In case you need a reminder, a metaphor is simply a picture that is painted in words.

 

In the case of the psalms, the psalmist takes something, usually something less familiar or understood, and represents it with something else, usually something that is quite familiar and well understood. For example, when trying to talk about God, the psalmist uses familiar and ordinary images such as shepherd and rock and shield to help humans understand something about God.

 

Though, it is important to note, that sometimes the metaphors used in the psalms still feel unfamiliar in our modern, western world. In those cases, reading the psalms requires some imagination.

 

On Sunday, we’ll explore perhaps the most loved and best known of the psalms.

 

Psalm 23 is an extended mixed metaphor. The Lord is both a shepherd and a banquet host.

 

While we might know something of a being a banquet host (or at least a host), shepherding is not a top five profession in the western world. And so, this particular metaphor may take some imagination for us to understand for ourselves.

 

The problem here isn’t the psalmist, the problem is us. It’s me. I’ve never herded sheep or met a shepherd. But perhaps that is precisely why we need the words of Psalm 23.

 

Written by David, a shepherd himself, David writes the psalm not from the perspective of the shepherd, but as a sheep. As one of the flock. He speaks with a strong sense of pride and devotion and admiration. It was as if he boasts aloud, “Look at who my shepherd is – my owner – my manager! The Lord is!”

 

God is the shepherd. And therefore, we are the sheep. Nothing we have done and nothing we will do, could ever change that. Such a relationship opens the door for trust, a trust that the shepherd wants what is best for the sheep.

 

Nothing delights the shepherd more than when the sheep are in excellent condition, when they are content and flourishing and thriving, when they are safe from threat, free from pesky diseases, and content with what is before them.

 

This is the generosity of the Shepherd. It is the character of God who literally pours God’s self out on behalf of the sheep.

 

As we encounter the psalms, this week and in the weeks to come, I hope we experience that generosity and love.

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