The Woeful Song of Frightened Sheep
I have observed that few inner battles are more fierce than the daily grind of uncertainty. No doubt you, too, have encountered one or more of its many faces as you have struggled with a career choice, new direction in life, purpose in pain, job security, financial pressures, physical handicaps, relational snags, and a dozen other confusing puzzles not quickly or easily solved. It is for the dark hours of uncertainty that David penned a song we know as Psalm 23. This brief song composed by a former shepherd has endeared itself to people in every circumstance of life:
- The soldier in battle, fearing injury and possible death
- The grieving widow standing before a fresh grave, wondering how she can go on with her life
- The guilty wanderer seeking forgiveness and direction
- The lonely stranger longing for love and companionship
- The suffering saint strapped to a bed of pain
- The destitute and the forgotten
- The depressed and the jobless
- The prison inmate and the persecuted
- The prodigal and the orphaned
All have endured the daily grind of uncertainty. When the trials of life push us to the limit and our hearts are heaviest, this magnificent "Psalm of the Shepherd" offers comfort and assurance, especially for those who lack the secure feeling of God's perpetual presence.
Because of the popularity of this song and the numerous truths that are hidden in it, we will consider the analogy of sheep to the children of God, the theme of constant provision by our Shepherd-Lord, and an explanation of each verse.
So, then, let's begin with the analogy at the center of David's song. Psalm 23 is the woeful song of a frightened sheep, as though it were considering its life with its shepherd and recording its experiences. Consider some of the similarities between helpless sheep and God's feeble children:
1. Sheep lack a sense of direction. Unlike cats and dogs, sheep can get lost easily—even in the familiar environment of their own territory. So it is with believers—we cannot guide ourselves. We must rely completely on the Word of God and the voice of our Shepherd-Savior.
2. Sheep are virtually defenseless. Most animals have a rather effective means of defense—sharp claws; teeth; speed; ability to hide; keenness of smell, sight, and hearing; great strength; ferocity. But sheep are awkward, weak, and ignorant; they have spindle legs and tiny hoofs, and are pitifully slow, even devoid of an angry growl. Defenseless! The only sure protection for the sheep is the ever watchful shepherd. So it is with the believer, who is admonished to be strong—"in the Lord" (Ephesians 6:10).
3. Sheep are easily frightened. Being ignorant, unimpressive in stature, and very much aware of their weakness, sheep find comfort only in their shepherd's presence, including his reassuring songs in the night. Psalm 27:1 also refers to this type of Shepherd-Lord relationship that we have with God.
4. Sheep are, by nature, unclean. Other animals lick, scrape, and roll in the grass to cleanse themselves—but not sheep. They will remain filthy indefinitely unless the shepherd cleanses them. We, too, by nature are unclean and filthy. Apart from our tender Shepherd's cleansing (1 John 1:7–9) we would remain perpetually dirty.
5. Sheep cannot find food or water. While most animals have a keen sense of smell, sheep depend upon their shepherd completely. If left to themselves, sheep will eat poisonous weeds and die—and when one does it, the others will follow the leader. Again, as children of God, we are equally dependent.
6. The sheep's wool does not belong to the sheep. While sheep may produce wool, the shepherd owns their wool. All bona fide spiritual production in the life of the Christian belongs to the Lord. The Lord, by means of the Holy Spirit, provides for all such production. In every way, you see, we are indeed "His people and the sheep of His pasture" (Psalm 100:3).
All genuine spiritual production by a Christian is by means of the Holy Spirit and belongs to the Lord.
— Charles R. Swindoll Tweet This
Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Living the Psalms: Encouragement for the Daily Grind (Brentwood, Tenn.: Worthy Publishing, a division of Worthy Media, Inc., 2012).
Used with permission. All rights reserved.