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The Israelites cared for both sheep and cattle and were despised by the Egyptians.

A common theme of stories about the settling of the western part of our country is that of the dislike of cattlemen for sheep herders.

It is a part of historical fact that there were differences between the two types of ranchers.

The sheep wars, were a series of armed conflicts which were fought between sheepmen and cattlemen over grazing rights. Generally, the cattlemen saw the sheepherders as invaders, who destroyed the public grazing lands, which they had to share on a first-come, first-served basis.

Between 1870 and 1920, approximately 120 engagements occurred in eight different states or territories. At least 54 men were killed and some 100,000 sheep were slaughtered.

To the Egyptians, the Israelites were an abomination due to their being shepherds.

you shall say,
‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now,
both we and our fathers,’
in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen,
for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.
Gen 46:34

Even though the Israelites raised both cattle and sheep, it is the sheep which most often find their way into analogies of God and His people.

Cattle are most often used to portray negative aspects of the people of Israel—such as polluting the water or pushing and shoving one another.

Sheep are most often portrayed with good qualities except for their weakness which requires constant care and vigilance.

Also, there are many passages in both the Old and New Testament which speak of those shepherds who have no real concern for the flock under their care.

Jesus mentioned this in our gospel reading about the Good Shepherd.

All who came before me are thieves and robbers,
Jn 10:8a

Jesus is portrayed as the Good Shepherd, a man who cares about the sheep under His care.

We have a beautiful picture of the Good Shepherd given in the 23rd psalm.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Psa 23:1

The 23rd psalm has been quoted by thousands of people for thousands of years.

There is a calming influence that comes over you when you hear the words, which is one of the reasons it is quoted in times of trial.

There is an assurance in that line which bypasses our brain and goes straight to the heart.

One of the things I try to teach in communication is the aspect of inflection of the voice.

The meaning of a simple sentence can be altered simply by changing the emphasis on words.

For instance, consider the sentence—I didn’t say he beat his dog.

If I emphasize a different word when I say it, the meaning changes.

I didn’t say he beat his dog.

I didn’t say he beat his dog.

I didn’t say he beat his dog.

I didn’t say he beat his dog.

You can do that with each word in the sentence and a different meaning is intended, even though the words never change.

If you practice any form of meditation, you can do the same thing with this first line of Psalm 23.

Then Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

The Lord is your shepherd; not the president; not the governor; not me or any other human being on the earth.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He is your shepherd; not your taskmaster; not your employer or boss; not the police.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

I don’t know about other folks, but I shall not be in lack; I have all I need.

Try this exercise with other verses of scripture.

You will find a true blessing in the practice.

The Lord is MY shepherd.

The most telling word in this first line is the little word “my.”

There would be no benefit to say, “The Lord is a shepherd.”


But, to know that He is MY shepherd, the one who cares for ME, has that powerful calming influence of which I spoke earlier.

This first line of the psalm also presents us with a fact and an inference—or, cause and effect, if you will.

Remembering that the first clause states a fact of existence, not just a fact for your knowledge, we are then given the inductive rationale to a conclusion—because He is my shepherd, I shall not want.

The word “want” in this place is that of lack.

I will not lack for food, clothing, shelter, rest or anything else necessary to this life.

Continuing with the imagery of a shepherd with His sheep, the psalmist writes

He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
Psa 23:2

As we look out on the fields in our area today, we see the richness of the verdant pastures—the thick grass waving gently in the breeze.

The initial springtime growth occurs faster than the cattle are able to consume it.

There is more than enough green grass for a brown animal to produce white milk.

And, while we are not cattle or literal sheep, I’m sure each of you can recall a time when you simply laid down in the green grass and savored the richness of the earth.

He leads us beside still waters—not the waters of turmoil and chaos.

If you have ever stood on the bank of a flooding river, you sensed the danger of that rushing stream.

But, then, if you have stood beside or in a babbling brook with its waters simply flowing with the course of life set before it, you have maybe felt the serenity and calming influence of the waters of rest.

That calming influence is what your soul desires and needs.

He restores my soul.
Psa 23:3a

There are times in our life when things get shaken up a bit and our soul—our mind, will and emotions—feels it quite intensely.

However, along comes the Good Shepherd and we are restored to a state of equilibrium.

I believe this is what Paul meant with his statement in Rom. 8:28.

And we know that for those who love God
all things work together for good,
for those who are called according to his purpose.
Rom 8:28

Regardless of the situation at the moment, God will cause what we may perceive to be death personified to become life intensified.

This is what the psalmist was presenting for our consideration with his next stanza in the song.

Even 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.
Psa 23:4

We all—each and everyone of us—have gone through and will go through dark times.

Those dark seasons will be caused by different things for each of us, but they are no less dark.

The darkness may be such that we cannot see any hope of an enjoyment of life ever again.

But, we can take the words of the song writer here and know that comfort and relief are immediately present with the Good Shepherd.

The longer we walk with the Lord, the easier it becomes to say and experience—

I fear no evil.

Even when my enemies are multiplied against me, I am not afraid.

When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
it is they who stumble and fall.
Psa 27:2

They may come to destroy me, but the Lord gives me such peace that I just sit down and eat a good meal.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Psa 23:5

I have lived long enough and have had enough experience to know that each of these statements in the 23rd Psalm is true.

The ministry of teaching the Lord has given me has increased in scope of influence each time I have been attacked over the years.

I can honestly say that my cup also overflows with the goodness and mercy and love of the Father that has followed me for these more than 60 years of service.

Regardless of where you are in your walk with the Lord, you too can experience this overflowing of God’s love in your life.

Begin with the first line of the 23rd Psalm and make it your own—

The Lord is MY Shepherd.

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