Psalm 23 remains one of my favorite Psalms and scriptures and one that helps me through so many difficulties. When learning about sheep I was surprised to learn that when sheep fall down on their backs, they can't get up. They need a shepherd to help them get back on their feet.
In scripture, Jesus tells us that He is the Good Shepherd. He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him.
Do you think when Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd that He knew there would be times in our lives that we fell down and couldn't get back up without Him? He knows His sheep. I can certainly relate to these sheep!!! Can you?
When sheep are down, their legs will be flailing in the air; they may cry and bleat. More than likely though, the sheep will flail, be frightened and quiet, attempting to return to an upright position with little success. This position is referred to as “cast down.”
Their bodies are built in such a way that after several hours in this position, gas collects in their four-compartment stomach, which then hardens. Then, the air passage becomes cut off, and the sheep will eventually suffocate if not righted in time.
The helpless are crushed, sink down,
and fall by his might. Psalm 10:10
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him,
my salvation and my God. Psalm 42:11
David often used the words “cast down” in the Psalms. David had been a shepherd boy. He knew the ways of sheep and he knew what a good shepherd must do to tend to his flock. Many of the Psalms were written during times of duress for David: enemies after him, his people disobedient, his own disobedience, wars, and so much more…David understood what it meant to be as a sheep cast down. When we feel as though we cannot get up from where we have managed to get ourselves stuck, we are cast down or feel such anyway.
W. Philip Keller wrote a powerful little book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, a classic now. He writes from the perspective of a shepherd. He actually was one for a number of years. When a shepherd restores a cast down sheep, he gives it reassurance; he massages its legs to restore circulation; he turns the sheep over gently, all the while reassuring it with the shepherd’s gentle touch and familiar voice. He lifts the sheep up and holds it close while it gains its equilibrium back.
Mr. Keller paints a word-picture of a shepherd and his flock. He also draws another word-picture of what our Good Shepherd wants to do for us. Being on our backs, flailing because of sin, of guilt, of grief, of being unable to forgive or having someone unable to forgive us, our loving Shepherd is there to reassure us with His gentle touch and His grace. He lifts us up, and holds us while we become spiritually balanced once again.
He restores my soul. Psalm 23:3
God can and will restore us. He wants us to be free of anything holding us down and making us less than who and what He created us to be.
When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36 Isaiah 40:11
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
LORD, You are my Shepherd. I am your sheep. I try to do things in my own strength at times, without You. But I truly cannot do anything without You, LORD. When I wander into the prickly brambles of this world, into ways not of You, plans that are mine rather than Yours, actions that are not upright, words that leak from my mouth that say that I am a foolish person or a lier or hurtful, passions of mine that are not full of compassion, or sounds from my heart that may not be heard by any human, but are heard by You…I am sorry, LORD. I look for those hollow, soft places that I think will make life easier, or will take the sorrow away, or will help to convince me that what I just did or said was alright when it was not. I carry the wool over my body to hide what I am ashamed of or I pull the wool over eyes so that they do not know what I have done or who I might pretend to be. I run away from my Shepherd because I want to do things my way, to run in the pastures of my own choosing. All of these ways lead me to become cast down. It is You, my Shepherd, Who can see that I am on my back without a way to right myself. It is You, my Shepherd, Who will gently love me so that when You place me back on my feet, I can stand and walk again. I can stand uprightly before those who love me for the one that You created. They can see me as I am because I abide in You. You carry me across Your shoulders so that I may become connected to You once again. Oh, my Shepherd, You bring me home. You love me and will never forsake me. You remind me of Whose I am and Who You are to me. I praise You, my Shepherd. In the Good Shepherd’s Name, I pray. Amen