Monday, March 31, 2008

Psalm 23:3a The Shepherd as Savior


I have not abandoned my exposition of Matthew. I fully intend to get back to that. The past few weeks I had just been reading in Psalms some and had worked on Psalm 23 a little bit. Since I had done more work on it that in Matthew due to having gotten busier at work, I decided to post what I have done so far in Psalm 23. I pray that it will bless you.

in Christ

Once, when I was 6 years old, my Dad and I were at the beach in Fairhope, Alabama with an uncle of mine who was in town and some of my cousins. I followed my cousins out into the water and eventually found myself in water above my midsection. Quite suddenly, the undertow pulled my feet out from under me. At that point, I did not know how to swim and was on my way to drowning. My dad rushed into the water, scooped me up, and saved my life. He’s done that more than once over the years. There was absolutely nothing I could do to save myself. If he had not intervened, I would be dead right now. In much the same way, David describes the predicament of a sheep in a most dangerous situation.

A point that I think should be made here is that as we read this psalm with which we are so familiar, we really need to get into the head of a shepherd. As I had stated in the original post of this series, David Keller has written a book called “A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm” which has provided me quite a bit of insight into this psalm and, admittedly, has shaped a lot of the material I have included in these posts. You can get information on this book here.
When I read this psalm, I usually thought of the phrase “He restores my soul” as meaning God gives us encouragement when we are down. I knew of Psalm 42:5 talking about David’s soul being cast down and of course I’d heard about people having their faces downcast. To me, it seemed pretty reasonable to assume that improving our mood was the topic David had in mind. Actually, that would probably be a pretty common interpretation in today’s me-centered, feel good, prosperity pseudo-Christianity. After all, according to most TV preachers, it’s all about you and your significance in God’s plan.

However, as I studied more about this term, I found out that it had nothing to do with making me feel better. That wasn’t even in the ball park. In fact, the situation David describes here is nightmarish to the sheep. A cast sheep is one that has been turned over on its back. This sheep is in dire straits. In fact, without help, this sheep will die a slow and painful death. When a sheep is flat on its back like this, there is no way for it to raise itself upright again. When 98.46% of your body weight (ok, that is a slight exaggeration) is contained in your upper body, you don’t have enough mass in your lower body to move your center of gravity. A sheep in this state is totally helpless. In addition to being at the mercy of predators, the gases inside of a sheep build up in its abdomen as described by David Keller so that the sheep will suffocate. This is no laughing matter. This sheep is going to die and there is nothing—I repeat nothing—that he can do about it.

Luckily, this sheep belongs to a loving and gentle Shepherd. The Shepherd restored this cast sheep. Now the sheep is free from its death trap. The Shepherd has saved the day.

However, notice that David says that the Shepherd “restores my soul”. David, therefore, describes his soul as being in the predicament of a cast sheep. He, too, is in a death trap and he, too, is unable to help himself. Friends, you and I were in that same death trap before we came to faith in Christ Jesus. The book of Ephesians tells us that we were dead in our trespasses. Now, we were in a condition much worse than the sheep. The sheep was helpless but it was alive at least. It didn’t have to be resurrected. However, you and I, prior to coming to faith in Christ, were dead. Not close to death, not nearly dead, not sick with a terminal disease. We were dead. There was no way we could save ourselves. There was no way that we could turn to Christ and repent of our sins. We all had turned away from God and had sought to go our own way (Romans 3:10-3:18). Because we were helpless and hopeless, God restored our cast souls. The English word translated “restores” is the Hebrew word “shub”. It means “to turn back” and in this case means to set right. Our soul was in the grip of death. God, in His mercy, elected us to salvation through His Son and gave us the faith to believe and repent thereby restoring or setting right our cast soul. We couldn’t have done it for ourselves. We didn’t even have the faith to choose to turn to Him. Apart from His love and concern as our Shepherd, none of us would be saved. However, because He is our loving Shepherd, He does “restore [our] soul[s]”.

Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible Copyright 1960, 1962, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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