Last Updated on :
Saturday, November 22, 2014


sp spacer

  psalm 23 part:   || 1 || 2 || 3 || 4 || 5 || 6 || 7 || 8 || 9 || 10 ||


Excerpts from:

A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23

By Phillip Keller

part 4




In studying this Psalm it must always be remembered that it is a sheep in the Good Shepherd's care who is speaking. This being the case, one might well ask, "Why then this statement ... "He restoreth my soul"? Surely it would be assumed that anyone in the Good Shepherd's care could never become so distressed in soul as to need restoration.

But the fact remains that this does happen. Even David, the author of the Psalm, who was much loved of God, knew what it was to be cast down and dejected. He had tasted defeat in his life and felt the frustration of having fallen under temptation. David was acquainted with the bitterness of feeling hopeless and without strength in himself.

Now there is an exact parallel to this in caring for sheep. Only those intimately acquainted with sheep and their habits understand the significance of a "cast" sheep or a "cast down" sheep.

This is an old English shepherd's term for a sheep that has turned over on its back and cannot get up again by itself. A "cast" sheep is a very pathetic site. Lying on its back, its feet in the air, it flays away frantically struggling to stand up, without success. Sometimes it will bleat a little for help, but generally it lies there lashing about in frightened frustration.

If the owner does not arrive on the scene within a reasonably short time, the sheep will die. This is but another reason why it is so essential for a careful sheepman to look over his flock every day, counting them to see if all are able to be up and on their feet. If one or two are missing, often the first thought to flash in his mind is, One of my sheep is cast somewhere. I must go in search and set it on its feet again.

It is not only the shepherd who keeps a sharp eye for cast sheep, but also the predators. Buzzards, vultures, dogs, coyotes and cougars all know that a cast sheep is easy prey and death is not far off.

This knowledge that any "cast" sheep is helpless, close to death and vulnerable to attack, makes the whole problem of cast sheep serious for the manager.

Nothing seems to arouse his constant care and diligent attention to the flock as the fact that even sheep can become cast and be a casualty. Actually it is often the fat sheep that are the most easily cast.

The way it happens is this. A heavy, fat, or long fleeced sheep will lie down comfortably in some little hollow or depression in the ground. It may roll on its side slightly to stretch out or relax. Suddenly the center of gravity in the body shifts so that it turns on its back far enough that the feet no longer touch the ground. It may feel a sense of panic and start to paw frantically. Frequently this only makes things worse. It rolls over even further. Now it is quite impossible for it to regain its feet.

As it lies there struggling, gases begin to build up in the rumen. As these expand they tend to retard and cut off blood circulation to extremities of the body, especially the legs. If the weather is very hot and sunny, a cast sheep can die in a few hours. If it is cool and cloudy and rainy it may survive in this position for several days.

It is not easy to convey on paper the sense of this ever present danger. If I saw black-winged buzzards circling overhead ... anxiety would grip me. This is part of the drama depicted for us in the story of the ninety and nine sheep with one astray. This is the Shepherd's deep concern; his agonizing search; his longing to find the missing one; his delight in restoring it not only to its feet, but also to the flock, as well as to himself.

Again and again I would spend hours searching for a single sheep that was missing ... As soon as I reached the cast ewe, my very first impulse was to pick it up ... I would hold her erect, rubbing her limbs to restore the circulation to her legs. When the sheep started to walk again, she often stumbled, staggered and collapsed. Little by little the sheep would regain its equilibrium. It would start to walk steadily and surely. By and by it would dash away to rejoin the others, set free from its fears and frustrations, given another chance to live a little longer. All of this pageantry is conveyed to my heart and mind when I repeat the simple statement, "He restoreth my soul!"

There is something intensely personal ... tender ... endearing, yet ... fraught with danger in the picture. ...the sheep is so helpless, so utterly immobilized though otherwise strong, healthy and flourishing; while on the other hand there is the attentive owner quick and ready to come to its rescue -- ever patient and tender and helpful.

Many people have the idea that when a child of God falls, when he is frustrated and helpless in a spiritual dilemma, God becomes disgusted, fed-up and even furious with him. This simply is not so.

One of the great revelations of the heart ... given to us by Christ is that of Himself as our Shepherd. He has the same identical sensations of anxiety, concern and compassion for cast men and women as ... [the shepherd] for cast sheep.

As with sheep, so with Christians, some basic principles and parallels apply which will help us to grasp the way in which a man or woman can be "cast."

There is, first of all, the idea for looking for a soft spot. The sheep that choose the comfortable, soft, rounded hollows in the ground in which to lie down very often become cast. In such a situation it is so easy to roll over on their backs.

In the Christian life there is a danger in always looking for the easy place, the cozy corner, the comfortable position where there is no hardship, no need for endurance, no demand upon self-discipline.

Sometimes if, through self-indulgence, I am unwilling to forfeit or forego the soft life, the easy way, the cozy corner, then the Good Shepherd may well move me to a pasture where things aren't quite so comfortable -- not only for my own good, but also His benefit as well.

There is the aspect, too, of a sheep simply having too much wool. Often when the fleece becomes very long, and heavily matted with mud, manure, burrs and other debris, it is much easier for a sheep to become cast, literally weighed down with its own wool... Here is where I find the clinging accumulation of things, of possessions, of worldly ideas beginning to weigh me down, drag me down, hold me down. It is significant that no high priest was ever allowed to wear wool when he entered the Holy of Holies.