It’s the all-time top of the pops. For over 3000 years this song has been sung in every tongue by a thousand generations of people worldwide.At weddings, at funerals, in churches and synagogues:at both solemn and joyful gatherings.It is still at the top of the world’s all-time favourite songs: it is the 23rd Psalm.
Years ago I read an interpretation of it as given by a Basque shepherd, who explained how Eastern shepherds have always thought, going right back through thirty centuries to a young shepherd boy in the Judean Hills who composed it. He would be alone with his flock night after night, and gaze at the stars and wonder ‘How shall I think of God? – why he is a shepherd like me, but I’m one of his flock.’
I care for my sheep, I see they get all they need, and God does this for me, and for us all. I lead my sheep to graze in high hills where the grass is strawy, and then, by noon, into lush green valleys where they can chew the cud contentedly and lie down. I don’t shout at them for being afraid of running water: I lead them to still pools, and each day I can call each one by name to come and nuzzle up to me, and after a moment or two of personal communion I call another, for they know my voice and they know I will never lead them astray, but only along safe routes. Through the mountains there’s a short cut called ‘the Gorge of Gloom’. It’s narrow and always in deep shadow, and the path through it changes from one side of the ravine to the other. I help the flock across, if they slip down into a crevice: I lift them up with my crook. If a mountain lion tries to attack a sheep lagging behind I am an expert throwing my weighted club which can kill such a wild animal at 30 paces, snapping it’s neck. When we emerge on to the high table lands I go in front, weeding out the poisonous clovers to dry on stone pyres and later they blow harmlessly away. Each night we use one of the ancient stony sheep pens – from above, like a huge letter C. As each sheep enters through the narrow gap I inspect it, remove any thorns, and treat any sores, anointing them with oil and balm.Then they go in, drink from a trough (always filled up by the last shepherd to use the pen), and, as all the sheep drink, it overflows.
Forgive me, but I always add to this that if I’d had two sheep dogs I’d have called one ‘Goodness’ and the other ‘Mercy’, to bring back the lost and strays, because my shepherd does not use blood hounds. What I am to my sheep, God is to me: Always.
Thank you Lord Jesus, my shepherd, for you laid down your life for your sheep.
Now read Psalm 23.