At church on Sunday we were all challenged to pick out a scripture and ponderize it for the whole week. Ponderize meaning a cross between pondering and memorizing.
I picked the 23rd Psalm.
Even though my cowboy has always joked about being allergic to sheep, to me, shepherds are Cowboys, just with sheep instead of cows. All I know about sheep I’ve learned because of the scriptures. I learned this about the 23rd psalm today. For the basque shepherds it’s like a how-to manual/motto for looking after their sheep.
It kind of helps to think of it from the perspective of a sheep, especially Holyland sheep like King David (the one who did big old Goliath in) would have took care of as a boy. (Did you know he killed a lion and a bear protecting sheep with his sling shot before he killed the giant?)
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
Sheep can trust their shepherd to care for them and whether he takes them back to the same pasture or a new one he pretty much can be counted on to take them to good grass. They don’t have to worry, he’s not going to let them go hungry.
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. “
Sheep, like cattle, start the days’s grazing at first light, eat for a few hours, then take a break to relax and chew their cud. Shepherds start their herd out first thing in the morning on rougher plants and gradually move them to to better and sweeter grazing till they take their break where they can actually lie down in green pastures.
“He leadeth me beside the still waters.”
Sheep don’t really care to drink out of fast running streams. (Can you imagine falling in if you were a sheep with all that wool? Waterlogged, it would sure be heavy. ) For whatever reason, they prefer still water and a shepherd will find a good place for them to drink, maybe even dig a little spot somewhere safe, away from currents.
“He restoreth my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. ”
I read that a sheep will sometimes come to the shepherd for a scratch behind the ear, or pat on the head, maybe even a few kind words. And I think a shepherd takes pride in doing his job well, like a cowboy does. People know him as a good stockman.
“Yea, though I walk by the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, Thy rod and thy staff comfort me.”
This part of what I read made that a lot clearer. Aparantly, sheep in the Holy land are moved through such a valley for seasonal grazing that’s about 4 1/2 miles long with sides about 1500 feet high and maybe only 10-12 feet at the bottom and in places so narrow not even a sheep can turn around which makes it necessary for everyone to move their sheep up the draw in the morning and down it at the end of the da. Water flows through there when it rains and cuts grooves in the ground that make getting through there too tuff for even a mule. Too top it off, there’s one place that requires some jumping and the sheep have to risk falling 8 feet down into a gully. If they do fall the shepherd uses the round end of his shepherd’s staff around the neck of a bigger sheep or around the body of a lamb to pull them back up to the trail. And there are predators too, wild dogs, waiting for an easy meal that the shepherd will throw his rod at and can knock the animal into the gully and more easily kill it.
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”
For sheep, those enemies are stock poisoning plants that shepherds keep an eye out for in the spring and dig them out. They then are placed on stone piles (that might have been made in Old Testament times) where they dry out and then can be burned.
“Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over.”
So it sounds like, by a sheep fold, there is a container of oil and an earthen pot full of cool water (cooled by evaporation). Sheep are let into the fold one at a time and the shepherd checks each one for burrs and cuts or scratches. Each wound is cleaned and then dressed with the oil. The water is drawn out of the container by the shepherd in an overflowing cup and offered to a fevered sheep who will stick their whole face in (up to their eyes) and drink their fill.
At night the shepherd wraps his warm wool cloak around him and with his staff within reach, in case it is needed to protect the sheep, he lays down in the doorway of the sheepfold to sleep.
A sheep that well cared for might well think that same thing written by David, millennia ago:
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. “
Sheep need a good shepherd and so do I. I’m so glad there is One.