Reflecting on my favorite Psalm, and what it means for me today (08/09/15).
I can recite bible verses, paraphrase whole sections, and break down the theological implications of many scriptures. I can cross references ideas and ideologies. But the only section of scripture that I have put to memory in it's entirety, it Psalms 23. This Psalm I can quote from the heart.
I'm not sure why. It's the most popular Psalm sure. It ranks up with the most quoted bible verses. But why did I memorize this one? For that matter, why do so many others? What is so timeless about this piece of God's Word, so transcendent?
The LORD Is My Shepherd A Psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Today I was pondering this verse and I got stuck on the life of a shepherd, and the meaning of the Rod and Staff. So I started digging around and the following is what I found. Most of this was not new to me, but some of it was. And all of it felt important, so I thought I would share it with you.
All my life I've heard sheep referred to as stupid. As though only stupid people can belong to Jesus. "The foolish things confound the wise". So that got me wondering...
Flock Mentality - Are Stupid Sheep?
Due to their strong flocking instinct and failure to act independently of one another, sheep have been universally branded "stupid." But sheep are not stupid. Their only protection from predators is to band together and follow the sheep in front of them. If a predator is threatening the flock, this is not the time to act independently. Sheep 101
Do you know why Satan roams about like a roaring lion? If you have ever seen video documentaries of lion attacks, two things become apparent.
- Lions are actually scared of large groups
- ...and individuals make better targets.
So what the lions do, is run, roar, and circle the herd until they can get one separated from the group.
Once they separate the individual, the lions can attach that one until it is dead.
Sheep are not stupid, flocking is a method designed by God to keep them safe. The sheep who are the most vulnerable to attack are the loners. This is why Satan works so hard to perpetuate the half-truth that you don't need to go to Church to be saved.
It's half-true, because you technically don't. Being in a Church building or being part of a group calling itself Church, doesn't make you a born again believer; anymore than being in a garage makes you a car.
You were meant to be a part of a flock.
Yet, being in a group of believers is part of God's design. You were not designed to be alone, and all desires to be alone as a way of life are lies of the enemy; intended to single you out and kill you. You were designed to be led by older sheep, while you lead the younger ones. You were designed to receive first (from God and older sheep), and give second (to sheep and would be sheep). Without both of these in place, you are vulnerable at best, and dying at worst.
Unless you are physically incapable (prison, sickness, prisoner of war, etc), you are disobedient to avoid gathering together with other believers on a regular basis (Heb 10:25). Meeting with a few friends who are believers isn't the whole picture either. We were meant to belong to a flock and be led by a shepherd.
A Pastor (Latin for shepherd) is one of five official roles given by God as a gift to his people in order to equip them for ministry (Eph 4:11-12). The role of the Pastor is to work as an under-shepherd for The Shepherd (Jesus) to tend and care for the sheep.
However, although a Pastor is important, a church service once a week does not a flock make. Flocks live together, eat, sleep, work, play, move through life... together.
If you are going to church services once a week, and then leaving out the front door without ever really knowing anyone, you are not part of that flock. You are a re-curring visitor. You may be "A" sheep. You may belong to Jesus. But you are not part of a flock, until you are part of a flock.
The benefit of the flock is primarily for protection. Man is a triune being (Spirit, Soul and Body), so we will be attacked on all three levels. However, the primary way mankind interacts on this planet is through the soul (Mind, Will, Emotions). Most of the battle for our lives takes place in the Mind, Will and Emotions (spiritual battle or spiritual warfare).
Therefore, when we gather together with other believers, who are aware of this battle; we can be open, honest, and vulnerable with them. For someone like me, a self-described loner, this is scary. I've avoided groups, gatherings, friends, like a plague all my life. And I've lived in various levels of defeat all my life.
I know from experience that all of my best breakthroughs in life have come from opening up to other people and allowing them in. But most of my biggest hurts and pains came from this as well, so I shut off again.
Today I was reminded again that I need people, specifically older Godly men, around me. So that still small voice telling me to get into a men's group.... the one I've been ignoring... decided to speak through a man I know and respect, since I was ignoring the voice directly. It's time to get into a flock. The deeper I am flocked, the safer (spiritually) my life will be.
A shepherd or sheepherder is a person who tends, herds, feeds, or guards herds of sheep. The word stems from an amalgam of sheep herder... The term "Pastor", originally the Latin word for "shepherd", is now used solely to denote the clergy of most Christian denominations.
Jesus is MY shepherd. My Pastor. My Leader. My Guide. And I am his sheep. There are many sheep in his flock, and all of them know His voice. Even when I am weary, or I wander into some trouble, or get lost along the way... I never stop being HIS sheep.
But why do I have such a hard time trusting Him? Unlike others I know, I CANNOT pretend not to know him, or that He doesn't exist. I KNOW Him. I've known him inside of me from a young age. I've heard him speak, I've seen him move.
And once, a long time ago, I saw him with my own physical eyes, in the sky on a throne in the clouds, surrounded by angels. He was looking directly at me. Even though He was far away, I could see his face and eyes up close. He didn't speak audibly, but the message he gave was internally downloaded. I think it's still un-zipping in my spiritual hard drive to date. The crux was: I Love You.
Yet... the experiences of my life have left me internally wounded... not quite healed. I am like a dog in a corner licking my wounds, but when the vet comes to tend to the wound I lash out.
Which leads me to a rumor I've heard all my life in churches about shepherds...
Would a good shepherd break a sheep's leg?
There is a commonly-held belief that shepherds in Biblical times would break the legs of lambs that constantly wandered away. According to the "story," the shepherd would then set the broken leg and carry the lamb on his shoulders until the leg healed, after which time the lamb would remain by the shepherd's side for the rest of its life. While there is no way to know for certain what Biblical shepherds did, there is no such story in the Bible, and to do so would be cruel and impractical.
After further reflection... this is RIDICULOUS!
Only Satan would spread a stupid rumor like this. The idea that God would break your leg to teach you something, and it would make you closer to Him is stupid. I can't think of a single example in science, history, or my own experiences; in which an abuser was a benefit to the abused.
Sure, there are examples in science of an abuse victim clinging to the abuser, defending them even. But this was never considered to be healthy normal behavior. It's commonly known as:
Stockholm syndrome can be seen as a form of traumatic bonding, which does not necessarily require a hostage scenario, but which describes "strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other."
It's theoretically possible that some shepherd somewhere did this at some time. But it was NOT a Good Shepherd. It was an evil shepherd, a lazy one.
The very idea that a shepherd would break the leg of a sheep, in order to ensure it doesn't run away it an idea that evokes ideas control and abuse. There is a spirit that embodies this, but it is not God.
Satan has been perpetuating Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome for ages in the Church.
Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome
"God did this (insert horrible thing here) to teach me or bring Himself glory." (LIE)
He has convinced many that God is going to break their leg to teach them a lesson. Or, kill their child, take their job, or do some other horrible thing to make them more spiritual. Jesus made it clear that Satan is the abuser, the thief; who comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10), but that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gives LIFE and LIFE more and more abundantly.
Jesus has never caused a bad thing in your life. Never. Nor has he "allowed" a bad thing to teach you something. Never.
There are bad things that happen. They happen to good people, bad people, great people.
Why do bad things happen?
Because Satan Sucks! Pure, simple. Satan hates all humans, and he wants to kill us all. But not before he steals and destroys first. The only reason the entire earth of humanity isn't dead is because God's grace is holding back the full onslaught of Satan's will to kill.
Jesus is the GOOD Shepherd:
- Bad Happens: Blame Satan, every time.
- Good Happens (or badness is stopped): Blame God, every time.
What the the tools of the good shepherd?
The shepherd's crook is an important albeit primitive device used by shepherds. Sheep can feed on rough pasture which is unsuitable for cattle or agriculture, including mountainous terrain. Seasonal herding along mountainous routes gave rise to what are now known as drovers' roads. A strong, multi-purpose stick can be used for balance, examining dangerous undergrowth and for defence against attack by predators.
The staff is the internationally recognized symbol of the shepherd. It is one of the two tools seen on the coffin of King Tut:
|King Tut with Crook and Flail|
King Tut with Crook and Flail
The crook (heka) and flail (nekhakha) were originally the attributes of the Ancient Egyptian god Osiris that became insignia of pharaonic authority. The shepherd's crook stood for kingship and the flail for the fertility of the land.
A flail is an agricultural tool used for threshing to separate grains from their husks.
The curved staff is a tool that is used by the shepherd to lean on, gently prod sheep into the right path, rescue them from sticky situations, and pull them close to him.
As I was studying the tools of the shepherd I came across a great Q&A post that explained the two tools of the Rod and Staff.
From a Q&A Post:
Keller lists several purposes for the shorter, heavier rod:
- As a club or throwing stick to defend against predators.
- For disciplining wayward sheep.
The staff serves different purposes:
- To assist in examining and counting individuals in the flock.
- Rounding up sheep into a flock.
- Guiding sheep by applying pressure to an individual's flank.
- Extricating sheep from bad situations.
The article referenced is by Phillip Keller, a Christadelphian author. One of the paradox's of my life, is that I simultaneously want to correct everyone's broken theology, yet learn from those with views that differ from my own. Hence, the moniker "Recovering Religiholic". I've come to realize that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus shall be saved. There is no theology test to get into heaven. We'll all be corrected about one thing or another when we get there. And so it is here, although I'm confused by some of the theology of this group, I'm intrigued by the personal insight Keller brings to this topic.
Keller seams to have spent a lot of time personal time with African Shepherds, and provides a unique view of the use of these tools:
Interesting Psalms 23 Commentary "Rod and Staff"
In the Middle East the shepherd carries only a rod and staff. Some of my most vivid boyhood recollections are those of watching the African herdsmen shepherding their stock with only a long slender stick and a rough "knob-kerrie" in their hands. These are the common and universal equipment of the primitive sheepman.
A Knobkierie, also spelled knobkerrie, knopkierie or knobkerry, is a form of club used mainly in Southern and Eastern Africa. Typically they have a large knob at one end and can be used for throwing at animals in hunting or for clubbing an enemy's head. The knobkierie is carved from a branch thick enough for the knob, with the rest being whittled down to create the shaft.
Keller goes on to say:
Each shepherd boy, from the time he first starts to tend his father's flock, takes special pride in the selection of a rod and staff exactly suited to his own size and strength. He goes into the bush and selects a young sapling which is dug from the ground. This is carved and whittled down with great care and patience. The enlarged base of the sapling where its trunk joins the roots is shaped into a smooth, rounded head of hard wood. The sapling itself is shaped to exactly fit the owner's hand. After he completes it, the shepherd boy spends hours practicing with this club, leaning how to throw it with amazing speed and accuracy. It becomes his main weapon of defense for both himself and his sheep. ...the rod, in fact, was an extension of the owner's own right arm. It stood as a symbol of his strength, his power, his authority in any serious situation.
There is a second dimension in which the rod is used by the shepherd for the welfare of his sheep -- namely that of discipline. The club is used for this purpose perhaps more than any other. If the shepherd saw a sheep wandering away from its own, or approaching poisonous weeds, or getting too close to danger of one sort or another, the club would go whistling through the air to send the wayward animal scurrying back to the bunch.
This meant not only coming under the owner's control and authority, but also to be subject to his most careful, intimate and firsthand examination. A sheep that passed "under the rod" was one which had been counted and looked over with great care to make sure all was well with it.
The staff is also used for guiding sheep. Again and again I have seen a shepherd use his staff to guide his sheep gently into a new path or through some gate or along dangerous, difficult routes. He does not use it actually to beat the beast. Rather, the tip of the long slender stick is laid gently against the animal's side and the pressure applied guides the sheep in the way the owner wants it to go. Thus the sheep is reassured of its proper path.
So the rod was never meant to harm the sheep physically in ANY way. The most it may have done in the form of correction, was to go whistling through the air as a warning to the sheep to get back to the flock.
The Lord is MY Shepherd... I shall not want. His Rod is used to protect me from enemies, and warn me of danger. His staff is used to pull me out of the trouble I get myself into, and nudge me in the right direction.
Now that sounds like the Jesus I've known all these years.
The Lord if my Good Shepherd. He has never intended my any harm. I should learn to trust him more. If I am feeling the need to keep my distance from him, and from his flock; that is the work of the enemy selling me a lie. Any desire to run from the flock or the shepherd is the result of a lie of the enemy. I should stop, run to Jesus, and ask him to reveal that lie, and remove/replace it with His Truth.
What's your favorite part of Psalms 23 (today) and what does it mean to you (right now)?
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