From Praying the Names of God Week Fifteen, Day Four
For at least part of their history, the Hebrews were a nomadic people who wandered from place to place seeking pasture for their herds of sheep, goats, and cattle. To sustain their livelihood, it was vital for shepherds to keep their animals from straying, protect them from thieves and wild animals, and provide them with plentiful pastures. In the ancient Near East and in Israel itself, “shepherd” eventually became a metaphor for kings. The Hebrew Scriptures speak of God as the Shepherd of his people and apply this image to religious leaders as well. The New Testament presents Jesus as the Good Shepherd, who protects the lives of his sheep by forfeiting his own life. When you pray to the Lord your Shepherd, you are praying to the One who watches over you day and night, feeding you and leading you safely on the path of righteousness.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:1-3)
PRAYING THE NAME
See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40:10-11)
Reflect On: Isaiah 40:6-11
Praise God: Because he is gentle.
Offer Thanks: That God carries you close to his heart.
Confess: Any stubbornness that makes it difficult for God to lead you.
Ask God: To help you see your need for a Shepherd.
Isaiah presents an appealing image of our heavenly Shepherd. He is not only strong but also tender. He is able to defend us against any kind of danger or difficulty. Gathering the lambs in his arms, he gently leads the ewes. He is aware of our weakness and vulnerability and knows exactly who we are.
But do we? Though it’s nice to think we have a heavenly Shepherd watching over us, it’s hardly flattering to be compared to sheep. A. B. “Banjo” Paterson was a famous Australian writer who wrote about life in the Australian outback and whose credits include The Man from Snowy River and the lyrics for “Waltzing Mathilda.” His laughable description of merino sheep should give us pause as we think about the task of shepherding, this time from God’s perspective.
People have got the impression that the merino is a gentle, bleating animal that gets its living without trouble to anybody, and comes up every year to be shorn with a pleased smile upon its amiable face. It is my purpose here to exhibit the merino sheep in its true light.
The truth is that he is a dangerous monomaniac, and his one idea is to ruin the man who owns him. With this object in view he will display a talent for getting into trouble and a genius for dying that are almost incredible.
If a mob of sheep see a bush fire closing round them, do they run away out of danger? Not at all, they rush round and round in a ring till the fire burns them up. If they are in a river-bed, with a howling flood coming down, they will stubbornly refuse to cross three inches of water to save themselves. Dogs may bark and men may shriek, but the sheep won’t move. They will wait there till the flood comes and drowns them all, and then their corpses go down the river on their backs with their feet in the air.
A mob will crawl along a road slowly enough to exasperate a snail, but let a lamb get away in a bit of rough country, and a race horse can’t head him back again…
There is a well authenticated story of a ship-load of sheep that was lost because an old ram jumped overboard, and all the rest followed him. No doubt they did, and were proud to do it. A sheep won’t go through an open gate on his own responsibility, but he would gladly and proudly “follow the leader” through the red-hot portals of Hades: and it makes no difference whether the lead goes voluntarily, or is hauled struggling and kicking and fighting every inch of the way.
Furthermore, Paterson says, “The fiendish resemblance which one sheep bears to another is a great advantage to them in their struggles with their owners. It makes it more difficult to draft them out of a strange flock, and much harder to tell when any are missing.” And when it comes to rounding them up, he concludes: “Any man who has tried to drive rams on a hot day knows what purgatory is.”
Sound familiar? Even a little bit? A talent for getting into trouble, stubborn, capable of great stupidity? Paterson’s humorous remarks about merino sheep remind me, I’m sorry to say, of someone I know fairly well. What can I say but Baaaa! Take a moment to laugh at yourself and to thank your heavenly Shepherd for being patient with you and your fellow sheep. The next time you’re tempted to critique God’s management of the universe, reread Banjo Paterson’s description and see if that doesn’t put everything back into perspective.
Meet your spiritual ancestors as they really were: Less Than Perfect: Broken Men and Women of the Bible and What We Can Learn from Them.