Saturday, November 5, 2011


"The Lord is my shepherd..."
(Psalm 23:1)

The 23rd Psalm is one of the best-known passages not just in my faith tradition, but also much more broadly, even among those generally unfamiliar with the Bible. Many speak of it as a peaceful, inspiring writing, and Christians in particular paint pictures of Jesus (based on his words in John 14:14) as a sweet, gentle fellow who is nice to sheep.

There is some truth in that image, of course. But it is overly simplified; there is a lot of truth missing, too.

The man who wrote Psalm 23 was David, who started out as a shepherd in his family. This is the same David who killed Goliath. When he volunteered to fight one-on-one against this giant who'd had the Israelite army running in fear for weeks on end, this is how he argued his qualifications for the task:

"When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by the hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; [Goliath] will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God..." (1 Samuel 17:34-37).

There is much nurturing gentleness in the Psalm 23 description of the Lord as Shepherd -- green pastures, quiet waters, restoration of soul, guidance, comfort, goodness and mercy. But life brings other things our way, too -- the valley of the shadow of death, and threat of evil -- and it merits David's picture of shepherd as courageous, fierce, powerful and bold.

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