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Psalm 23
The Lord is my Shepherd
~
God makes me lie down in green pastures




Psalm 23  



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He makes me lie down in green pastures 


Words of Introduction to the Scripture Readings 

During the September 2013 - June 2014 'soul space' events, and also on the corresponding second Sunday evening of each of these months , our themes are drawn from the well known and well loved words of the 23rd Psalm.  

Last month then we began with reflection on the fact that the Lord is our Shepherd. It is clear that this is a theme that is not limited simply to one psalm. Rather it runs through the Old and New Testaments. The people of Israel regarded God as their shepherd and Jesus refers to himself as the 'Good Shepherd'. This is all the more remarkable and noteworthy as shepherds were generally regarded with a degree of disdain in ancient Israel.  

In this month's theme of 'green pastures' we again find that this psalm is not the only place where God's people are likened to sheep who find pasture in safety. Both Old Testament prophets on the one hand and Jesus himself on the other make references to pastures for the flock of God. 

In the following three readings, we turn first once again to the familiar words of the 23rd Psalm, but also to words form the prophecy of Ezekiel and words of Jesus as relayed to us by the Apostle John. 

Read : Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34: 11-16, St John 10: 7-10 


Reflection  

Green pastures. What picture does that conjure up for you?  

For most of my Christian life when I read this passage I had in mind a large field of green grass, perhaps on a rolling hillside with the well-fed flock quietly grazing and resting. It was a very British image of a pasture I suppose.  

It was familiar, comforting, pleasant. 

'He makes me lie down in green pastures' 

And then about some years ago I was privileged to be able to journey to the Holy Land and see many of the sites of biblical significance. The whole experience of that trip brought alive for me so many parts of Scripture. It was a truly wonderful experience.  

One day we set out in our coach on the road from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea... the road to Jericho... the road along which the man in Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan was travelling when he was assaulted and robbed. At one point on the road we stopped and got out of the coach the better to reflect upon the forbidding landscape and to hear a reading of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We were not terribly far from Bethlehem, there among the barren hills of the Judean desert. 

Of course, this area is presently part of the Palestinian West Bank. But historically it would have been the area in which David grew up as the youngest son of Jesse... the area where he took care of his sheep.  

green pastures ?

That very thought struck me on that day as we stood in the baking heat looking across the vast and barren wilderness. The reason we had stopped had been to contemplate the Parable of the Good Samaritan, but my focus changed when a young Palestinian lad leading a small flock of bedraggled sheep and scraggy goats crossed the road and led them on into the surrounding rocky desert. Two thoughts came to mind. Firstly, would not this have been what David was doing as a shepherd in these very hills these thousands of years ago and secondly, to where was this lad leading the flock? It all seemed barren. And then in the distance I caught site of a patch of green... and then I noticed that there were more of them dotted around the otherwise barren and forbidding hills.

And there and then my understanding of this verse in Psalm 23 was utterly changed.  

'He makes me lie down in green pastures' 

This is not a picture of rolling green hills in our British Island. This is a picture of a shepherd leading his flock through barren places, always searching out for patches of pasture where he might graze the sheep. 

And so in this Psalm, as elsewhere in Scripture, it is no wonder that the sheep are so dependent on the Shepherd!  

In our country the shepherd or farmer or crofter will gather his sheep and lead them into a field of rich grazing where he may leave them to happily feed. Not so in the Middle East where the shepherd must ever be looking out for the next patch of greenery to which to lead his little flock.  

And that, it seems to me, is the picture being depicted in this psalm.  

We all know that in our lives - in our Christian lives - we seem to be so often wandering through barren and dangerous places.  

  • Sometimes our faith seems fragile 
  • Sometimes temptation seems ready to pounce at every turn 
  • Sometimes we feel we are by failure or danger or difficulty or darkness 
  • Sometimes we are weary, empty, hungry, threatened...  

We are like sheep wandering in the wilderness, feeling lost in wastelands.  

Where is the Shepherd? 

Where is he leading us?  

To green pastures!  

Green pastures where we may feed.  

Green pastures where we can lie down.  

And that leads to one final thought.  

This verse from the psalm is not simply about provision in the wilderness, although it is certainly about that!  

It is about protection in danger.  

Sheep will not 'lie down' unless they feel completely secure and entirely safe.  

'He makes me lie down in green pastures'  

Ours is a Shepherd who provides for us in the barren and bleak places.  

Ours is a Shepherd who protects us in the difficult and dangerous places.  

And so, with him, we may feed freely and settle securely.  

'He makes me lie down in green pastures' 


Prayer 

Good Shepherd,
who ever leads us;
bring us to the green pastures, that we who have walked through the wilderness times,
may come to feast on your abundant provision.

Good Shepherd, who ever watches over us;
Leads us through the barren places,
to the place of your safety,
that we might gladly lie down in peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen  

Rev David Denniston, 2013

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