This Psalm is not about death, but about Gods provision for those who follow Him. It is not about having in abundant excess, but about having the necessities to sustain life. The primary image used to communicate the message of the Psalm is a sheep following its shepherd in the wilderness. It is essential to grasp some basic background and context in order to accurately see the message of the Psalm.
The setting: The setting is likely in a wilderness area far away from people and cultivated fields. In that time, being a shepherd was a lonely task that commonly separated a person from civilization by demanding he lead his sheep to and in wilderness areas. The objective was to care for the sheeps needs in a place where the sheep could do no harm to peoples fields. Then farmers (the majority of people) practiced what today is called open rangeno fences! If sheep were to be guided away from cultivation, they had to be led into wilderness areas!
The relationship: The sheep totally depended on the shepherd for guidance and protection. They were helpless even to go where they needed to be in order to have food and water. They followed the shepherd; they were not herded. Sheep also were defenselessthe only protection they had from their enemies (predators) was the protection of the shepherd.
In the Psalm, God was the shepherd, and the psalmist was the sheep. The psalmist would not be afraid of being destroyed by future needs because of his confidence in the Lord. The Lord would attend his needs and protect him from harm. Like a sheep, he would have more than enough to eat, and he could drink without fear. In fact, like a good sheep following a good shepherd, his enough would refresh his life as he followed the ways that blessed his life rather than leading him into danger.
As the sheep, he could follow his shepherd along ways he would never enter. He did so without fear because of his confidence in the shepherd. Harm would not befall him! If he needed assurance, he looked at the shepherds rod and staffthe shepherd could both defend and help him! The shepherd would lead him to food in lush pastures. Those who would devour him could do nothing but observe from the distance as they watched from the rocks. The shepherd would examine him for wounds daily, and treat him when he needed it.
Because of the shepherds guidance, there always would be another pasture. Nothing could sever his relationship with this ideal shepherdthat relationship would continue for all of life! He would always live with the shepherd!
Several things should be noted.
The analogy of a sheep and a shepherd is fascinating. Stated simply, sheep are dumb. If ever there was a dependent domesticated animal, it is sheep. In ancient times, they were completely dependent on shepherds. God does not prize us because we are brilliant of thought and do wonderful things. God prizes us because we have an amazing ability to follow. When we refuse to follow God, we get ourselves into trouble. Only to ourselves are we brilliant and accomplished! It is amazing how stupid our brilliant accomplishments are to us later in life.
For Thought and Discussion
1. Verses from this Psalm are among the most recognized what?
2. The Psalm is about what? What is the primary image?
3. What is the setting? Why?
4. What was the relationship? Why?
5. In the Psalm, who is the Shepherd, and who is the sheep?
6. Discuss the fact that the sheep follow the Shepherd through dangerous places without fear.
7. List the seven things to be noted.
8. List the seven observations.
9. Why is the analogy of a sheep and shepherd fascinating
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 8
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