The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. (Ps 23)
Before meeting my wife, I knew nothing about farming. I’d never ridden or driven a tractor, picked stones, baled hay, or ‘done chores.’ I didn’t feel deprived, by any means, but once I experienced some of farming life (mostly through conversation, not hay baling) my understanding of the Bible began to shift. While the Bible speaks of cities and kingdoms, the majority of the metaphorical language of the Bible originally spoke into the lives of the shepherds and farmers of Israel. I wouldn’t say that I didn’t understand the Bible well before learning about the culture or that you can’t read it well without it. Instead, I would say that understanding the culture of the original hearers has opened up new layers of depth to the Bible that I had never seen before.
The above picture is a classic example. These are the ‘green pastures’ of Psalm 23. If the Promised Land is flowing with milk and honey, this is the land flowing with milk (from the sheep and goats). The wilderness is the place of the shepherd. When describing God’s leading of the people in the wilderness for 40 years, Psalm 77 says ‘You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.’ God is the shepherd and we are his sheep.
And this wilderness is the place where he leads us. It is not as green as I expected. There is no belly-deep alfalfa to lounge in, rest, and relax. Instead, there are plenty of rocks, inedible plants, hot days, and dark nights. Yet, in the midst of the wilderness, there is food. The picture below shows the ‘green’ of the green pastures. It’s just a mouthful. Not everything the sheep will need for the next few months, but just enough for now. Then, if the sheep follows the voice of the shepherd and follows where he leads, there will be another mouthful.
Having the Lord as our shepherd means living one mouthful at a time, trusting him to sustain us for the next few steps of the journey. That doesn’t negate planning, but it does change what it means that “I shall not want.” As a sheep, I need to hear his voice and follow where it leads, trusting he will get me to the next tuft of grass.
That requires a lot of trust. It means walking in the wilderness places of life. It means following the voice of the shepherd even when you don’t know where it leads. It means trusting he will provide you with enough so that you shall not want.
May God make us like sheep in the wilderness, who follow his every word and trust the paths on which he leads us. Amen.