The Secret of Contentment
Some years ago, I visited a friend who spent summers working as a shepherd. Even though it was a seasonal job, he was quite knowledgeable about sheep. Three bits of trivia stuck with me.
- Sheep spend eighty-five-percent of their lives grazing and are known to bleat when they enter lush pastures, seemingly expressing delight.
- Sheep have limited depth perception and are easily frightened in spite of enhanced peripheral vision.
- Sheep depend on the shepherd’s guidance.
Why am I telling you this?
The word pictures in the twenty-third psalm are worth exploring.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”
When King David testifies, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures,” it’s not the shepherd forcing a lie-down on the sheep (v.2). Sheep only graze while standing. David understands that when they’re already full and completely satisfied sheep can truly rest in verdant pastures.
David poetically describes the picture of a conscientious shepherd leading his flock to still waters. This makes sense, if you understand that sheep are frightened of everything—loud noises, unexpected movement. Rushing water has both; and, sheep will not drink there.
The shepherd knows every pool suitable for the refreshment of his sheep. He leads them to water that is neither swift nor stagnant where the sheep will be at ease and can drink freely.
David affirms, the Lord, my shepherd, cares for me completely. He supplies every need. He refreshes my soul (v.3). We tend to think of the soul as an ethereal spiritual component of our being. Here David uses the word, nephesh (Heb. נֶפֶשׁ), which refers to life as a whole, not a compartmentalized spirituality.
The meaning is obvious. The care of the shepherd provides a safe environment that invigorates, revitalizes and refreshes the life of his sheep. (1)
Choosing the best path for his sheep is the hallmark of a good shepherd. Sheep never worry about the route or direction in a real life setting. They simply follow the shepherd (Ps. 18:30).
We can almost hear the king himself confidently assuring, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness” (v. 3). The Tanakh reads, “He guides me in right paths as befits His name” (v. 3, JPS). David conveys a profound truth in this brief statement.
Jehovah never deviates from the right path or leads His sheep down an inferior one. His guidance demonstrates the reliability of His name and reputation as the God of Israel. While day-to-day challenges can be worrying, only the path of righteousness can provide security.
The secret of contentment encapsulated in this portion of the 23rd Psalm is practical and direct. There was no doubt in David’s mind that the Lord could be trusted to do what was best for him. While elusive in our culture, David advises us that there is only way to have satisfaction, safety and security on the path of life. Stay close to the Shepherd!
1) Many of the psalms David penned begin by recounting overwhelming circumstances and conclude with renewed hope in God’s faithfulness.
1) Detail and full image: California Spring. (By Albert Bierstadt/[Public domain]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
2) (Other images, Pixabay/[Public domain]/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
Copyright © 2016 Charles E. McCracken, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.