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Lent 2015 Devotional—Day 31

2015LentCoverWebFor God’s Name Sake

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
Psalm 23:1-4

Many Bible commentators suggest that David wrote and prayed this beloved psalm in his twilight years. David is a man who had lived life to the fullest. He has been a warrior, a heroic king, but also a fugitive, adulterer and murderer. This is honest testimony from someone who has lived in God’s care. Now as David approaches the end of his journey he remembers how as a young lad he had cared for his father’s sheep, and he writes: “The LORD is my shepherd.”

David’s words seem to follow the typical day in the life of a shepherd and his sheep in the Holy Land. Day begins early as the shepherd leads his flock from their nighttime protection of the fold to find green pastures. Then, after a morning of grazing, the sheep rest in grassy meadows beside still waters. Refreshed, the sheep are led by their shepherd back to the safety of the fold for the night. The shepherd will sleep at the entrance of the fold to prevent any wild beast from attacking, as well as to prevent any sheep from wandering away from the fold’s safety.

The shepherd is careful to lead his sheep along safe pathways, but is armed with his rod, ready to fight off any lion, wolf or gang of bandits. David himself as a young shepherd had fought off and killed lions and bears protecting his sheep ( I Samuel 17:34). He knows a shepherd’s care for his sheep. Ask a shepherd of Palestine to show you his arms and legs, and he will show you the scars he has received fighting the enemies of his flock. The shepherd in our text also carries a staff that he will use to rescue a sheep that has fallen or gone astray. He leads his sheep along “right paths”, that is, paths that are going somewhere, that have a destination; this is the sense of the Hebrew words. And he leads them in paths that are good and well chosen “for his name’s sake”. The shepherd is keenly aware that his reputation and honor are involved in leading his sheep safely.

It is significant that half way through this Psalm David switches from the third person to the second. David begins the Psalm talking about the Shepherd, and how the Shepherd leads and cares for him. But when David journeys “through the darkest valley”, he switches to the second person. David no longer talks about the Shepherd, but starts talking to the Shepherd; it is then that the Shepherd’s presence becomes very real.

I have walked through some dark valleys, and have walked with others through theirs. I have witnessed how often it is in the dark times that we stop talking about the Shepherd, and start talking to Him. It is then we come to really know that we are cared for and loved by our Shepherd. His good Name is at stake in knowing how to lead and care for us.

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