The beautiful Psalm 23 captivates me. The writer is wooing us into a deeper love relationship with the Shepherd! He's lovingly, tenderly, making us hunger for more. I invite you to linger a little longer with me over this much loved psalm of King David's and 'see what we can see...'
This is the 2nd in a short series I am doing on the book by Phillip Keller: “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.”
“The Lord is My Shepherd.” David's psalm opens with these very familiar words. This is a clear, bold statement of ownership. From God's perspective, He is staking His claim on us. We are His. And He is ours! He owns us. He clearly wants us to know and understand that we are His prized possession, for which He has paid the ultimate price. He will care for us all the days of our lives. We can count on that. But, the one thing He will not do is share us with another God.
Keller, from his experience as a sheep owner, explains the process of taking ownership of the sheep. He gives us an unadorned picture of what took place when the shepherd claimed ownership over his sheep.
The shepherd “takes each ewe in turn and laying her ear on a wooden block, notches it deeply with the razor-sharp edge of the killing knife. There was pain for both of us. But from our mutual suffering, an indelible lifelong mark of ownership was made that could not be erased. Every sheep that came into the fold would bear the mark of ownership by the shepherd.” (p.24)
The mark could be seen from a distance by anyone wanting to know who was the rightful owner of the sheep. There was no hiding or mistaking the mark of the shepherd, branded in blood into the very body of the sheep. There was no having it two ways – the sheep could only belong to one shepherd! Such a simple statement, but so pregnant with meaning: The Lord is MY Shepherd.
There really is no mistaking the parallels for us as believers, is there?! It is a painful experience to “lay our head on the wooden block” and allow the Lord to put His mark on us. I tend to want to avoid the cutting tool. I want to squirm away from the mark of the cross. I want to belong to the Shepherd – sometimes! Does it really have to be so exclusive? Do I really have to abandon all my other gods? The gods of my culture: money, sex, immediate gratification... And, of course, everyone's personal favorite - the god of SELF!
I don't always want to be clearly identified as belonging to the Shepherd. Sometimes, it's just inconvenient. Sometimes, it hurts. Sometimes, I am rejected because I have His mark on my forehead. I can't avoid the reality that some of His sheep are being slaughtered, just because they belong to Him. Some of them are being starved, tortured, imprisoned and abandoned because of His ownership over them. In some places in the world, it is outright dangerous to be marked by the cross.
I have to ask myself, am I willing to be His? What mark do people see when they look at me? Who or what is it they would say owns me? What is the mark that covers me? What does Jesus see when He looks on me? Does He recognize me as belonging to Him? Or am I clearly branded with the mark of another god?
Scripture Reference: Matthew 7:22-23
“Many will say to Me on that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons, and done many wonders in your name? And I will say to them, depart from Me for I never knew you...”