Without envisioning the dangers of the Israeli wilderness and the dependency of sheep, there can’t be a true appreciation for the original context of Psalm 23. Next week’s blog will include how easy it is to get lost in the desert, but this week’s focus is on more imminent dangers.
Last week’s fun covering the psychoanalysis of donkeys touches on the dangers of the wilderness. I won’t write a lot on the psychoanalysis of sheep and goats because I found a blog that does an excellent job with that subject. But briefly, sheep are extremely dependent on their shepherds. Add the Israeli environmental hazards to this mix and the good or bad shepherd guarantees the sheep’s life or death.
The above picture illustrates the “valley of the shadow of death.”
The bright skies and desert sunlight above, coupled with the glare of the desert slopes…it seems strange to read in Jeremiah: “O generation…have I been like a desert…a land of darkness?” (Jeremiah 2:31) A land of darkness is clearly a synonym here for the desert…. The darkness…at sunset produces the strongest possible contrast to the dazzling light of day. Travelers…foolhardy enough to walk on in the dark…may find themselves falling into “the valley of the shadow of death….” Both light and darkness are intensified in the desert…
Of course, if it’s a full moon it’s bright. In fact, it’s so bright I guess you can read in the desert at night time. But during the new moon, it’s pitch black. So then you may think, “simple, just don’t walk at night time and you’re safe.” But add to this mix the distance between water holes and the majority of the year when water is so scarce. Also if it’s summer, it means walking too much in the bright sun and intense heat of the day. Or if it’s winter, there’s likely more water to be found, but also flash floods.
This briefly sums up the dangers for humans, but what about sheep?
Sheep need sustenance as well as water. Humans often carry enough food for themselves but finding weeds and brush for sheep can be challenging. Add to this how hunger emboldens predator animals. And what if a sheep gets lost? This is an imminent danger to sheep. Sheep get overwhelmed when lost, so they’ll lie down and bleat at the top of their lungs. Predator animals hear, “I’m here, free lunch, come and get me!” And if the shepherd finds the lost sheep first, it still doesn’t get up because it doesn’t get over feeling overwhelmed that easily. The shepherd must pick up and carry the sheep. Perhaps over 200 pounds. If you heard sheep are dumb, this is one of the reasons. They’re just so dependent on the shepherd.
Recognizing our dependence on our Saviour is a good thing, though. Jesus said,
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5).
Do you depend on our Good Shepherd for everything?
The above picture and most of the information is from Desert and Shepherd in Our Biblical Heritage