Mazes and risks obtaining water in the desert add to the shepherd’s dangers. From Desert and Shepherd in Our Biblical Heritage:
Orientation in the desert is not easy. In many areas, the hills look exactly alike, while the many narrow valleys are frequently blocked by rockfalls that further impede the desert traveler…the desert trails themselves hamper orientation…. Created by wild animals grazing on the slopes and hills and by the feet of shepherds and their flocks…trampled to nearby cisterns…distant springs, or from the pens to the grazing areas…flocks…the same route many times…in the course of cropping the vegetation…give the sheep and goats the necessary footholds to graze without losing their balance…the rains are not strong enough to wash them away, and in these parts…no plows are used…these tracks last for years, even after the animals are gone and grazing has stopped. These narrow trails…so typical of the desert, are a hazard to the wayfarer. Sometimes the trail traverses a steep slope and becomes ever narrower until it reaches the edge of an abyss. Above and below it numerous light-colored tracks glimmer, some of them broad and conspicuous, so that the track followed gets lost in the proliferation. Are you still on the right path…without noticing the intersections? …The track you return by merges with its twins to the right and left, and once again…not noticing any junction you should have taken…
And when they do find a watering hole, the challenge to get at the water is sometimes treacherous in itself. Since a picture is worth 1,000 words, see these 2 pictures. I covered in a previous blog about the dangers of flash floods in winter wadis. See Psalm 69:1-3 and 15-16.
The same waters that give life in the desert may also take life…suddenly in raging torrents spilling down from the hills…. The awesome sight of a desert wadi in full flood will do more for the understanding of this psalm than all the commentators and translators…. Friction along the shoreline causes the water touching the banks of the stream to flow at a slower rate than the water in the center. The relatively faster flow in the center pulls towards it the slower-flowing waters, creating wavelets that look like an ear of grain. Such an “ear of water” is especially conspicuous when the current reaches a waterfall, its speed at the center increasing at a faster rate than the flow on the sides. The “ear of water” is, therefore, the most dangerous part of the stream, where the torrent is strongest…. The force with which the falling water hits bottom frequently forms a deep pot hole which partially fills with silt. Often the current washes this silt out of the basin and deposits it just outside the rim of the pot hole, where it forms a loose, muddy barrier…extremely difficult to extricate oneself from the pot hole beneath the waterfall…the fear voiced by David in Psalm 69. In recent years there was at least one case…I know, in which a hiker drowned in such a pot hole because he was unable to clamber over the silt barrier.
See also Psalm 40:2-3. This explains the “slimy pit” of verse 2. The shepherd has his hands full taking care not just of his sheep, but for his own life. Yet Psalm 23 speaks of the confidence the sheep have in their shepherd. They recognize his voice, he leads them beside the still waters, he restores their souls. He leads them in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Do you draw such comfort from your Shepherd in the storms and confusion of life? Do you want to? The world tells us there are “so many ways to heaven,” but there’s only one path to our desired destination. The Great Shepherd knows that path and will guide you. Persistent Bible reading and asking for His help are all we first need to do. Finding a church with good teachings is often hard, but the Good Shepherd will guide you.
The above pictures are scanned from Desert and Shepherd in Our Biblical Heritage.