Last Sunday, as part of our series titled The Good Shepherd at Hobart Baptist Church, I spoke on Psalm 23. Midway through my preparation I realised one way to present the material would be to tell the story of the writing of the Psalm from David’s perspective. For this exercise I’ve assumed David wrote it late in his life as a reflection on the way God has looked after him through his life. You can listen to it here. I’ve included my notes below.
Good morning, my name is David, King David from Bethlehem. I’ve been living in Jerusalem for years. Except tonight, I’m with a few of my trusted servants out in the wilderness past the Mount of Olives. We fled the city this afternoon.
I’m a bit old and grey for roughing it. I was a warrior once, but not tonight, My body is feeling a bit the worse for many years of wear.
But being out here under the stars got me thinking, reflecting, remembering. I’d like to share a bit of it with you. I’ve got a few notes… my mind is not what it used to be…
collecting my songs
Lately, one of the worship leaders has begun collecting my songs. Over the years, some have been used in the temple for worship. But he wants to collect them all. He says they are very good, and they will be important for future generations. Maybe, maybe not.
They all come out of my experience. The good times, the down times, when things are going well, when they are not. When I’ve done some great things, when I’ve done not so great things.
They are a bit personal, I share my heart and soul, I get a bit angry is some, some are a bit soppy and some are a bit embarrassing. But at least most of them, if not all try to honour God even if I do say some strange things here and there. I’m sure some people won’t understand some of it, they are songs, poetry after all.
But in the end, I said he could go ahead. If God can use them to help other, well good. I’ll be dead soon, so it won’t matter to me.
I grew up in Bethlehem, God has been with me from my earliest days.
I grew up with my brothers. I was the youngest of eight sons. Our livelihood was sheep and goats.
A family of shepherds
My father, his father, and as far back as I know, were all shepherds, just like some of our great ancestors, Moses and Abraham.
We were a big family, so we had a lot of stock. They gave us milk and meat for food, and wool to make clothes to keep warm, and we made cheese from the milk.
From a very early age, about 4 years old, I started going out with my brothers looking after the sheep. For years I lived caring for sheep. I would walk with them, dozing with them, get bored them, chased them and most of the time I smelt like them.
It was hard work. Day after day, week after week, year upon year.
There were no paddock or fences, rather we would take out the sheep and wander from place to place looking for grass. Because of the dry and rocky ground there was little grass, so we were constantly moving from one spot to another. Carefulness was important due to the many steep and dangerous cliffs and canyons.
We also had to make sure the sheep got a drink at least once a day. So, you had to plan well because there are not many water sources around here. Each time we went to water we had to choose a different route, so the grass wasn’t overgrazed or destroyed due to being is walked on.
My own flock
Eventually, I got a small flock of my own. It started with my pet sheep, ‘ammy’. I’d raised from a lamb and it would follow me anywhere. So, she would follow me, and the flock followed ‘ammy’.
Sometimes we went a long way from the home. The green grass of the summer needs to first be eaten as far away as possible, then moving back closer towards home for the winter months when the days are shorter.
And you had be on the lookout for wolves and lions and bears. I had to stay alert and know how to fight when I need to, to protect the sheep
As I grew up, I was given more and more sheep, and because I was the youngest, my brothers kept giving me more work, I ended up with the worst jobs. I was left alone a lot of the time and it gave me time for a lot of thinking, writing songs and singing.
With all that experience I became quite a good shepherd. The one day, alone my myself with all the sheep, one of my brothers came running to say that Samuel the prophet wanted to see me. “See me?” I thought, “why does he want to see me?” That’s the day Samuel anointed me as the next king of Israel. I wrote a song about that. You call it Psalm 39.
That’s nearly 50 years ago, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. Not long after that King Saul started asking for me to come and sing for him. He was a troubled man and my singing and playing soothed his soul a bit After playing for him I would go back to looking after sheep.
the day my life changed Forever
But that all changed suddenly. One day, dad asked me to take some food to my three older brothers who were fighting the Philistines with King Saul. No one was willing to stand up against the giant Goliath, so I did. God was good to me that day. I woke up with the sheep in the morning I went to bed that night in the King’s palace and a friend of his son, Jonathan. I still wonder how that happened.
I was a good military leader and Saul gave me a high rank in the army. But eventually Saul became more troubled and ended up having to hide from him. Although I had lived in the palace with him and his son Jonathon, my best friend, Saul was trying to kill me. I was a great warrior and people liked me.
Saul became jealous and I was a threat to him. I guess he knew one day I would be king. He needn’t have been worried. I was not going to harm him. I never became king because I wanted to. It was God’s idea, not mine. And I was happy to wait until God gave it to me. I was never going to take it from Saul.
As Saul was chasing around the countryside, I wrote some of my best songs during these times. Some of them are complaints to God about the unfair treatment I was receiving, some are full of thanks that God got me out of another sticky situation, others combine both.
I eventually became King but lost my friend Jonathon the same day. It was a sad/glad day. It was bitter/sweet.
Now I’m King
I’ve written a few songs since I became king, but I’ve slowed down a bit. There are songs about war and victories, about capturing Jerusalem, and bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. And there are some about repentance and forgiveness. There are something’s I’ve done in my life that I’m not proud of. Not proud at all. I’m sure you know about my adultery and murder, and times when I’ve used my authority for my own ends and not for the good of the people. I’m ashamed. Yep. There are even songs about that. Then there are the songs of an old man too.
Today, as I said, I’ve had to flee Jerusalem as my son Absalom march to Jerusalem with his army. He wants the kingdom and is willing to take it by force If needed. So, I left the capital to him. If God wants him king, let it be. I don’t want to hold on to being king any longer that God wants me to. It’s been a sad and emotional day.
Here, out is the wilderness, my men where ‘hungry, weary and thirsty, God has mercifully provided. We’ve been given food by the good fold here, even as enemies surround us. God is good.
The out here, looking at the stars, I’ve become a bit nostalgic. I’m remembering my years as a shepherd boy and God’s goodness to me. Then in a quiet moment a new song came to me. It came in a flash of inspiration I called my aide to come and write it down, it just bubbled.
Over the years, I’ve used a lot of pictures to describe what God is like to me. God is like warrior, God is a sun and shield” (84:11), Rock 18:2, Judge 94:2, King 10:16, 74:12, 84:3, and a favourite of mine, Refuge: 62:8, 9:9. But today, something new came to mind. Thinking back on my life, all the problems, all the heartache, all the troubles, all the fun, all the joy, I realise that God has been there for me all the time, always looking after me.
A new metaphor
That’s when it came to me. God, the God I’ve followed all my life, has been like a shepherd to me, just like I was a shepherd to my sheep so many years ago now. And I’m like a dumb, stupid sheep. Sometimes stubborn, sometime contrary, and often stupid.
So, God is my Shepherd. He is a good shepherd to me, just like I was too my sheep. I’ve been blessed, cared for, and supported. God has supplied all that I’ve needed before I knew I needed it. Just like I would do for my sheep. I could tell when they had enough strength for a long walk, and when they needed water, and when they needed grass and when they needed a rest.
It’s important to learn what a sheep needs to rest. I would take great pride when I could get my sheep to rest on a green patch of grass. You know, a sheep will only lie down with lots of grass when:
- There is peace, they are not afraid
- They are a peace with each other, there is no tension with other sheep
- There are no problems with flies or parasites
- And their stomach is full, they don’t need to eat anymore
When the sheep lie down in a green pasture you know you’ve done a good job. God’s done that for me many times. When I’ve watched a beautiful sunset, when I’ve just finished a wonderful meal with good friends, after a great night’s sleep, when I’ve just made love to my wife. There are those times when I just relax in the safety of knowing God is looking after me.
Then, as a shepherd you are constantly on the move from one spot to another. Carefulness is required due to the steep and dangerous cliffs and canyons. Sometimes it is dangerous for even a sure-footed sheep or goat. So, care is need to take them down the right path and look after them carefully.
That’s like God. He has watched over me, even in the darkest times
- When I faced bears and lions
- When I faced Goliath
- When Saul was chasing me, and I feared for my death
- When Jonathon died
- And then with Bathsheba and her husband… not my finest hour
- Now Absalom wants to be king
God has always been with me, in my ups and down, the good and the bad, even after I sinned so badly. I have learnt not to fear death, to fear evil, to fear my sin, because God led me like a good shepherd who is always ready to rescue me even in the darkest moments.
Even today, way from Jerusalem, out in the wilderness, God has provided us with food, even when there are enemies all around me. God is still caring for me.
Here it is, for the first time
So, I’m certain, God love and care. And even after death, God will look after me and be my shepherd. Do you get it? It’s a great picture. Probably better than all the others.
So, let me share my new song to you. It hasn’t got music yet, so I’ll just read it. It’s deeply personal and I hope that maybe, just maybe, it might be helpful to you. It might help you to see God in a new way.
You may be young and so this is something new for you. You maybe old, like me, and been there and done that. But maybe for you too, it might speak about how wonderful and amazing God is. So, here goes, he’s my new song. You’re hearing if for the first time. I hope you like it.
God, my shepherd! you provide me with all I need.
You let me rest in lush pastures and find quiet refreshing pools to drink from. My soul is refreshed.
You lead me in the right direction and even when the going gets tough, through Death Valley, I’m not afraid, you lead the way and your strength makes me feel secure.
You serve me dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head, my life overflows with blessing.
Surely, your goodness and unfailing love will continue to chase me every day after day.
And I will live in your glorious presence forever.