In the bible, God uses the image of a shepherd when explaining His care for His people. One of the most popular passages—and most comforting—is Psalm 23 where King David describes the picture He has of God.
Psalm 23:1-4 NIV – 1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
In reality, few people share this experience with David enough to have a working understanding of the relationship of a shepherd to his sheep. Most of us enjoy these images about shepherding secondhand, and most likely, that will not change much over the next few years. But, David was one person who knew the shepherding experience firsthand. In fact, God says He “took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep [and] he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. (NIV)” In David’s youth, one of the most outstanding jobs he had was the one that trained him to be the king of a great nation—shepherding. If we were to ask for a resume of David’s qualifications, tending sheep would be the first experience of employment we’d get from him. When the Lord looked for references to call, He looked to the sheep for answers.
It was this task, of shepherding the family’s flock, that proved to be David’s most shaping and forming experience. We’re told in the bible that David learned while working in those hills of Palestine, how to defend, how to war, how to lead and, most of all, how to care for the sheep of the heritage pasture. In tending the lambs David learned to confront loins and bears. If you needed a warrior, the green hills of Palestine qualified this great combatant. Just read what David tells Saul in light of his qualifications for fighting Goliath:
1 Samuel 17:34-36 NIV – 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear…’
While the sheep were lamp chops in the mouth of the predators, David yanked them out, struck the attacker, and killed the vicious animals. We know from reading the bible these training tactics of warfare were very useful in vanquishing Goliath in the valley of Elah.
Let’s get back to my main passage. I know that most of the time when we hear Psalm 23 it’s quoted at a funeral to encourage loved ones. “Though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil.” It gives comfort to the sorrowing, strength to those hurting, and encouragement to the downcast. However, it’s also very possible that this incident in the “valley of Elah” was the valley of the shadow of death that David had in mind. Think of it, as he stood there against the giant Goliath, we read David stood tall as a man with no fear in the face of death—“I will fear no evil” he muses. The thoughts, “You are with me; your rod and staff comfort me” must have been his very assurance. Who’s to say that when David chose his staff, sling and a few stones over Saul’s fancy armor, that his thoughts were not that the staff he carried was the very staff of God? Doesn’t it make sense that God’s staff and rod would be his comfort and assurance in the valley of Elah as He went against the giant in the valley of the shadow of death?
What David had learned, as a shepherd in the hills of Palestine, were the right qualifications God was looking for in someone to shepherd His people! All David was doing was mimicking the realities he learned of who God is in action. The Lord is my shepherd, He makes me lie down in green pastures, and He does restore my soul and guides me to the place where “I fear no evil.” In other words, David knew and experienced that God was his life’s caretaker!
So often the little things in life we hold as so insignificant are really the training grounds for God’s great labor. The simple little lessons on the green hills Palestine, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” are the makings and lesson for a true child of the King—to make us kings! Despise not the day of small things.
J. Robert Hanson