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Lesson 1: The Shepherd's Crucible *

Introduction: All my life I have heard that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and I am one of the dumb sheep. I accept that. I know I need protection. I know that I can make some really dumb decisions. What occurred to me for the first time last week is that the sheep also get sheared and eaten! Their lives are preserved by the shepherd so that they can in turn give up their lives for others. Why don't we discuss that part of the sheep analogy? Is it because we don't want to, or because the focus of the illustration is elsewhere? Let's dive into our study today and find out what Psalms 23 has to say about the sheep story!

  1. My Shepherd

    1. Read Psalms 23:1-3. Who wrote these verses? (King David - who grew up as a shepherd.)

      1. When you think of King David, do you think of him as a "sheep?" (No. I think of him as a great warrior-king.)

      2. Why do you think he thought of himself as God's sheep? What characteristics of the shepherd/sheep arrangement does he mention in these verses? (The shepherd takes care of the sheep's needs.)

      3. The mention of water and grass make it seem that God takes care of our essentials. Why does David refer to "paths of righteousness?" (Read John 21:15-17. It is likely that David is only referring to spiritual food and water.)

        1. When David refers to spiritual nourishment, is he telling us God will make us great theologians if we stick with Him?

        2. What does he mean when he refers to having his "soul" restored? (Notice the terms used: "green" pastures, "quiet" waters and "he restores my soul." David is writing about that aspect of spirituality which gives us peace, confidence, rest and joy.)

      4. Why does Psalms 23:3 say that God does this? (For His name's sake. A calm, confidence, peaceful demeanor on our part in the storms of life brings glory to our God.)

        1. What stake does a shepherd have in his sheep? (A shepherd who let his sheep get injured and go hungry would develop a poor reputation. God is concerned about His reputation.)

      5. Notice that the sheep must be "made" to lie down in green pastures and be "led" by quiet waters. What does that suggest about our attitudes in life? (That peace, confidence, rest and joy are not natural.)

        1. What does this suggest about following the natural desires of our heart?

      6. Do you sometimes feel that you are the only one who has gone through the kind of emotional and spiritual problems that you face? That no one else can really understand your situation? What does this analogy to "paths of righteousness" suggest about you being a pioneer in unhappiness? (If you are "off the path" that God has in mind for you, then you may be treading new ground. But, a "path," is a place where many others have walked before. In problems, God has a spiritual "green place" for you that has worked for many others.)

    2. Read Psalms 23:4. What does the phrase "valley of the shadow of death" bring to mind? (A valley is a low spot. A shadow is dark. It lacks light. On the other hand, a shadow is not the real thing. My shadow is simply a dark representation of me. This seems to be a situation in which I am very low, I have trouble seeing the light, and my dark outlook makes me think that my death is at hand, even though it is not.)

      1. We just painted a terrible picture. Why would the sheep in that situation not fear? (God is with us.)

      2. As far as I can tell, King David suggests that two sticks give us comfort. How do you understand this "two stick" theory?

        1. Read Leviticus 27:32. What was one use of the shepherd's rod? (To count the sheep. God knows about you. He counts you as one of His. That gives you confidence in the face of apparent death.)

        2. Read 1 Samuel 17:40. With what did David face Goliath? (His staff and five stones. A staff was a weapon the shepherd could use against intruders. Thus, the two stick theory is that God counts us as His, and He stands ready to protect us against intruders.)

      3. Let's stop a minute and revisit my introduction. The sheep (at least some of them) are ultimately headed for the cooking pot. Why should we take confidence in a shepherd who oversees that process? (Read Hebrews 13:5-6. The Good Shepherd knows us, He protects us, and nothing happens to us without His consent. If we love and trust Him, that gives us confidence about the future. Note also that King David, when he compares God to a shepherd, does not spend any time on the cooking pot side of things. Instead, he focuses on the care and protection given by the shepherd.)

  2. My Cook

    1. Read Psalms 23:5. Have you ever seen a dog who eats in the presence of another dog? How does the eater act? (This is not always true, but often the dog who is eating eats quickly and defensively so that the other dog will not steal his food.)

      1. What is David saying to us in this verse? Are we eating quickly and defensively? (No. This is not a quick meal. God prepares a "table" - a big spread of food - right in front of my enemies. Normally, this would make you nervous. The picture is that God laughs at our enemies. He puts us in a place in which we can ignore them to such a degree that it is comfortable to eat.)

      2. Read Luke 7:46. To what custom is David referring when he says God "anoints my head with oil?" (This is a sign of blessing and favor.)

      3. Just as you might expect, a sheep is not good at holding his cup steady. Is that the meaning of "my cup overflows?" (No. God gives more blessings than we can comfortably handle.)

  3. My Future

    1. Read Psalms 23:6. There are several references in Psalms 23 to negative circumstances. You have a soul that needs restoration (v.3), you walk through "the valley of the shadow of death" (v.4), there is "evil" around(v.4), you have need for comfort (v.4), and there are nearby enemies (v.5). What kind of life does that suggest the sheep would be living without the shepherd?

      1. What kind of life does the sheep who confidently follows the Good Shepherd live? (A life filled with goodness and love.)

      2. What, ultimately, is the fate of the sheep who are with the Good Shepherd - the cooking pot? (No! We are God's house guests for eternity!)

    2. Friend, we are on the journey of life. Problems are all around us. Would you like to take that journey in the presence of the Good Shepherd? Would you like the peace of mind that His presence brings? Would you like to know that at the end of this journey you will live in His presence forever? Give up your sins and give your heart to Him today. Sign up to be one of His sheep - one who avoids the cooking pot!

  4. Next week: The Crucibles That Come.
* Copr. 2007, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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