When I was about 13 and with my parents on the mission field in Holland, a youth-led service was organized for the American Air Force chapel service we attended Sunday evenings, which my father assisted and later chaplained. I volunteered to give the 'sermon,' which though it was from the heart, essentially ended up being a book review of W. Philip Keller's A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 (Zondervan, org. published in '70).
But I could hardly have picked a better book to sermonize from, and was reminded of this fact when I read through the book again in recent months. Not only is the book based on one of the most meaningful and beloved passages in Scripture, but Keller's insight into the unique and nuanced dynamics of tending sheep as a longtime shepherd himself, unfamiliar to most of us today but certainly not lost on David, is unfathomably deep. I can't emphasize enough how much more meaning the psalm takes on through reading it alongside Keller's personal experience and faithful commentary.
For encouragement and devotional purposes alone, I hope you have a chance to read the book. But it also depicts a model of animal husbandry, both in the psalm itself and Keller's own example, which is so thoroughly attentive to the sheep's well-being, not to mention compassionate and biblically grounded, that I couldn't resist passing it along.
I'll follow up with a few more passages in a second post, along with a reservation or two which you might share about the inevitable fate of the sheep themselves. But here's a good summary in the meantime of the husbandry which both David and Keller intuitively modeled toward their sheep, and understood to be an intimate illustration of God's relationship to us:
(God) is the rancher who is outstanding because of His fondness for sheep - Who loves them for their own sake as well as His personal pleasure in them. ...
He will go to no end of trouble and labor to supply them with the finest grazing, the richest pasturage, ample winter feed, and clean water. He will spare Himself no pains to provide shelter from storms, protection from ruthless enemies and the diseases and parasites to which sheep are so susceptible.
No wonder Jesus said, "I am the Good Shepherd - the Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." (pg. 31)
The smallest scraps of human charity - a bit of maternal care, room to roam outdoors, straw to lie on - have long since been taken away as costly luxuries, and so the pigs know the feel only of concrete and metal. They lie covered in their own urine and excrement, with broken legs from trying to escape or just to turn, covered with festering sores, tumors, ulcers, lesions, or what my guide shrugged off as the routine "pus pockets." ("A Religious Case for Compassion for Animals" (HSUS Faith Outreach), pg. 13)
By the way, Zondervan's bio of W. Phillip Keller says that he began his life in East Africa, and "always loved wildlife and the outdoors." After working for many years in British Columbia in agricultural study and practice as well as ranching, "he later pursued careers in conservation, wildlife photography, and journalism."
to be continued ...
(originally posted 3/8/10; beautiful photo of sheep taken in Holland by my father Daryl DeVries)