“A flock that is restless, discontent, agitated, or disturbed, never goes well. The same is true of people.”W. Phillip Keller
I’m not a big fan of licorice, but I do like the name of this sweet treat. Invented in 1893 by the Quaker Chocolate and Confectionary Company (later purchased by Hershey’s), the name suggests the candy is flavorful with plenty in the package to share with others – or “to go around”. The significance of this verse of Psalm 23 is that for sheep, it is almost impossible to get them to lie down in green pastures, absent these four requirements:
They must be free from fear
Sheep are helpless, timid, and easily frightened. One startled sheep that runs in fright will cause the others to bolt with it blindly. Fear has caused many a ewe to slip their unborn lambs and abort them when being chased by predators. It is the sheepherder’s presence that calms their fears. They know he will protect and thwart all evil attempts to devour them. They can lie down and sleep in peace (Psalm 4:8).
They must be free from tension
Tension and cruel competition within the flock will keep the sheep from the contentment necessary to lie down and rest in peace. In every animal species, there is an established order of dominance. In the world of chickens, it’s called a “pecking order”. Sheep have a “butting order” where the older ones usurp authority over “their” feeding area. Knowledge of the shepherd’s presence stifles the competitive contention among the sheep. He is the calming influence, reminding them He is in control and each of them will have more than enough.
They must be free from aggravations
Freedom from the torment of parasites and insects is essential to the restfulness of the flock. It is nearly impossible for sheep to lie down and rest when in this state. Attacks by flies, ticks, and other parasites can make the flock miserable. The shepherd takes great care in “dipping” them (a mixture of water, insecticide and fungicide), ensuring protection from these pests.
They must be free from hunger
Clearly implied by the statement, “He makes me lie down in green pastures”, is the assurance that the shepherd always provides more than enough grazing territory for his flock. What is significant about this is the territory where David wrote this psalm. It was dry, brown, sunburned wasteland, requiring significant labor, time, and skill in land use by the shepherd to prepare and develop a pasture into green grass.
When the poet writes “He makes me lie down in green pastures”, he is not suggesting this “making’ was a command, but a consequence of the actions of the Lord, which causes a state of peace and rest in the flock. He relieved them of cares, freeing them to lie down.
Good and plenty are God’s desire for us, His sheep. That does not mean we will be absent of trouble or fear. It just means the Good Shepherd is Greater. Our rest is in Him.
Keller, W. Phillip. A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1970, 2007