Water is essential to the general health and wellbeing of humans and animals. Nearly every cell of the human body contains water. Similarly, water represents about 70 percent of a sheep’s composition. The vitality, strength and vigor of the sheep depend on this God made substance. Dehydration can cause serious damage to the flock, so the sheepherder goes to great lengths to ensure they have an ample supply. The shepherd usually water their sheep once a day; but rather than taking them to a rushing stream (sheep are skittish), he leads them are to calm, still lagoons. This water is not only for drinking, but for cleansing, refreshment, and washing of wounds.
I must admit, in my mind’s eye, when I read this Psalm, I see “still waters”, nestled in a valley where the shepherd leads his sheep; but Keller paints a vivid portrait of the shepherd who also leads his flock to wells on his own property. He tells of “hand hewn caverns cut from the sandstone foundation” along sandy river banks. He recalls “they were like great rooms chiseled out of the rocks with ramps running down to the water trough at the bottom (escaping the heat of the African equatorial sun). It was there at the bottom, where the stripped naked shepherd, drenched in sweat, baled water into a cistern where the clean, cool water nourished the parched herd.
This word painting shows what great lengths the Father (Good Shepherd) will go to provide for the sheep. It is only through His strength that the sheep are satisfied. And nothing pleases the “Master” more. Keller continues by emphasizing the similitude of this imagery and seasons in the Christian life. Although we may find ourselves in dark, low places, the Lord is right there, providing us with nourishing and sustaining ,”living water” that only He can provide. Sometimes the dark places can end up being a blessing when you realize the Shepherd was actually protecting you from he scorching heat.
Keller, W. Phillip. A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1970, 2007
Ross, Allen P. A Commentary on the Psalms. Kregel Academic, n.d.,562