Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?Psalm 42:11 The Message
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He’s my God.
We’ve all been there. Depression, despair, disappointment, even disgruntled. Life happens. We know God is no respecter of persons, but neither is misfortune. Often it is through no fault of our own, and sometimes we are the culprits of our own adversity. Still, we find ourselves cast down in darkness and seemingly helpless times. Another translation of Psalm 42 reads, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” (ESV) The psalmist chooses the word “cast” because he is well familiar with sheep who are often found in this state. It is one reason the shepherd keeps such a constant watchful eye and is continuously counting his flock.
A cast sheep is one whose weight has shifted while lying down, causing the animal to roll over onto its back. Once this happens, it is impossible for it to turn itself back over. Keller describes, “A cast sheep is a very pathetic sight. Lying on its back, feet in the air, it flays away frantically struggling to stand up, without success. If the owner does not arrive within a reasonably short time, the sheep will die.” As it struggles, gases begin to build up in the rumen causing them to expand, cutting off circulation to the extremities. This situation is the first that comes to mind when the sheepherder discovers one of his flock is missing.
The shepherd spends many days of his existence, saving and restoring sheep. Especially if the one cast is a ewe with lambs in the womb. This would mean multiple losses for the shepherd. With this imagery, the story of the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine to find the one lost sheep takes on a whole new meaning. Imagine the tireless search for the lost one, only to see it in a distance, lying on its back helpless. The shepherd sprints toward the animal, knowing every minute counts. Upon reaching the animal, He rolls it over on its side, relieving the pressure. Then lifting the beast to her feet, straddling the sheep with his legs, rubbing her limbs to restore circulation.. All the while, gently and lovingly speaking to the creature, “I’m so glad I found you! When will you learn, you little rascal, you?” When the animal first begins to walk, she staggers and stumbles, but the patient, loving shepherd, continues to work to restore her to her previous state, until finally, she runs back to join the rest of the flock.
Jesus Christ is uniquely qualified as the Good Shepherd. Again and again, over and over, He picks up cast sheep. He knows who you are; He knows your name. He sees you; He’s running to you. He won’t let you perish with unfulfilled purpose. He’s there: He lifts you up, turns you over, and with His caring touch, restores. All praises to Him alone! No wonder we call Him Savior!
Keller, W. Phillip. A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1970, 2007.