3. The Shepherd as Protector"We need not face these fierce threats alone."
When David wrote Psalm 23, I wonder if he thought back on his first job interview. The morning of that interview, David did not even know he was looking for work. He was already the shepherd over his father’s flock. Nonetheless, he found himself across from the King of Israel being interviewed for a very dangerous job. In fact, he was the only applicant. “Are you qualified to protect Israel from the fiercest danger it has faced in a generation?” the king asked. David responds with a story…a shepherding story (1 Samuel 17:36). Gene Edwards dramatizes David’s story in his book “A Tale of Three Kings.”
Once, while singing his lungs out to God, angels, sheep, and passing clouds, he spied a living enemy: a huge bear! He lunged forward. Both found themselves moving furiously toward the same small object, a lamb feeding at a table of rich, green grass. Youth and bear stopped halfway and whirled to face one another. Even as he instinctively reached into his pocket for a stone, the young man realized, “Why, am I not afraid?” Meanwhile, brown lightning on mighty, furry legs charged at the shepherd with foaming madness. Impelled by the strength of youth, the young man married rock to leather, and soon a brook-smooth pebble whined through the air to meet that charge. A few moments later, the man—not quite so young as a moment before—picked up the little lamb and said, “I am your shepherd, and God is mine.”
Bears are brutes. They rely on overwhelming their victims with power and ferocity. Their attacks disorient and stun their prey. These attacks are a melee of barrages, each one potentially fatal. The world is filled with fierce, bear-like dangers that charge at us. Their roar and menace are terrifying. You may be acquainted with some of these bears. They say things like “You have cancer. “I want a divorce.” “You have been furloughed.” These days a great many bears snort and growl in the woods of social media.
Other dangers that lurk in the shadows are equally ferocious. They use stealth and cunning to sneak up on us. Do not underestimate these lions in our lives. They do not announce their attack. They are masters of stealth. They quietly pounce. When we finally understand that we are under attack, it might be too late to mount a defense. You may have encountered a few lions over the course of your life as well. The betrayal of a trusted friend, a low-grade jealousy, an anger that lurks just below the surface. These are lions that threaten our peace and happiness. Remember the warnings of Peter in his first letter to the church. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion…” (1 Peter 5:8 ESV).
David’s story of the bear illustrates two things for us. First, we live in a world that contains fierce dangers. Second, there is a shepherd who protects us. Having a shepherd at our side does not dispel the dangers that lie in shadowy valleys that we must walk through. Rather, this shepherd protects us on that path. Jesus illustrates this when He says “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV).
A Place for the Mauled and Battered
In the work that we have been called to do in The Salvation Army, we encounter men and women who have been pummeled by the bears of this world: poverty, addiction, abuse, illness. They show up at our doors mauled by the cruelty of life and battered by hardships that would devastate even the strongest among us. I am grateful for those who serve on the frontlines of social services ministries and hear these stories firsthand. The Army began over 150 years ago in what was one of the most fiercely dangerous areas in the world, the East End of London. This is how founder William Booth described the conditions of the East End.
I saw multitudes of my fellow-creatures not only without God and hope but sunk in the most desperate forms of wickedness and misery that can be conceived. I went out and looked on the wretched sons and daughters of debauchery and vice and crime who were all about me. The drunkenness, and harlotry, and pauperism, and slumdom, and blasphemy, and infidelity of these crowds had a fascination for me… I not only saw but compassionated the people sunk in the sin.
Threatened, But Not Alone
Every generation faces both bears and lions. Moses’ bears were Egypt and the Pharaoh. His lions were his own lack of self-confidence and the dissenters who complained and dragged their feet as Moses led them. Samson had bears attack him too—the Philistines. His lion was Delilah. David faced the bear Goliath. He noticed his lion bathing on her rooftop. Paul had the roaring Roman bear. His lion was a thorn in his side. Peter’s bears roared, “You were with Jesus.” His lion whispered in his ear, “Say that you do not know this man.” Jesus faced bears and lions. Within a week those who shouted “hosanna” growled like bears, “Crucify Him.” Jesus told His lion to go and do what you are going to do quickly…his lion betrayed him with a kiss.
We need not face these fierce threats alone. We have a shepherd who protects us. David protected his flock from both the lion and the bear. He represents the Lord who serves as our protector from the fierce dangers that threaten us in this world. Throughout the Psalms David makes reference to the Lord’s heroic protection of the weak. David affirms that the Lord is “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows…” (Psalm 68:5 ESV). In scripture the writers, particularly of the Old Testament, use two groups of people to represent weakness and vulnerability. These groups are widows and orphans. They have no natural defenders or protectors. They are at the mercy of a harsh and unforgiving society too self-absorbed to take notice of them. The Lord Himself comes to their rescue. He stands guard over them and is their protector.
The Lord is our Shepherd, our protector. In whatever you might be facing today, take comfort knowing you have a protector. Not only that but he also calls us into the ministry of protecting others. Like William Booth, we are called to not only see but to show compassion on those the Lord calls us to serve.
1Harold Begbie (2013). Life of General William Booth, The. MacMillan. Retrieved from https://app.wordsearchbible.com