I’ve found myself clinging to Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He lies me down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.”
Oh, that sounds so good. But if I’m truly honest, I don’t feel those things most of the time. I know it’s available, but I don’t feel the peace and the nourishment and the restoration of my soul. But I surely do feel that valley. I feel like an antsy sheep, not at peace to lie down. And there are lots of things I want. Lots. And I think, am I doing something wrong?
No, I don’t think so. The more I read my Bible, the more I see the struggles that all our Bible heroes had in their lives. Their times of struggle and hardship, and sometimes waiting decades for God’s plan to come through. It does, but not without some pain. And I believe they trust God, but they’re not necessarily feeling Him close by and restoring their soul every single step of the way. Praise the Lord, He is there through it all. But it doesn’t mean He was felt through it all.
But there’s one story that I’ve found particularly helpful in this journey to seek my Shepherd. If it’s a familiar story, please just stay with me, because I’m gonna squeeze 20 chapters of the Bible into five paragraphs and I need you to stay with me so we’re all on the same page and ready for the big reveal about the whole trusting the Shepherd thing. Ready?
In Genesis 29:9 Jacob met his future wife Rachel. She was a shepherd (you go girl!) and he helped her remove a stone from a well so she could provide fresh water for the sheep. And I assume it was around this time he fell madly in love with her. So much so, that he was willing to become a shepherd and take care of his uncle Laban’s flock for decades. (Have you noticed all the shepherds so far?) He worked for seven years to earn Rachel’s hand in marriage. But was tricked into marrying her older sister Leah, and then worked another seven years to earn Rachel’s hand in marriage. Among Rachel and Leah and their two concubines were born twelve sons. And Rachel, the favored wife, gave birth to Joseph, to become Jacob’s favored son.
Definitely not to be the first case of extreme sibling rivalry in the Bible, Joseph’s brothers were jealous of the attention Jacob gave to Joseph, and in an act of utter betrayal, they threw him into a cistern, and then sold him into slavery in a different country, culture, and religion. He became a slave of Potiphar, and just as things were starting to get better in his life, he was wrongly accused of raping Potiphar’s wife, and sent to prison where he sat forgotten, for over a decade.
Joseph had plenty of opportunities to get bitter about the circumstances in his life. To feel like God had forgotten him, and was no where near Him. But eventually Joseph is remembered and God helps him interpret Pharoah’s dream which enabled them to prepare their nation for a famine that was coming, so that no one would starve. And Joseph is promoted to be the Pharoah’s right hand man and as if that wasn’t a cool enough ending, Joseph gets to meet with his brothers and forgive them. He not only forgives them, but he tells them he sees the purpose in what happened, declaring “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives,” (Genesis 50:20). And Joseph gets to see his dad again and introduce his two sons to their grandfather. Family reunion!
The LORD is our Shepherd
On his deathbed, Jacob calls to his sons to gather around so he can say a few words about each of his sons. He has the most to say about his son Joseph (some things never change), who he thought was dead, but now knows is alive and that God used him to save an entire nation from a famine.
Jacob raves about how fruitful of a vine Joseph is, before talking about archers who attacked him. I’m sure this made Joseph’s brothers feel awesome. And then he says “But his (Joseph’s) bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber, because of the hand of the Mighty One of Israel, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,” (Genesis 49:24).
Oh yes, there you have it in Genesis, not in Psalm 23, the introduction to the concept that the LORD is our Shepherd. Jacob had plenty of experience being a shepherd, just like the young King David, and they both recognized the role the shepherd plays in a sheep’s welfare. But just as Joseph recognized that what man meant for harm, the LORD used for good, (Genesis 50:20), Jacob recognized the LORD’s role in Joseph’s life throughout the trials. That it was the LORD who sustained Joseph and gave him strength when other people and circumstances were trying to make him unfruitful.
Is it just me, or do you not find that encouraging? That though the Shepherd didn’t look like He was near Joseph, didn’t look like He was daily restoring Joseph’s soul and providing peace and nourishment, He was there, giving him the strength to keep persevering. That there was a purpose in it.
And that makes me want to trust Him more. That all these struggles are creating something beautiful. And that He is with me in them.
And so after reading the story of Joseph, and how God was his Shepherd, it is much easier for me to believe Psalm 23 and that “The LORD is my Shepherd I shall not want.”
I’d love to know your thoughts, please share them in the comment section below!