Well, let me get back to our entry’s on the 23rd Psalm. We are dealing with the phrase, “He Restores My Soul”. Now even though this Psalm is coming from one sheep in the Good Shepherd’s care it is important to realize that one can still become in need of restoration.
David, the author of the 23rd Psalm knew this all to well. He knew he was much-loved of God but he also knew what it meant to be cast down and dejected. He had tasted defeat in his life and felt the frustration of having fallen under temptation. David was acquainted with the bitterness of feeling hopeless and without strength in himself. In Psalm 42:11 he cries out, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God…”
The parallel to this in caring for sheep is going to blow your mind. I had no idea the depth or magnitude that this parallel gives to us as Christians. Only those intimately acquainted with sheep and their habits could see and understand the significance of a “cast” sheep or a “cast down” sheep.
First of all, the term cast is an old English shepherd’s term for a sheep that has turned over on its back and cannot get up again by itself. This is an awful site with the sheep’s back to the ground and feet dangling in the air frantically struggling to stand up but having no success. Sometimes it will bleat a little for help, but generally it lies there thrashing about in frightened frustration.
If the shepherd does not arrive on the scene within a reasonably short time, the sheep will die. This is but another reason why it is so essential for a careful sheepman to look over his flock every day, counting them to see that all are able to be up and on their feet. The other problem that arises for a cast sheep is that if the shepherd does not arrive and help the sheep soon predators could hear and find the cast sheep. Buzzards, vultures, dogs, coyotes, and cougars all know that a cast sheep is easy prey and death of not far off. Needless to say, the sheep would be an easy meal for the predator. All of this makes the problem of a cast sheep very, very serious for the shepherd.
One may wonder how a sheep becomes cast. A heavy, fat, or long-fleeced sheep will lie down comfortable in some little hollow or depression in the ground. It may roll on its side slightly to stretch out or relax. Suddenly the center of gravity in the body shifts so that it turns on its back far enough that the feet no longer touch the ground. It may feel a sense of panic and start to paw frantically. Frequently this only makes things worse. It rolls over even further. Now it is quite impossible for it to regain its feet.
As it lies there struggling, gases begin to build up in the rumen. As these expand they tend to retard and cut off blood circulation to extremities of the body, especially the legs. If the weather is very hot and sunny, a cast sheep can die in a few hours. If it is cool, cloudy and/or rainy, it may survive in this position for several days.
Another major tragedy in this situation is that if the cast sheep is a ewe with lambs it is a multiple loss to the owner. If the lambs are unborn, they perish with her and if they are young and suckling, they become orphans. So you can understand why a shepherd is always alert and aware of the needs of his sheep. This is also where the “counting” of the sheep comes in to play. There is much pageantry and drama in this for the shepherd and you may have sensed that in reading the magnificent story of the ninety-nine sheep with one astray. There is the shepherd’s deep concern, his agonizing search, his longing to find the missing one, and his delight in restoring it not only to its feet but also to the flock as well as to himself.
Obviously when we examine the conduct of Jesus Christ we see Him coping with human need. We find Him again and again as the Good Shepherd picking up cast sheep. The tenderness, the love, the patience that He used to restore Peter’s soul after the terrible tragedy of his temptations is a classic picture of the Christ coming to restore one of His own. He comes to us quietly, gently, reassuringly no matter when or where or how we may be cast down.
Psalm 56:13 we are given an accurate commentary on this aspect of the Christian’s life in these words, “You have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.”
As we take a realistic view of our lives as a Child of God we must remember that all of us at some point of time find ourselves “cast down”. We discover that often when we are most sure of ourselves we stumble and fall. Sometimes when we appear to be firm in our faith we find ourselves in a situation of utter frustration and futility. Paul gives us a warning in I Corinthians 10:12 that would behoove us to remember: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”
As with sheep, so with Christians, some basic principles and parallels apply which will help us to grasp the way in which a man or woman can be cast.
1. There is, first of all, the idea of looking for a soft spot. The sheep that choose the comfortable, soft, rounded hollows in the ground in which to lie down very often become cast. In such a situation it is so easy to roll over on their backs.
In the Christian life there is great danger in always looking for the easy place, the cozy corner, the comfortable position where there is no hardship, no need for endurance, no demand upon self-discipline. Sometimes if, through self-indulgence, I am unwilling to forfeit or forego the soft life, the easy way, the cozy corner, then the Good Shepherd may well move me to a pasture where things aren’t quite so comfortable-not only for my own good but also His benefit as well.
2. Some sheep simply have too much wool. Often when the fleece becomes very long and heavily matted with mud, manure, burrs, and other debris, it is much easier for a sheep to b become cast, literally weighed down with its own wool.
Wool in Scripture depicts the old self-life (a.k.a. Flesh) in the Christian. It is the outward expression of an inner attitude, the assertion of my own desire and hopes and aspirations. It is the area of my life in which and through which I am continually in contact with the world around me. Here is where I find the clinging accumulation of things, of possessions, of worldly ideas beginning to weigh me down, drag me down, hold me down. It is important to note here that the high priest was never allowed to wear wool when he entered the Holy of Holies. This spoke of self, pride, and personal preference-and God could not tolerate it.
The truth of the matter is that if I want to go on walking with God experiencing His life, joy and peace and not forever be cast down, this is an aspect of my life which He must deal with drastically.
When a shepherd realizes that a certain sheep is being cast because of this reason he must immediately shear the sheep clean and so forestall the danger of having the ewe lose her life. Shepherd’s note that this is not always a pleasant process. Sheep do not really enjoy being sheared, and it represents some hard work for the shepherd, but it must be done. When it is over sheep and shepherd are relieved. There is no longer the threat of being cast down, while for the sheep there is the pleasure of being set free from the hot, heavy coat. often the fleece is clogged with filthy manure, mud, burrs, sticks, and ticks. What a relief to be rid of it all! Consequently, this is true for the believer when God sets him free of many fleshly hangups. There comes a time when the Master must take us in hand and apply the keen cutting edge of His Word to our lives. It may be a unpleasent business for a time. No doubt we’ll struggle and kick about but oh, the pleasure of being set free from ourselves! What restoration!
The third cause of cast sheep is simply that they are too fat. It is a well-known fact that over-fat sheep are neither the most healthy nor the most productive. And certainly it is the fattest that most often are cast. Their weight simply makes it that much harder for them to be agile and nimble on their feet. Once a shepherd suspects that sheep are being cast for this reason, he will take long-range steps to correct the problem. He will put the ewes on a more rigorous ration; they will get less grain, and the general condition of the flock will be watched very closely. It is the aim to see that the sheep are strong, sturdy, and energetic, not fat, flabby and weak.
In the Christian life, we are confronted with the same problem. There are men and women who, because they may have done well in business or in their careers or their homes, feel that they are flourishing and have “arrived”. This sense of well-being and self-assurance is very dangerous. Often when we are most sure of ourselves we are the most prone to fall. God warned the church in Revelation 3:17 that though some considered themselves rich and affluent, they were actually spiritual poor and in danger. It is important to note here that material success is no measure of spiritual health. Nor is apparent affluence any criteria of real godliness. The Good Shepherd of our souls will take measures to correct the problem as He sees through the exterior of our lives. One has said that He may impose on us some sort of “diet” or “discipline” which we may find a bit rough and unpalatable at first. In this case we need to assure ourselves that this is for our own good because our Shepherd is GOOD and out of His goodness He is very fond of us. Hebrews 12 speaks of how God chooses to discipline His children. At the time this may prove to be a rough routine but the deeper truth is that afterward it produces a life of repose and tranquillity free from the fret and frustration of being cast down like a helpless sheep.
This in and of itself should be sufficient to continually refresh and restore my soul. I know of nothing which so quiets and enlivens my own spiritual life as the knowledge that God knows what He is doing with me!
Hebrews 12:10-13 “For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always right and good for us because it means we will share in His holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening-it is painful! But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs. Mark out a straight path for your feet. Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall but will become strong.”