Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Changing Perspectives--The Warrior Shepherd

In yesterday’s post, I talked about a new perspective on the 23rd Psalm and the phrase, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”.

From that line of thinking, my mind went to another familiar story: the Parable of the Lost Sheep—Luke 15:3-7. The reason the sheep was lost is never given, but it’s always spoken of in terms of the poor little guy just wandered off and wasn’t paying attention. Suddenly he looks up and realizes that he’s all alone, or maybe he’s fallen down a ledge and can’t get back up. The Jesus, the Good Shepherd comes and lowers His hand or His staff and lifts the sheep to safety.

In the artist renditions of this, I’ve seen pictures of a smiling Jesus, casually carrying the lost sheep on His shoulders—looking like he’s having a conversation along the lines of:
“You silly little sheep! What were you thinking wandering off like that?” Kind of like this.

But what if the circumstances of why the sheep is missing changes? What if it is more like when David described himself to Saul before facing Goliath; paraphrasing, “when a lion or a bear carried off a sheep—I went after it, grabbed it by the throat and killed it.” Those moments of facing down the lion and bear—knowing that God was with him and had his back—it was in those moments that David knew he could defeat Goliath.

Back to the lost sheep story—I considered—maybe the reason why the sheep is lost is more like David’s experience with the lion or the bear. What if the reason that the sheep is lost is not because it is just wandering around not paying attention but instead because it is carried off by a hungry predator?

Does that change the mental image of this picture? It does for me. A predator was one of the greatest enemies of a shepherd. And once a predator began to see the flock as an easy meal—it would continue to pick them off until it is killed.

So a predator, a lion is an enemy of the shepherd. Then I turned to 1 Peter 5—Paul is giving instructions to the elders of the church to “Be shepherds of God’s flock under your care.” He then says in vs. 4—“And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

It makes sense then that in v. 8—Peter brings up the subject of a lion. 1 Peter 5:8—“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

Applying that passage and David’s description of the life of a shepherd to the story of the lost sheep changes it’s tone. In this scenario, the Good Shepherd is not just thinking, “the poor little guy has wandered off again” but instead sees signs that the sheep has been attacked and carried off. He picks up his staff and begins to follow the trail of blood, looking for footprints to let him know what He’s dealing with, hoping that He’ll find his sheep in time before the predator kills it.

His face is stern and ready for a fight. When He finds the sheep, He first has to fight and kill the predator, a daunting task for a single shepherd with a staff and His bare hands—much like David. The shepherd’s body is charged with adrenaline and is now focusing on the probably injured sheep.

So now, when I think of this parable and the description of the Good Shepherd carrying the sheep on his shoulders—it’s no longer the casual, smiling face—it’s the stern face of someone who has just come out of a fight. There is blood on his hands and there is a dead lion a short distance behind Him. He is rejoicing because He has rescued His sheep. From certain death. Once again, we are rescued from the dominion of darkness by our Warrior Shepherd.

A friend from work, Sharon, worked with me for a month to get this concept down.  This is done in colored pencil.  She did an amazing job!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Changing Perspectives--Who's Got Your Back?

Something hit me today that has changed the way I think… and no, I wasn’t hit by a rock or some other flying object.

It started when I was thinking about the 23rd Psalm and the phrase, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”

I’ve always pictured this in my head as a great peace amid turmoil, strife, danger or even in dying. That Jesus is there with a comforting hand on my shoulder assuring me that everything is going to be OK.

"The Valley of the Shadow of Death" by George Inness, 1867

There’s nothing wrong with that picture, I just now think that I’ve been missing something all this time.

It struck me to ask—when was David, the author of Psalm 23, most often walking through that valley? Most often, it was in battle.

We know David was a man after God’s own heart—I believe that he was one who was pursuing after God’s heart—not that everything about him was as God would want him to be. There is one way in which we don’t typically think of David’s heart reflecting God’s heart, but it does. David had the heart of a warrior.

Most of us will remember David as a boy having the courage to stand against Goliath when grown men dared not. But we must not forget that David is also described with this phrase, “Saul has slain his thousands and David, tens of thousands.” David had spent so much time fighting—successfully, I might add—that God would not let him build the first temple in Jerusalem because he was a “man of blood.”

David was a warrior. His life had been in danger during many battles. It struck me while thinking about this to also ask, where did most battles take place during David’s day? Typically, they occurred in the valleys—where there was open fields for horses, chariots, regiments. Bodies would be lying on the left & right, fighting on all sides—they truly turned into valleys of death. Which is where Revelation gets the imagery of the valley of Armageddon being full of blood.

This is where our “Good Shepherd” comes to us—during battle—and not just to rest a peaceful hand on my shoulder—but to join me in battle and fight to get me out of the valley.

David had an elite guard of might men for a reason. Their primary duty was to protect the king and guard him—to watch his back. I’ve never been in battle but I suspect that nothing is scarier than to be surrounded by your enemies, cut off from friendly forces, outnumbered and alone. By yourself, staring at a number of enemies before, you know that it’s over—your done. You might be tempted to give up, despair, lose hope or even kill yourself as Saul did. You know you won’t survive unless someone comes to rescue you. Even if just one other person was there to fight with you, you’d have hope to fight on.

With one other, the two of you would stand, back to back & swing away with whatever weapon you had at your disposal. Suddenly my picture of this phrase in Psalm 23 changed. He doesn’t just come to bring you peace and take you out of the battle. He comes to bring hope and encouragement to Keep Fighting. To help you fight through the valley of death.

“I’m here, I’ve got your back –Keep Fighting! Don’t give up!”

I then pictured Jesus with His shepherd’s staff swinging away like at the end of the movie Davey Crockett on the walls of the Alamo—swinging at anything that got close.

His rod and staff comfort me—in other words—He is armed and dangerous—He has a weapon and He knows how to use them. Usually when people talk about the rod and staff they think of how it is used on themselves—typically as a disciplinary tool. But they were also effective weapons for fighting off other animals or thieves. Now I think of them also being used in a fierce battle when my Shepherd comes to my rescue and fights alongside me. Knowing Jesus is right beside me, swinging away at the enemy, watching my back is a great comfort. He is right there, fulfilling…

Isaiah 52:12b --for the LORD will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.
58:8—“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.”

He is on a Rescue mission—

Colossians 1:13—“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves”

Jesus is not passively walking us through or even just carrying us through the valley (there’s nothing wrong with those ideas remember) but He is actively fighting alongside us to deliver us through the valley of the shadow of death in Victory—not defeat.

Jesus has my back! That is awesome! And He will never leave us nor forsake us. And if God is for us—who can be against us?!

We have to keep in mind that sometimes the paths of righteousness lead us into the valley of the shadow of death. Living for God, living by faith, doing what is right is not safe, is not always well received—but thankfully we are not sent off into battle alone. He is right there with me—and I will fear no evil—no defeat—because He is with me. Our Shepherd is not just Good, He is a Warrior.

Tomorrow I'll share how this perspective has reshaped another popular passage in my mind. Can anyone think of another Scriptural account that could be affected by this reflection?