Straying Sheep, Seeking Shepherd

The longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119, is a treasure trove of insights regarding God’s Word and how the believer relates to it. All but two of its verses (see if you can find them) use one or more synonyms like “commands,” “precepts,” “laws,” and “decrees.”

One day we’ll explore the intricacies of its structure and breadth of its themes, but for now let’s focus upon the last three verses. After countless references to the attributes of God’s word as truth and a sure guide for life, David leaves us with some ambivalence:

“I long for your salvation, O Lord,
and your law is my delight.
Let me live that I may praise you,
and may your laws sustain me.
I have strayed like a lost sheep.
Seek your servant,
for I have not forgotten your commands.”

What? When I first read these words, they seemed to contradict everything David had said. If you haven’t forgotten God’s word, how did you stray? Why are you longing for salvation that you already have? And why are you asking for His words to sustain you when you have told us countless times in the same psalm that they already do?

There are some layered and complex theories we could probe, but the simplest thing might be just to start with the simile, “strayed like a lost sheep.” Sheep get lost by straying, not necessarily rebelling.

In the eye of the sheep the horizon is only the next patch of grass or spot of shade to escape the sun or pool of still water for a drink. Sheep do not set out in the morning to be lost by the end of the day. They just behave like sheep, and their sheepness gets them lost.

Shepherd David knew that was true of human sheep as well. Sooner or later each of us, caught up in doing our work and maybe trying to find a safe place and a little love, looks up and wonders how he wandered. “It’s almost dark and I don’t know my way back.”

When that happens, and it will, don’t panic. Remember David’s words and breathe his prayer. The Shepherd will find you. Just rest, and be assured He’s on His way. Wait, isn’t that Him coming over the hill?

“Jesus, Good Shepherd, thank you for your faithfulness in seeking us when we are lost and fearful. We know that you find us, put us on your shoulders, and bring us back, rejoicing. For you delight to be our Shepherd even more than we delight to be your sheep. Amen.”

Leave a Reply