Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd.”
The life of a shepherd in the ancient world was dirty, hard, and dangerous. Their work placed them on the margins of society. They were often youngest sons, unlikely to inherit land or livestock. So imagining God as a shepherd places Him among those whose significance society disregards.
And what about sheep? An article in Psychology Today reports findings from a study of sheep, challenging stereotypes of them as docile, obedient, and possessing little individuality: Sheep do care about their own lives and how they are treated and respond to similar situations in similar ways to humans. Nothing we’ve learned about sheep gives us a free pass to mistreat them based on myths about their “mindlessness.” They are intelligent, complex, and feeling individuals.
Yet sheep remain vulnerable – not only to predators, but to being “cast down.” If a sheep falls over, they have a very difficult time getting back up on their feet. Their legs will be flailing in the air; they may cry and bleat. More than likely though, the sheep will flail, be frightened and quiet, attempting to return to an upright position with little success. The sheep will eventually suffocate if not righted in time. This position is referred to as “cast down"
When a shepherd restores a cast down sheep, he gives it reassurance; he massages its legs to restore circulation; he turns the sheep over gently, all the while reassuring it with the shepherd’s gentle touch and familiar voice. He lifts the sheep up and holds it close while it gains its equilibrium back.
David often used the words “cast down” in the Psalms. David had been a shepherd boy. Many of the Psalms were written during times of duress for David: enemies after him, his people disobedient, his own disobedience, wars, and so much more…David understood what it meant to be as a sheep cast down. When we feel as though we cannot get up from where we have managed to get ourselves stuck, we are cast down or feel this way.
God will us up when we invite Him to be our shepherd.