The post, The Life of Not in Want (see link – https://sincerelawrence.com/2022/08/29/the-life-of-not-in-want/), was scant on details about the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep (believers). In today’s society, making sense of the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep is challenging. Caution – Long post ahead.
Firstly, the occupation of the traditional shepherd has disappeared from the public sphere. Secondly, the education system indoctrinates the belief in human systems, science, and institutions. It also imbues the values of dependency on these beliefs and worship-submission to the symbols of these beliefs.
Psa23:1, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want,” needs greater context to support the believer’s journey to develop their Shepherd-sheep relationship with the Lord Jesus.
This post explores the life of King David, the author of Psa23:1, to offer present-day believers perspectives that they can relate to their own life. This post draws from the following resources –
- https://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/280331/jewish/Nitzevet-Mother-of-David.htm (Chabad)
- Development thru the Lifespan by Laura Berk 6th Edition page 202&204 – the role of fathers in the child’s development (Berk)
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5497959/ – This study shows higher reactivity development due to a lack of father involvement. (Ncbi-1)
- See link https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2939716/ – This link shows that children with absentee fathers are about 2-3 times more likely to have sexual intercourse earlier than children with fathers (Ncbi-2)
- See link https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/when-kids-call-the-shots/201606/boys-without-fathers-3-myths-3-miracles – This link shares that boys raised by single mothers are more likely to be sensitive to others’ needs. (PSY)
David’s Family Background
David was born into the illustrious family of Jesse. Jesse served as the head of the Sanhedrin. History honors Jesse as among the top four righteous individuals in the annals of Jewish history.
Jesse harbored doubts over the purity of his ancestry due to Ruth (his grandmother) being a Moabite. To address this doubt, after his wife Nitzevet bat Adael (Nitz) bore 6 children, Jesse separated from her (no more sexual contact) to appease his doubts, as an impure male Jew is forbidden to marry a pure Jewish woman.
Jesse later longed to have a child and sought to have this child thru the maidservant of Nitz. The Canaanite maid, aware of Nitz’s longing for Jesse, hatched the plan to switch places as Leah did with Rachel.
Citing from Chabad –
“Like her ancestress Tamar, who was prepared to be burned alive rather than embarrass Judah, Nitz chose a vow of silence not revealing her pregnancy to Jesse. And like Tamar, Nitz would be rewarded for her silence with a child of greatness who would be the forebear of Jesus.
After three months, Nitz’s pregnancy became obvious. Incensed, her sons wished to kill their adulterous mother and the “illegitimate” fetus that she carried.
Unaware of the truth behind his wife’s pregnancy but having compassion on her, Jesse ordered his sons not to touch her. “Do not kill her! Instead, let the child that will be born be treated as a lowly and despised servant. In this way, everyone will realize that his status is questionable and, as an illegitimate child, he will not marry an Israelite.”
David’s Early Childhood
As far as David’s family was concerned, David was born into sin (Psalm51:5), grew up as a social pariah, and was rejected by both the family and the Jewish community.
Citing from Chabad –
“The negative character traits from Ruth the Moabite clung to this despicable youngest son of Jesse.
On the infrequent occasions that Nitz’s son would return from the pastures to his home in Bethlehem, he was shunned by the townspeople. If something was lost or stolen, he was accused as the natural culprit and ordered, in the words of the psalm, to “repay what I have not stolen.”
David was not permitted to eat with the rest of his family but was assigned to a separate table in the corner. “
Scorn, abandonment, and rejection from his family and Jewish society marred David’s childhood. He could not form the attachment he longed for his father, brothers, or peers. (Psalm69:8).
His social environment made him known that he was better off dead and did not deem him as a human.
David grew up with his mother as the only source of attachment and accepting adults to emulate. It is reasonable to speculate that her mother positively supported David’s relationship with God and softened the rejection he experienced within the family and from the Jewish community. Scriptural evidence supports this speculation, revealing David’s closeness with God and His openness to embracing the Jewish community despite their initial rejection.
This dominant maternal nurturance, David’s only earthly source of social and emotional support, was not without negative ramifications for David’s development as a person.
Without the father’s involvement and constant rejection by males (father, other adults, siblings, and peers), David’s development suffered a process of emasculation.
As a result, David exhibited more feminine traits vs. alpha male traits, such as gentleness, less inclination to unnecessary aggression, deference to dominant males with the relational association, and more sensitivity to the needs of others (see PSY). These traits would shape much of David’s responses later in life.
Another consequence of an absentee father is the development of lower emotional self-control. Self-control development occurs during early childhood, supported by the rough play between the father and child. Such play (see Berk) provides a burst of intense emotional stimulation that promotes the development of emotional regulation.
David’s later life events also suggest that because of his father-deprived life, he has higher reactivity (see Ncbi-1) in emotional settings that support sexual promiscuity later in life (see Ncbi-2).
Middle Childhood to Adolescence (His Shepherding Days)
David faithfully carried the roles of shepherd and other menial tasks early in life. While shepherding in the wilderness, David faced the lion’s and bear’s dangers (1Sam17:36).
Citing from the Chabad –
“He was given the task of shepherd because “they hoped that a wild beast would come and kill him while he was performing his duties,” and for this reason was sent to pasture in dangerous areas full of lions and bears.”
These near-death encounters were foundational for David’s experience of God, underpinning his faith-hope-love in God. It would later fuel David’s passion for protecting God’s reputation, putting his life on the line when he confronted Goliath in 1Sam17. This relationship with God also refrained him from killing Saul on 3 occasions in 1Sam19:24, 1Sam24:7, and 1Sam26:10, despite Saul’s relentless intent to kill him. Saul pursued David, which covered about 300-400 miles (Ryrie Study Bible, 1995, page 461).
David’s relationship with God as Shepherd-sheep began during his shepherding days in the wilderness. It is needful at this point to remember the instrumental role of his mother in David’s life. Nevertheless, abandonment and rejection deeply scarred David’s soul. During the long periods of isolation, vulnerable to the elements and wild beasts, David endured these experiences and found solace in God without the light of earthly hope.
Why did David not fall into despair, bitter resentment towards God and life?
Instead, God was so pleased with David that God conferred the privileged accolade of a man after God’s heart (1Sam13:14) and anointed him as King (1Sam16:13).
The following are my speculations on why and how David succeeded with less favorable odds than King Saul, who had more earthly resources to be more successful than David –
- David’s prolonged social isolation in the wilderness protected his soul against the ways of the world that pursue the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life (1Jhn2:16).
- David benefited from his mother’s love and guidance that, I speculate, focused on forgiveness and God’s faithfulness. Suggestive evidence of this claim appears in 1Sam22:1, where David’s family (parents and brothers) joined him at Adullam. David forgave and honored his parents/brothers even in this low point of his life, as he sought protection from the King of Moab while Saul was seeking his life (1Sam22:3).
- David’s life hit rock bottom during his shepherding days, alone, with the heavy responsibility of the sheep, the harsh desert, and the threat of wild beasts. During these lowest points of life, it presents the golden opportunity to form the Shepherd-sheep relationship of total dependency on the Lord Jesus. It demands submission under God’s mighty hand (1Pet5:6).
Each person needs to chart their course, especially at their lowest points, to let go of their bitterness toward God (for allowing these circumstances) and men for the evil of their injustices. Then the experience of forgiveness can take place in their souls, to forgive God and man, including themselves. On the heels of letting go and forgiveness, God as Shepherd can restore the soul to the state of not in want.
Sexual promiscuity marked his adulthood by marrying 8 wives/concubines, as compared to Saul, who had 1 wife and 1 concubine. David’s lack of control over his lusts resulted in him raping Bathsheba (2Sam11:4) and subsequently murdering her husband Uriah the Hittite to cover the rape and her pregnancy (2Sam11:5, 15, 24). These issues stem from the lack of paternal involvement in his childhood.
See the link about David’s infidelity – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David) and the link about Saul – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saul#:~:text=Saul%20married%20Ahinoam%2C%20daughter%20of,2%20Samuel%2021%3A8).
David faced severe domestic problems that threatened his reign as King and the tragic deaths of 4 of his sons (the miscarriage of Bathsheba, Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah).
David was forgiving, meek, and submissive to those who were related to him to the extent of doing himself self-harm. He faced the rebellion of his sons, his father-in-law (Ahitophel in 2 Sam. 15:31, Bathsheba’s Father), and his cousins (Joab and his brothers – see the link https://journeyonline.org/lessons/joab-a-man-king-david-feared/?series=8751)
Although trouble haunted him on the domestic front, David was not weak by any means; He was a warrior-King. He adapted to survive in a hostile environment, being ruthless (He collected 200 Philistines foreskins as a dowry for Michal recorded in 1Sam18:27), he was not one to suffer insults lightly (Nabal’s incident in 1Sam25) and cunning (David tricked the King of Gath twice).
David was not perfect by a long shot. His spotty domestic performance bought him much suffering and heartache. There was also the occasion He angered God (the census of 2Sam24), bringing calamity to Israel, and he displeased God by the incident with Bathsheba recorded in 2Sam11.
Despite these, his Shepherd-sheep relationship withstood the test, given God’s affirming words of Acts13:22 validating David as a man after His heart.
The narrative shows deep brokenness is necessary to produce an enduring Shepherd-sheep relationship. This brokenness involves extended periods of isolation with the Lord to sever the dependency and temptations of the world. This brokenness is needed for the soul to hit rock bottom.
The unfortunate reality paints a different story. When the soul hits rock bottom, more often than not, man abandons God. Enduring to do the contrary not only differentiates one as sheep unto God but as a valued sheep, beloved of the Shepherd.