The Psalm of the Cast Sheep

Psalm 23 is looked upon as the Psalm of the Good Shepherd (“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….”).  Psalm 70 seems to me to be the Psalm of the Cast Sheep.

The psalm begins with the psalmist expressing a need for God’s help from enemies who seek to harm him.  It sounds a lot like the dilemma of a “cast sheep.”  In his book Beyond Forgiveness, Don Baker tells us about “cast sheep”:

“[Cast sheep] was a term I came to appreciate a number of years ago when Martha and I lived in the county.  Sheepgrazed near our home and we enjoyed them immensely.  Each morning we would go to the window, first thing, and check on their well-being. 

“Early one morning I noticed one lying near the fence on its back with all four legs extended straight upward.  I walked over to it, gently nudged it with my foot, and perceived no signs of life whatever.  I called the owner and said, ‘Mr. Harlow, one of your sheep has died.’  He said he would be right over and hung up the telephone.  Within a few minutes he drove his truck up to the sheep, hopped out, walked over, and spent considerable time kneeling over what appeared to be a lifeless animal.  He then stood up and called to me, ‘Don, come here; I want to show you something.’

“‘This sheep is not dead,’ he said.  ‘This is what is known as a cast sheep.  Every so often a sheep that is heavy with wool or heavy with lamb will lie down, roll into a slight recess in the ground onto its back, and will find itself unable to get up.  When that happens the sheep is cast or helpless.  There is no possible way that a sheep can survive that position for very long.  The gases begin to ruminate in its belly, the joints stiffen and atrophy, and it if it’s left to itself, it will die.’

“I watched him as he gently rolled that sheep onto its side and began massaging its limbs and body.  After a brief time the legs began to relax and occasional muscle twitches seemed to confirm the fact that it was alive.  It wasn’t long before that gentle shepherd placed his hands under the belly of that sheep, lifted it onto its wobbly legs, and began slowly walking it until it was able to stand by itself.

“Oftentimes I’ll use that story to describe the condition of the many ‘hurting people’ that are to be found in a church…. I’ll ask the staff if they know of any ‘cast sheep’ and then we’ll pray for them and devise other ways to be of encouragement.”

The writer of Psalm 70 was like a cast sheep, knocked on his back and needing help.  Thus the psalm concludes with a desperate plea: “But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God!  You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay!”

As Don Baker points out, “Many hurting people…are to be found in a church.”  May we keep an eye out for those who may be “cast,” and may we seek to encourage and support them.


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