A trip to Scotland with my mother in 1965 won me over. After three weeks of watching playful cotton balls bouncing all over hills and fields that were dazzlingly verdant in Spring, I left with an unmet longing—to hold a baby lamb. April 1979, we returned to Mom's native land, and the morning I was to fly home, after a night at Katie's Bed and Breakfast, the farm owner put one of her bottle fed lambs into my arms.
The broad-tailed sheep of Bible lands have a different look, but their behaviour is the same. Jesus, The Great Shepherd called us sheep. Sheep, shepherds, lambs, and flocks are mentioned nearly seven hundred times in the Bible. Psalm 23, the best loved -just 6 verses and about 100 words—was penned by a shepherd who became Israel's greatest king. David ennobles what is often considered a lowly profession, highlighting the leadership training that shepherding provides. Robert J. Morgan, a pastor for thirty-three years and the author of over twenty books, delighted me with his greatest ‘aha moment' while researching THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD—Resting in the Peace and Power of Psalm 23. He learned that "Psalm 23 is migratory!
Why did the biblical patriarchs such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob live in tents instead of houses? Because they were always moving with their flocks, going from pasture to pasture with the seasons."
I had just returned June 22nd, from two weeks in Israel, thankfully ahead of the current political distress, where I visited locations on the route David and his ancestors travelled for thousands of years. Rob Morgan writes:
"The flocks begin in green pastures, continue along well-trodden paths, thread through dark canyons, meander into alpine tablelands, circle back through autumnal days to arrive at the master's house at the onset of winter."
Shepherd's Field in Bethlehem provides ideal grazing in winter, but we experienced the summer heat that turned the hills brown. The path of nourishment and survival led through Wadi Qelt.
Scholars believe this breathtakingly beautiful terrain that provided the only passage between Jerusalem and Jericho in bible times, is "the valley of the shadow of death" David wrote about.
Wadi is a Middle Eastern term meaning "deep valley" or "ravine". With an Israeli guide at the wheel, the Crossroads crew wound our way to the heights overlooking it, arriving in late afternoon to see shadows filling countless canyons between the hills beneath us, their soft peaks visible as far as the eye could see to every horizon. My photos show the narrow paths worn by goats and sheep, with sharp bends and steep drops. My husband Richard led me out onto a long frightening ledge, so thin we had to walk single file, my hand firmly clutching his and my heart pounding! Strangely, the herd of goats on a slope not far from us seemed completely carefree and relaxed.
Far below, Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus fled to Egypt through this wadi over 2000 years ago, when King Herod went on his murderous rampage. In biblical times, people called it "the Way of Blood" because of the treachery of wild animals and bandits. This was the setting for Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, who helped the traveller who had been beaten, robbed and left for dead.
Most poignant though, at the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus left Galilee and setting His face as a flint toward Jerusalem, journeyed through Wadi Qelt, the "Way of Blood", the "Bloody Pass" as it came to be known in His day. David's "Valley of the Shadow of Death" was the road to the cross, where the Lord shed His precious blood to redeem us from the curse of death.
"He leads us even when the route gets rough and risky" as Robert Morgan says of this halfway point in Psalm 23. Those difficult passages in our lives can represent disease and disability, financial pressures, marriages in trouble, challenges with children, seasons of doubt, fear and depression, terminal illness, war, old age, death. But because our Shepherd has passed through this valley, He now fills it with the light and safety of His Presence.
We would do well to be like our wooly namesake—sheep instinctively follow their shepherd.