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Sheep and 23rd Psalm

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I found this and thoughtyou might like it.

(Apologies if it's been put here before.)




From The Archives of: "The National Wool Grower"


"Not many people today realize the practical application of the Twenty-third Psalm to the highly skilled and now dying craft of Sheepherding. The average modem has little idea of the immense knowledge and long training that is necessary for this craft.

Most people today, if they ever think about the shepherd and his work, think of him as a patriarchal old man leaning on the

traditional crook, or as a half faun-like lad playing upon a pan-pipe on some deserted hilltop.

"King David," however, as the article states, "knew sheep and their ways, and he had translated a sheep's musings into simple words."

The following article may surprise many people in its very accurate summing-up of sheep-ranging and its generally unrecognized practical application to the shepherd's most exact and skilful trade.


Old Ferando d'Alfonso, a Basque herder, is employee by one of the big Nevada sheep outfits. He is rated as one of the best sheep rangers in the state, and he should be; for back of him are

at least 20 generations of Iberian shepherds.

But d'Alfonso is more than a sheepherder; he is a patriarch of his guild; the traditions and secrets of which have been handed down from generation to generation, just as were those of

the Damascus steel temperers and other trade guilds of the premedieval age. Despite a thirty-year absence from his homeland

he is still full of the legends, the mysteries, the religious fervour of his native hills.

I sat with him one night under the clear, starry skies, his sheep bedded down beside a pool of sparkling water. As we were preparing to curl up in our blankets, he suddenly began a dissertation in a jargon of Greek and Basque. When he had

finished I asked him what he had said. In reply he began to quote in English the Twenty-third Psalm. There on the desert I learned the shepherd's literal interpretation of this beautiful poem.


"David and his ancestors," said d'Alfonso, "knew sheep and their ways, and David has translated a sheep's musings into simple words. The daily repetition of this psalm fills the

sheepherder with reverence for his calling. Our guild takes this poem as a lodestone to guide us. It is our bulwark when the days are hot or stormy, when the nights are dark; when wild animals surround our bands. Many of its lines are the statements of the simple requirements and actual duties of a Holy Land shepherd,

whether he lives today or followed the same calling 3,000 years ago. Phrase by phrase, it has a well-understood meaning for us.





"Sheep instinctively know," said d'Alfonso, "that before they have been folded for the night the shepherd has planned out their grazing for the morrow. It may be that he will take them

back over the same range. It may be that he will go to a new grazing ground. They do not worry. His guidance has been good in the past and they have faith in the future because they know he

has their well being in view."




"Sheep graze from around 3:30 o'clock in the morning until about ten, they then lie down for three or four hours and rest,"

said d'Alfonso. "When they are contentedly chewing their ends, the shepherd knows they are putting on fat. Consequently the good

shepherd starts his flocks out in the early hours on the rougher herbage, moving on through the morning to the richer, sweeter grasses, and finally coming with the band to a shady place for

its forenoon rest in fine green pastures, the best grazing of the day. Sheep, while resting in such happy surroundings, feel contentment."




"Every shepherd knows," said the Basque, "that sheep will not drink gurgling water. There are many small springs high in the hills of the Holy Land, whose waters run down the valleys

only to evaporate in the desert sun. Although the sheep need the water, they will not drink from these fast-flowing streams. The shepherd must find a place where rocks or erosion have made a

little pool, or else he fashions with his hands a pocket sufficient to hold at least a bucketful,"





"Holy Land sheep exceed in herding instinct the Spanish Merino or the French Rambouillet," went on d'Alfonso. "Each takes their place in the grazing line and keeps the same position

throughout the day. Once, however, during the day, each sheep leaves its place and goes to the shepherd. Whereupon the shepherd stretches out his hand as the sheep approaches with expectant

eyes and mild little baas. The shepherd rubs its nose and ears, scratches its chin, whispers affectionately into its ears. The

sheep, meanwhile, rubs against his leg or, if the shepherd is sitting down, nibbles at his ear and rubs its cheek against his face. After a few minutes of this communion with the master, the

sheep returns to its place in the feeding line."





"There is an actual 'Valley of the Shadow of Death' in Palestine, and every sheepherder from Spain to Dalmatia knows of it It is south of the Jericho Road leading from Jerusalem to the

Dead Sea and is a narrow defile through a mountain range.

Climatic and grazing conditions make it necessary for the sheep

to be moved through this valley for seasonal feeding each year.

The valley is four and a half miles long. Its side walls are over 1500 feet high in places and it is only ten or twelve feet wide

at the bottom. Travel through the valley is dangerous, because its floor, badly eroded by cloud bursts, has gullies seven or

eight feet deep. Actual footing on solid rock is so narrow in many places that sheep cannot turn around, and it is an unwritten law of shepherds that flocks must go up the valley in the morning

hours and down toward the eventide, lest flocks meet in the defile. Mules have not been able to make the trip for centuries, but sheep and goat herders from earliest Old Testament days have

maintained a passage for their stock.

About halfway through the valley the walk crosses from one side to the other at a place where the path is cut in two by an eight-foot gully. One section of the path is about 18 inches

higher than the other; the sheep must jump across it. The shepherd stands at this break and coaxes or forces the sheep to make the leap. If a sheep slips and lands in the gully, the shepherd's rod is brought into play. The old-style crook is encircled around a large sheep's neck or a small sheep's chest, and it is lifted to safety. If a more modern narrow crook is used, the sheep is caught about the hoofs and lifted up to the walk.

Many wild dogs lurk in the shadows of the valley looking for prey. After a band of sheep has entered the defile, the leader may come upon such a dog. Unable to retreat, the leader baas a

warning. The shepherd, skilled in throwing his staff, hurls it at the dog and knocks the animal into the washed-out gully, where it is easily killed. Thus the sheep have learned to fear no evil even in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, for their master is there to aid them and protect them from harm."





"David's meaning is a simple one," said d'Alfonso, "when conditions on the Holy Land sheep ranges are known. Poisonous plants abound which are fatal to grazing animals. Each spring the shepherd must be constantly alert. When he finds the plants he takes his mattock and goes on ahead of the flock, grubbing out every stock and root he can see. As he digs out the stocks, he

lays them on little stone pyres, some of which were built by shepherds in Old Testament days, and by the morrow they are dry enough to bum. In the meantime, the sheep are led into the newly

prepared pasture, which is now free from poisonous plants, and, in the presence of their deadly plant enemies,they eat in peace.




"At every sheep fold there is a big earthen bowl of olive oil and a large stone jar of water. As the sheep come in for the night they are led to a gate. The shepherd lays his rod across the top of the gateway just higher than the backs of his sheep.

As each sheep passes in single file, he quickly examines it for briars in the ears, snags in the cheek, or weeping of the eyes from dust or scratches. When such conditions are found he drops his rod across the sheep's back and it steps out of line.

Each sheep's wounds are carefully cleaned. Then the shepherd dips his hand into the olive oil and anoints the injury. A large cup is dipped into the jar of water, kept cool by evaporation in the

unglazed pottery, and is brought out - never half full but always overflowing. The sheep will sink its nose into the water clear to the eyes, if fevered, and drink until fully refreshed.

When all the sheep are at rest the shepherd lays his staff on the ground within reach in case it is needed for protection of the flock during the night, wraps himself in his heavy woollen

robe and lies down across the gateway, facing the sheep, for his night's repose,"

"So," concluded d'Alfonso, "After all the care and protection the shepherd has given it, a sheep may well soliloquize in the twilight, as translated into words by David:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the House of the Lord for ever."

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If you liked this you'd love A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm by W Phillip Keller. Keller also has a book called Lessons from a Sheepdog which describes devotional moments gleaned from his experience re-training a recalcitrant female Border collie.

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That is a really interesting explanation of the 23 Psalm. Hmmm, I may send it to our Minister, he will often read such things outloud. I would love to check out these books. Can they be gotten through bookstores, such as Borders?

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You can get those anywhere. As Jack an Co mentioned Amazon has it, and I've seen it at Borders and B&N locally.

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