He makes me lie down in green pastures . . . (Psalm 23:2)
We used to have a few chickens. The term “pecking order” is very real in these competitive birds. Today I read that the same exists in sheep. It is called “butting order” as they assert themselves for status in the flock. Obviously, sheep do not lie down and rest when there is conflict.
The inference is obvious in the lives of God’s people. We cannot be at rest when we are competing for position or status. This kind of friction takes our eyes off the Shepherd and not only ruins our fellowship with each other, but spoils our corporate witness of God’s grace in our lives.
God uses this image of butting sheep to describe what He will do with them . . .
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. (Ezekiel 34:15–16)
This is good news for those on the bottom of the “butting order” as the Shepherd promises to nurture and take care of them, but His words to the ‘winners’ in this competitiveness is just the opposite . . .
As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet? . . . Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd . . . (Ezekiel 34:17–23)
In Ezekiel, the one shepherd is David, yet the entire OT points to the ultimate Shepherd, Jesus Christ. He settles disputes and is able to bring foolish sparing to nothing. When James and John butted heads, the disciples were indignant, but Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:41–45)
One preventative for in-fighting in the family of God is to be occupied with serving together. A pastor described something he noticed as a young man playing football. If he was benched for any reason and not soon put back into the game, he began to gripe against the coach, then the others on the team. He said if being set aside lasted too long, he might even start cheering for the other side.
We are like that. We need our Shepherd to keep us working together and giving our lives in service. When our focus is helping others to come under the care of our Shepherd, then all of us can be led to those green pastures and enjoy them as one flock.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! (Psalm 133:1)