Don’t you find it interesting how at times, while reading familiar passages, a word will jump out at you? I have read the 23rd Psalm hundreds of times. My sweet grandmother Roxie even gave me a dollar when I was 10 to memorize it. To say it is familiar is an understatement!
Yet, there it was, this word hitting me suddenly as if I’d never read it. “He MAKES me lie down in green pastures” (Vs. 2). This struck me pretty hard – probably because I am stubborn and don’t like the idea of anyone MAKING me do anything.
I knew I had to go straight to the source to understand this. In Hebrew, the word used is RABATS which means to stretch oneself out or lie down. However, there is a little prefix “stem” added to the word, which makes it causative. Meaning, as the English translation implies, someone or something is causing the sheep to stretch out and lie down.
This is legitimate; the Shepherd is causing the sheep, which is us, to rest! There has to be more to this, right? Indeed there is. A quick dive into sheep behavior to enhance our understanding: First, you can’t command a sheep to lie down. You can’t even use a shepherd hook to push them down. You can kind of hoist them from their front to back hind legs so that they kind of sit on their bums. This allows a shepherd to examine, treat, and tend to sheep as they are docile in this position. But the best way to make a sheep lie down is to make sure they’re in a safe and secure pasture area free from predators and, most crucial, that they’ve had their fill of grass because that will MAKE them lie down. Why? Sheep cannot digest their food unless they are resting and lying down! This process is called rumination, and healthy sheep must do this several hours a day.
I love this. We must have times of rest, meditating and contemplating, and ceasing from work to digest what we’ve consumed, grow, and be healthy. When we allow Christ to be our shepherd the promise is he will make time and a place for us to rest. I wonder, what does RABATS look like for you?
I think for me, I’d like to believe it is Christ providing the green pasture and things to “feed” me; conversations, books, friends, opportunities, and teachings. I must take advantage of them, but when I do, he gives me space to ruminate. Sometimes I stretch out on my own, full of ideas and hopes and plans. I think other times, circumstances “make” me pause. Those forced rests and times of waiting aren’t always appreciated by me. But this verse reminds me that the good shepherd knows what he’s doing.