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ceeding under his eye, and secured by his care, 1 shall advance forward in safety and felicity. And this he does, not through any interested motives, not for the sake of any profit that can be derived from me, or from any merit in me, but from the impulse of his mercy, "for his name's sake."
In the mountain of Lebanon, as in almost all the mountains of Judea, there are numberless dusky holes and caverns; some of which are natural and others artificial. Many of them were at different times devoted to the use of war; of this we have several instances in the life of David himself, who more than once employed them as places of refuge and as strong fortresses.* Besides this use, these caves were ordinarily chosen by the Jews as the repositories of the dead: and as from their construction they were peculiarly fitted for it, so they in reality became the haunts of the most ferocious animals, and the retirements of the most determined robbers. Nothing could be more terrifying than a valley skirted by such caverns; a person in passing through it would be perpetually pained by the recollection of the blood which once had stained it, by the sight of the mouldering carcasses corrupting around it, and by the apprehension lest some ferocious beast or bloody assassin was lying in wait just ready to deprive him of life. Such a place David,
* Josephus affords us several confirmations of the same fact. I will quote a single example from him, in which he describes their construction. Speaking of those formed by Hyrcanus in Peræa, he says: "In the rock that was against the mountain he formed caves of many furlongs long. He made their mouths so narrow, that one only could enter at a time, and this he did for security, and to avoid danger if he should be besieged by his brethren."
by a strong and elegant figure, calls "a valley of the shadow of death;" that is, a valley as gloomy and dismal as though death visibly hovered over it, and obscured it with his shadow, large and horrible, totally obstructing the few gleams of light which it might otherwise enjoy. In it nothing but the extreme and unremitted vigilance of the shepherd could preserve his defenceless flock: yet such was the confidence of David in the guardianship of his divine Shepherd, that even in it he was free from apprehensions and alarms, since the crook of his heavenly protector could guide him amidst all its darkness, and his rod defend him from all its perils. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
"I will fear no evil." Though I behold before me every thing that can affright the heart, every thing most distressing to nature; and though I feel myself frail and impotent, yet my soul is calm, and instead of trembling with apprehension, firmly leans upon its God. "Thou art with me:" thou, whose power is unlimited, whose compassion is unspeakable. Thou beholdest all my perils; thou pitiest me amidst my dangers and infirmities, and thou art able to deliver me. Often have I experienced thy care and defence in years that are past. Often has thy flock in the most disastrous circumstances been guarded and comforted by thee. Why then should I tremble, since my faith beholds thee present? "Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me." Amidst all the darkness and perplexity of my path, thy staff shall direct my steps; thy rod shall drive away the enemies that threaten me. Yes, my Shepherd, in those desolate
moments when the kindest human friend can bestow
only an ineffectual pity, and shed useless tears, thou canst defend and sustain me, and fill my soul with consolations unspeakable.
The Psalmist here leaves his figurative language, and celebrates the goodness of God which has liberally supplied his wants, to the confusion of his malignant foes. "Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil :" this was a ceremony used among the Jews previous to their participation of a festival: "my cup runneth
In the conclusion of the psalm, he declares his full confidence in the future protection and favour of God, and his assured trust that he would be restored to Jerusalem, where he might quietly worship in the holy temple: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."
Having thus illustrated at some length the occasion and import of this psalm, let us now inquire more in detail in what respects God may be compared to a tender and careful shepherd. It is the duty of a shepherd to guide his flock; to supply their wants; to heal them when they are languishing and sick; to defend them from danger. And all this is abundantly done by the Lord towards his people.
1. It is part of the pastoral office to guide the flock, to prevent it from wandering, or to lead it back in safety when it has strayed. And say, believers, does not our God fully discharge this tender office? In order that we might be safely guided through this thorný maze, he has given us his holy word, a more sure director than the rod of the shepherd; a director which in every circumstance of perplexity and doubt, cries to us, "This is the way, walk
He has given us his Son to go before us, and mark out the road which we must tread, in order that we may at last eat of the fruit of the tree of life, and drink of that river of delights which flows at God's right hand. He has given us his blessed Spirit, not only to induce us to follow the directions of this scripture and the example of this Saviour, but also that he himself may lead us in the paths of righteousness." What flock, then, is guided with greater care than the flock of the Lord? Yet, notwithstanding this, they sometimes wander from the narrow path, and stray into the perilous wilderness: in these instances their Shepherd forsakes them not; he flies to" seek and to save that which is lost;" he hastens to restore the straying soul, and to bring it back to his secure fold. Can we not testify to this, my brethren? When we were wandering and lost, did not our careful Shepherd seek us with solicitude, draw us from the very brink of the precipice on which we were thoughtlessly straying, bring us back rejoicing, and so tenderly guide us, that we have been kept in safety to the present day? Can we not testify that God has fulfilled to us that gracious promise: "Behold I, even I, will both search my sheep and seek them out; as a shepherd seeketh out his flock, so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the dark and cloudy day: I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away." (Ezek. xxxiv. 11, 12. 16.)
2. It is a part of the pastoral office to supply the flock with all things necessary for sustenance and convenience; and God has graciously promised respecting his people, (Ezek. xxxiv. 14.) I will feed " them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains
of Israel shall their fold be: there they shall be in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel." Believers, God has more than fulfilled this promise; he not only supplies his flock with what is necessary for its sustenance, but seems to delight in making it taste of the profusion of his bounty; whilst here he feeds us not with the husks of earth, but with the hidden manna of heaven; he gives us to taste of those rich blessings which flow from a sense of his favour, from the communications of his love, from the influences of the Holy Ghost, from a foretaste of the joys of heaven. He gives now to every member of his flock that portion which is best for him, and leads them one by one into those blissful regions where every want shall be supplied, every desire satisfied; where God himself, with all his glories and with all his mercies, shall be the rich and never-failing portion of their soul. Ah! where is the earthly shepherd who is either disposed or able, so abundantly to satisfy the necessities of his flock? No; there is none but God who can bestow on hungry and famished souls those rich provisions which will fully satisfy them here below, and fit them for that state, where "they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more," since their divine Shepherd "shall feed them, and lead them to fountains of living waters." (Rev. vii. 16.)
3. It is part of the pastoral office to support the flock when weak, and to heal it when sick. And is not this too done by our God? In innumerable parts of the scripture he represents himself engaged in this benevolent employment: in the language of Ezekiel, "he bindeth up that which is broken, he strengtheneth that which is sick." In the still more tender expressions of Isaiah, he "gathereth the lambs in