Psalm 23:3a

He restore my soul

Notice how the psalmist has switched from the imagery of a sheep (green pastures, still waters) to that of a person in need.  A soul in need of restoration.  A soul that has been worn out, messed up, marred, incapacitated.  The Shepherd restores it.  Let's unpack this passage....

In researching sheep, I learned where the term "cast down" comes from.  You know how we use that phrase to desribe someone whose expression is sad or dejected?  "Her face was 'cast down' ".  Or we use it when referring to an action of getting rid of something we no longer want - "a castaway".  Sheep can find themselves in a "cast" position.  Now, don't think I am saying "in a cast" - we're not talking broken limbs here!  A "cast" position means that the sheep has somehow gotten itself on its back, four legs in the air....and it is unable to right itself.  It will flail and bleat and try to wiggle but it cannot get back on its feet. This kind of activity actually exacerbates the situation! A cast sheep is not only easy prey for wolves and coyotes, it can also starve to death flat on its back. Unless the shepherd intervenes, the sheep will die in that position because it alone cannot restore itself to standing upright.

That is apparently what David had in mind when he penned this phrase.  Surely he had repeatedly been the one to find a sheep "cast" and then pulled and pushed til he got it right side up.  And he knew what it felt like, in his own life, to be on his back, unable to get up, and in need of the Good Shepherd to restore him to the right position.  The Lord restores our souls.

How does a sheep get cast?  It seems there are three general areas that get sheep into trouble.  First, being too fat.  A fat sheep can meander down into a comfy little hollow to lie down.  It might then stretch out and turn slightly on one side to relax.  Its body's center of gravity can then shift so that its feet are no longer touching the ground.  This probably generates a sense of panic so that the sheep paws its legs in the air.  Such action, of course, only makes things worse.  This causes the sheep to roll over even further until it is on its back....cast. Its fat belly makes it impossible to get upright.

Another way sheep get cast is by stepping off the path and into a hole or crevice.  This causes them to lose their balance and they cannot easily regain equilibrium. 

One other factor that seems to contribute to a sheep being cast is having too much wool. When its fleece becomes too long, it will easily get matted with mud, brush, and other debris.  This extra weight weighs down the sheep, just like extra fat, making it unable to move as easily.

Thus, the shepherd is constantly watching out for ways to guard against his sheep being vulnerable to being cast.  He sees to it that they don't gorge themselves too much; he keeps them on safe paths; he shears them not only for the benefit of having wool but also for the good of the sheep.  He knows, however, that sheep are going to get cast so he is always counting his sheep, making sure they are all with him.  If he misses one, he goes out searching for a downcast sheep that needs his help getting upright again.

I am sure you see the parallels to us as Jesus's sheep.  We, too, can become downcast through defeat or discouragement or daily cares.  In spite of how much we bleat and flail our legs, we cannot get ourselves upright.  No matter how much we think we can.  We need Him to pick us up.  To put us on the right path.  To get us to good pasture.  To get rid of our excess wool.  Because downcast sheep are easy targets for predators.

I am typing through tears, remembering times I have been rescued by the Shepherd.  I have been incapacitated, fearful, helpless, easy prey.  Through no effort of my own, He found me.  Picked me up and soothed my fears.  Set me back on my feet. Helped me get back to where I needed to be. Helped me be closer to who He wants me to be.

He restores my soul.