“I have wandered away like a lost sheep;
come and find me,
for I have not forgotten your commands.”
Psalm 119:176 NLT
Psalm 119 ends with a strange verse. How can the Psalmist find himself in this position, describing himself as a “lost sheep”, after such a cornucopia of expressions of the greatness of God and His wonderful works and laws, and His relationship with the writer, who had been clever enough to devise a Psalm of sections, each of eight verses and each beginning with a letter in the Hebrew alphabet? What happened to him?
Sheep are animals with a predisposition to get lost. They wander off, steadily grazing their way into places where they shouldn’t be. And then they can’t find their way back to the rest of the flock or a safe place. A lost sheep is very vulnerable, at the mercy of predators and prone to get caught up by its wool in thickets or trapped somewhere by a difficult terrain. In spiritual terms, we can be like “lost sheep”. We wander off the track marked out for our pilgrimage through life, and before we know it we are in a place of great danger, in a place of temptation and sin.
Jesus was very aware of the challenges facing us, God’s “sheep”. In Matthew 18:12-13 we read, “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away!“. There are two significant pieces of information here that are worth considering. Firstly, Jesus Himself searches for His lost sheep. He calls, He looks, He goes to extraordinary lengths to find us when we stray. Secondly, finding us is not guaranteed – we also can go to extraordinary lengths to avoid being found by Jesus. We can ignore His calls. We can hide away from His gaze. I have known good men and women who have wilfully deserted their Christian faith, no longer counted in Jesus’ flock.
A sheep gets lost when it abandons its familiar territory. When it thinks the grass elsewhere is greener and more palatable. And so it is with us. We can leave the familiar territory of God’s Word and be attracted to something new. Then we can become “lost”, and the frightening thing is that we might not even know it. I think the Psalmist ended this Psalm, with a warning. Don’t abandon God and get lost. Always keep home in sight by checking things out with His word. Always be aware of dangerous terrain, where sheep should never go.