Rethinking "Mary had a little lamb"

When my oldest son, Ben, was a toddler, he had a book of nursery rhymes and songs. The pictures were beautiful and he became so fascinated with them that he insisted on hearing a string of them before he went to sleep at night. I could not believe how many I had to avoid or alter the wording for because of their dark themes. Who thought reading this to a small child was a good idea?


There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.

She had so many children, she didn't know what to do;

She gave them some broth without any bread;

Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.



But I did love some of the songs. Who doesn’t love Mary had a Little Lamb? But why did the other children laugh to see Mary’s lamb at school? Mary’s lamb only did what lambs do—follow his shepherd. I suspect Mary’s lamb knew he was loved and protected dearly by Mary.



Scripture describes another famous Shepherd—One more perfect, and One who is not fictional.



The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.


He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness

for his name's sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

forever.  Psalm 23


Of all the Psalms, Psalm 23 is one of the most well-known. Even before I became a Christian, I had heard this recited at church services and funerals. It contains some of the most beautiful descriptions of God’s protection over His people. David, who had been a shepherd when just a young boy, wrote this song. If anyone understood the relationship between a sheep and his shepherd, that was David. Sheep, not known to be terribly smart animals, depend on their shepherds for protection, direction, and sustenance.



I have been reading through this Psalm for the purpose of memorizing its beautiful lyrics. I often get the lines out of order, but I am not sure that matters. Each of God’s attributes can stand alone. More significantly, I have come to realize that the most important word in the entire Psalm is in the first line. My.

The Psalm speaks of the personal relationship that God wants with all of us. The Lord is my Shepherd. Mary was her lamb’s shepherd. Jesus Christ is mine. I will follow Him anywhere.