Recently, during a stressful moment, a friend and co-worker encouraged me to mediate on Psalm 23 as an antidote to anxiety. My first thought was “isn’t that for funerals?” But I decided to take her advice.

When I went to bed, I mulled over the passage as I reflected on Jesus as my own good shepherd. I quickly realized that Psalm 23 is very much a psalm for the living: green pastures; still waters; no want; a feast in the presence of my enemies; goodness and mercy all the days of my life; comfort and protection.

It happened that while I was focusing on Psalm 23, my husband, Ron, and I heard a message about the passage. To my dismay, we learned that if a lamb tended to wander off, a good shepherd would use his rod to break its leg. Then he would carry the lamb on his shoulders while it was healing so it would learn to recognize the shepherd’s voice.

Was that really the reason for all those images of Jesus with a lamb on His shoulders? The good shepherd leadeth me beside still waters, but He breaketh my leg if I stray from the path?

I found this idea quite jarring, but Ron told me he had often heard this illustration in sermons. I decided to do a little research on the question and found out, mercifully, it’s not true. Maybe it’s one of those useful illustrations that’s just too good to check. There doesn’t seem to be any support, biblical or otherwise, for this “myth.”

There was a time that I would’ve accepted this without question, because the thought would have seemed formal to me — God loves us so much that he is willing to hurt us to help us to stay close to Him. But I’ve come to the conclusion that He cares for us tenderly and loves us so much that He doesn’t want us to be afraid.

How about this instead? “He tends his flock like a shepherd — He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart — he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:11)

Oh, much better! That biblical image of the shepherd is so much more comforting — in addition to being true.

Carol Doerksen is a native of Gadsden and an online missionary who lives in Lynden, Washington. She can be contacted by email: cdoerksen@gmail.com.