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Out Our Way: The true cattle guards - Psalm 85


Last updated 7/31/2020 at 7:43am

Out our way I recall rolling with laughter when a certain politician in Washington, D.C., asked if the cattle guards in Montana had a union. Yes, one of our top national public office holders really was that ignorant. But after I had my laugh, it occurred to me that this man held a great deal of power and influence. If he is as ignorant about other things as he is about cattle guards, will granting him that power ultimately benefit or harm the nation ? 

In a sense, Charlie and I were “cattle guards,” for we cared for the herds we watched over. We rode fence to make sure they were secure and none would be lost wandering off, we checked for predators and kept them safe. We moved them out of the old pasture when the grass was grazed over and the water was going dry and got them where the feed was good and the water abundant. 

Reading Psalm 23 again, I remembered that the Lord is my cattle guard.

But back to the ignorant politician. Granted, his being unfamiliar with rural life is hardly any big deal — unless, of course, in his ignorance, he begins making political decisions and laws that ultimately brings harm to the farmer and rancher. And what of other politicians who, equally ignorant in other areas, lead the nation astray and instead of good, bring injury.

We live in such a time when various folks are dividing the nation — forgetting that “the barrow ditch” is on both sides of the road. Swerving hard away from the ditch on one side can easily put you in the ditch on the other. We are seeing a growing rage in our nation as abuses of the people are tolerated and even encouraged by politicians and their allies on both sides. Push us hard enough to the right, we will swing hard left. Push us hard enough to the left we will swing hard right. We need a “cattle guard” to keep us together and moving forward.

In the Psalm it is apparent Israel had wandered off. The “cattle guards” — the “shepherds,” i.e. the priests and rulers — had failed the people. Many had become more like their pagan neighbors and the Chosen People began to choose to no longer be “chosen.” They put the world, power, fame and personal opinion above God. They encouraged the people to be selfish — to ignore neighbor, morality, and even common sense. They sought to divide the people, eventually splitting the country apart. The northern kingdom, though still calling themselves Israel, began to abandon the covenant. In time they blended in with the world and ceased to exist as a people. The southern Kingdom, now called Judah, was not much better and they too drifted away from God. They were also destroyed as a nation, but a faithful few remained steadfast throughout 70 years of exile in Babylon. They cried out to God and were heard. This Psalm was prayed over for generations and indeed, Judah was restored at last. 

“The Lord is my shepherd” reminds us that we have a true Cattle Guard. Not the steel ones laid in the road at the gate, but the kind Charlie and I were, constantly riding fence, checking the herd, and guiding them to the good pasture. Yes, we live in trying time, not all that different in some ways from those ancient days of trial for Judah and Israel. Many forgot God and wandered off to blend in with the pagan world and be lost. God called to them but they refused to listen, so God let them go. Unlike cattle, humans have free will. But others heard the Voice of their “cattle guard” and went forward to the good pastures that were over the ridge.

As it was then, so it is now.     

We may see the nation divided by the enemy who uses the ignorance of the gullible as well as the greed, ego and self-centeredness of the corrupt. The “herd” may be split by the factions of the Enemy sent into our midst to stampede us towards destruction. But those who heed the Cattle Guard’s voice will not be distracted or fooled and will stay on the trail to God’s pasture.

Be blessed and be a blessing!

Brother John


The Rev. John Bruington is the retired pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Havre. He now lives in Colorado, but continues to write “Out Our Way.” He can be reached for comment or dialogue at [email protected]


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