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´╗┐Title: The Song of our Syrian Guest
Author: Knight, William Allen, 1863-1957
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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The Song of our Syrian Guest


William Allen Knight

Illustrations and Decorative Designs by Charles Copeland


  Psalm XXIII

  The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
    he leadeth me beside the still waters.
  He restoreth my soul:
    he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
    for his name's sake.
  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
  I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
    thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence
    of mine enemies;
    thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life: and I will dwell
    in the house of the Lord for ever.

To the hand that held the tea-ball
and the faces of two little maids


Three months have gone by since this little child of my heart went
out into the world, a strayling in the scanty dress of a booklet.
In that time many thousands have looked kindly on the little
wanderer and welcomed it into their homes.  Letters from everywhere
have come in, saying in effect: "It came to my door yesterday, and
its voice has been sweet to me, and I am glad to have it stay with
me."  For all this I am most thankful.  But it is hard to realize
that the small circle of those who loved this story a few months
ago has grown now to a multitude.

Surely none of us ought to be surprised that our story has itself
grown under all this kindness, after the manner of children.
Indeed, as we are sending it forth newly clothed, I find that it is
larger by half than when I last prepared it for journeying.

I am set to wondering whether it will not grow quite away from me
and have a life of its own.  Healthy children do that very thing
usually, and wise parents are willing to have it so.

But I cannot cease to remember that this story is out of my own
life.  It lay in my heart unborn for long.  It came forth in a time
of shock and pain.  There is One who knows why its face is unmarred
and bright with the gladness of trust.  I think God has let it
speak to so many hearts for this reason.

Go then, little story; be bearer of thy message of cheer and glad
restfulness.  I cannot follow thee into lives that need to hear thy
voice; but speak thou to them, and I shall be content.

Yet I know, friends of mine, that as you look up somewhere in the
world from these pages, you will want to ask me a question.

It has been asked and answered many times already.  Because I know
some of you are in sick-rooms, some are lonely and some companioned
by grief, some are poor and some for the time are misunderstood,
some are discouraged and some feel themselves little loved, some
are young and cannot find their way, and some are old and
wayworn,--because I know all of you have need of the Shepherd's
watch, I want to answer your question.  Yes, we did indeed have
such a guest, a man whose home was among the Syrian shepherds, a
man who well knew the life which rightly interprets the Shepherd

I give my word that this story's message about the Psalm's meaning
is straight from David's land.  We had such a guest and he told us
these things out of the life of his people, as we sat together one
night over fragrant cups of tea.

W. A. K.

Boston, January, 1904.

Can there be anything more poetic than this life of the Syrian
shepherd?  It ought to be religious, too.  Far, far away, out on
the lone mountain, with the everlasting hills around, and heaven
above, pure, blue, and high, and still.  There go and worship in
solemn silence and soul-subduing solitude, worship the Most High
God in his temple not made with hands.

And now the lights are out in the village, the shepherds are asleep
by the side of their flocks, the tinkling bell from the fold falls
faintly on the still night air, and the watch-dog bays drowsily
from his kennel at the gate.  Good night, fair world; 'tis time to
seek repose.  Let us first read and meditate upon that delightful
chapter, the tenth of St. John, where our blessed Saviour
appropriates all these characters of a good shepherd to himself.

"The Land and the Book."

"Faduel Moghabghab," said our guest, laughing as he leaned over the
tea-table toward two little maids, vainly trying to beguile their
willing and sweetly puckered lips into pronouncing his name.
"Faduel Moghabghab," he repeated in syllables, pointing to the card
he had passed to them.  "Accent the u and drop those g's which your
little throats cannot manage," he went on kindly, while the
merriment sparkled in his dark eyes, and his milk-white teeth, seen
through his black moustache as he laughed, added beauty to his
delicate and vivacious face.

He was a man of winsome mind, this Syrian guest of ours, and the
spirituality of his culture was as marked as the refinement of his
manners.  We shall long remember him for the tales told that
evening of his home in Ainzehalta on the slope of the Syrian
mountains, but longest of all for what he said out of the memories
of his youth about a shepherd song.

"It was out of the shepherd life of my country," he remarked, "that
there came long ago that sweetest religious song ever written--the
Twenty-third Psalm."

After the ripple of his merriment with the children had passed he
turned to me with a face now serious and pensive, and said: "Ah, so
many things familiar to us are strange to you of America."

"Yes," I answered, "and no doubt because of this we often make
mistakes which are more serious than mispronunciation of your
modern names."

He smiled pleasantly, then with earnestness said: "So many things
in the life of my people, the same now as in the days of old, have
been woven into the words of the Bible and into the conceptions of
religious ideas as expressed there; you of the Western world, not
knowing these things as they are, often misunderstand what is
written, or at least fail to get a correct impression from it."

"Tell us about some of these," I ventured, with a parental glance
at two listening little faces.

After mentioning several instances, he went on: "And there is the
shepherd psalm: I find that it is taken among you as having two
parts, the first under the figure of shepherd life, the second
turning to the figure of a banquet with the host and the guest."

"Oh, we have talked about that," said my lady of the teacups as she
dangled the tea-ball with a connoisseur's fondness, "and we have
even said that we wished the wonderful little psalm could have been
finished in the one figure of shepherd life."

"It seems to us," I added, wishing to give suitable support to my
lady's rather brave declaration of our sense of a literary flaw in
the matchless psalm, "it seems to us to lose the sweet, simple
melody and to close with strange, heavy chords when it changes to a
scene of banquet hospitality.  Do you mean that it actually keeps
the shepherd figure to the end?"

"Certainly, good friends."

With keen personal interest I asked him to tell us how we might see
it as a shepherd psalm throughout.  So we listened and he talked,
over the cooling teacups.

"It is all, all a simple shepherd psalm," he began.  "See how it
runs through the round of shepherd life from first word to last."

"With softly modulated voice that had the rhythm of music and the
hush of veneration in it, he quoted: "'_The Lord is my shepherd; I
shall not want_.'"

"There is the opening strain of its music; in that chord is sounded
the keynote which is never lost till the plaintive melody dies away
at the song's end.  All that follows is that thought put in varying

I wish it were possible to reproduce here the light in his face and
the interchange of tones in his mellow voice as he went on.  He
talked of how the varied needs of the sheep and the many-sided care
of the shepherd are pictured with masterly touch in the short
sentences of the psalm.

"Each is distinct and adds something too precious to be merged and
lost," he said.

"'_He maketh me to lie down in green pastures_,'--nourishment,
rest.  '_He leadeth me beside the still waters_,'--the scene
changes and so does the meaning.  You think here of quietly flowing
streams; so you get one more picture of rest; but you miss one of
the finest scenes in shepherd life and one of the rarest blessings
of the soul that is led of God.  All through the day's roaming the
shepherd keeps one thing in mind.  He must lead his flock to a
drinking-place.  The refreshment of good water makes the coveted
hour of all the day; the spot where it is found amid the rough,
waterless hills and plains is the crowning token of the shepherd's
unfailing thoughtfulness.  When at last the sheep are led 'beside
the still waters,' how good it is, after the dust and heat of the

"Would you get the shepherd meaning here?  Then remember that
streams are few in the shepherd country of Bible lands.  The
shepherds do not rely on them.  Even where streams are found, their
beds and banks are usually broken and their flow rough.  Sheep are
timid and fear a current of water, as they well may for they are
easily carried down stream because of their wool."

"Poor things, how do they ever get a good drink?" exclaimed one of
the two little maids, whose heart was always open lovingly  to

"The shepherd sees to that, doesn't he?" said the other timidly,
with earnest eyes set on our guest.

His face beamed with winsome relish of these tributes to his
success.  "Yes, the sheep would indeed have a hard time finding
water to drink, were it not that the shepherd sees to that."

The playfulness faded from his eyes and the shadow of manhood's
years was there as he said to me: "Brother, you and I have learned
how much is in that question and answer.  How would we get the
refreshment we need in the rough world, if the Shepherd did not see
to that?  But he does, he does!"

His face brightened again as he turned to the four blue eyes across
the table.

"Shall I tell you how the shepherd sees to it that the sheep have a
good drink every day?  Listen:

"There are wells and fountains all through the vast regions where
the flocks roam, and in some parts there are cisterns, though the
sheep like the living water best.  The shepherds know where these
drinking-places are all through the treeless country where streams
are few.  It is a fine sight to see the shepherds bring their
flocks '_beside the still waters_' at some well or fountain, while
the wide, silent country over which they and many other sheep have
wandered, spreads all around them, and the full expanse of the sky
arches over them.

"The shepherd makes a certain sound; all his sheep lie down and are
quiet.  Then he fills the drinking-troughs.  The bubbling of the
fountain, or the current, if it be by a stream, is no longer there
to trouble the sheep.  They can drink now undisturbed.  This is the
delicate meaning of that word 'still.'  As the Hebrew words put it,
'He leadeth beside the waters of quietness.'

"Then the waiting sheep hear a whistle or a call.  They never
misunderstand; they know their shepherd's voice and never respond
to the wrong shepherd if several flocks have come up together.  And
strangest of all, the sheep come up by groups; the shepherd makes
them understand.  So in groups he leads them until they stand
'_beside the still waters_.'  And, oh, how they drink, with the
shepherd standing near!"

After a pause, with a far-off look in his eyes, he said, "It is a
beautiful scene, so beautiful that St. John has used it in
picturing heaven."  A smile broke over his face as he quoted: "'The
Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd,
and shall guide them unto fountains of waters of life.'"

No one spoke as he sat turning his teacup.  A tear started from his
dropped eyes.  Presently he seemed to recall himself.

"But I must tell you one more scene that comes to my memory
whenever I read the words, 'he leadeth me beside the still
waters_.'  It would make a beautiful picture if some one would
paint it.

"Up in the mountainsides of Lebanon, where my kinsmen have long
been shepherds, often there are no regular drinking-places, such as
the wells and fountains on the plains.  But as the shepherd leads
his sheep over the rough slopes he finds many a spring and sees its
rivulet noisily down a crevice.  His sheep need water.  They cannot
drink from the leaping little stream.  What does he do?  He finds a
suitable turn or nook in its course; he walls it up with a little
dam and so holds the water till it forms a quiet pool.  Then, right
there on the open hills, he leads his sheep 'beside the still
waters_.'  I know of nothing more fit to picture the Shepherd's
care of souls that trust him than that scene up there on the

While our thoughts were carried away to these scenes of thirsty
flocks drinking, I chanced to notice that the tea-ball was again
quietly at work.  As we sat thinking on that picture up in the
mountain, a good hand offered our guest a fresh cup.  He received
it with a low bow, sipped it in quiet, then with a grateful smile
began speaking again:

"'_He restoreth my soul_.'  You know," he said, turning to me,
"that soul means the life or one's self in the Hebrew writings."

Then addressing us all he went on: "There are perilous places for
the sheep on all sides, and they seem never to learn to avoid them.
The shepherd must ever be on the watch.  And there are private
fields and sometimes gardens and vineyards here and there in the
shepherd country; if the sheep stray into them and be caught there
it is forfeited to the owner of the land.  So, 'he restoreth my
soul' means, 'The shepherd brings me back and rescues me from fatal
and forbidden places.'"

"'Restores me when wandering,' is the way it is put in one of our
hymns," I interposed.

"Ah, sir, that is it exactly," he answered, "'restores me when

"'_He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's
sake.'  Often have I roamed through the shepherd country in my
youth and seen how hard it is to choose the right path for the
sheep; one leads to a precipice, another to a place where the sheep
cannot find the way back; and the shepherd was always going ahead,
'leading' them in the right paths, proud of his good name as a

"Some paths that are right paths still lead through places that
have deadly perils.  '_Yea, though I walk through the valley of the
shadow of death_,' is the way the psalm touches this fact in
shepherd life.  This way of naming the valley is very true to our
country.  I remember one near my home called 'the valley of
robbers,' and another, 'the ravine of the raven.'  You see 'the
valley of the shadow of death' is a name drawn from my country's
old custom.

"'For thou art with me.'  Ah, how could more be put into few words!
With the sheep, it matters not what the surroundings are, nor how
great the perils and hardships; if only the shepherd is with them,
they are content.  There is no finer picture of the way of peace
for the troubled in all the world.

"To show how much the presence of the shepherd counts for the
welfare of the sheep I can think of nothing better than the strange
thing I now tell you.  It is quite beyond the usual, daily care on
which the flock depends so fondly.  But I have seen it more than

"Sometimes, in spite of all the care of the shepherd and his dogs,
a wolf will get into the very midst of the flock.  The sheep are
wild with fright.  They run and leap and make it impossible to get
at the foe in their midst, who at that very moment may be fastening
his teeth in the throat of a helpless member of the flock.  But the
shepherd is with them.  He knows what to do even at such a time.
He leaps to a rock or hillock that he may be seen and heard.   Then
he lifts his voice in a long call, something like a wolf's cry:
'Ooh! ooh!'

"On hearing this, the sheep remember the shepherd; they heed his
voice; and, strange to tell, the poor, timid creatures, which were
helpless with terror before, instantly rush with all their strength
into a solid mass.  The pressure is irresistible; the wolf is
overcome; frequently he is crushed to death, while the shepherd
stands there on a rock crying, 'Ooh! ooh!'  '_I will fear no evil:
for art with me_.'"

He paused, looking questioningly at one and another.

"Yes," I said at last, "'in all these things we are more than
conquerors through him that loved us.'"  He bowed his satisfaction
in silence.

"'_Thy rod and thy staff_'--this also is true to life; the double
expression covers the whole round of protecting care.  For the
shepherds carry a crook for guiding the sheep and a weapon suitable
for defending them, the rod and the staff; one for aiding them in
places of need along peaceful ways, the other for defense in perils
of robbers and wild beasts.  This saying describes with the ease of
mastery how much those words mean, '_Thou art with me_.'

"And what shall I say of the next words, '_Thy rod and thy staff
they comfort me_'?  Ah, madam, you should see the sheep cuddle near
the shepherd to understand that word, '_They comfort me_.' The
shepherd's call 'Ta-a-a-a, ho-o-o,' and the answering patter of
feet as the sheep hurry to him, are fit sounds to be chosen out of
the noisy world to show what comfort God gives to souls that heed
his voice; and those sounds have been heard in my country this day
as they were the day this shepherd psalm was written!"

He sat in silence a moment musing as if the sound were in his ear.

With quiet animation he lifted his thin hand and continued: "Now
here is where you drop the shepherd figure and put in a banquet and
so lose the fine climax of completeness in the shepherd's care."

It need not be said that we were eager listeners now, for our guest
was all aglow with memories of his far-off homeland and we felt
that we were about to see new rays of light flash from this rarest
gem in the song-treasury of the world.

"'_Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine
enemies_.'"  In the same hushed voice in which he quoted these
words he added: "Ah, to think that the shepherd's highest skill and
heroism should be lost from view as the psalm begins to sing of it,
and only an indoor banquet thought of!"  Again he sat a little time
in quiet.  Then he said:

"The word for table here means simply 'something spread out' and so
a prepared meal, however it is set forth.  There is no higher task
of the shepherd in my country than to go from time to time to study
places and examine the grass and find a good and safe feeding-place
for his sheep.  All his skill and often great heroism are called
for.  There are many poisonous plants in the grass and the shepherd
must find and avoid them.  The sheep will not eat certain poisonous
things, but there are some which they will eat, one kind of
poisonous grass in particular.  A cousin of mine once lost three
hundred sheep by a mistake in this hard task.

"Then there are snake holes in some kinds of ground, and, if they
be not driven away, the snakes bite the noses of the sheep.  The
shepherd sometimes burns the fat of hogs along the ground to do
this.  Sometimes the shepherd finds ground where moles have worked
their holes just under the surface.  Snakes lie in these holes with
their heads sticking up ready to bite the grazing sheep.  The
shepherds know how to drive them away as they go along ahead of the

"And around the feeding-ground which the shepherd thus prepares, in
holes and caves in the hillsides there are jackals, wolves, hyenas,
and panthers, too, and the bravery and skill of the shepherd are at
the highest point in closing up these dens with stones or slaying
the wild beasts with his long-bladed knife.  Of nothing do you hear
shepherds boasting more proudly than of their achievements in this
part of their care of flocks.

"And now," he exclaimed with a beaming countenance and suppressed
feeling, as if pleading for recognition of the lone shepherd's
bravest act of devotion to his sheep, "and now do you not see the
shepherd figure in that quaint line, '_Thou preparest a table
before me in the presence of mine enemies_'?"

"Yes," I answered; "and I see that God's care of a man out in the
world is a grander thought than that of seating him at an indoor

"But what about anointing the head with oil and the cup running
over?  Go on, my friend."

"Oh, there begins the beautiful picture at the end of the day.  The
psalm has sung of the whole round of the day's wandering, all the
needs of the sheep, all the care of the shepherd.  Now the psalm
closes with the last scene of the day.  At the door, of the
sheepfold the shepherd stands and 'the rodding of the sheep' takes
place.  The shepherd stands, turning his body to let the sheep
pass; he is the door, as Christ said of himself.  With his rod he
holds back the sheep while he inspects them one by, one as they
pass into the fold.  He has the horn filled with olive-oil and he
has cedar-tar, and he anoints a knee bruised on the rocks or a side
scratched by thorns.  And here comes one that is not bruised but is
simply worn and exhausted; he bathes its face and head with the
refreshing olive-oil and he takes the large two-handled cup and
dips it brimming full from the vessel of water provided for that
purpose, and he lets the weary sheep drink.

"There is nothing finer in the psalm than this.  God's care is not
for the wounded only, but for the worn and weary also.  '_Thou
anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over_.'

"And then, when the day is done and the sheep are snug within the
fold, what contentment, what rest under the starry sky!  Then comes
the thought of deepest repose and comfort: '_Surely goodness and
mercy shall follow me all the days of my life_,' as they have
through all the wanderings of the day now ended.

"The song dies away as the heart that God has watched and tended
breathes this grateful vow before the roaming of the day is
forgotten in sleep: '_I will_--not shall, but will; for it is a
decision, a settled purpose, a holy vow--'I will dwell in the house
of the Lord for ever_.'  And the song ends, and the sheep are at
rest, safe in the good shepherd's fold."

Do you wonder that ever since that night we have called this psalm
The Song of Our Syrian Guest?


Shepherd Life in Bible Lands


The American College, Bayrout, Syria

"The same regions which furnished the vast flocks in ancient times
are still noted for their sheep.  All the plateaus east of the
Jordan and the mountains of Palestine and Syria are pasture-grounds
for innumerable flocks and herds.  They require water but once a
day, and, where they cannot get it from perennial streams, they
find it in the innumerable wells, fountains and cisterns.  The
descendants of the same shepherds who tended flocks in Bible days
still occupy the great sheepwalks of Palestine.

"The care of sheep is the subject of frequent allusion in
Scripture.  The shepherd leads (not drives) them to pasture and
water (Ps. 23; 77:20; 78:52; 80:1); protects them at the risk of
his life (John 10:15).  To keep them from the cold and rain and
beasts, he collects them in caves (1 Sam. 24:3) or enclosures built
of rough stones (Num. 32:16; Judg. 5:16; Zeph. 2:6; John 10:1).
The sheep know their shepherd, and heed his voice (John 10:4).  It
is one of the most interesting spectacles to see a number of flocks
of thirsty sheep brought by their several shepherds to be watered
at a fountain.  Each flock, in obedience to the call of its own
shepherd, lies down, awaiting its turn.  The shepherd of one flock
calls his sheep in squads, draws water for them, pours it into the
troughs, and, when the squad has done, orders it away by sounds
which the sheep perfectly understand, and calls up another squad.
When the whole of one flock is watered, its shepherd signals to it,
and the sheep rise and move leisurely away, while another flock
comes in a similar manner to the troughs, and so on, until all the
flocks are watered.  The sheep never make any mistake as to who
whistles to them or calls to them.  'They know not the voice of
strangers' (John 10:5).  Sometimes they are called by names (John
10:3).  Syrian sheep are usually white (Ps. 147:16; Isa. 1:18; Dan.
7:9), but some are brown (Gen. 30:32-42; Revised Version 'black').
No animal mentioned in Scripture compares in symbolical interest
and importance with the sheep.   It is alluded to about five
hundred times."

The Singing Pilgrim



"The Twenty-third Psalm is the nightingale of the psalms.  It is
small, of a homely feather, singing shyly out of obscurity; but,
oh, it has filled the air of the whole world with melodious joy,
greater than the heart can conceive!  Blessed be the day on which
that psalm was born!

"What would you say of a pilgrim commissioned of God to travel up
and down the earth singing a strange melody, which, when once
heard, caused him to forget whatever sorrow he had?  And so the
singing angel goes on his way through all lands, singing in the
language of every nation, driving away trouble by the pulses of the
air which his tongue moves with divine power.  Behold just such an
one!  This pilgrim God has sent to speak in every language on the
globe.  It has charmed more griefs to rest than all the philosophy
of the world.  It has remanded to their dungeon more felon
thoughts, more black doubts, more thieving sorrows, than there are
sands on the seashore.  It has comforted the noble host of the
poor.  It has sung courage to the army of the disappointed.  It has
poured balm and consolation into the heart of the sick, of captives
in dungeons, of widows in their pinching griefs, of orphans in
their loneliness.  Dying soldiers have died easier as it was read
to them; ghastly hospitals have been illuminated; it has visited
the prisoner and broken his chains, and, like Peter's angel, led
him forth in imagination, and sung him back to his home again.  It
has made the dying Christian slave freer than his master, and
consoled those whom, dying, he left behind, mourning not so much
that he was gone as because they were left behind and could not go

"Nor is its work done.  It will go on singing to your children and
my children, and to their children, through all the generations of
time; nor will it fold its wings till the last pilgrim is safe, and
time ended; and then it shall fly back to the bosom of God, whence
it issued, and sound on, mingled with all those sounds of celestial
joy which make heaven musical forever."

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