“The Lord is my Shepherd…” Psalm 23:1
‘Jehovah Rohi’ – the Lord is my Shepherd.
To those of us who live in cities, the word ‘shepherd’ conjures up images of a lone, grim, semi-literate, weather-beaten figure roaming the distant rural environs with a flock of sheep. What possible good can it do us to be assured that God considers us His sheep?
King David, who wrote that uplifting Psalm 23, had a very different perception of the job of a shepherd – for he was one himself as a boy.
The prophet Samuel had been sent by God to Bethlehem to anoint a new king for Israel from among the sons of Jesse. He invited the family for a meal, but David was left behind to tend the sheep. As David’s tall, handsome brothers – all military men – trooped in one by one to greet Samuel, God indicated to the prophet that He had no use for any of them in that capacity. Finally, Jesse sent for his youngest, and God picked David from ‘the sheepfold to be the shepherd of His people Israel’.
Warrior versus shepherd – whom would you choose to be a king in wartime? Let us see.
Not long afterwards, Israel faced an existential threat in the form of the Philistine military commander – Goliath, the giant. At his roar, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together” (1 Samuel 17:10 ESV), the Israelite army cowered in their barracks, and there was none brave enough to face him. Then young David showed up, carrying home baked bread and cheeses for his soldier brothers.
David volunteered. Soon afterwards, he confronted Goliath with these words, “Today, the Lord will hand you over to me” (1 Samuel 17:46 HCSB), and dispatched him with a single stone, shot from his sling.
His earlier conversation with Saul, the warrior king of Israel – also cowering in his palace – is worth studying.
David to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.”
Saul: “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.”
David: “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. When a lion, or a bear took a lamb, I went after him, struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. This uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who delivered me from the lion and the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”
Saul: “Go, and the Lord be with you.” (1 Samuel 17:32-37 ESV, abridged)
The good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
While the others feared for their lives when confronted with danger, David’s prime concern was his sheep. Though a young boy, he had killed lions and bears in the wilderness. The bravery of the former was tempered by pragmatism; the courage of the latter was inspired by his confidence in the living God. He understood that if Israel’s God was alive and on the throne, then He had the same duty of care towards His people as David had for his sheep.
The former were like hired hands that Jesus spoke about: “He who is a hired hand… sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep and flees because… he cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:12-13 ESV), while David had been a faithful shepherd.
But Jesus assures us that, “I am the good Shepherd.” (John 10:14)
He will never abandon us in times of danger or foolish wandering. He knows that we will indeed be foolish and wander away at times. Hannah Whitall Smith reminds us that sheep are inherently silly animals, prone to straying and totally incapable of looking after themselves. If sheep were self-reliant, clever and street-smart creatures – as cats and dogs tend to be – then they would hardly need the care of shepherd. The shepherd takes the trouble to dwell closely with his flock, study their individual natures and tend them accordingly.
“What do you think? If a man has 100 sheep, and one of them goes astray, won’t he leave the 99 on the hillside and go and search for the stray? And if he finds it, I assure you: He rejoices over that sheep more than over the 99 that did not go astray. In the same way, it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones perish” (Matthew 18:12-14 HCSB)
The Shepherd of our souls has the duty to guide, feed, watch over, protect, mend broken limbs and rescue His sheep from danger. He keeps close to us till we learn to recognise His voice, trust Him and follow Him to unknown places. We – His sheep – need to learn just one simple rule: that where our Shepherd goes, we must follow. Under the good Shepherd’s care, we are assured of ample sustenance, eternal security, deliverance from the enemy and infinite happiness.
“I am the good shepherd. I know My own sheep, and they know Me, as the Father knows Me, and I know the Father. I lay down My life for the sheep.” (John 10:14-15 HCSB)
Father, thank You for being our shepherd. We are so grateful for Your wonderful care and provision, for protection and deliverance. You will indeed rescue us from all danger and bring us safely back home. Help us walk close to You and to hear Your voice. In Jesus’ name.