“The Lost Sheep” by Alford Usher Soord (1868 -1915)
After my last post on Psalm 23 I received a message from some friends in Korea. They are home on leave but were planning to return to their ministry this week but their visa has yet to be granted. They wrote:
“Thank you for #100 post. It is very encouraging, because we were worrying about our next step. Our visa has not yet been granted. We will need to change our flights on Monday. We need wisdom from God.”
They then conclude:
“The Lord is my shepherd. No worries!!”
So, why the use of the imagery of a shepherd (for God) and sheep (for us, his people) in this psalm? Well, it is not unique in the Bible. In fact, it is used often.
I think it is helpful to understand that the families of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were nomadic shepherds (as, of course was David’s) and when Jacob’s family were moving to Egypt to join Joseph (who was second in charge to the land), it tells us that Joseph said to his family:
“I will go up and speak to Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were living in the land of Canaan, have come to me. The men are shepherds; they tend livestock, and they have brought along their flocks and herds and everything they own.’ …Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen”
But then comes a surprising statement:
“…for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians.” (Genesis 46:31-34)
So, why would that be? Well, we don’t really know. Maybe political, social or religious reasons. But whatever reason, the humble shepherd was not considered to be imagery that could be ever used for God in certain societies, except in Israel. And here is was used often as something they understood very well.
In fact, Jacob, in blessings Joseph’s sons speaks of “the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day”. (Genesis 48:15) and later, when blessing Joseph, he spoke of his son as the who had remained strong through difficulty, “because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, because of your father’s God, who helps you.” (Genesis 49:24-25)
So, right from the beginning of the people of Israel, God as their divine Shepherd was understood.
In a prayer of Asaph in the Psalms, the writer says:
Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us.
Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:1-3)
Then in Isaiah the prophet speaks to his people and says:
“Here is your God!” 10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.
And then continues with a very tender description of this “Sovereign Lord” as the One who,
…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 40:10-11)
Like me, I’m sure that description of our God as a shepherd has been of great comfort to many people ever since Isaiah wrote those words thousands of years ago.
For me it was 1979 and our family were just about to move out in obedience to undergo training for what we believed was God’s will for us, and that was to serve God overseas. Although my wife had more experience than me, I had never left my home town, let alone lived in a foreign land, and I was overwhelmed at the responsibility of leaving all that was familiar and ‘secure’ and moving with our family into the unknown. Our children were then only 1 and 3 years old. As I prayed about my concerns to the Lord, Isaiah 40:11 came to mind and I knew it was ok. 38 years later we can now look back and see God’s hand upon our lives. Not only were those two toddlers “carried close to his heart” but two more who arrived later on as well, and He did indeed “lead us” with our young family. What a privilege to know and serve such a loving caring Shepherd!
But, it is also in Isaiah 63, a prophecy concerning the “suffering servant” (fulfilled in Jesus) that we see the imagery of sheep used for God’s people, and sadly, we are likened to lost sheep:
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
When we then turn to the NT we see the story of Jesus, the Messiah, and, in a revelation of his Divinity, Jesus takes on himself the OT imagery used of Almighty God and says of himself, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)
As we then look back at Isaiah 53, we find that Isaiah had prophesied the solution to this dilemma of lost sheep, again using the sheep imagery, but this time not speaking of God’s people but God’s Son. He says:
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
John the Baptist understood this when, seeing Jesus, he proclaimed to his disciples “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
So, the Shepherd became the Sacrificial Lamb laying down his life for us, his lost sheep!
So, considering all this, the words of Psalm 23:1, “the Lord is my shepherd” takes on even greater significance that when David wrote them.
Jesus also said of himself:
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” (John 14:10)
Give thanks today if you are known by Jesus as one of his sheep, and if you are not sure, then talk to Him about it. Acknowledge him as the good shepherd and the One who gave his life for you to bring you into his “sheep fold”. (John 10:16). Then you will be able to confidently say, like my Korean friend, “The Lord is MY shepherd. No worries!”
Lord Jesus, you said, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” Thank you that today, all around the world, you are drawing people to yourself. May they willingly say ‘yes’ to you and know the joy of belonging to that “one flock” for all eternity. Amen.