Living in Australia, to talk of shepherds is a bit foreign for most people, particularly those living in big cities. Here we speak of farmers, which include sheep farmers. But, in these times one has to travel to Africa, the Middle East or the sub-continent to places like India and Pakistan to see what a real shepherd looks like.
My family and I had that privilege of observing shepherds, particularly when we lived in a rural town in Pakistan. Sometimes, as I would watch a shepherd meandering down the road or across a paddock with his sheep and goats, I wondered, what would be defined as “stress” in this guy’s life? What does he think about as he slowly makes his way to feed and water his flock? How far does he walk in a day, a week, a month or a year?
Shepherds play a huge role in the Bible. Generally speaking, Abraham and his descendants were all shepherds. The Bible also refers to the kings and prophets of Israel as spiritual “shepherds” who were meant to be good leaders to their people, but sadly, often failed. Then of course, there were the shepherds who played a major role at the time of the birth of Jesus (read Luke 2). In a very short time, in every major Dept Store you go into, you will probably be hearing the music and lyrics of the following Carol, written by Nahum Tate in 1700:
“While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
all seated on the ground,
an angel of the Lord came down,
and glory shone around.”
To listen and check out all the lyrics go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7_hM1h0aYU
So, what has this got to do with Psalm 80?
Well, instead of referring to actual shepherds or even “spiritual” shepherd leaders, the word is used here for God himself. It begins:
1 Hear us, Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim,
shine forth 2 before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Awaken your might;
come and save us.
3 Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
Wilcock calls this, “one more shepherd psalm” and says that this psalm “addresses God by titles based on verbs: the Shepherding One, the Guiding One, the Enthroned One.” (# 5)
Longman says, “The psalmist refers to God as the Shepherd of Israel… in the appeal to God to listen to their prayer. God is the shepherd of his flock Israel… God as Shepherd… guides and protects his sheep, and that is what the psalmist is calling him to do now in the midst of their distress.” (# 30)
Of course, this name for God is not unusual in the Old Testament and Psalm 23 is the most well-known as it begins with the wonderful truth:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
When we move to the New Testament, we find that Jesus says of himself, as recorded in John’s Gospel:
14 I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 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. (vs. 14-16)
As Christmas draws near, do you know Jesus the good shepherd? Do you understand the implications in your own life that Jesus laid down his life for you? Are you a part of that one flock following Jesus? Are you able to say with full assurance that the Lord is my shepherd? If not, talk to the Good Shepherd about it and come under his care and love.
In the words of Hebrews 13:20:
20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.