In my life, I have once seen a shepherd personally.
We were on a mission trip with a group of students, and it was a rainy day. We were traveling up and down windy roads in rural Portugal.
Out in the downpour sat a shepherd. I think he had a rain jacket on. (I can’t remember if he had an umbrella.) But there he sat in the rain, watching his flock.
That image has stuck with me. It was an insider look at true shepherding: muddy and cold, longsuffering attentiveness. It was not the idyllic shepherding of Christian bookstore paintings and Precious Moments figurines.
And yet, the Lord says he is this for us: The Lord is our shepherd (Psalm 23).
What does it mean that God is our shepherd? We may not be familiar with all the responsibilities of a shepherd, but the Bible fills in the meaning of the metaphor.
As a shepherd, the Lord…
- Provides (Psalm 23:1)
- Soothes (Psalm 23:2-3)
- Protects (Psalm 23:4)
- Delivers (Psalm 78:52)
- Guides (Psalm 78:52)
- Gently Leads (Isaiah 40:11; Psalm 80:1)
- Tends (Isaiah 40:11)
- Gathers (Isaiah 40:11)
- Carries (Isaiah 40:11)
- Keeps (Jeremiah 31:10)
- Searches (Ezekiel 34:11)
- Rescues (Ezekiel 34:22)
- Feeds (Ezekiel 34:23)
And most amazingly, Jesus says that he is the good shepherd, and the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11).
This level of care is incomprehensible.
Sure, a shepherd might put himself in harms way to protect his sheep (e.g., 1 Samuel 17:34-36), but to sacrifice himself for the sheep? What shepherd would give his life for some rather cantankerous sheep?
What wondrous love is this!?
This is the love of our God.
The Lord walks among us and leads us and provides for his flock, and he loves us to the end, even to the cost of death on a cross.
May we entrust ourselves to our Good Shepherd and follow Him always.