The Great Shepherd

by Lois Tverberg

I am the good shepherd, and I know my own and my own know me, even as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. – John 10:14

ShepherdJesus says “I am the good shepherd” in John’s gospel, and we may not realize that the image of the “shepherd” as the Messiah is all over the Old Testament, in Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah and other books. In the next few devotionals we will look at what these Messianic prophecies said about Jesus.

What is a “good shepherd”? In his classic book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, (1) Phillip Keller describes the difference between the good and bad shepherd, and the lesson he learned:

In memory I can still see one of the sheep ranches in our district which was operated by a tenant sheepman. He ought never to have been allowed to keep sheep. He gave little or no time to his flock. Every year these poor creatures were forced to gnaw away at bare brown fields and impoverished pastures. Shelter to safeguard and protect the suffering sheep from storms and blizzards was scanty and inadequate. In their thin, weak and diseased condition these poor sheep were a pathetic sight. To all their distress, the heartless, selfish owner seemed utterly callous and indifferent.

I never looked at those sheep without an acute awareness that this was a precise picture of those wretched old taskmasters, Sin and Satan, on their derelict ranch — scoffing at the plight of those within their power. It is a picture of the pathetic people of the world over who have not known what it is to belong to the Good Shepherd, who suffer instead under sin and Satan. How amazing it is that individual men and women vehemently refuse and reject the claims of Christ on their lives. He came to set men free of their own sins, their own selves, their own fears. Those so liberated loved Him with fierce loyalty. It is this One who insists that He was the Good Shepherd, the understanding Shepherd, the concerned Shepherd who cares enough to seek out and save and restore lost men and women.

(1) Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, 1996, Zondervan, ISBN 0-310-21435-1. The passages above are from Chapter 1, “The Lord is My Shepherd.”


Shepherd, Sheep, and Goats

by Pastor Ed Visser

We were traveling through the Judean desert toward Jerusalem when we saw it. Coming over one of the many hills, we spotted this pastoral scene, of which I quickly snapped a picture. It’s a typical scene in the land, a bedouin shepherd leading his sheep and goats to food. And yet, the scene before us was atypical of the images we hold in our mind when we read passages like Psalm 23.

sheep and goatsThe Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not be in want.
He makes me lay down in
green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in
paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Admit it! You probably don’t envision “green pastures” that look like sand dunes (where’s the green?). Or thousands of “paths” (the horizontal stripes you can barely see) that crisscross the hills (which ones are the “right paths”?). Whatever your Sunday School pictures showed you about Psalm 23, this is the image you should have firmly in your mind! And when you get the right image, you “get” the Psalm.

After all, what’s more like real life? God plopping you down in a field of lush grass, giving you everything you need for your lifetime? Or God leading you, day-by-day, to little tufts of grass, just enough to get you through the day but demanding that you trust him for the next day (“give us this day our daily bread”)?

What’s more like real life? God showing you a nicely paved path and reminding you not to stray off it? Or God leading you, in the midst of a maze of different paths you could choose, down the path that will allow you to live rightly and find sustenance for life (rather than the edge of a cliff)?

You will notice that the shepherd (top, far left) is out in front of his flock — leading them, not driving them like cattle. God wants our relationship with Him to be one of hearing his voice & following, rather than having to be “driven” to hear and obey. True sheep, as Jesus notes in John 10, hear his voice and follow.

But sometimes we don’t follow; we go our own way. What then? Well, Jesus reminds us that a good shepherd will go out to seek and save his lost sheep, for they are precious to him. But there are limits; there will be a time when sheep & goats will be separated, and different fate will await them both. Why did Jesus differentiate between these 2 types of flocks? After all, in Israel you generally see sheep & goats grazing together. But look closely at this picture. The group of animals in a neat circle nearest the shepherd are sheep; the rest scattered on the hillside are goats. Apparently this is common, for while sheep are good followers, goats often have a mind of their own. Goats have an independent streak which causes them to stray. Do we?

Ro’eh – Shepherd

by Lois Tverberg

As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them… Ezekiel 34:12

The picture of the shepherd was often used in the Bible for kings and leaders, in particular about God as shepherd of his people, as in Psalm 23. Interestingly, many passages in the Old Testament use images of shepherds to refer to the coming Messiah. One of the most important passages about the “Good Shepherd” is in Ezekiel 34:

For thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.” “I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest,” declares the Lord GOD. “I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick;…“As for you, My flock, thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I will judge between one sheep and another, between the rams and the male goats. …“ (Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15 -17)

This passage contains several rich things that are in the background of Jesus’ statements about himself. We can hear the background of Jesus’ parable about the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to look for the one lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7). We also hear Jesus words about how when he comes again, he will judge between the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31 – 34). Jesus was also probably referring to this passage in his words to Zacchaeus: “…the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:9-10).

What is most interesting is that the Ezekiel passage clearly says that it would be God Himself who would come to seek out his lost sheep, and Jesus repeatedly says that he is the fulfillment of these words. Through this, his listeners would have heard his very bold claim that not only is he the Messiah, he is God incarnate, coming to earth to rescue his people.


Further reading:

See Listening to the Language of the Bible, by Lois Tverberg and Bruce Okkema, En-Gedi Resource Center, 2004. This is a collection of devotional essays that mediate on the meaning of biblical words and phrases in their original setting.

For a friendly, bite-sized Bible study of five flavorful Hebrew words, see 5 Hebrew Words that Every Christian Should Know, by Lois Tverberg,, 2014 (ebook).