“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth. Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up your might and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved! O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people's prayers? You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure. You make us an object of contention for our neighbors, and our enemies laugh among themselves. Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved!” Psalm 80:1-7
The majority of people in the US have very limited experience or knowledge of shepherding animals. Even if you do have some experience shepherding, chances are it is not something that you do as a full-time job. There are still societies around the world where people spend their days shepherding animals, but it really doesn’t “define” many people’s occupations in the United States.
The cultural context of the Bible, however, is a different story. Virtually everyone would have experience or at least good working knowledge of what it means to shepherd animals. This is evident by the frequency at which “shepherd” and “shepherding” are used as examples and metaphors in Scripture. Our Psalm today is one of those many examples.
In addition to being called “God” and “Lord” in the passage, God is also identified as the “Shepherd of Israel.” The role of an animal shepherd is to lead, guide, and protect. This is exactly what the psalmist is asking of God here. He is asking that God would protect them from the enemies surrounding them; it is a cry to God for salvation. This wasn’t an unreasonable request. After all, God had told them that He would protect them and that they should cry out to Him. In calling God their “Shepherd,” the psalmist wasn’t making a loose reference or connection to God and the vocation of shepherding, as to imply that God is merely “like” a shepherd. No, shepherding Israel is quite literally what God dedicated Himself to.
If there was any doubt in the minds of people regarding this, Jesus says it plainly in John chapter 10. Two times in the chapter Jesus says “I am the good shepherd” (vs. 11 & 14). Jesus also says twice in John chapter 10 that as the good shepherd He lays down His life for His sheep (10 & 15). In verse 10 Jesus also declares that anyone who comes to Him will be saved. In linking the roles of shepherd and savior, Jesus confirmed to the world that He is the long-awaited Messiah that the world needed. Isaiah prophesied this about Jesus: “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11) We all need Jesus to guide us, protect us, and save us. Create within yourself the habit of depending on the Shepherd’s leading.
Prayer for Today:
Father, thank You for being the Good Shepherd of my life. Thank You for being patient with me when I am stubborn. Thank You for searching for me when I lose my way, and thank You for saving me. Teach me to be led by You, Good Shepherd. Amen.