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Psalm 23:1 says,
1 The Lord is my shepherd [Jehovah-Roi], I shall not want.
David was a shepherd, and so he understood what a shepherd was. He saw himself as one of God’s sheep and wrote from this perspective. To know God as a Shepherd is to know His love and tender care and to trust in His devotion and protection in the face of danger. Special emphasis is upon His willingness to die for the sheep. So David testified in 1 Sam. 17:34-36,
34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant was tending his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went out and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine [Goliath] will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.”
When Goliath attacked the Israelite “sheep,” David acted the part of a good shepherd and delivered them from the hand of the Philistines. The implication is that Saul was not a shepherd, so David himself took that role in relation to the Israelites.
Hebrews 13:20 tells us,
20 Now the God of peace who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd [poimen] of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord.
Our “great Shepherd” was “brought up from the dead” because He had died for His sheep. In His death, Jesus was “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). In His resurrection, He became “the great Shepherd of the sheep.” In order to be a great Shepherd who leads others, one must also know what it means to be a sheep who follows Christ.
Jesus spoke of a “good shepherd” in contrast to the thief or the hired hand. John 10:10-15 says,
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd [poimen]; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.
Those who know the Shepherd also know that they are His sheep. They have learned to hear His voice. When shepherds gathered together in an enclosure at night, their sheep mingled together. But in the morning, each shepherd would call for his sheep as he left. The sheep knew the voice of their shepherd and would follow him to the pasture.
Hired hands, or temporary workers, had more difficulty, because the sheep had not learned to recognize their voice. Neither had they developed any love for the sheep. They worked for money and were not about to put their lives on the line for a bunch of sheep.
Many people—even those who have memorized Psalm 23—treat Christ not as their Shepherd but as God’s hired hand. They do not know His voice. They lack that intimate relationship with Christ, or they lack experiential proof that He provides for them and protects them.
Jehovah-Roi speaks directly to the definition of divine love that Paul sets forth in Rom. 5:6-8,
6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
When we apply such love to a shepherd for his sheep, we can see why sheep trust their shepherd. He is willing to fight wolves and bears, putting his life in danger to protect his beloved sheep. He is even willing to die for his sheep, if necessary.
Perhaps the key to knowing Him as “my Shepherd” is to recognize His voice when He speaks. There are many voices in the world and within one’s mind. Only experience can teach us to distinguish His voice from others, and each has to learn this for himself.
Distinguishing voices depends largely on knowing the nature of our good Shepherd and recognizing His patterns of behavior. This is where it becomes important to know the Scriptures, because this is the word of God that was spoken to other sheep in the past. Because God does not give any one person the full revelation, we need to hear revelation that God has given others in order to have a more complete picture. This is why the Bible was given to us.
Eph. 4:11 lists “pastors” (poimen, “shepherds”) as one of the five-fold ministry for the edification of the church. A good shepherd knows God as Jehovah-Roi and cares for sheep that others have lost. In John 21:16, Jesus told Peter, “Shepherd My sheep.” Hence, pastors are shepherds in relation to the congregation, while they are sheep in relation to the great Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
Pastors are therefore charged with caring for the sheep, not as mere hired hands but as good shepherds. A pastoral calling is not just a vocation, where one hopes to draw a pension when he is retired.
Deuteronomy 22:1, 2 says,
1 You shall not see your countryman’s ox or his sheep straying away and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly bring them back to your countryman. 2 If your countryman is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall remain with you until your countryman looks for it; then you shall restore it to him.
This law is related to the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). The question implies, Am I my brother’s guardian? Am I in charge of my brother? Do I have authority over my brother? The answer is, “No, I am my brother’s brother.”
We ought to recognize that all of us are ultimately God’s sheep. Each shepherd is primarily responsible for his own sheep, but secondarily, we are indeed responsible for sheep who have strayed and are lost. Our responsibility ends only when the Owner (Jesus) comes searching for his lost sheep.
The shepherds in Israel were its civil and religious leaders. Jer. 23:1 says,
1 “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the Lord.
So the prophet says in Jer. 50:6, “My people have become lost sheep.” He says further in Jer. 50:19, “And I will bring Israel back to his pasture.”
Again, Ezekiel 34:2, 5 says,
2 Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? ’ … 5 They were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered.”
The solution is found in Ezekiel 34:11,
11 For thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.”
So we read in Matt. 10:5, 6,
5 These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them, “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; 6 but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Only later did Jesus send them out to the world at large, saying in John 10:16,
16 I have other sheep, which are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.
I believe this relates to Paul’s discussion in Eph. 2:14-16, where Jew and Gentile were to be joined as “one new man.,” that is, “one flock with one shepherd.” His love is not limited to Israelites but extends to the whole world (John 3:16).
On the level of prophecy, it is strange that so many preachers and theologians fail to search for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. They find it more convenient, it seems, to call the Israelites “Jews” and to think that Jews are only lost insofar as they reject Jesus Christ. Hence, they restrict their thinking to the area of salvation and ignore the prophetic implications of finding the so called “lost tribes.”
A good shepherd will search specifically for the lost sheep of the house of Israel so that they may understand prophecy and not confuse them with the Israelis today. (See my book, Who is an Israelite?)
We approach Jehovah-Roi as sheep would approach a shepherd to affirm the shepherd’s love when we have emotional needs. In this capacity, He is also Jehovah-Shammah, the ever-present One who is “there” for us as Immanuel, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).
When we are in need of provision, we can approach Jehovah-Roi or Jehovah-Jireh, who sees our need and provides accordingly. When in need of protection, we can approach Jehovah-Roi or Jehovah-Sabaoth, “The Lord of hosts.”
Psalm 23 provides us with a picture of all the names of God.
1. “The Lord is my shepherd,” because He is Jehovah-Roi, our shepherd.
2. “I shall not want,” because He is Jehovah-Jireh, who provides.
3. “He leads me beside still waters,” or waters of rest, because He is Jehovah-Shalom.
4. “He restores my soul,” because He is Jehovah-Ropheka, our healer.
5. “He leads me in the paths of righteousness,” because He is Jehovah-Tsidkenu, our righteousness.
6. “I fear no evil, for You are with me,” because He is Jehovah-Shammah, the ever-present One.
7. “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me,” because He is Jehovah-Sabaoth, the Lord of hosts, protecting me from all harm.
8. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies,” because we may feast while He fights our battles as Jehovah-Nissi, our Banner.
9. “You have anointed my head with oil,” sanctifying me through Jehovah-Mekaddishkem.
10. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord,” the house of Jehovah-Elyon, the Most High God, who takes the initiative by the counsel of His own will through the New Covenant.
All ten aspects of Jehovah are thus found in Psalm 23. Whether David was conscious of this or not, we cannot say for sure, but surely he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write such things. The last two names of God, which I think should be added are also implied in Psalm 23.
Jehovah-Nasaw, “Jehovah that Smites” (Ezekiel 7:9) reveals God as a disciplinarian, and we know that a shepherd will discipline a lamb that strays too often.
Jehovah-Beothos, “Jehovah our Helper” (Heb. 13:6; Psalm 10:14) speaks generally of the shepherd helping the sheep in whatever way he can with the needs of the sheep.