God’s Names – Shepherd

Psalm 23:1
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Sheep and goats are amazing and ridiculous beasts. They can be really social and even companions to us. And they can get themselves into terrible and dangerous situation. And they have serious issues with eating, especially what to eat and how much to eat. And they are awesome.

So it’s no wonder we are so often referred to as “sheep” in Scripture.

We are community-oriented “companions” to one another and to our Shepherd. When I was a kid (dad-joke intended) my brother and I and a couple of cousins each had a pet goat at the Land Ranch. These domesticated beasts would act almost dog-like, bouncing up to you as you walked into the barn (in hopes of being fed, but more on that in a minute). They travel in herds, listen to their guides and even to a degree cuddle up with you. We all are made for community and joy. We are designed to bounce up to our Shepherd, be fed and tenderly cared for. It makes us come alive.

And we do the dumbest things because we are either not paying attention or just don’t know any better. One of our ranch-duties was to drive the fence lines to rescue goats from their own stupidity. You see, sometimes goats would roam their massive acreage simply enjoying and grazing neat a the fence. The would then spot a little patch of green grass on the other side of the fence, enticing them to poke their heads through the fence to nibble on some greens. The issue is that these goats have horns. Bending backwards. Which means that when they try to pull their heads out from the fence, their horns prevent their escape. So we would regularly come upon these “stuck goats” and have to clip the fence to free them. My goodness how often we do this. We say something moronic and immediately with we could shove the words back into our mouths, but we can’t. Or react out of a fit of rage, only to find ourselves in more trouble than what caused the rage. Over and over. Everyday. So we need “new mercies every morning” to clip the fence and rescue us…so that we can do it again tomorrow.

And we all have terrible eating disorders where we either starve ourselves or gorge ourselves on unhealthy food (and I’m referring more to spiritual food, though worldly food certainly applies as well). Sometimes goats put their heads through the fence for some “forbidden” grass, and sometimes they just eat the “wrong” stuff that’s right in front of their faces. Ironically I met a goat yesterday whose name is Woody. I was sitting around town when Misty and her goat Woody walked up and sat near me. As we talked about life, goats and what makes for good BBQ (cabrito was on the menu) Woody kept sniffing around and trying to eat pretty much everything, much like a toddler who is learning to walk pulls everything off the shelves and tables he can find. Not only that, but some goats (not sure if it’s all goats) don’t know when their bellies are full…and they keep eating, even to the point of death. This parallel is my everyday life. I want to consume all sorts of things that aren’t on God’s “healthy menu” — and not just the “bad” stuff. I consume too much media because it looks good. I consume too much approval from others because it feels good. I stick my head through a fence to eat up gossip or slander. I need a shepherd to come alongside and feed me the good food, and pull my mouth out of the wrong trough.

And we are awesome, men and women made in the very image of God. Goats are so annoying, and so amazing. They are fun to hold, to play with and enjoy. This is what we are made for in the Lord. In the midst of our ridiculousness we are image-bearers of God himself, and he has designed us for the purpose of enjoying one another and, most especially, enjoying Him by glorifying him as our Shepherd. Our sustainer, feeder, rescuer and friend.

Jesus made this point himself:

John 10:11
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

He is the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4) that so deeply loves us that he comes out searching for and rescuing us morning by morning. But we’ve gotten ourselves in so much trouble through the depths of sin that Jesus is not only our Shepherd, but the Lamb of God who was sacrificed so that we would not have to be.

And now, being loved, freed and empowered, we the lost-but-found sheep are sent out to be under-shepherds, as we see Jesus telling Peter and us:

John 21:16
He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

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