Shepherding is one of the oldest professions, going back to Abel, a son of Adam and Eve (Gen 4:2). In ancient times, political and spiritual leaders were sometimes compared to shepherds because of their position of authority over the lives of people. There are two kinds of shepherds: hirelings, who shepherd other people’s sheep for pay, and true shepherds, who shepherd their own sheep (and others’) with their lives.
The Bible compares God to a shepherd (Pss. 23:1, 80:1), as well as Moses (Isa 63:11) and the Persian king Cyrus (Isa 44:28). The Bible also promises punishment for the bad shepherds of Israel (bad spiritual leaders) and that God, the Good Shepherd, will one day bring his flock Israel back to the land inheritance he promised them (Ezek 34).
When Jesus referred to himself as the Good Shepherd, the Jews who heard him were reminded about God’s promises of punishment on Israel’s bad shepherds and God’s promise to be the Good Shepherd to Israel. And when Jesus explains later how he gives his sheep eternal life and how he is one with God the Father, it was clear that Jesus was revealing his own identity as God the Son Incarnate while predicting his own blood sacrifice on the cross that would provide final atonement for sin.
Psalm 23 provides a beautifully detailed picture about how God, the Good Shepherd, cares for us, His sheep. In light of Jesus’ self-revelation that he is the Good Shepherd, we can see how Psalm 23 isn’t merely a wonderful song of comfort, but a clear declaration about the greatness of Jesus’ love for us. His love toward us is immeasurable and unfailing, so great that he gave his own life as a perfect sacrifice to save sinners, to everyone willing to receive the invitation to believe in him.
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