A people without a king
(is like) sheep without a shepherd.
From early Sumerian times, nations were considered sheep, while kings (appointed by the gods) were considered to be their shepherds. It is not surprising that Israel picks up on this theme. During the exodus (long before Israel had a king), Moses asked Yahweh to appoint someone to rule over the congregation, lest they become “like sheep without a shepherd” (Numbers 27:17, NRSV).
Do you remember the way Frodo’s mental torment was portrayed in The Return Of The King? The longer the ring was in his possession, the more he was tempted to seize its power. Israel’s shepherds—whether the term refers to kings or leaders in general—were transformed by the power that they wielded. In the end, they were more like wild animals than shepherds. They had become the enemy.
. . .
Let’s look at what Israel’s shepherds were guilty of:
- Tending themselves at the expense of the sheep
- Consuming the produce of the sheep
- Butchering the young sheep
- Ignoring the weak, sick, and injured sheep
- Ignoring the lost sheep
- Treating the sheep with harshness and ruthlessness
The result of this treatment was that the sheep were wandering alone, being devoured by the wild animals.
God determined that this could not go on. Now that Jerusalem had received her judgment and Babylon had destroyed Israel, God decided to change the leadership himself. In a sovereign move, God saved Israel by rescuing her from her own shepherds—who by now had their fangs bared.
. . .
I love the way that “my flock” is repeated six times in four verses (vv. 7-10). Although there are human leaders, Yahweh is the ultimate shepherd. Israel was Yahweh’s flock. When Yahweh is your shepherd, you have absolutely nothing to fear. Remember Psalm 23?
The surrounding cultures had other shepherds. Marduk, the god of Babylon would go by the title “the shepherd of the people”. Some people’s names actually translate “Marduk has shepherded me” or “Shamash is my shepherd” (Block, 284).
Not for believers. Yhwh rō’î. Yahweh is my shepherd.
. . .
Lord our Shepherd, thank you for watching over us—in spite of how humans in positions of power may act. In Jesus’ name, Amen.