Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Millennial Aspect of the Shepherd of Israel

While the Shepherd has an important spiritual aspect for the Church, it finds its richest biblical meaning for Israel and finds ultimate fulfillment in the Messianic Kingdom.

If the question is put forth within the church: "WHO IS THE SHEPHERD?" Most likely the following answer will be given:  "The Good Shepherd of John  10:11-14", and it is with reference to salvation in Christ in the church without reference to the millennial kingdom.

If the question is put forth within the Jewish synagogue : "WHO IS THE SHEPHERD?" Most likely the following answer will be given: Isaiah 63:11-13 where the Shepherd led Israel out of Egypt, or perhaps:  Isaiah 40:10-11, the future kingdom age. For the Jew, 'the Shepherd' has a more personal meaning. The Shepherd for the Jew is the all-powerful God who has been with them in their wanderings and will in the end gather them back and give them rest, peace and safety in their pasture-land - Israel.      

The concept of a shepherd has the metaphoric meaning of a human guide or ruler of Israel (cf. Num. 27:17; Isa. 44:28; Jer. 6:3; 49:19). The shepherd in the Old Testament is used to describe the leadership of Israel. Leaders such as Joshua and David (Num. 27:15-18; 2 Sam. 5:2). Other leaders, however, were referred to as “blind” and “greedy” (Isa. 56:10-11; Jer. 10:21; Ezek. 34:2-6; Zec. 10:2-3).  By the time of the New Testament, the concept of the shepherd continues the idea of a human guide with reference to shepherds (Gr.  poimen ,”pastor, herdsman, shepherd”)  in  the church (cf. Eph. 4:11).

What starts out as a seed in the form of the blessing of Jacob to his sons in Genesis 49:24 moves to its height in Ezekiel 34.

In Genesis 49 Jacob gives his final blessing to his twelve sons. He comes to Joseph and proclaims his future blessing to be greater than the others. Why? Jacob says:

But his bow remained in strength,
And the arms of his hands were made strong
By the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob
(From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),
 By the God of your father who will help you,
And by the Almighty who will bless you
With blessings of heaven above,
Blessings of the deep that lies beneath,
Blessings of the breasts and of the womb. (Gen. 49:24-25)

Joseph receives his strength by the power of the Mighty One (Heb. ‘abiyr, “might, strong”). The “Strong One,” is an old name for God in poetry.  The strength of Jacob’s arms is further identified as deriving it strength from the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, the God of your father (Jacob), the ‘Shadday,’ the Almighty One.     

By the time of the Egyptian exodus and subsequent wilderness wandering, the Shepherd of Israel displayed mighty works as He released Jacob from slavery in Egypt and provided all their needs through the duration of the wilderness wandering and entering the Promised Land. He fed His flock by providing food from heaven and water from a rock. He protected them from certain destruction from the armies of the lands where they dwelt. These provisions all pointed forward to Jesus Christ who would provide salvation through His great redemptive work on the cross. The Good Shepherd who gives His life for His sheep (John 10:11).   

One of the greatest sections of Scripture concerning the Shepherd of Israel is Ezekiel 34. It is here a contrast is established between false shepherds and the True Shepherd. The section starts with an ominous warning against Israel’s leadership who seeks their own royal riches. Ezekiel says,

Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, `Thus says the Lord GOD to the shepherds: "Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? (Ezek. 34:2)

And verse 8 describes that because the rulers sought selfish gain, Israel was scattered, “…My flock became food for every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, nor did My shepherds search for My flock, but the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock”  (Ezek. 34:8).

In contrast to false shepherds, in the end the Lord will regather His flock:

Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.  12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country.  14 I will feed them in good pasture, and their fold shall be on the high mountains of Israel. There they shall lie down in a good fold and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. 16 I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment. (Ezek. 34:11-16)

Indeed, in the great Olivet Discourse, our Lord describes a future Shepherd who will divide the sheep from the goats. In that day the Chief Shepherd will appear in His glory and His glory shall never fade away (Matthew 25:32).     

The Lord promises a future Shepherd will lead redeemed Israel in peace:

I will save My flock, and they shall no longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them - My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd.  24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.  25 I will make a covenant of peace with them, and cause wild beasts to cease from the land; and they will dwell safely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.  26 I will make them and the places all around My hill a blessing; and I will cause showers to come down in their season; there shall be showers of blessing.  (Ezek. 34:22-26)

The Lord closes with this eternal covenant promise:

Thus they shall know that I, the LORD their God, am with them, and they, the house of Israel, are My people, says the Lord GOD.  31 You are My flock, the flock of My pasture; you are men, and I am your God, says the Lord GOD.  (Ezek. 34:30-31)

The Shepherd-King will return again someday to regather His flock, ethnic Israel, back to His pasture-land Israel.  In that day He will be their God and they will be His people. This is the promise Israel has been looking forward to for 4,000 years. Though the church proclaims the Good Shepherd as personal Savior, Israel proclaims the Good Shepherd as the One True God who will someday perform the work of the Shepherd of Israel, regathering her back to the land of promise from all the nations in belief. The covenant people of God will enjoy complete fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, the Land covenant, the Davidic covenant, and the New covenant as God Himself will accomplish the work by His own hand.  Although we can proclaim the Lord as Jehoveh-Rohi  “the Lord is my Shepherd” today, when the Jew proclaims it, it has the historical context that leads them to the Messianic kingdom wherein peace, safety and blessing is be found in its fullness.