Jehovah Raah: The LORD my shepherd. (Alternate spellings: Rohi or Ro’eh)
As found in Psalm 23.
I know very little about shepherds. Seriously, most of my shepherd knowledge is based on flannelgraphs, VeggieTales, Sunday school lessons, and a few sermons where the preacher had done some research on Biblical-era shepherding. In other words, much of what I know is either wrong, incomplete, absurd, or useless. Now that I have my credentials out of the way, let me tell you why God being called our shepherd is such an amazing thing.
The LORD is my shepherd. Those five words, and the others that follow in Psalm 23, are arguably some of the most loved words in all of Scripture. One could even argue that this psalm is one of the most recognizable poems in all of literature. It’s beautiful and deeply personal stuff. If there were any writer of Scripture who understood the power and the true significance of calling the omnipotent God a shepherd, it was the author of Psalm 23, David.
Before becoming King, before playing music to calm Saul’s inner turmoil, before bringing down the giant, David was a shepherd. He was responsible for watching and protecting his father’s sheep. Most likely, seeing how little he was regarded by his family in his early years, his job was a thankless one. It was a solitary life; he was alone…with a bunch of sheep. All day and possibly for many nights as well. We do not know much about David’s time as a shepherd, but what we do know is that he took his job and his responsibility seriously. So much so, he was willing to put his life at risk to protect his flock from predators.
I think it is safe to say that his description of a shepherd in Psalm 23 was probably inspired by the very things he did for his flock. He found green pastures for his sheep. He led them to still waters. He calmed them and cared for them. He guided them and kept them safe. David had done all of these things–and more–for his sheep. And in this magnificent poem, he sees God filling a similar role in his life. David recognized God’s tender care and guidance. He saw how God had led him throughout his life. There are very few descriptions of God in all of Scripture that are this intimate. David could make this comparison because he understood the relationship between shepherd and sheep better than most. He understood how helpless sheep could be. He knew, from personal experience, how dumb and foolish sheep would behave. By comparing God to a shepherd, David was comparing himself to one of his dumb, foolish, and helpless sheep. Not a flattering picture, but one he knew was accurate far too often.
When I set out to write this entry in my Names of God series, I decided I wasn’t going to do a bunch of research about shepherds. For one, I doubt I could find anything that would interest many people. Two, this is not a research paper, and I didn’t want to have to use a bunch of citations and footnotes. Undoubtedly, I would do them wrong. And since I am married to an English teacher, that would be embarrassing.1 Last, while I do think there is great value in understanding the times and the cultures we encounter in Scripture, I also believe that God knew that many cultures, eras, and people were not going to know much about shepherds. So, to alleviate that cultural ignorance, God did a couple of really cool things:
- 1. He tells us exactly what we need to know about shepherds in the Bible itself. There are multiple examples of shepherds in Scripture. David (Psalm 23, I Samuel 16). Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37). The shepherds the angels visited on the night of Christ’s birth (Luke 2). As mentioned previously, we are also given a unique glimpse into the mind of a shepherd who truly cares for his flock in Psalm 23. Jesus himself discusses what a good and caring shepherd would do for his sheep in various places in the Gospel accounts. 2 With just these examples, we have a picture in our mind of someone who watches over his flock with attention, care, and tenderness. We are even shown how the Good Shepherd would leave his flock to go and save the one that got lost. With this extra knowledge, we see a shepherd as someone that is willing to risk everything to seek and save one lost lamb. I don’t know about you, but that tells me almost all I need to know about this name and why it’s so powerful. But there is more.
- 2. After establishing what shepherds do and why they are important, He connects his Old Testament name Jehovah Raah to His New Testament incarnation. When Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd, He is doing more than simply describing how He cares for His disciples. He is purposefully connecting Himself with a well-known name of God. Essentially, He is saying, “Remember that psalm of David? The one where he calls God his Shepherd? Remember when the Sovereign God spoke to the prophet Ezekiel and said, ‘I myself will search and find my sheep’?3 Well guess what? I AM that shepherd. I AM the Good Shepherd.” For all those that insist that Jesus never claimed to be God, better luck next time. Those that were listening at the time would have immediately made this connection. In fact, many of them were so shocked by His words, they thought he was crazy. At this point in His ministry, some became so angry with Jesus they wanted to kill Him. (In the passage in John 10, it’s only a few verses later that the Jewish leaders actually pick up stones to kill Jesus right then and there.) People didn’t want to kill a traveling preacher for saying nice things. Deeply religious people wanted to kill someone for claiming to be God.
Jehovah Raah should be just as powerful of a name to us today as it was in the time of David or Jesus. We have just the right amount of information and truth given to us through the very Word of God to embrace this title for our Lord. Even without first-hand knowledge of shepherds. He is our Good Shepherd. He cares for us. He guides us. He leads us to green pastures and peaceful waters. He renews our souls. He is with us through the dark valleys and in the presence of our enemies. He overflows our cups with blessings. He is all we need. He is our Good Shepherd, and we are the sheep of his flock. He would risk all to save us. He has risked it all. As a good shepherd, He willingly laid down His life for us. Because of this profound and unmatched act of redemption, goodness and unfailing love will pursue us all the day of our lives, and we will live in the house of the LORD forever.4