And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them. John 10:4-6
Sheep are stupid. Cute, but stupid. We tried sheep, the Gardener and I. Visions of nicely mowed grass, gentle wool waddling in the pasture tender lambs eating from my hand…yeah that. In reality, our sheep did not know our voice. They knew the old Shepherd’s voice. No amount of bucket rattling, gentle cajoling or bribes of bread lured them from their escape route through the horse pasture, and out into the meadow. Time and again we chased them hoping our investment didn’t have a heart attack before we could have lamb chops. Finally we wised up and their pen became a fortress. I know why sheep need a Shepherd, they follow the greenest grass, get lost easily, and have no compass of home-hmm, sounds too familiar.
As I read the encounters in scripture with shepherds, it seems to be a soft spot in the heart of the Eternal. Shepherding is an occupation they takes personally and one they insist the stewards of the Kingdom become. Moses’s qualifications to lead God’s people wasn’t found in the PHD of Pharaoh’s court, but in the dirty, messy reality of chasing around desert sheep. David was a shepherd who became a king after God’s own heart, and it was those bands of shepherds who were the first to receive the greatest news in the world that at that moment, not too far from them was born, in the city of David, a savior who is the Great Shepherd. The shepherds knew, and they ran to meet him, bowing low and worshiping. But on the hill that day in our Lent passage of scripture, there was no running, no worshiping, only cries of blasphemy and rage.
I turn my gaze to John 10 and see the crowd surrounding Jesus in this pastoral scene. Disciples, pharisees, blind, lame, healed, the lost and the found-all needing a shepherd. Here he is offering to lead them out of religious bondage, out of darkness to lay down his life for them-but they couldn’t hear him. They didn’t know his Shepherd voice. They knew the sound of demons fleeing, eyes seeing, ears hearing, bread multiplying, but the call to enter the fold through the door left them blinking and afraid he was a mad man.
I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” Therefore there was a division again among the Jews because of these sayings. And many of them said, “He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to Him?” John 10:14-20
I found it amazing that at the end of this day, the religious leaders were ready to “stone Jesus for identifying too closely with the Father.” Here the Spirit stopped me. “Now do you know?” A warm awakening happened inside. Ah, that is why. I subconsciously rub my temples thinking of the times word-rocks have been hurled and fire-brand threats have shot towards me when I have dared to see myself as a companion of the heart of God. A bride, a son, a friend. To see myself as the delight of his eyes and the joy that was set before him has caused many angry breaks of fellowship. To be in love with God, and know he loves me and is conforming me into HIS image….is…Dangerous!
Jesus answered them, “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?” The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.” John 10:33
Oh how I need shepherding. How often my heart strays after pastures that if consumed would cause me to founder and die a slow death of gluttonous self. I long to stay close to The Good Shepherd, to learn his voice deeper and richer in my inmost being to where only a gentle call, a simple whisper would be all it would take to move me to his hand. I think of the words of Wesley:
‘Tis there, with the lambs of thy flock,
There only, I covet to rest,
To lie at the foot of the rock,
Or rise to be hid in thy breast;
‘Tis there I would always abide,
And never a moment depart,
Concealed in the cleft of thy side,
Eternally held in thy heart.
–Charles Wesley Hymn 228
I feel the wind blow as I gaze at my Shepherd. Where was the first time he is known as Shepherd in scripture? Shovel in hand I journey through the letters on parchment. Back, back, back….to the beginning and there I am blown away all over again as I gaze at the first name He chooses to be called by. From the dawn of creation a hidden treasure has rested in the eternal meaning of His name-Elohim. Tracing the root of this name for God, Elohim, it means by definition: Deity, Supreme Strength, Chief Ram, Pillar, Tree, and Powerful as in a strong twisting.
“To whom then will ye liken me, that I should be equal to him? Saith the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and see who hath created these that bringeth out their host by number; he calleth them all by name; by the greatness of His might, and for that He is strong in power, not one is lacking”. Isaiah 40:25-26
It was not by chance that He predestined strength to be at the beginning of all things. He knows the weakness of our frame. He knows we are just dust, red earth limping without his breath. He knew we would falter and strive in our own efforts to live a life only He could give, and so there, in his name we see the answer to the question of “how then shall I live?” (Ezekiel 33:10) . He answers before there is a voice to pose the question: “In me, in my strength, in my leadership, in my sacrifice.” The promise in this introduction of Himself is that we would be caught up in him, twisted tightly into a three- fold cord, a living strand of unbreakable life. (Eccl. 4:12)
”for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; (Acts17:28 )
“By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. “ (1Jn 4:13 )
Here we turn from the standard definitions and begin to peer into the Ancient Hebrew pictograph. A beautiful mysterious anticipation begins to unfold, that reveals the nature of our Creator to care for and nurture his creation with the heart of a shepherd. As he would later tell Moses on the mountain that burned with fire- mercy is the first of His ways.
Exo 34:6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
Elohim is spelled in Hebrew ALEPH* LAMED*HEY *MEM. There are only consonants in Hebrew the vowel markings were added in later to help with pronunciations. The first letter, ALEPH is also the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In the ancient Hebrew pictographs,[ ALEPH is pictured as an ox head, and it signifies strength, strong first leader or authority. This is the first letter of this name for God. It can therefore be translated as: the Lord(God) is my strength.
The next letter is LAMED. This letter is pictured as a shepherd’s staff, and has the meaning of authority to lead or shepherd. The third letter in this name of God is HEY. A whole volume could be written on the beauty and symbolism of this letter, however simply described it is a picture of a man with outstretched or open arms. It carries the meaning of awe, to behold, to look intently. Its sound is the sound you make when you exhale (think the breath of God) and it means to stand beholding grace.
YOD the next letter in sequence is the picture of the arm from the elbow to the fist, and means my works, or my hand. MEM is the last letter that makes up this name and it is the picture of waves of water, which symbolically stands for peoples/nations. When you put these pictures together you gaze into a familiar face from scripture that has comforted many in times of despair.
Here is the visual depiction of Elohim:
The LORD is my SHEPHERD by his GRACE he provides for MY needs I SHALL NOT WANT,(There is no lack) he takes me by MY HAND and LEADS me by still WATERS. These are the beautiful, familiar sounds of Psalm 23. He is our strength, our strong tower, our refuge, our rock, he is also the Great Shepherd of the ages who desires to lead our souls in peace.
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep,
if he has lost one of them,
does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country,
and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?
And when he has found it,
he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
And when he comes home,
he calls together his friends and his neighbors,
saying to them,
‘Rejoice with me,
for I have found my sheep
that was lost.’
Lukes Gospel 15:4-6
Gentle Shepherd, lead me today. Keep me close to your side, then I have no reason to fear.