Yahweh and Jesus – The Name of Yahweh-Rohi

Yahweh and Jesus – The Name of Yahweh-Rohi

Yahweh and Jesus – The Name of Yahweh-Rohi.

“Yahweh-rohi, LORD-my-shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me….. (Psalm 23).

The 23rd Psalm is the most beloved, most memorized, most familiar of all portions of Scripture. It has a calming, soothing, encouraging effect on all its readers. And who would have thought that the first line of this psalm is actually a name, a cherished name of God? Adding to its charm, this psalm is supremely personal. It’s not LORD-our-shepherd, or LORD-your-shepherd. It’s LORD-my-shepherd. My shepherd. This psalm is personal and intimate. In fact, the Hebrew word rohi can also mean friend and companion. David was very transparent in his affection for the LORD his shepherd This is a song close to his heart. This is a psalm that embraces Yahweh, his shepherd-friend.

As universal and popular as this psalm is, we actually don’t know much about it. David didn’t write a helpful prologue explaining when he wrote it, what the story was behind it, why he was compelled to write such a personal memoir. Scholars disagree as to when this psalm was written in David’s life:

  1. When he was young. Many believe he wrote this song as a teen-aged shepherd-boy tending his father’s flocks near Bethlehem. The experiences he noted are all true and fresh in his mind. He expresses a child-like innocence and trust in God, a grateful expression of His care, and a confident hope for the future.
  2. When he was on the run. Many speculate that David wrote this while in exile, being chased in the wilderness by Saul. He was a homeless fugitive, wandering from place to place, constantly in the presence of his enemies. While seeking refuge, David recalls his early life as a shepherd, when the Lord would meet all his needs. And he recounts how God would surely meet all his needs now as well. He displays a sweet confidence in God in the midst of difficulty.
  3. When he was old. Other scholars believe this psalm was written when David was in his mature years and looking back on a long life with God. This psalm must have been written, they say, from a mature perspective after a lot of ups and downs, yet still believing the Lord had led and guided him throughout his life. In his old age, he wrote the 23rd Psalm as a testimonial and a retrospective, looking backward with faith and gratitude, and looking forward with hope and confidence.

David evidently wanted to change scenes in this psalm. He starts with the shepherd scene, and recounts how God is his good shepherd. Yahweh tends David well in His flock. Yahweh feeds him. leads him to drink, and faithfully cares for his every need. Yahweh is a close companion who guides him along the right paths, and is present during the difficulties along the way. And then David switches to a banquet scene, in which the shepherd in his tent is the perfect host to His guest. The guest is provided a delicious meal, fragrant oil to anoint his head, and an overflowing cup of drink. And all of this comes as the shepherd is providing a much needed refuge, a shelter from the guest’s enemies surrounding him. David here pictures God as the perfect, hospitable Host. Finally, the psalm moves to more of a Temple scene, in which God’s dwelling is in Jerusalem. David wishes he could just live there in His presence  permanently. David yearns to abide with his shepherd-friend, on earth and in heaven.

The shepherd has been a popular symbol for leadership all through Scriptures. And it’s a curious choice… A shepherd was at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. They were poorly paid, for sure, they were relegated to doing the grunt work. They were underappreciated and overlooked in polite society. They had to sleep outdoors, no matter the weather. They had to risk their lives fighting off wild predators, be they human or animal. They would have to spend countless hours away from civilized company while picking off bugs from the sheep and birthing lambs. With all this in mind, it is amazingly humble of the angels to appear first to those bedraggled and forgotten shepherds in the hills at the nativity. Yet shepherds were selected as the prime symbol of leadership? Even a king was considered a shepherd of the people.

On the other hand, this most humble of vocations is an ideal picture of leadership. Sheep are known for their limited intelligence and inability to defend themselves in any way. Of all livestock, sheep are the most demanding because they are completely unable to care for themselves. The shepherd leads the sheep to grazing pasture since they can’t find it for themselves, and to quiet pools of drinking water since they refuse to drink from moving water. The shepherd guides them, protects them, finds them when they stupidly wander away. He heals them when they are sick or injured. The good shepherd tends his flock in every way imaginable, because the sheep are helpless without him. And yet, the sheep are valuable to the owner, hence the demands on the shepherd. What an interesting view of people. If we are honest with ourselves, we are indeed a lot like sheep, and we do depend on our Shepherd-Savior just as much as a flock of sheep depend on its shepherd.

Gospel Fulfillment. When Jesus claims to be the one and only Good Shepherd in John 10, all the Jews knew what He was talking about in terms of Scripture. Jesus here provides another way to describe His role in our lives. This is another way to unpack further what the I AM is able to do for us. The Greek word for “good” here is kalos, which also means virtuous, beautiful, and especially in this context, excellent in performance of duty. Ezekiel 34:11-16 helps us to see how Yahweh is a good shepherd: “Sovereign Yahweh says,  And I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep. I myself will make sure they get plenty of rest. I’ll go after the lost. I’ll collect the strays. I’ll doctor the injured. I’ll build up the weak ones and oversee the strong ones so they’re not exploited.” (Message)Another picture of Yahweh being the good shepherd offering tender care is Isaiah 40:11“Behold, Yahweh God shall come with a strong hand. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and will gently lead those who are with young.” In other words, Yahweh-Shepherd is excellent at what He does. The good shepherd considers the sheep his own. He is ready to defend the flock with his own life if necessary. He faithfully tends his flock, protects, heals, guides, and provides whatever is needed for the sheep to flourish. When Jesus claims to be the good shepherd, all the Scripture-savvy listeners would know He is directly referring to these passages in Ezekiel and Isaiah, which in picturesque language describe the ministry of the coming Messiah. Listeners would also know Jesus is harkening back to Psalm 23, where the first line of the psalm is a famous name for God… Yahweh-my-shepherd. Jesus is saying that Psalm 23 is a self-description.

Throughout the Hebrew Bible, leaders were commonly called shepherds, from Moses to David to Yahweh Himself. Many leaders, though, were not as excellent as them at their job, and Yahweh has no patience with those bad shepherds. We need look no further than Ezekiel 34 again to see the bad shepherds described: “Prophecy against the shepherd-leaders of Israel. Tell them Sovereign LORD says, ‘Doom to you shepherds of Israel, feeding your own mouths! Aren’t shepherds supposed to feed the sheep? You drink the milk, you make clothes from the wool, you roast the lambs, but you don’t feed the sheep. You don’t build up the weak ones, don’t heal the sick, don’t doctor the injured, don’t go after the strays, don’t look for the lost. You bully and badger them. And now they’re scattered every which way because there was no shepherd. Watch out! I’m coming down on the shepherds and taking my sheep back! (vs. 1-10, Message). We have all seen leaders like that, unfortunately. Jesus is the polar opposite of the bad shepherd. He is asking us to trust in His shepherding skills.

The bold claim of Jesus in John 10 is a direct fulfillment of the Messiah Jesus. Here He is, saying, “I AM the Good Shepherd.” He said it plainly for all to hear. He includes Himself in the picture with the eternal Yahweh, the Great I AM. He is saying He is Yahweh in the flesh, a kin of God, the divine Son of God. Jesus is essentially calling Himself Yahweh-Shepherd, which is quite the close echo to David’s Yahweh-rohi, Yahweh-my-shepherd. In John 10  Jesus is saying that all His sheep know His voice, since He knows them and they know Him so intimately. Jesus says He will gather the lost sheep into one flock, the Jews and the Gentiles, and that He will in fact be willing to give up his very life for the sheep in His care. Could one ask for a better Shepherd? Jesus is the physical embodiment of David’s shepherd in Psalm 23. Many have said John 10 is the gospel version of Psalm 23.

Down through history, Jesus has been the ideal picture of a compassionate shepherd. A common image in early Christian art was picturing Jesus tenderly caring for His sheep. Shepherd scenes were throughout the early catacombs in Rome and early church buildings. The early N.T. writers couldn’t get this image out of their heads either. Hebrews 13:20 calls Jesus the “Great Shepherd of His flock.” Peter highlights this image twice in his first Letter. “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:25). And in 1 Peter 5:4, “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will win the victor’s crown of glory that never fades away.

Jesus couldn’t have made this any clearer. He is claiming to be Messiah in two different ways with His claim to be the Good Shepherd: By revealing Himself to be I AM; and by embracing His fulfillment of the shepherd passages in the Hebrew Bible. There is no question He is claiming to be “Yahweh-my-shepherd” that David wrote about so beautifully. Further fulfillment of the shepherd passages were confirmed on the Cross. Jesus said He is willing and able to lay down His life for the sheep. On the Cross, He did just that. Let’s hope the listeners during his Good Shepherd teaching remember this aspect of the discussion later. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, laying down His life for the sheep. Oh, that the sheep that are lost, who have wandered away, would recognize the voice of Jesus, the Messiah who will be “a shepherd after Yahweh’s heart, guiding us to pasture with wisdom and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:15).

And what sweet irony that the Great Shepherd so identified with His sheep that He became one of them! The Shepherd became the Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

A Prayer to Yahweh-rohi (ya’-way ro’ee), honoring Jesus, who is Yahweh in the flesh: 

We embrace you, Yahweh-rohi, LORD-my-shepherd, my friend and companion. For with you I have everything I need. You let me rest in lush green meadows. You lead me to quiet pools of fresh water. You let me catch my breath, you revive me, and then you give me new strength. You guide me in the right direction, bringing honor to your Name. Even if I go through a valley as dark as death, I will not be afraid, LORD, for you are right there by my side. Your staff and crook give me comfort and security. You prepare a banquet for me, under the eyes of my enemies. You anoint my head with soothing, fragrant oil. You fill my cup to the brim with blessing. I am certain that your beautiful goodness and faithful love will pursue me every day of my life. And your House will be my home for all time to come. I bow before you, Yahweh-rohi, and lift up your compassionate Name. Amen.