Mt 2:6 But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel
We have spoken previously in these meditations of the expectations of the Jews about the coming One, and today’s verse is another of those that the Jewish scholars had in mind when they thought of the Messiah. The Magi have come looking for Jesus in Jerusalem and the scholars there point them to Bethlehem, for it’s there according to the prophecy of Micah (Mic 5:2) that the ruler, the king of the Jews, will be found. But, you will have noted, this prophecy extends the description of the ruler to say what he will do: he will ‘shepherd’ Israel. We said yesterday that the point of having a king was to put you on equal footing with other nations and to provide a leader who will stand against the enemies of the nation, but this description adds a further dimension to the role of a ruler, to care for, provide for and protect the nation.
Jacob, in his last years, referred to God as his shepherd (Gen 48:15, 49:24). David the shepherd, famously in Psa 23 referred to the Lord as his shepherd. Asaph similarly later referred to God as their shepherd (Psa 80:1), so it was a familiar picture, this one of a God who looked after them, cared for them, guided them and guarded them. The picture of Israel coming out of Egypt is easily seen as a big flock with God being their shepherd. As the centuries passed the Lord continued to be this to this people. It is likely to be no surprise therefore to see that the coming Messiah, this figure from God, will similarly perform this same role. Later on Jesus would identify himself as the Shepherd (Jn 10:11). Right at the end, the lamb that is Jesus will be the shepherd of his people (Rev 7:17) who will lead his people to springs of living (eternal) water.
The analogy of shepherd and sheep is a very powerful one, although an uncomfortable one for self-centred, self-concerned people, because it places us human beings in the role of sheep who, we know, tend to be foolish and stupid creatures who get themselves into difficulties. Even worse it declares that there is One who is so much greater than us who knows far more about our welfare than we do. For the self-centred and self-concerned, this is a distinct challenge to our sovereignty. If Jesus being a ruler over us wasn’t bad enough, the picture of us being sheep who need a shepherd to look after them is really insulting to ‘self’.
However, for the millions of us who feel small and inadequate, the thought that the Lord is there to look after us and care for us and protect us, is really reassuring. It is a dangerous world we live in and if we know ourselves, we know that left to ourselves we are not up to it. We do need help. Then we have the picture of Jesus who comes to us from heaven, shares in our humanity, has all power and authority, but uses it to care for us. This isn’t a God coming from heaven to beat us up, straighten us out, discipline us and kick us into line! No, this is a God who identifies with us and comes with care, concern and compassionate understanding. He’s come to look after us and that in very practical ways. He came bringing healing; he came bringing teaching, wisdom and counsel to help us. He modelled a way to live; he showed us an alternative to self-centred, materialistic living. This picture shows us God who is so concerned for our well-being that He comes down alongside us to help us. That is good news!