Last March, my wife and I attended a funeral in Sabina of a dear friend. After the ceremonies, I asked the widow why she chose 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 to be printed in the program instead of Psalm 23. Her answer was, “We are not Jews: we are Christians.” She is correct. Every Verse written between Genesis 1:1 through the 4 Gospels are written “for” us, not “to” us. Romans 15:4 KJV. The 7 Epistles from Romans through Thessalonians are “to” us. Think of the Epistles as letters addressed “to” us and the Old Testament addressed to Israel and “for our learning.” Psalm 23 is religious, but not Christian, whereas Thessalonians is Christian. So, since I am not a Jew, please print Thessalonians in my program.
Prior to the day of Pentecost (over 2000 years ago as mentioned in Acts 2:1), God labeled every person either a Jew (Israelite) or a Gentile (a non-Jew). After that day, every person in the Bible is either a Jew, a Gentile, or a Saint (a born-again believer of Jesus Christ who was previously a Jew or a Gentile). Romans 10:9-13; 1 Corinthians 1:2 [delete to be]). But these sentences are over simplified.
Let’s begin this lesson with a man of God named Abram (a Gentile). Genesis 11:26. God changes Abram’s name to Abraham. Genesis 17:5. Abraham and Sarah have a baby they name Isaac. Genesis 21:3. Isaac and Rebekah have a baby they name Jacob. Genesis 25:26. God changes Jacob’s name to Israel. Genesis 32:28. Jacob, with 4 different wives, produced 12 sons. Genesis 35:22. Each son became a father of one of the 12 tribes. Genesis 49:28; Matthew 19:28. When reading the Word, it is less confusing if you remember that “God’s people” does not refer to you and me: it refers to only the House of Israel (Jacob) and his descendants, of which Jesus is the most famous. Luke 2:32; Acts 3:12, 4:10, 27, 7:17, 34, 13:17, 24; Hebrews 8:10, 10:30; 1 Peter 2: 9, 10; Jude 5.
Psalm 23 elaborates God’s watchful care and concern for Israel. The figure of speech anthropopatheia is used throughout in ascribing to God the characteristics of a human shepherd. The Psalm was written by an Eastern shepherd, David. Because God always speaks to us in terms of our understanding, it was a simple matter for David to understand and write this revelation from God.
Psalm 23:1 “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” The first part of this verse has the figure metaphor. The word “is” is not literally true. “God is Spirit” is literally accurate. John 4:24. The word “is” really means “represents.” If I show you a photograph and say “This is my house,” I am using a metaphor. You would not literally be looking at my house but a representation of it. A metaphor is used when one thing is given to represent another. To the psalmist the Lord was represented by a shepherd.
David refers to God here as “my” shepherd. He could say this as one of the children of Israel, God’s chosen people under the Old Covenant. A Gentile in David’s time could not refer to God as “my shepherd” for this would have been contrary to God’s revelation of His unique relationship with the House of Israel. God was their shepherd, they, not Christians, were the sheep of His flock. God sent Jesus Christ, His son, to be their chief shepherd, to help carry out His obligation and promise to them as the sheep of His flock. Jesus’ primary mission was not to save Gentiles (you and me): it was to save Israel. John 10:7, Acts 2:22, 10:36; Matthew 15:22-28. Verse 26 should be understood as “Is it not meet to take the children’s bread [the blessing of God toward Israel] and cast it to dogs [Gentiles].” [Likewise, we must remember when reading John 21:15-17, lambs are young Jews and sheep are older Jews.]
Paul never wrote in the church epistles addressed to the Body of Christ, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” It is never stated that believers are “sheep of His flock.” We are not God’s sheep: we are His children. Isn’t
that a superb revelation! If God wanted us to be sheep then we would have to pray, “Dear heavenly Shepherd” instead of “heavenly Father.” God is our Father: we are His children via the new birth. It isn’t until Acts 10:42-48 (the “people” in Vs. 42 is Israel); 11:11-18 (the “beginning” is Acts 2:4) when Peter realized that the blanket of promises and blessings God had covered Israel with, was going to equally cover Gentiles (here is where you and I come into the picture). Acts 13:44-49; Romans 1:16, 10:12.
David accurately declared God’s revelation for Israel – “The Lord is my shepherd.” The Eastern shepherd tenderly cares for the sheep of his flock. He knows every one of the sheep by name. The sheep know the voice of their shepherd and come when he calls them. John 10:1-5. The shepherd of the East is very dedicated to the protection of his sheep. Amen
Sidney Terhune, P. O. Box 6, Washington C.H.