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The Lord our Shepherd

Isaiah 40:11 (ESV) … “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”

In former times God’s face had, as it seemed, been hidden from the people, and they had suffered through the period of their warfare. Now, however, He will come as a Strong One and will be a Shepherd to His own. Emphasis falls upon the introductory words, Like a shepherd. Involved is all the tender care and sacrifice that the shepherd gives to his sheep. He is not like the hireling, who flees in time of danger (cf. John 10:12). As a Shepherd He will shepherd His people. The verb generally translated feed also involves the entire work of the shepherd, and may perhaps best be rendered will shepherd. Whatever the shepherd must do for his sheep, that the Lord will do for His own, for He is the Good Shepherd.

The Lord possesses a flock, and toward this flock He exercises the office of Shepherd. This flock consists of sheep, i.e. those who are tender and humble and of sheeplike nature. In the language of the New Testament we may say that this flock is His elect, those whom before the foundation of the world He had chosen to save and who in the course of time have received the tender grace of the Shepherd, manifested in the salvation of their souls and in the constant nourishing and cherishing of them throughout their lives. They are not the strong and powerful, as the world apart from God regards strength and power, but those who without the Shepherd would perish.

It is the function of the remainder of the verse to indicate how the Shepherd cares for His sheep. By means of His arms He gathers them. In verse 10 there had already been mention of His arm as ruling for Him. This arm is the symbol of His might and power and is sufficiently strong to gather up the sheep for protection and care. When they are in the Shepherd’s arm, nothing can harm or come near to separate them from Him. Those whom He gathers are described as lambs, i.e. the young lambs recently born.44 They are the weakest members of the flock, which cannot possibly defend themselves against attack and which are in need of the Shepherd’s constant protection. By means of His arm He will gather them up, and in His bosom He will carry them so that they will recline in His arm against His bosom. Thus they will not have to walk themselves nor stumble nor go astray.

As for the lambs that are giving suck, the ewes that are nursing, these the Shepherd does not drive, but leads. These ewes need particular care; they cannot be forced along by driving, and so the Shepherd tenderly leads them. Hitherto, God’s people had received double at the Lord’s hand for their sins; now they find that the Lord is a tender Shepherd to them. Thus in its conclusion the prologue returns to the thought of comfort with which it began.[1]

[1] Young, E. (1972). The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66 (Vol. 3, pp. 40–41). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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