Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Shepherd's Rod in Psalm 23

Today I've been grading short papers on Psalm 23, which the OT-2 students read in conjunction with some essays giving three global perspectives on this particular psalm. The African perspective by Hannah Kinoti mentions examples of the violence and ferocity of shepherding. In one example, twelve-year-old Semoine threw a spear into a lion's chest and had his head mauled. In another, eighty-three-year old Chege went on the offensive and set a trap for a leopard. Despite getting himself painfully wounded, he used his club/rod to beat the leopard's head.

Here is an illustration of the violent shepherd of Psalm 23 from Jonathan Hayward's site (to visit the site, click here):



God as the shepherd is aggressive against God's enemies, risks God's life to save our lives. The term שׁבט ("rod") in v. 4 of Psalm 23 clearly carries the sense of something able to beat, smite, and slay. Like Semoine in Africa, God defends God's sheep to the death. God makes God's self vulnerable enough to be mauled.

The aggressiveness of God's shepherding carries over into God's aggressive pursuit of our salvation. God twists our souls back when we face into death's abyss (v. 3a). According to the Hebrew of v. 6 of Psalm 23, God's goodness and lovingkindess actually "pursue," even "persecute" (רדף) God's followers. As the "hound of heaven," God chases us down with God's rod until God's mercy catches up with us and saves us.

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