Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Shepherd King

Chapter 2 ends with a prophecy of hope and salvation in these words:

I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob,
I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture, a noisy multitude of men.
He who opens the breach will go up before them;
they will break through and pass the gate, going out by it.
Their king will pass on before them, the LORD at their head.

The idea that a king can be a shepherd is well established in Judaism. Ezekiel reminds us that the term “shepherd” is intended as another image for king in the ancient Near East. The shepherd image for David derives from a common metaphor for rulers in the ancient Near East. It suggested the care, concern, and protection that a shepherd was to provide his flock of people. When the kings of Israel prove to be bad shepherds, Ezekiel declares that the Lord will assume the role of shepherd.

Before the son of man “will be gathered all nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.” The Matthean parable starts with animal imagery. Sheep need a shepherd. Unlike goats, sheep cannot fend for themselves. They often go astray and become lost and in such instances must be sought and found (Ezekiel 34:6; Luke 15:4). They depend on a shepherd to "go out before them and go in before them, ... lead them out and bring them in" (Numbers 27:17), and to ascertain that they are provided pasturage (Ezekiel 34:2, 13f) and "still waters" (Psalm 23:2). We repeatedly read in Holy Scriptures the lament for "sheep which have no shepherd" (e.g., Numbers 27:17). "They are in trouble because there is no shepherd" (Zechariah 10:2). "So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered" (Ezekiel 34:5). "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered" (Zechariah 13:7).

The Prophet Micah tells us Yahweh will preserve a remnant out of the house of Jacob. Several scholars have shown that “remnant” terminology predates the exile. After the fall of Samaria, many refugees fled south to Jerusalem including many priests and Levites. Yahweh saves the remnant in the midst of the enemy’s siege. In this instance, the place of salvation is Jerusalem and Yahweh saves the remnant by decimating the Assyrian army which had demolished Judah.

185,000 men died in the Assyrian camp causing Sennacherib to withdraw. Herodotus attributed these deaths to the bubonic plague. Josephus quotes the Chaldean historian Berosus as follows:

“Now when Sennacherib was returning from his Egyptian war to Jerusalem, he found his army under Rabshakeh his general in danger [by a plague], for God had sent a pestilential distemper upon his army; and on the very night of the siege, a hundred fourscore and five thousand, with their captains and generals, were destroyed (Antiquities 10.1.5).”

Sacred scripture simply indicated that the army was wiped out by “an angel of the Lord.”

There is no question that Yahweh as the divine shepherd king preserves a remnant in Zion. This passage is not discussed in conjunction with the shepherd king. Yet it may be that this passage (Mi 2:12-13) is the origin and source of the idea.

Micah did not tell us about the “angel of the Lord” destroying the Assyrian army. Nor did Micah tell us about the miraculous cure of King Hezekiah that occurred about this same time. Instead the Prophet addressed those currently oppressed and suffering. Yahweh will surely gather the oppressed who are like sheep in distress. The Prophet can be certain that a radical change of circumstances is imminent. The tide is about to turn. Yahweh accomplished a victory through a King diagnosed by medical historians with bubonic plague. Micah did not tell us the King had some help.

Copyrighted 2007


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