THE NAMES OF GOD #11
by Nathan Stone
THE NAME Jehovah-rohi means Jehovah my Shepherd. It is that
most precious designation of Jehovah which begins the
Twenty-third Psalm, where it is translated, "The Lord is my
shepherd." Perhaps it is not so specifically a name of Jehovah as
the other names which have been studied, but no designation of
Jehovah has brought more comfort to the heart or sounded sweeter
to the ears of the saints of both Old and New Testaments, ancient
and modern, than this beautiful expression.
ITS INTRODUCTION IN THE SHEPHERD PSALM
As directly applied to Jehovah and in an intimate, personal
sense the name Jehovah-rohi first appears in that immortal ode we
call the Shepherd Psalm, known and loved of all generations to
this day, and perhaps the best known of any portion of Scripture.
It is the most precious jewel in that treasurehouse of devotion,
and worship, and praise we call the Psalms. Committed to memory
in childhood's early years, it has been to multitudes the comfort
of life's closing years. It has dried many a tear and dissipated
many fears. It forms the mold into which the faith of countless
saints has been poured.
It is a psalm of David. It could not have come as
appropriately out of the experience of anyone else in the Old
Testament. Perhaps it was written in the latter years of Israel's
great Shepherd King, the forerunner and type of that Great
Shepherd of the sheep, David's greater Son. It has the ring of a
full experience, of a faith sobered by trials, and a life
mellowed by the passing years. He looks back upon the stormy,
troubled years when his life was hunted by the inveterate enemy
Saul; then through the years of warfare and rebellion, of sordid
sin and sorrow; and he finds God's goodness and guiding presence
through it all. Then recalling the occupation of his own
childhood and youth, that of caring for his father's sheep, he
can find no more beautiful and fitting analogy of Jehovah's
relationship to himself than that of a shepherd to the sheep. And
now after the storm and stress of the years through which Jehovah
has so safely and successfully brought him, with confident faith
he can look forward to the years ahead and say: "Surely goodness
and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life."
MEANING AND USE OF "RO'EH"
The primary meaning of this word is to feed or lead to
pasture, as a shepherd does his flock, and thus it is frequently
used. The story of Joseph in Egypt opens with Joseph "feeding the
flock with his brethren" (Gen. 37:2). In Egypt his brethren
answer Pharaoh's inquiry by saying: "Thy servants are shepherds,
both we, and also our fathers ... thy servants have no pasture
for their flocks" (Gen. 47:3,4). "David went and returned from
Saul to feed his father's sheep at Bethlehem" (I Sam. 17:15).
The word is also used figuratively to indicate the relationship
between prince and people: the tribes of Israel say to David:
"Thou wast he that leddest out and broughtest in Israel: and the
Lord said to thee, Thou shalt feed my people Israel, and thou
shalt be a prince over Israel" (2 Sam. 5:2). Even of Cyrus, king
of Persia, Jehovah says: "He is my shepherd, and shall perform
all my pleasure," with regard to Jerusalem and the Temple (Isa.
44:28). As between priest or prophet and people, Jehovah promises
to give them "pastors [or shepherds] according to mine heart,
which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding" (Jer.
3:15). Contrast Jehovah's condemnation of the false shepherds
through Ezekiel. "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of
Israel ... and say unto them, Thus saith Jehovah Elohim unto the
shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed
themselves? should not the shepherds feed the sheep?" (Ezek.
It is used figuratively with regard to folly and judgment.
The mouth of fools is said to feed on foolishness (Prov. 15:14).
The idolater in his folly is said to feed on ashes (Isa. 44:20).
Ephraim with its lies and deceit "feedeth on wind," says Hosea
(12:1). Jehovah will feed the false shepherds with judgment
It is further translated "companion" or "friend" expressing
the idea of the intimacy of sharing life, food, etc. It is the
word for companion in Judges 11: 38 where Jephthah's daughter
went away with her companions to bewail her fate. These were no
doubt her most intimate, perhaps household, associates. It is the
word for friend in Exodus 33:11 where "Jehovah spake unto Moses
face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend." Thus it
signifies to associate with, take pleasure in, to cherish as
something treasured. This is touchingly and beautifully brought
out in the parable of Nathan the prophet in which he accuses
David of the black crime concerning Uriah and Bath-sheba (2 Sam.
12). In this parable the prophet speaks of Bath-sheba as a lamb
which a poor man nourished up in his own house, which grew up
with him and his children, eating of his own morsel, drinking of
his own cup and was to him like a daughter.
JEHOVAH, THE SHEPHERD OF His PEOPLE
It is in the name of Jehovah-rohi that this relationship finds
its highest and tenderest expression, for Jehovah is the Shepherd
of His people. No other name of Jehovah has the tender intimate
touch of this name. The name Elohim revealed God to us as the
triune Creator and Sovereign of the universe, of life, and of all
nations. As Jehovah, He was seen as the eternal, selfexistent God
of revelation and especially as the God of His covenant people.
The name El-Shaddai revealed Him as the mighty, sufficient, and
satisfying One. As Adonai. He was seen as our sovereign Lord, the
Master of our lives and service. Jehovah-jireh revealed Him as
the One who provides the sacrificial lamb of our redemption.
Jehovah-rophe revealed Him as the Healer of life's sicknesses and
sorrows. In Jehovah-nissi He was seen as the standard of our
victory in life's conflicts. As Jehovah-M'Kaddesh He sets His
people apart for His own peculiar possession and to His holy
service. As Jehovah-shalom, He is the God of our peace. And as
Jehovah-tsidkenu He Himself is that righteousness to His people
which alone is the basis of their justification and acceptance.
It may be clearly seen then that none of these names can mean
quite the same to His people as this precious name. It is a
wonderful and beautiful conception when we consider the general
picture of Jehovah presented thus far in the Old Testament. He is
awful and unapproachable, in His holiness. Not even Moses may see
His face or look upon the fullness of His glory, for no man can
see that and live (Exod. 33:20). At best Moses can endure only a
passing glimpse or manifestation of it. Jehovah is sublime in His
purity and glorious in majesty, whose thoughts and ways
immeasurably transcend the thoughts and ways of His people (Isa.
55:8, 9). Yet the wonderful grace of Jehovah as expressed by the
word shepherd is such that He can condescend to such a
relationship with mortal, sinful creatures, whom He has redeemed.
The psalmist and the prophets are the first to apply this name of
Jehovah. It appears first directly and personally in the
Twenty-third Psalm. Everything in David's life had suggested such
a relationship. On one great occasion God had said to him, "I
took thee from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, to be
ruler over my people" (I1 Sam. 7:8), and the psalmist adds: "He
chose David ... to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his
inheritance. So he fed them according to the integrity of his
heart" (Ps. 78:70-72).
Thereafter this designation of Jehovah appears frequently.
"Give ear, O Shepherd oś Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a
flock ..." says the psalmist (80:1). In that great chapter of
comfort, Isaiah 40, of the mighty, sovereign God the prophet
says: "Behold Jehovah Elohim will come with strong hand ... He
shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs
with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead
those that are with young" (vv. 10,11). Ezekiel also gives us a
beautiful picture of this relationship in 34:11-16, where after
the indignation at the false shepherds Jehovah is presented as
the Shepherd who will search His sheep and seek them out. He will
feed them in a good pasture and make them to lie in a good fold.
He "will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was
driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will
strengthen that which was sick."
The Scriptures give us some intimate glimpses into the life
of the shepherd and the sheep, but fortunately the preservation
of this relationship to this very day enables us to better
understand all that Jehovah may mean to us as Shepherd. A recent
traveler in Palestine observes: "Shepherding does not change much
in Palestine where wild beasts may descend still upon unprotected
sheep and suddenly destroy them. The Palestine shepherd lives
night and day with his animals. He establishes a degree of
intimacy with them which is touching to observe. He calls them
all by their names and they, knowing his voice and hearing his
only, heed. He protects the sheep from thieves and preying
animals who would devour them at night, by sleeping in the
opening of the often makeshift sheepfold and they, sensing his
watchfulness, fear 'no evil.' He provides pasture and water even
in the wilderness and the presence of enemies and they, casting
all their anxiety upon him, are fed. There is a singular
communion between the shepherd and his sheep which, after one has
visited Palestine and observed it, makes the symbol of the good
Shepherd peculiarly apt and the Twenty-third Psalm strangely
It is wonderful that Jehovah should be all this to His
people. How well Jacob understood the ceaseless vigilance and
constant exposure required in a shepherd! He speaks of that which
was torn of beasts and that which was stolen of robbers. In the
day the drought consumed him, and the frost by night, and the
sleep departed from his eyes. His experience seems to him but a
shadow of the loving care, the watchful protection, the strong
defense of God, "the God who fed me [or shepherded me] all my
life long" (Gen. 48:15). So Jehovah, as the psalmist so
beautifully puts it, is the Keeper of His people-their shade upon
their right hand. He does not allow the sun to smite them by day
nor the moon by night. He keeps them from all evil. He who keeps
His people neither slumbers nor sleeps (Ps. 121). We are reminded
of the attachment and devotion to the sheep in the risking of the
shepherd's life to protect them from perils and pitfalls, by
David's own exploits in rescuing them in single, unaided combat
from the very mouth of the lion and the bear, so that the combat
with a Goliath seems a small thing by comparison. The shepherd
must be resourceful, resolute, strong. Jacob calls Him "the
mighty God ... the shepherd" (Gen. 49:24). And as we have seen,
Isaiah says of Him: "Behold the Lord God will come with strong
hand.... He shall feed his flock like a shepherd. He shall gently
lead. . . ." The shepherd is both strong and gentle.
Everything that the shepherd is to the sheep, Jehovah
1 Patterson, Around the Mediterranean with My Bible, pp,142,143.
is to His people. If there can exist such a tender intimacy
between a man and sheep, how much more so between Jehovah and the
spirits He has created and redeemed; and what a marvelous thing
that God should offer Himself for such a relationship. He had
said, "I will dwell among the children of Israel" (Exod. 29:45),
and the word dwell is the word Shekinah, denoting His glorious
presence. Jehovah as Shepherd offers His people the intimacy of
His presence. He may be as intimately known as the shepherd is of
the sheep. Poor sheep indeed are they who do not know the
shepherd as they should, for his voice will not be so familiar
and they will not follow. Such go easily astray. This was
Israel's tragic experience, who were "the sheep of his pasture"
(Ps. 100:3), but who became scattered and were as "sheep that
have no shepherd" as the prophet foresaw in vision (I Kings
22:17). The intimacy of the shepherd is the most precious
privilege and possession of the sheep, and this the Lord's
people, as His sheep, should cultivate and enjoy. But it comes
only by long and constant association and abiding in His
Jehovah-rohi is not only the Shepherd of His people, He is
my Shepherd, the Shepherd of each one of His people. As the God
of the individual He was intensely personal. Not that Israel
indulged in vague philosophical speculation or pantheistic dream
about Jehovah, but every one of His flock and of His fold could
say, "I am the Lord's and he is mine." They understood that He
had each one of them in mind. Each one could say, "Thou knowest
my downsitting and mine uprising" (Ps. 139:2). The psalm is full
of personal pronouns. It is the psalm of personal experience with
a personal God to whom every sheep of the fold is precious and
His particular care. Since its experiences are common and its
emotions familiar, we may claim it each one for himself.
JESUS OUR SHEPHERD
Of all the names of God in the Old Testament none is more
beautifully pictured and personified in the New Testament than
the name Jehovah-rohi, in the person of that glorious Shepherd of
the sheep-the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of the most beautiful and
appealing of His parables and sayings have to do with this
relationship to His redeemed. There is no more familiar and
tenderer association concerning Him than that of the Shepherd
going after the sheep that was lost. In no other delineation of
Him do we feel more of His grace and beauty, His strength and
gentleness than in that great shepherd discourse of John 10. The
glorious announcement of His birth was first made to shepherds
keeping watch by night over their flock, happy omen of what He
was to become to men. And His last injunction to Peter before
ascending to sit at the right hand of God the Father is to feed
and tend His sheep. "I am the good shepherd," He said (John
10:11). Surely those who heard Him could not have mistaken His
meaning. He was the "I am" of Isaiah 40:11, the Lord Jehovah who
was to come as a mighty One and to feed His flock like a Shepherd
and gently lead them.
In Him was fulfilled the word of Ezekiel: "For thus saith
the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I myself, even I, will search for my
sheep, and will seek them out ... I will deliver them ... I will
feed them with good pasture ... I will cause them to lie down ...
I will seek that which was lost, and will bring back that which
was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will
strengthen that which was sick" (Ezek. 34:11-16).
His shepherd heart was melted with compassion for a people
who were like sheep without a shepherd, and wrung with grief for
the scattered sheep of the house of Israel, whose Shepherd He
was. He would have rescued and gathered them (and will yet), but
they would not. He is the "great shepherd of the sheep" of
Hebrews 13:20. And Peter reminds us that we were going astray
like sheep but have returned to Him who is the Shepherd and
Bishop of our souls (I Peter 2:25).
He qualified Himself to become that good and great Shepherd
by first becoming a lamb, thus entering intimately into every
experience and need of the sheep. "For verily he took not on him
the nature of angels: but he took on him the seed of Abraham"
(Heb. 2:16). He partook of our flesh and blood (Heb. 2:14), so
that as "he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to
succor them that are tempted" (Heb. 2:18). He is touched with the
feeling of our infirmities, for He was tempted and tried in all
points as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). He Himself learned
obedience and was made perfect through sufferings (Heb. 2:10).
For as a lamb, He subjected Himself willingly to the Father's
will, when "it pleased Jehovah to bruise him" and to "make his
soul an offering for sin" (Isa. 53:10), so that while all we like
sheep had gone astray, Jehovah laid on Him the iniquity of us
all. For He was led as a lamb to the slaughter ( Isa. 53:6,7) and
He bore our sins. Thus He was able and worthy to become that good
Shepherd of the sheep, under which figure also He gave His life
for the sheep (John 10:11).
As the Shepherd He has gone on before and prepared the way,
for having offered one sacrifice for sins forever He sat down at
the right hand of God (Heb. 10:12), and we have boldness to enter
the holy place by His blood, the new and living way He has
dedicated for us (Heb. 10:19, 20).
As the good and great Shepherd of the sheep He meets every
need of His flock (Phil. 4:19), and there is no want to those who
trust him. He leads us into the green pastures of His Word, and
feeds us upon the true Bread of Life. He guides us into right
paths and we are assured of His continuous presence. The Spirit
of truth, He promised, will guide you into all truth (John
16:13). "I will pray the Father," He said, "and he shall give you
another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever" (John
14:16). For the Shepherd and the sheep are never separated. By
day He gently leads, and by night He is the door of the sheep
(John 10:9,10). He protects us from the perils that beset us
round about, and our perils are very real. Paul at Miletus warned
the elders of the Ephesus church: "For I know this, that after my
departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing
the flock" (Acts 20:29). "Beware of false prophets, which come to
you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves,"
explained the Shepherd Himself (Matt. 7:15). From these false
teachers who exploit and destroy faith, and from the poisonous
plants which the sheep may eat, and from the pitfalls of error
into which they may wander, the abiding presence of the Spirit of
truth will keep us.
There were not only wolves and pitfalls for the sheep. There
was another significant danger from which the shepherd protected
them. As he went ahead his eye was ever on the alert for the
snakes whose sting was death, and with his staff he would crush
their heads. So the great Shepherd, who has already sealed the
serpent's doom, will deliver us from falling into his power. We
are safe in the protection of His table spread before us even in
the presence of the enemies. He knows every one of His sheep by
name. He knows the particular need of each one of us. He knows
our peculiarities. He knows our weaknesses. Do we know His voice
as we should? Do we trust Him and follow Him as we should? Is
there the beautiful intimacy between us that there should be? Do
we love the Shepherd's presence? Can we distinguish His voice
from the voice of the wolf in sheep's clothing who comes among us
to wrest and wreck our faith?
And when we are sorely tried He will lead gently on. When we
are weary and wounded He will anoint our heads and heal our
wounds and refresh us with tender care. As His sheep we are led
by many a way. Sometimes the path is through fresh green meadows;
sometimes over rough, steep, rocky paths, perhaps through dark
places where the sun scarcely shines. But we are ever being led
to one place. After the heat and burden of the day, He gathers us
into the fold, where there is no more fear of wolf or thief and
where all is sweet repose and safety. And then we know that
whatever the sufferings and sorrows, the trials and terrors of
the day, His goodness and lovingkindness followed us.
So the Lord Jesus, our Jehovah-rohi, will lead us into that
final fold and rest "before the throne of God" where, John says,
"they serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth
on the throne shall spread his tabernacle over them. They shall
hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun
strike upon them, nor any heat: for the Lamb that is in the midst
of the throne shall be their shepherd" (Rev. 7:15-17, A.S.V.). So
we "shall dwell in the house of Jehovah forever."
To be continued