In Genesis 48:11-16, Jacob, in his great deathbed blessing, alluded to God as his Shepherd, the first mention in the Bible of God being a Shepherd.
What a way to describe Yahweh. Jacob was a professional shepherd who understood that concept very well. Now, he looks back on his whole life and confesses that the Lord had been his Shepherd all the while.
How interesting, as Jacob had a tough life and suffered much – mostly due to his own decisions. There was so much striving as he always looked to forge his own path, going against what the Lord had ordained.
All those years of feeling the pain of rejection by his father Isaac (who loved Esau more); the constant fear of having to flee from his own brother; being deceived by Laban; losing Rachel, the love of his life; and then being betrayed by his own sons and losing Joseph.
Despite all this, he had the audacity to look back and say, “The Lord has been my shepherd. My Lord has been with me.”
Because something happened at the end of Jacob’s life, he finally saw things through the lens of grace. He understood that, despite countless mistakes, the Lord was still his Shepherd.
Jacob knew very well that sheep are foolish animals and need endless, comprehensive attention. He said, “Because I realise God knew better…” On hindsight, he realised that, for every instance he thought he needed to fight for something, God actually knew better.
Psalm 119 gives another precious picture of the Good Shepherd.
After praying 175 verses of Psalm 119, all about how much we love the law, hunger for His statutes, remembering His precepts and praise ordinances, we come to the last verse. And how refreshingly honest the psalmist concludes, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant.”
After trying so hard, we may still fall. We may try to uphold God’s statutes and fail. But we need to know that we can always cry out for mercy for Him to seek and bring us back – which the Good Shepherd always does.
I personally think that when we enter eternity, we will see how the Good Shepherd has led us all this while. At the end of time, perhaps God will bring us to a high mountain where we can actually see all of history at once.
I love mountains. I love getting the right vantage point, traipsing through the terrain and getting up high enough to look back to see where I came from.
Until then, we trust the Good Shepherd on this earth, because He is faithful.
As I look back on my own life, I realise I had often strived to get to where I thought I should be. But, even when I was a stubborn, ignorant, and rebellious sheep, the Good Shepherd had been leading me all this while.
Lost sheep don’t bring them themselves home; it’s the shepherd’s job. Not only does the Lord lead us in green pastures, down righteous paths, and beside quiet waters; when we stray and get lost, He restores us. He lays us on his shoulders and carries us home, rejoicing.
When we understand the heart of the Good Shepherd, we’ll finally submit to His will. Jacob understood that even in his death bed.
Hebrews 11 is the Hall of Faith – deeds of men like Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, who showed tremendous faith. However, I always felt the statement about Jacob was strange. Of all his deeds and seasons, they chose to include the blessing scene from his death bed.
It doesn’t talk about his wrestling with God or working seven years for Rachel. It doesn’t mention his encounter at Bethel. But it says, ‘By faith Jacob, while dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons and bowed in worship.’ Hebrews 11:21
Why did that take faith? Why was that such a big deal?
At his deathbed, Jacob crossed his hands when he blessed Ephraim and Manasseh. Right hand for the younger, left hand for the older. After years of experiencing the grace of God in his own life, he did not seem to understand that he had been preserved by the mercies of God all this while.
But now, Jacob finally understood the grace of God. When he put his right hand on Ephraim’s head, he was simply following God’s economy and went against cultural norm. It didn’t matter what was normal; he trusted the Lord and was insistent on it, even to the disapproval of his favourite son.
After years of fighting for his inheritance, trying to win everyone’s approval, Jacob finally got it. He saw social reality and God’s worldview differently and surrendered to the Good Shepherd.
He knew that it had been the grace of the Good Shepherd all along. And, once you’re in the will of the Good Shepherd, that’s the best place to be in. And on his deathbed, that final act of faith earned Jacob a place in the Hall of Faith.