God the Faithful Shepherd
A little while ago, I decided to begin re-reading through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. It had been a few years since I had done it and I had missed the excitement that came through watching the story of redemption begin to play out over those ancient centuries. As verses, chapters, and books have passed, I have been blessed to feel the familiar pleasure of God’s word in my soul. Genesis’s familiar stories reminded me of God’s faithfulness to his people and promises. Exodus showed me how God uses the weak people of the world to accomplish his purposes in the earth. Leviticus revealed the importance of God’s identity in the establishing of his laws and ordinances (“I am the Lord” at least 45 times throughout the book). Numbers showed how serious God is about his people, Israel, and them following his laws. Deuteronomy recapped Israel’s epic journey through the wilderness from the perspective of hindsight, displaying the wisdom and leadership of God throughout those 40 years.
From the books in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), Deuteronomy has nearly always been my favorite. Moses retelling the wilderness story while also looking ahead to the promised land appeals to my contemplative, nostalgic, and melancholic soul. Stories almost always make much more sense after their completed, as well. Reading through Exodus and Numbers feels a bit like riding a roller coaster as the events are retold in a real-time and present perspective, but arriving at Deuteronomy feels like the moments I experience now as I look back on my teens and early twenties. As I reflect back on those years (which, of course, are nearly beyond memory as I type this at the ripe old age of 29), I see them differently. They felt rapid, raw, and radical as I lived them, but I now have the privilege of looking back and seeing God’s kindness, mercy, and perfect leadership in ways that I couldn’t then perceive. Things that didn’t make sense then make sense now. Times in which I felt alone are now seen as being laden with the presence of God. I believe it was the same for Moses and Israel as they recapped those years.
There are many parts of Deuteronomy that warm my heart, but the one that sticks with me most in what Moses says in 8:2: “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.” How many times do we see the Israelites complaining to Moses, asking why he led them out there to die and suffer and starve, etc? Too many, and those are just the ones that are recorded. Here in Deuteronomy 8:2, however, we see why.
He led them through the desert for three reasons: to humble them, to test them to know what is in their heart, and to see whether or not they would keep his commandments. He didn’t do this as a boss or commander trying to determine if the new recruit can cut it or not, though. He did it as a kind, patient, and instructive father. Just a few sentences later in 8:5, we read, “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.” This is a powerful and repeated sentiment in Scripture (Job 5:17-18; Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:5-11). The passages in Proverbs and Hebrews reveal more of this principle, though, by showing that God disciplines not only as Father does his children, but as a Father does his children that he loves.
God led the Hebrews all those years, and indeed even through the hundreds of years of bondage in Egypt, as a Father who loves his children. This is true of our lives, too. As I look back on earlier years of my life, I see that God is still a Father who leads his children for the sake of humbling and testing. How many times did I act in pride and fail tests? Countless times. As with Israel, though, he showed me mercy, helped me back up, and taught me how to three baby-steps into four, then five, and onward. This is the God we serve, a God who is rich in love and faithful in his leadership over our lives. Whether we are being led through wildernesses or beside still waters, our shepherd won’t leave as he guides us.