The Heart of a Shepherd
David, a man after God’s own heart, will have an exalted position in the Kingdom of God.

David will have an exalted position in God’s Kingdom. God said he was a man after His own heart. Why? Certainly one reason was his willingness to repent deeply when he got off track. But let’s examine both places where God describes David as a man after His own heart and see what else we can learn about David.

Acts 13:22 reads: “And when he [God] had removed him [Saul], he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will.”

That event is recorded in 1 Samuel 13:14. There God told Saul, “But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee.”

So God was looking for a specific someone to lead His people, someone who would fulfill His will. And, notice, David was “a man after [God’s] own heart” when he was just a boy—when Saul was still king. That is what 1 Samuel 13 and Acts 13 testify to.

In fact, David was a man after God’s own heart before he ever had the Holy Spirit. It was later that “Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13).

Whatever attribute David had that made him a man after God’s own heart, he had it when he was just a young man, before he was king, and even before he had the Holy Spirit dwelling in him.

These scriptures indicate what kind of a person David was and what kind of a man God was looking for to replace Saul and rule Israel. When we examine what David was like, we’ll have a greater understanding as to what kind of a heart God has.

David the Shepherd

At the time God found David, he was a protector and keeper of sheep.

David provided this overview of his own history: “And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. David said moreover, The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine …” (1 Samuel 17:34-37).

David had a history of courageous defense of the sheep under his care. God places great emphasis on the role of a shepherd, and it is interesting to note how many of God’s leaders in the past have come from such a background.

Christ characterized Himself as a shepherd. In Psalm 80, he is called: “Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock” (verse 1). In John 10, Christ likened Himself to the good shepherd, who laid down His life for His sheep.

God the Father really is the greatest Shepherd. He is the owner of the flock that He paid for with the life of His own Son. Being a good shepherd is a family trait.

So when God went looking for a king to rule Israel, He went looking for someone with a heart just like He and the Word have—the heart of a shepherd.

God Is Looking for Shepherds

This is important for us today because God is still looking for shepherds.

God says in Jeremiah 23:3: “And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase.” In Jeremiah and the Greatest Vision in the Bible, Gerald Flurry comments on that verse: “This spiritual scattering of God’s people is all happening just before the Great Tribulation and the resurrection of David (verse 5). The ‘remnant’ means the ‘remaining part’ or ‘survivors.’ This is the ‘great multitude’ that repents in the Tribulation (Revelation 7). They will become God’s flock. That means there will be a great demand for loyal shepherds shortly.”

Mr. Flurry then quotes verse 4 of this chapter: “And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the Lord.” He explained, “God is now preparing the firstfruits, and especially the Philadelphians, to be shepherds over this vast multitude of repentant people. These people will be eager to be taught God’s way of life. Now is our time to prepare for this enormous and wonderful job! God will set up shepherds over them who will feed them His truth. … God is talking about us as His future shepherds. Are we ready to feed God’s people the truth?”

Read what God has to say in Ezekiel 34:2-6 about the shepherds who actually divided and confused the sheep. Notice the tone in God’s voice here when He speaks about His sheep. It is astonishment mixed with loss and righteous anger.

Is it a small thing to God that His sheep are scattered, ignored, left unfed and unbandaged—a prey to every evil spirit out there? God is going to require an accounting for every single sheep! (verses 10-11). Why? Because the sheep belong to God. God paid an enormous price for that sheep—the death of His own Son! That pastor cannot return a sheep to God in payment for the one that was lost. He can’t go out and call anyone; only God the Father can do that (John 6:44).

And how will God search out His sheep, and seek them out? As Mr. Flurry wrote in the Jeremiah booklet, that’s where God’s firstfruits come in.

God is providing shepherds to do that work—and we have been drafted. What kind of a shepherd does God want us to be?

Thankfully, David was inspired to write Psalm 23 about being a shepherd. If we can see beyond the beautiful poetry that it is, we will see this psalm is really much more than that. It is instruction showing us how God performs as a Shepherd. From that direction we can learn to be a good shepherd, just like our example, Jesus Christ.

‘I Shall Not Want’

We need to understand that David was able to write this psalm because he knew what it took to be a good shepherd. That’s what he was doing when God called him to shepherd His people.

Notice how these verses dovetail with what the shepherds did not do in Ezekiel 34.

Verse 1 of Psalm 23 states, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

This is the first of seven promises listed that David knew were made to him by God. One of God’s name is Jehovah jireh, meaning the Lord who provides (recorded in Genesis 22:11-14).

The fact is, a shepherd must provide for the sheep.

David knew God would always provide for him. That’s what a good shepherd does. That’s the tragedy of Ezekiel 34. Poor shepherding has left many of God’s sheep in want. You and I need to ask ourselves, as shepherds, are we diligently seeking the lost sheep? We do that by faithfully supporting God’s Work.

So the first instruction to having the heart of a shepherd is to provide for and support the finding and bringing in of God’s sheep through tithes and abundant offerings.

Green Pastures, Still Waters

Psalm 23:2 states: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.”

Providing peaceful green pastures beside still waters is necessary for sheep. It signifies peace. In the winters in Israel, when the sheep were corralled, the good shepherd would go searching for good grazing grounds with pools of water rather than loud rushing streams. Sheep listen for danger. If they can’t hear over the loud sound of running water, they get spooked—they don’t relax.

David was showing that God would always go ahead of him, finding the area where he would be nourished and given peace. Again, that’s important for us to realize because it is God’s second promise in Psalm 23 to us also, and one that we need to remember as the days grow increasingly evil. God signifies this fact by one of His descriptions, as recorded in Judges 6:24— Jehovah shalom, meaning the Lord Our Peace.

As we connect this to our performance as shepherds today, we should realize that the only place on Earth where green pastures and still water exist is within the inner court of the Church of God. Only here is the abundant nourishment of truth, typified by green pastures, taught. Everywhere else truth and spirit are stagnating. God has to lead His sheep here; there is nowhere else to bring them. And we must be certain that when they come to the Philadelphia Church of God, they find the peace they have been looking for. We must do everything we can to provide that peace for them—no gossip, no backbiting, no cliques, nothing but outgoing love and concern for them and for everyone.

So the second instruction is, as good shepherds, we must provide a place of peace for God’s sheep to come to, and for each other. That’s what God does for us as we continue to perform His Work. It’s His name: the God of Peace.

“He Restores My Soul”

Verse 3 is in two parts. The first is “He restoreth my soul.”

We all can become discouraged and need restoring. Sometimes we can create more problems for ourselves in a moment than we can solve in a day. And all the time, Satan is trying to tell us we’re no good, or we’re not worth anything—which is a big lie.

We need to be on guard against such negativity, and encourage each other. That is our duty. We’re fighting a battle for our minds! If we take our eyes off Christ our Shepherd and focus on ourselves, we will be overcome quickly. One thing we definitely need to avoid when we’re in a trial is focusing on the trial; instead, focus on the Shepherd.

Since God restores our soul with encouragement, we also need to encourage those sheep He will bring to us. They will need restoring. They might be skittish and guarded at first, because it will all be strange to them. That’s when we need to apply the third instruction in how to have the heart of a shepherd: Restore each other, and them.

The Right Path

The second part of verse 3—“he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake”—can also be translated, “He leads me in the right path.”

A sheep does not know which path leads to destruction and which leads to righteousness. Only our heavenly Shepherd knows the right path. As shepherds in training, we also need to lead in the right way. One of God’s names, used in Jeremiah 23:5-6, is the Lord Our Righteousness.

So the fourth instruction for being a good shepherd is, lead in the path of light, and stay away from the path of darkness.

God Is With Us in Danger

Verse 4 states: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me ….”

It is a fact of life that sometimes God’s sheep walk into danger. The Israelites left Egypt with a high hand, but soon they were in some terrifying situations. They didn’t have to be afraid: They had been promised protection and providence. But they took their eyes off the Shepherd and focused on the problem.

Do we see the Good Shepherd leading us through the valley?Do we have the living faith that, as long as we follow Him, nothing can happen to us unless He allows it?

The instruction in how to be a shepherd contained for us in verse 4, is to be an example of faith. Be an example to that person sitting close to you. Be an example of quiet, living faith to those whom God will lead. They, most of all, will need examples of faith to help them—to help them realize that no matter where we are, God is with us, individually, and as a Church. That is one of His names: the Lord Is Near.

The Rod and Staff

Continuing in verse 4: “thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

The rod and the staff were two tools with which David would have been very familiar. The rod could be used against a sheep’s enemies, and also against a disobedient sheep.

The rod had one more use, and that was to part the fleece of a sheep to see if it was healthy underneath. Sometimes an unscrupulous shepherd can disguise an inferior animal by skillful clipping and therefore make a sheep look prosperous. That practice came to be known as “pulling the wool over someone’s eyes.”

God’s very elect are being measured today in the context of being in or out of the inner court (Revelation 11:1-2). The rod is a tool to measure a sheep in the very same way. The implication is, we can sometimes fool people, but we can never fool God.

The staff was used in several ways. One was to rescue a sheep in distress. It had a crook in the end, and the shepherd could use that to pull a sheep out of a bog onto solid ground. Of course, many times the sheep had to cry out to warn the shepherd it was in trouble. So the longer it delayed in doing so, the deeper in trouble it got.

That sounds like a human thing, doesn’t it? We often get into trouble, and we think we can get out of it by ourselves—and of course we just make things worse.

The staff could also pull an otherwise shy sheep to the shepherd. In addition, the shepherd could use the staff to guide the sheep into a correct path, or simply lay it on a sheep as if to say, “I’m here.” It helped forge a connection between the shepherd and a sheep.

The rod and staff represent the close relationship between shepherd and sheep. That relationship is pictured in Psalm 121, which talks about God as the Keeper of Israel: “Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore” (verses 4-8).

That’s the example of our Shepherd in His relationship with us. What a comfort! In our training as shepherds, are we that stable? Do we exude that kind of confidence to others? That’s how to be a good shepherd.

A Table Prepared

Look also at the next promise in verse 5 of Psalm 23: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies ….”

God feeds us even in the presence of our enemies. He always has. Study the history of God’s Church and you will see that enemies always have surrounded us.

Who among all of God’s people are now most surrounded by enemies and don’t even know it? The vast majority of God’s own people have been overwhelmed by the enemy and are scattered all over the hills. They’re not being fed. Where is God preparing a table for them?

The table of God is right here in the inner court.

Good Health

The second part of verse 5 reads:“… thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”

In God’s Church, we’re all familiar with anointing for sickness, and the fact that only God can heal, because it depends on the forgiveness of sin. The ministry anoint in God’s stead, and God honors that anointing.

One of God’s names is the Lord Who Heals—and that is a promise!

Only God can heal, but there are ways we can aid in the well-being of others.

By encouraging and uplifting others, especially those in deep trials, we help relieve some of the stress they are under. We can help them to have a merry heart, when it is greatly needed. “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). Even medical science states that a positive attitude is known to be one of the greatest deterrents to sickness and disease. Of course, diet and other factors are involved also. But helping someone have a merry heart is a tremendous way for us as shepherds to “anoint” someone with oil to the point where they say, “My cup runneth over”I have so many blessings, it’s just bubbling over. That kind of an attitude enables all the functions of the body to do their work. The brain produces serotonin to calm us, the organs produce bile to help digest food, stress leaves the body, and everything works as God designed.

The anointing of sheep is to offset any damage caused by accident. Rendering that kind of aid and comfort is something we can do for each other, and certainly to new sheep and those sheep who will return to God’s fold.

Shepherds in the Making

Notice what all these seven principles of a good shepherd produce when applied: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23:6). What a positive attitude David had because he knew what his Shepherd was doing and would do for him.

Can we say that about ourselves, as shepherds in training?

David wrote the shepherd’s psalm from the standpoint of a sheep in the flock of God. He knew what God did for him, as that is what David did for his sheep.

It seems obvious that David was chosen to lead Israel based on his leadership and care of the sheep of his father’s pasture. That’s where he was when God searched him out, and that’s what God was looking for.

Being a good shepherd is what outgoing love and concern is all about. Let’s notice a passage of Scripture to sum it all up. 1 Corinthians 13 is a chapter about having outgoing love and concern. It is interesting to see how easy it is to substitute the word shepherd for the word charity (which means “love”) and really come to a greater understanding of these verses. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not [the heart of a shepherd], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. … [A shepherd] suffereth long, and is kind … envieth not … vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. [God’s shepherd] never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away” (verses 1, 4-8).

In the end, surely the answer to one simple question could decide our eternity: How much of a shepherd are we? If we growing to be like Christ, we will be striving to become good shepherds as He is. It is one of His names: Yhwh Rohi, which means the Lord Our Shepherd.