Good Morning, Brothers and Sister!
For today’s ‘Remembrance’ message, we are again considering God’s past faithfulness as a reminder that God is still faithful to us today and always will be!
We have considered several names of God already, and today we are going to consider another one, Jehovah-Raah, which means ‘the Lord my Shepherd’.
We are all familiar with the 23rd Psalm in which David leads us in singing, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” But we first learn that the Lord is our Shepherd in Genesis, where this name appears twice. In Genesis 48:15-16 (ESV) we read,
And he blessed Joseph and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, 16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”
Jacob, who was renamed Israel by God, is about to die. He is blessing his grandchildren, Joseph’s two sons. And in the midst of his blessing he calls God his shepherd. Now Israel had a very difficult life with much suffering and loss. He fought with his older twin brother, Esau, as a youth. His former name, Jacob, meant deceiver. On one occasion, he manipulated his brother to sell his birthright for a bowl of stew. Another time he flat out lied to his father, claiming to be Esau, to gain the blessing. And for this deception, Jacob had to run away from home, for Esau was plotting to kill him. He went to work for his uncle Laban, who changed his wages many times. Initially, he worked seven years for Laban to marry Rachel, Laban’s daughter, but was tricked into marrying Rachel’s older sister, Leah, and had to work an additional seven years for Rachel. Then he worked many more years for Laban who tried to cheat him by continuing to change his wages. Yet through all that conflict and stress, God blessed Jacob with much wealth. For God was his shepherd.
Jacob then fled from Laban, returning to the promised land of Canaan. It was a difficult journey, a journey in which Jacob would have to face all three of his fears: the wrath of Laban, his angry brother Esau, and God himself. First Laban caught up to him and accused him of stealing his household gods and running away with his daughters and grandchildren. But God our Shepherd protected Jacob and they parted in peace. Then Jacob heard that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 trained men. Jacob was afraid that Esau might still be plotting to kill him. So he split up his camp, sending waves of gifts of cattle first, and placing his most beloved treasure, Rachel, last. Then, before he met Esau, he met a man and wrestled with him all night. The Bible says that this man was a messenger of God. Jacob wrestled with God and prevailed. He would not let the messenger go until he gave Jacob a blessing. This is when God changed his name from Jacob which means ‘deceiver’, to Israel which means ‘contender with God’. The entire nation of Israel would inherit this name, they would be God’s chosen possession, the nation who contends with God, relentlessly holding onto God for a blessing.
God did indeed bless Israel. Israel them met his brother, Esau, who had forgiven him and wished him no harm. But Israel would face still more trials. His beloved wife, Rachel, whom he loved more than Leah, bore him only two sons, Joseph and Benjamin, and died in childbirth. Israel was deeply grieved. Where was God his Shepherd in that moment?
Some time later, when Joseph, the son of Rachel, was growing into a young man, Israel favored him and gave him a coat of many colors. Joseph has two dreams which symbolized that his brothers and father would bow to him. Out of jealousy, Josephs brothers sold him into slavery and he was carried off to Egypt. They then deceived their father into believing that a wild animal had eaten Joseph. Israel had now lost both his beloved wife and his favorite son. He knew deep grief. Where was God His Shepherd then?
Joseph faced his own set of trials, thrown into a cistern, sold to a caravan of slave traders, carried off to a foreign land, wrongly accused of sexual misconduct, thrown into prison where he spent three years, and then placed in charge of the land of Egypt, a very difficult post for a foreigner despised by the Egyptians. How did God shepherd Joseph through that time? Despite all his setbacks, God blessed Joseph with great success everywhere he went.
You know the story about Joseph, I’m sure. If not, please go back and read through the book of Genesis. I believe you will find it to be greatly comforting to see how God was faithful to our spiritual forefathers. For God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and he will also be faithful to you.
Joseph’s brothers, except beloved Benjamin, had to travel to Egypt to buy food during the famine. They met Joseph and bowed to him, not knowing who he was. And through a series of God-inspired events, Israel had to send his second beloved son, Benjamin, to Egypt with his other sons. We learn from this story that Israel was still grieving the loss of Rachel and Joseph and clung to Benjamin, not wishing any harm to come to him. He only let him go to Egypt when he had no choice.
But when Benjamin returned to Israel safely, and with the news that Joseph was still alive and ruling in Egypt, Israel’s hope was revived. He and his family moved to Egypt. Later, when Israel was ready to die, he blessed his two grandsons, the children of Joseph. And here, in the midst of this blessing, we find him calling God his Shepherd.
Now the question we must ask is this, for all Israel’s sufferings, throughout his life of many sorrows, how could he call God his Good Shepherd? Surely he could have been bitter. He lost his beloved wife when she was still young. He missed out on most of Joseph’s life. He spent much of his life sad and grieving. Yet at the end of it all, he calls God his Good Shepherd, blessing his grandchildren in the name of this God whom he had come to know personally.
Beloved, I think Israel came to understand that all his suffering was not because God rejected him. Rather, God was watching over him and brought him through all his troubles. There is no explanation for why God allowed Rachel to die at a young age, but we see why God took Joseph away. God used that trial to bless Israel and the entire world. Joseph had to be sold into slavery in Egypt that he could be formed into the future God-fearing ruler of Egypt who would save the world from famine. Israel saw God’s faithfulness at the end of his life. He knew the joy of seeing Joseph’s children. He knew that his faith in God was not misplaced, God had indeed been faithful to him. His was not a life of feeling joy, but a life of faithful plodding, a life of faith in the God who works all things together for good for those who love him and obey his commands. And he did experience joy in his old age.
Genesis 49:29 records that Israel was gathered together with his people, that is, he died. Those words are so very important, he was gathered together with his people, for the Bible teaches that his life was not over when he died. Rather, he entered into the rest God his Shepherd, and one day he will be raised from the dead. His ultimate hope was not in this life, but in the next. In this way God is truly his eternal shepherd. Yes, God had also been faithful to him in this life. In the midst of all his sufferings, Israel came to know God his Shepherd. Beloved, no matter what you face in your life, you can place your trust in the Lord, your shepherd. He is always faithful!
Let us pray…