God as Jehovah-rohi is revealed in the 23rd Chapter of Psalms. The literal translation of Jehovah–rohi is “the Lord, my Shepherd.” Although the names are not applied to God in this Psalm, God is clearly seen as Jehovah-jireh (Provider), Jehovah-shammah (Friend), Jehovah-nissi (Victor), and Jehovah-rophe (Healer), Jehovah-shalom (Peace) since all these roles are applicable to a shepherd. This section will particularly consider Jehovah-rohi as the Lord who leads and guides, as well as the Lord who is a friend and companion. As the one who guides, he is also seen as the Wonderful Counselor as stated in Is. 9:6.
It seems likely that Abraham left Ur with much of his wealth in sheep since those were assets which could be moved. It was also assurance that he would have a primary supply source for meeting needs of his large company of family and attendants. The sheep were a source of food, shelter, and clothing. Wool and skin could be used for pillows and couches; even the horns were used for containers and musical instruments. The sheep were essential for religious ceremonies, well as being useful for bartering and as exchange for protection.. The third chapter of 2 Kings relates an incident in which Mesha, king of Moab, was paid a hundred thousand lambs by the king of Israel (Ahab) for protection. When Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against Israel and a war began.
With so much value being placed on sheep, the need for good shepherds is evident. A good shepherd lived and worked with his sheep. David knew the life of a shepherd from his experience of keeping the sheep of his father, Jesse. It would have been a natural inclination for him to see his relationship with God as that of a sheep to a shepherd. Thus, he penned the long loved 23rd Psalm, apparently after he became an old man; he can now speak from experience to tell of Jehovah-rohi.
One of the primary tasks of the shepherd was to lead the sheep to a source of food and water. Perhaps David’s father, Jesse, had sufficient land to provide for his sheep, however, David was surely familiar with the antagonisms and hardship which resulted by a shepherd having to cross enemy territory or rough natural terrain as he searched out provisions for his sheep.
At times shepherding has been a cause of real antagonism, even wars. Gen. 46:34 refers to shepherds being an abomination to the Egyptians. Perhaps the root of the hatred for shepherds can be seen in more recent history by the episodes known as Sheep Wars that occurred in the late 1800’s in Texas and other western states. The lowly sheepherder on a burro or afoot was often the brunt of intimidation or violence as he herded his flock across the land protected by the western cowboy on horseback who generally had the force of the law with him. As a Godly shepherd crossed the level western mesas (tablelands), he could rely on David’s words, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” It is a desire of the Shepherd, (Jehovah-rohi) to lead and direct his children around enemy territory or to be Jehovah-nissi and lead in the fight with the enemy. David willingly risked his life for the sake of a lamb which was taken from the flock by a lion (1 Sam. 17:34-35). Jesus said “the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11), and, in truth, Jesus as Jehovah-jireh, the sacrificial lamb, did do that very thing.
A primary duty of the shepherd is to provide the basics, food, water, and shelter for the sheep. Especially in the dry rocky terrain of Judah, food and water supplies demanded migration of the sheep. In the spring, after the winter rains, there was pasture near the settled areas, and the sheep could graze on agricultural land after the harvest was reaped. But at times, the shepherd had to seek pasture in the outer territories. Such was the lot of Simeon’s tribe when they settled in Gedor (I Chron. 4:39-40). The good shepherd looks ahead; he has a plan to keep the flock safe, healthy, and well cared for. That demands a system of rotation; the sheep must be kept on the move. If left in one place, sheep will eat the grass so deeply the roots are ruined, and sheep will become diseased if they are not moved from their own waste areas. His sheep must follow him if he is to keep them safe, well, and contented. He is the Guide.
Sometimes clean surface water could be found but often wells had to be dug. The record of Isaac and his well digging is in the 26th chapter of Genesis. A reading of that passage shows the struggles one had to endure to obtain fresh water to lessen the possibility of drinking poisonous water. Even so, the children of God often indulge in efforts to quench their thirst that only water from the Good shepherd can safely satisfy. They do not see the well to which the shepherd is leading.
Shepherds had to find a sufficient food supply that was free from poisonous weeds and harmful snakes or other varmints. Sometimes sheep have to be moved daily, in any case it is a matter of a few days. And they must feed in an area where there is safety from predatory animals. Sheep herding can be a difficult task when the shepherd loves his flock. Jesus contrasted the good shepherd with the hireling who would run at the sign of trouble (John 10:11-13).
The good shepherd – Jehovah-rohi – knew his sheep and the sheep knew him (John 10:14). One translation of rohi is “companion” or “friend” expressing the bonding of sheep with their shepherd. Further discussion of this “friend” role, Jehovah-shammah, is included in a different chapter.
The love of the shepherd would demand that he be able to keep stubborn sheep safe from their own willful errors. Therefore, he had two tools mentioned in Psalm 23 – the rod and the staff. The rod was a wooden club carefully designed to fit the shepherd’s hand. It was both an offensive and defensive weapon. A skillful shepherd could throw the rod in such a way that it would land between a sheep and anything that would harm it such as a rocky cliff or poisonous weeds. It sometimes had nails in the end that would make it an effective defensive weapon.
The staff was a long thin stick that generally had a crook or hook on one end. It had three main functions for helping to manage the sheep. First, it helped in establishing close bonds between the ewes and lambs. The shepherd used it to lift lambs and direct them to their mothers, thus avoiding touching them with his hands and causing confusion of smell by the mother. Next, the shepherd could reach out to draw and hold sheep close to himself while he examined the sheep for parasites, disease, or other danger signs. Last, the staff was used to steer the sheep in the right direction.
Pictures representing the 23rd Psalm generally show a beautiful valley with green grass, cool running water, and healthy sheep but reality is that every shepherd has to deal with sick sheep, weak sheep, wayward sheep. All sheep need care from time to time. Even even-tempered, obedient sheep must on occasion face hardship. The shepherd rejoices when the flock is well-fed, obedient, contented and lying down in green pastures, but they have to be kept on the move. Food and water supplies run out. Floods come and the shepherd has to seek higher ground. Sometimes valleys, rugged terrain, mud and mire must be crossed. There are cold and wet seasons; there are hot and dry seasons. New lambs must be birthed; old sheep must die. Mountains must be climbed; cliffs must be scaled. Muscles are build by effort not by a life of
ease. But, remember, the good Shepherd is always there!
Early in the 1900’s George A. Young was a young country preacher of limited finances. After a long struggle, George was able to move his family into a small home that he had built himself. He continued preaching in rural communities. One time while he was out preaching, his house was set afire by some young thugs who did not like his preaching. He reaffirmed his faith by writing a song that has been encouragement to many through the years, God Leads Us Along. The victory given him by Jehovah-Rohi is evident in the third verse:
Tho’ sorrows befall us, and Satan oppose,
God leads His dear children along;
Through grace we can conquer, defeat all our foes,
God leads His dear children along.
Some thro’ the waters, some thro’ the flood,
Some thro’ the fire, but all thro’ the blood;
Some thro’ great sorrow, but God gives a song;
In the night season and all the day long.
A poem called Footprints is a beautiful portrayal of the Christian in crises being carried by the shepherd. In it the author recounts a dream in which at the end of her life she looks back and sees her life’s journey represented by two sets of footprints – hers and the Lord’s. She notices that in the most critical low places in her life there is only one set of prints. She questions, “Why, when I needed you most, did you leave me?” The Lord replied, “My precious child, I love you and would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.” “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” (Is. 40:11). The gentle shepherd! He makes allowances for the young, for the weak, and for the needy. He is not a “respecter of persons,” (Acts 10:34); yet he has regard for the lowly. He is not given to showing partiality but he gives heed to the needy. Ps. 138:6 says, “Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly . . .”
. It is an awesome task to be a shepherd. God wants his sheep cared for. One can see the anger which God has toward poor shepherds by his complaint (Ezek. 34:6):
The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost.
Jer. 50:6 says the “lost sheep have forgotten their resting place,” and Is. 53:6 speaks of sheep who have gone astray. Luke says that the shepherd goes to look for lost sheep and when he has found it he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing (Luke 15:3-6). Our Lord, Jehovah-rohi, wants his sheep in the fold. Jesus said he was the “door of the sheep” (John 10:7). Real security exists when one is in the sheepcote where Jesus is the door – where there is no way in or out except through him. Although earthly shepherds may need dogs to stay behind the flock to protect the rear, God does not. In Is. 52:12 God says he leads his sheep and he is their rear guard (NIV). God does not need any help from the back!
A dear and wise teacher might use the following story to illustrate this scripture which says, “Thou hast enlarged my steps under me; so that my feet did not slip”
(2 Sam. 22:37).
Once upon a time in the land of Baca, there was a poor family who lived in the country far, far from town where people had sidewalks and blacktops. When it rained on their farm, their yard would get lots of mud holes right up close to the door. The family needed to go to town one day, but the daughter, Emmy, couldn’t get to the car because of the mud hole she would have to cross. So daddy looked around for a way to help Emmy get to the car. He found a board four inches wide. He put it across the mud hole for Emmy to walk on. Emmy was scared; she was afraid she would stumble and fall off the board. So daddy looked some more. He found a 12 inch board they could use. He said, “Look, you can walk across easily because I have enlarged the way for your steps. You are safe with the enlarged path.” So Emmy walked across; she didn’t even slip. Wasn’t that nice of daddy to find a big board for her to cross on?
Of course, that is a children’s story. But with great understanding, our Lord knows that even adults sometimes need to be carried a while before being set on a path that seems too narrow. Or, perhaps He will just enlarge the plain. The daddy does represent what our loving and good Jehovah-rohi, the Good Shepherd, would do to help his sheep cross the dangerous steeps. He would provide the path and guide the way!
Vernon Liles, Handbook of Texas. Sheep Wars. On-line, http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook
 Ibid, 72-73
 Phillip Keller. A shepherd looks at the 23rd Psalm, 100-101
 Christian Biography Resources, On-line, www.dyberhymnal. org/bio/y/o/young_ga.
 http://www.footprints-in the-sand.com/BioPage – Note: Authorship unsure