Wandering people, wandering hearts
After leading a terribly faithless people through the wilderness for 40 years only to be denied access into the Promised Land due to his own defiant act, Moses has come to the end of his life. In Numbers 27, we see the bittersweet glance of Moses upon the beautiful land the Lord shows him he will never enter but the children of the faithless Israelites will get to enjoy (Numbers 27:12-14).
Moses made intercession after intercession for a rebellious people who so often forgot the miracles God did among them. However, he does not lose faith or become bitter when the end of his life is near. He doesn’t give a sarcastic “good luck” to the leader following him. He prays for a faithful shepherd for a people prone to wandering. He trusts the Lord will appoint a capable leader to finish the task his rebellion prevented him from doing.
Moses prays that “the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd” (Numbers 27:16-17). God responds by instructing Moses to invest his authority in Joshua (Numbers 27:18-20).
Our Good Shepherd
As we learn later on throughout Scripture, earthly leaders don’t solve our problems. Everyone, including our leaders, are a people prone to wander who daily forget the God who created us. Instead, we “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). The cycles of apostasy are many, but we weren’t left without a shepherd to lead us back to the fold of God.
Jesus enters the world telling us: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15). He looked upon the crowds of lost souls, fickle and forgetful, and “had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). We find the fullest fulfillment of Moses’ prayer for a shepherd in the face of Jesus Christ.
The Shepherd’s shepherds
Although Jesus is ultimately our Shepherd, he sent out earthly shepherds among us in our churches and the unreached world that they might lead us until he returns. Right after Jesus looks at his sheep in the crowd with compassion in Matthew 9, “he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’” (Matthew 9:37-38). He acknowledges that he is the Good Shepherd and the only one who can lead us to God, but we must continue to pray for leaders to be raised up among us.
There are many lost souls, but not many are willing to give their lives to lead an unfaithful and complaining people in the wilderness for 40 years like Moses. Not many people are willing to say “Here I am! Send me” like Isaiah did when God says the fruits of his labor will be hardheartedness and spiritual blindness (Isaiah 6:8). This is why we must pray. The world is as blind, complaining, lost, idolatrous, and fickle as Israel was, but God will use whatever instrument He has chosen to bring about His sovereign will.
After Jesus’ resurrection, he appears once again to seven of his disciples by the Sea of Galilee. He picks out Peter—the one who denied Jesus three times after he swore he would not, the one prone to speak quickly, the who often resembles us. Jesus asks him three times if he loves him (playing off of Peter’s three denials of Jesus).
After Peter responds “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you” each time, Jesus commands him to “Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). Jesus knew Peter’s heart, but he wanted to display that Peter’s response to loving the Good Shepherd should be to love God’s people by feeding them with the Word of God. Thus, John’s gospel ends much like it began—with the mission of spreading Jesus’ name: the Word in the beginning that “was with God,” “was God,” and “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1,14).
Peter’s instructions to shepherds
After Jesus’ command to Peter, he instructs other leaders that they might embody Jesus: the one he loved, followed, denied, but returned to like the wandering sheep he now instructs. Pray for leaders who will be, like Peter tells us, humble shepherds, “exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:1-5).
As we look to and pray for our earthly shepherds to be humble leaders, we wait with eager longing for the chief Shepherd whom we love. Pray for laborers that would be willing like Moses and Isaiah to go out into a people prone to spiritual blindness and a wandering heart.
The Good Shepherd was killed by his sheep, but praise be to God that, though Jesus was slain like a lamb, his blood brings us back into his fold.
“Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.”
Robert Robinson, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing