They are like sheep and are destined to die; death will be their shepherd (Psalm 49:14).
When we think about the word shepherd in the Bible, our thoughts might quickly go to the phrase, The Lord is my shepherd. Those words have comforted God’s people ever since the shepherd-boy David wrote them some thousand years before Jesus proclaimed himself as The Good Shepherd. How strange then, to hear death called a shepherd! We must look at this more closely.
The psalm calls out a warning to those who boast of their riches and trust in their wealth. Those who think themselves so smart that they do not need God, need to learn the lesson of their frailty: “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough—that he should live on forever and not see decay” (Psalm 49:7,8)
What makes a person think that wisdom or wealth is insurance against death? Yet, how common it is to trust these things, and strive to get these things as if life or death depended upon them! Something leads such people. They surely follow something in the hope for happiness. They cannot see that they are being led to destruction in the same way that sheep follow a shepherd. They are being led by Death to death.
At this time of year, thoughts return to the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1944 and the destruction, and death that followed on some islands in the Pacific. War is always horrible, but seldom has the world seen the willingness of soldiers to die by the thousands instead of surrendering.
Some 18,000 Japanese soldiers fought in the battle for Iwo Jima. Only 216 survived. The rest fought until they were killed or died by their own hand. On island after island, U.S. forces had to kill their enemy until almost none were left. Swarms of kamikaze pilots flung themselves against American ships.
What can account for this? They were like sheep being led to the slaughter. They were willing to die for their Emperor and the ambitions of their military leaders. Their bravery is without question. Their fanaticism, however, is without merit. Death was their shepherd. The bloody battles in the Pacific taught a lesson: Honor, zeal, and faithfulness become deadly when attached to lethal leadership.
Japanese leaders began the campaign of conquests to acquire land, power, and wealth. The Japanese people followed. That thought makes us ask what we are following after in life? We know that pursuing crime leads to a bad end. What about chasing after success, or popularity, or just plain fun? The world is filled with candidates for leadership. Many are the ideas that want to lead us. Some potential leaders are feelings. Some are people. And some are deadly.
But not the Good Shepherd. Listen to Jesus: “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10,11).
There’s our answer!
When following Jesus, it is not death, but Life is our shepherd.
Lord of Glory, who has bought us with your lifeblood as the price, we hear the warning against following after that which is deadly. Teach us your ways. Show us your will. Keep us in your fold. Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain
and Liaison to the Military, Cape Coral, Florida
Provided by WELS Ministry to the Military