Kenneth E. Bailey
The Good Shepherd: A Thousand Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament
Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2014.
Available from Amazon.com.
By Jill Firth
The late Kenneth Bailey needs no introduction to most readers because of his expertise in Middle Eastern culture after spending 40 years in Egypt and the Middle East. Bailey draws on his own experiences of shepherding, and on Arabic translations of the Bible, mediaeval and modern Arabic and Armenian commentaries, and the experiences of shepherding from Middle Easterners from the twentieth century to illuminate the Biblical tradition of the good shepherd who rescues the lost sheep. Bailey traces this tradition from Psalm 23 through Jeremiah 23, Ezekiel 34 and Zechariah 10 in the Old Testament to Jesus’ stories about good shepherds in Luke 15, Mark 6, Matthew 18 and John 10, and finishes up in 1 Peter 5.
Bailey argues that in the Old Testament, the ‘dominant metaphors’ for God include rock, shield, high tower, fortress, stronghold and so on (he refers to Psalm 18.1-3 as a sample). In the Old Testament, ‘three countercultural examples’ are also offered, where God is a Shepherd (Psalm 23), like a mother (Isaiah 42.14; 66.12-13) and like a father (Psalm 103.13). Bailey notices the grouping in Luke 15 of the stories of the good shepherd, good woman and good father. In the New Testament, he says, God is never described as ‘a fortress, a rock, or a high place’ using homeland security imagery (page 37). This is an interesting claim, though readers may wish to nuance it slightly, as Jesus and others do refer to Jesus as the stone that the builders rejected, and the rock that followed the Israelites in the wilderness. However, I have enjoyed considering how Jesus used predominantly human imagery to teach about God in the New Testament.
There are many moments in the book to pause and reflect on our understanding of God and of our relationship with him. Bailey also invites us to reflect on Christian leadership (page 273). The Good Shepherd makes a refreshing devotional or an excellent gift.
Jill Firth lectures in Hebrew and Old Testament at Ridley College. She holds a PhD in Psalms.