By Mark D. Roberts
And I will give you shepherds after my own heart,
who will guide you with knowledge and understanding.
After the death of King Solomon in 931 B.C., Israel was divided into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. While both kingdoms failed in their faithfulness to the Lord, Israel chased after other gods even more than Judah. So, in 722 B.C., the Lord judged Israel through the destructive power of Assyria. The Israelites were scattered, with thousands taken captive. This was the end of the northern kingdom.
Though God had judged Israel, he had not completely given up on his faithless people. "O Israel," he pleaded through Jeremiah, "my faithless people, come home to me again, for I am merciful" (3:12). The Lord promised to bring the Israelites back to their land if they would only return to him. Moreover, he pledged: "I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will guide you with knowledge and understanding" (3:15). These shepherds, the rulers of Israel, will be unlike the "shepherds" of Jeremiah 2:8, who ignored God's word and turned against him. (The NLT uses "rulers" to translate the Hebrew word that means "shepherds" and is used in 3:15).
In our churches, we usually think of the shepherds as the ordained pastors. Indeed, our word "pastor" is based on the Latin term for shepherd. But in Jeremiah, the shepherds of the people are not simply the religious leaders. In fact, they are the kings, most of all. Anyone who has any position of authority, in church or in government, in business or in family, in a neighborhood or in volunteer work, is a kind of shepherd... and that includes most of us.
How can we be good shepherds who care for and lead well those in our charge? First and foremost, we must be shepherds after God's own heart. The phrase translated as "after my heart" in Jeremiah 3:15 means, literally, "like my heart" (kelibbi). If we want to lead people in God's ways, then our hearts, which include our thinking and choosing, not just our emotions, must be like God's own heart. Truly effective and godly leaders, no matter the setting, will be people whose inner lives have been shaped by God through his Word, Spirit, and community.
Questions for Reflection
Do you have a heart after God's own heart, like God's heart? How is your heart like God's heart? How did it get this way? In what ways does your heart need to be transformed so as to be more like God's heart?
O Lord, as I read about the leaders you promise to give to your people, the shepherds after your own heart, I find myself yearning to be that kind of leader. Where you have given me authority, I want to be faithful to you. May my decisions reflect your character, your justice, your mercy, your love. May I see situations and people as you see them.
Through your Word and Spirit, and as I grow in the community of your people, guide me into true knowledge and understanding. May my leadership reflect your truth and wisdom in all ways.
All praise be to you, dear Lord, because you are the Good Shepherd. Amen.
Mark D. Roberts, as Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence for Laity Lodge, is an advisor and frequent contributor to TheHighCalling.org. A Presbyterian pastor, Mark earned his Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard University. He has written six books, including No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer (WaterBrook, 2005). He blogs daily at www.markdroberts.com, and the meditations he writes for The High Calling are featured on Wednesdays at the Evangelical Portal and Mainline Protestant Portal.