A Good Shepherd

Quick! Visualize… a shepherd!

What do you think of first?

Perhaps you think of an idyllic shepherd scene, in which a mild-mannered youth lays down and watches soft fluffy sheep serenely eating from a verdant meadow. Perhaps… something like this?

The Little Shepherd Boy, by Carlo Dalgas, c. 1840. National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark.
The Little Shepherd Boy, by Carlo Dalgas, c. 1840. National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Or perhaps, if you are a more religious type, you think of the Good Shepherd, aka Jesus Christ! And usually, the words “Good Shepherd” prompts a mild-mannered Jesus holding a lamb on His shoulders.

The Good Shepherd, by Jose Vergara, c. 18th century. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.
The Good Shepherd, by Jose Vergara, c. 18th century. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

All of these are common images for shepherds! However, for today, I would like to point you to yet another depiction of a shepherd:

David.

Yes, David, son of Jesse, who eventually rises up to be the King of Israel! And yet, despite his astonishing success as king, he started off as a common shepherd who was repeated ignored or told to go away. For example, when Jesse originally presented his sons to the Prophet Samuel to become anointed King of Israel, David was forgotten about. It was only until after Samuel inquired that they fetched David. Otherwise, he was very much an afterthought.

But perhaps his biggest slight was when he sought to fight Goliath.

The story is recounted in 1 Samuel 17, which you can read here. (And, trust me — the First Book of Samuel is actually a fantastic book with plenty of drama, so you should definitely read the whole thing, even if you’re a little wary about reading scripture. It’s totally worth your time!)

Goliath basically shows up on the scene and terrifies everyone — and for good reason, too! He is huge! He is a warrior! He is scary! Just read how the bible describes him…

Stunned and terrified! Even King Saul was described as stunned and terrified!

And so everybody is scared… except for David. In fact, David is that annoying kid who keeps asking uncomfortable questions. Uncomfortable questions such as why the Israellites need to fear this man when they have God on their side. A lot of people try to get him to be quiet, including his brothers. When he will not stop talking, he gets brought to the king, Saul.

When Saul sees the youth, David, he is very unimpressed. Here is Saul trying to dissuade David from fighting Goliath…

And here is David’s response:

Of course, hopefully you remember how this story ends! And, if not, here’s a quick art piece for you which sums up the story…

Story of David and Goliath, by Francesco Pesellino, c. 15th century. National Gallery of Art, London, United Kingdom.
Story of David and Goliath, by Francesco Pesellino, c. 15th century. National Gallery of Art, London, United Kingdom.

So, yes! David ends up defeating Goliath using his sling, which he had used on lions and bears before, and ends up saving the day and becoming a hero. Huzzah!

But, it was through his skills as a shepherd in which he was able to defeat Goliath in the first place!

And so, for today, I would like to feature this amazing picture of David, as a shepherd.

The Shepherd David, by Elizabeth Jane Gardner, c. 1895. National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., United States.
The Shepherd David, by Elizabeth Jane Gardner, c. 1895. National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., United States.

The picture shows a handsome youth with a lamb in his arms. In fact, in that way, it’s much like the stereotypical pictures of shepherds that you might think about, such as the ones that I displayed above.

But it’s different! Look at what David is kneeling on.

A lion!

In fact, it’s supposed to be a lion that David killed while saving this little lamb.

And not only that, but look at the landscape. Instead of a lush meadow, it is a barren canyon. There are no sheep that surround him, which indicate that he’s been searching for this one lamb, who must have gotten lost. It appears that David dropped everything to find this young lamb and, realizing that his lamb was about to become a snack for the lion, killed the lion.

And so David is portrayed as the Good Shepherd for this fleeting moment… a title which will eventually be bestowed on one of his descendants, Jesus Christ. And, just as David will go from being a simple shepherd to becoming king, Jesus Christ will be the Good Shepherd and the King of Kings for all of eternity.

So, in this seemingly simple picture, both the Old Testament and the New Testament seem to kiss, and it is so beautiful!

So what can we say about David? Yes, he is a youth. But, there’s a lot more than just that… he is a strong and fearless young man who is not afraid to fight when the circumstances warrant it. When his flock was in trouble, he was not afraid to kill the fierce animals that threatened to kill his flocks. And, as a youth, he was not afraid to stand up and kill the man who threatened to destroy Israel.

And what what does this say about Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd Himself? For David, as a shepherd, was strong enough to destroy predators and invaders.

But Jesus?

Jesus Christ destroyed death.

For us.

May we rejoice in this and love Him all the more!

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of four, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer.

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