In The Good Shepherd, Kenneth E. Bailey surveys the motif of the good shepherd as it appears in nine major biblical texts. He first looks at Psalm 23 as the foundational good shepherd passage for the subsequent texts of Jeremiah 23:1–8; Ezekiel 34; Zechariah 10:2–12; Luke 15:1–10; Mark 6:7–52; Matthew 18:10–14; John 10:1–18; and 1 Peter 5:1–4.
Bailey’s treatment of each text includes a discussion on its rhetorical style, a commentary with insights from Middle Eastern culture, and a theological cluster that summarizes God’s work as the good shepherd. He suggests ten main elements for the good shepherd story in the Bible and shows how most of them appear in each text in various degrees. These elements are:
1) The good shepherd and his identity (in the OT always identified as God)
2) The lost sheep (or lost flock)
3) The opponents of the shepherd (the bad shepherd)
4) The good host(ess?)
5) The incarnation (promised or realized)
6) The high cost the shepherd sustains to find and restore the lost
7) The theme of repentance/return
8) Bad sheep
9) A celebration
10) The end of the story (in the house, in the land or with God?)
Bailey’s survey shows how the good shepherd motif is used in three ways in the Bible where; 1) God/Jesus is described as the shepherd of his people; 2) The leaders of Israel, the disciples, and the church leaders are also referred to as shepherds; and 3) in the OT a promise of a new shepherd will come from Bethlehem with the fulfillment of this promise in the NT in Christ.
While Bailey reads the good shepherd motif in relation to some biblical and theological concepts, some events in redemptive history deserve more attention including for example the exodus tradition where God delivers Israel as her shepherd using Moses who was a shepherd (Exod 3:1; Isa 63:11; cf. Num 27:17). Kingship in Israel is another biblical concept that needs more elaboration since it is portrayed in a shepherding image through David the shepherd-king (1 Sam 17:15, 34; cf. Ezek 37:24–28). The shepherding language in the Song of Songs is another important missing discussion in Bailey’s work (cf. Song 1:7–8; 2:16; 4:5; 6:2–3).
Overall, Bailey’s extensive experience in Middle Eastern culture and his Arabic skills play an important role in his presentation of the richness of the good shepherd theme. His use of ancient NT versions as well as rare resources in English, Syriac, Arabic, and Armenian adds to the uniqueness of this book.
Rev. Dr. Sherif L. Gendy