That Great Shepherd - Hebrews 13. 20-21
T.W. Maunder, Cardiff
IT MIGHT WELL BE ASKED why Christ is spoken of as the Great Shepherd in this portion; it seems such an abrupt transition from all that goes before in the epistle about sacrifices, priests and kindred subjects. Careful consideration, however, reveals that the writer has been speaking of other shepherds, using the term 'leaders', in verses 7, 17 and 24 (J. N. D's New Translation). This is a suggestive word since in those days shepherds went before the flock.
The writer of this epistle was a shepherd separated from the flock. He bids them pray that he might be restored to them the sooner, evidently that he might be able to help them or, in other words, shepherd them. As he could not serve them in this way immediately, he turns to prayer - his great resort in trouble and difficulty - and asks the Lord to do directly what he is not able to do. Whether he was restored to them or not they have God to rely on, who had raised up the great Shepherd, the ever loving one, 7. 25, the same yesterday, today and forever, 13. 8.
The writer's special concern is that the saints might be enabled to work together harmoniously. This appears in his use of the title 'God of peace'. In every place in the New Testament where this tide is used it appears to have to do with peace among the saints. He prays that the God of peace may make them perfect in every good work. Now the word 'perfect' used here is not the one commonly used in the New Testament (having the idea of maturity or full-growth) but a word which Bengel in his Gnomon gives as 'harmoniously join together'. We find this word used elsewhere in the Hebrew Epistle. In 10. 5 it is translated 'prepared' and refers to the body made for the Lord Jesus. In 11. 3 it is translated 'framed' and has to do with the universe. So just as the body of our Lord was perfectly made, a harmonious whole, and the universe has all the parts perfectly related, so it is the desire of the writer (and, of course, behind him, God Himself) that the saints should work together harmoniously to do God's will. Had he been among them his work would have been directed to this end, but distance preventing him from serving personally amongst them, he commends them to God Himself.
The same situation - an absent shepherd commending the sheep to God Himself - is seen in 1 Thessalonians. There Paul says 'Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you', 3. 11, and prays 'The God of peace himself sanctify you wholly', 5. 23, R.V.
Shepherds today are not normally prevented by distance from being a help to those among whom they serve, but sometimes they feel totally unfitted to deal with the difficulties that arise in the assembly. Stronger personalities may foment strife, readier speakers may put forward doubtful doctrines, active organizers may sponsor fleshly innovations. When everything possible has been done according to the Scriptures, the problem may remain to the dismay of the shepherds. At such moments it is enheartening to remember that we still have the God of peace, whose power was demonstrated when he 'brought again from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep'. He can unite the saints. Wise shepherds will be prayerful, committing their charges to 'the God of peace himself.