Ken Bailey on The Good Shepherd

51C0bJc8I2LThe Good Shepherd: A thousand-year journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament

(A guest review by Richard Briggs)

Ken Bailey worked for many years in the Middle East, taught the Bible there, and sat with and spoke with those whose ways of life reflected in some measure the perspectives and assumptions of biblical times. We are almost talking a ‘fieldwork’ approach to biblical studies! In his long (semi-)retirement, Bailey has written up a whole range of fascinating studies for wider consumption, and now in this series we have this fine book on the imagery of the ‘good shepherd’.

He begins with a careful reading of Psalm 23, interacting (as always) with a range of Arabic and other ancient commentators, as well as reflecting on the nature of shepherding and the flocks they work with. The result is a wonderfully engaging study of a familiar text, drawing out details like the sheep who refuse to drink from moving waters; or the experience of narrow mountain passes that are like ‘the valley of the shadow of death’; or the sense of living the pastoral life in the shadow of overarching evil during times of war. Bailey likes literary structures and careful echoes. He concludes with a series of thematic emphases of a general story of the good shepherd: how the good shepherd rescues the lost, draws them back, and takes care of them. I might have liked some reflection on the nature of the ‘pursuing’ that Ps 23:6 conjures up with its striking choice of verb: I often think of this as goodness and mercy chasing after the psalmist, rather than just ‘following’. Some of Bailey’s stories point that way, but he passes by the chance to say it regarding the text.

Three brief chapters then pursue the imagery through Jeremiah 23, Ezekiel 34 and Zechariah 10. Then he turns to the New Testament, and offers longer studies of Luke 15 (a familiar text in his writing), Mark 6, Matthew 18, John 10, and finally 1 Peter 5. His handling of NT texts is as thorough and illuminating as his reading of the OT. Overall, Bailey urges very simply that there is a powerful 3-fold story tying together these many various elements of the Bible: God is the good shepherd; Jesus is the good shepherd; and the good shepherd is a model for church elders (or leaders more generally, probably). He carefully traces multiple elements of this basic story through each passage.

The result is a clear example of thoughtful study of a theme through the whole canon. It will benefit those interested in the nature of Christian leadership, in the relevance of the much-loved but perhaps over-familiar Psalm 23, and those keen to reflect on Jesus’ ministry in wider biblical terms. As always, it is written with a gentle firmness, and a strong sense of the pressing relevance of biblical texts for pastoral ministry. I hope it will be widely read.

Dr Richard Briggs, Lecturer in Old Testament and Director of Biblical Studies, Cranmer Hall, Durham

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