Yahweh Rohi is translated “The Lord my Shepherd” in Psalm 23.
David himself was a shepherd for the first several years of his life, so when he uses a shepherd as a picture of God, I figure that he knew exactly what he was talking about.
So what does a shepherd do? He takes care of the flock. He leads them to where there is sufficient grass and clean water, and he does whatever needs to be done to keep them healthy and strong. If one of the sheep wanders off, he chases it down and brings it back to the flock. I have heard or read (although I don’t remember exactly where) that if a lamb is recalcitrant and keeps wandering off, the shepherd will sometimes break the lamb’s leg and then carry it around on his shoulders to bond the lamb to him so that he won’t keep wandering off.
In the same way, God takes care of His flock. He keeps us adequately fed, watered and sheltered (see Matthew 6:25-34 for Jesus’ explanation of this) and does whatever needs to be done to keep us spiritual healthy and strong. If we wander off, He chases us down to bring us back into the flock (again, see Matthew 18:10-14 for a parable of Jesus that deals very specifically with this), and sometimes He has to discipline us if we continue to get out of line.
So why does a shepherd care for his sheep in this way? Some people I have talked to say that he cares for the sheep because he loves them so much. But that doesn’t really square with real shepherds. A shepherd cares for the sheep because they provide him with meat to feed him when he is hungry and meat to sell when he isn’t, and wool to make clothes from when he needs clothing and wool to sell when he isn’t. Both of these produce sustenance and wealth for the shepherd. But there is one more thing that the well-cared-for sheep provide for the shepherd; the one thing that is more important than any other: more sheep. Properly cared for sheep that are kept fed, watered, sheltered and healthy produce more sheep, and those new sheep grow the shepherd’s flock, and his wealth.
I believe that God loves us because He is wired that way. (John 3:16 tells us that God loves the whole world, even the parts of the world that don’t love Him!) But I believe that He cares for us, shepherds us, for the same reason that a shepherd cares for his flock – so that we will reproduce. Christians reproducing themselves by making more disciples is the fulfillment of the Great Commission. The Bible also tells us in MANY places that God loves everyone and wants EVERYONE to come to salvation, and the only way that that will happen is if we Christians bring more people into the kingdom of heaven by sharing the gospel with them and helping them to receive forgiveness for their sins, and then teaching them to obey all of Jesus’ teachings.
Some people might think that this makes God sound a little mercenary – He only cares for us because He wants us to reproduce, to bring more people into the kingdom. But I don’t think that David would use an analogy like “The Lord is my shepherd” and then have God be totally UNLIKE a shepherd in how and why He does things! And it’s NOT really mercenary for God to want us to reproduce, because it’s not Him who benefits when we do reproduce – it is actually one of the main ways that God actually demonstrates His love to the world – by reaching out to those who don’t know Him through those who do.
We have a God who loves everyone, and who wants everybody to be saved. As the sheep of His flock, we are the ones who need to reproduce in more disciples. (The shepherd doesn’t reproduce sheep! He just makes sure that the sheep have everything they need to be healthy, because it is assumed that healthy sheep will naturally reproduce.) And, as we reproduce and grow our shepherd’s flock larger and larger, that means that more and more of the world will be in the kingdom and headed to heaven!