What Jesus Meant About the Lost Sheep
Jesus was the smartest man to ever walk this earth. He’s still the smartest man alive. So much of his recorded teachings have far more Old Testament allusions than we modern Gentile readers can fathom. As we were studying the account of David and Goliath in our Bible study at church, I saw David’s words in 1 Samuel 17:34 with new eyes. There’s more than a hint of Jesus there, and Jesus knew it.
As David prepared to face Goliath, Saul rebuked him saying, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth” (1 Samuel 17:33). David responded. Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:34-37).
We are so familiar with the story that we read these words as mere narrative progression. It gets us to the payoff of the battle. But David’s words point beyond Goliath to a bigger enemy and to a bigger hero.
Jesus once told a parable to some Pharisees in the presence of some Gentiles about a lost sheep. Luke records it as the first in a trilogy of parables about Jesus seeking and saving the lost.
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:5-7)
Jesus left the many to find the one. So did David. Was Jesus thinking of David standing before Saul, making his case for facing Goliath? Was Jesus facing a type of Goliath and finding rebuke by the leaders of Israel?
There is no reason to draw out every possible correlation. I am not suggesting an allegorical reading of 1 Samuel 17. There is no need. Jesus does enough allegorical work for us. Just as David went after the one lamb and delivered him from the mouth of the lion, so Jesus goes after the one sheep and returns him home to the Father’s pasture.
The implication is obvious. David was a type of Christ in his shepherding and in his fighting. He left the many to find the one. He fought the lion to save. Before Goliath, David faced a larger foe but he did not shrink back. In the same way, Jesus faced the cross “for the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2).
What Jesus meant to say in the parable of the lost sheep was that he was like David, facing the ultimate enemy and bringing the lost one home. He came to seek and save. He looked nothing like the warrior the world expected, but neither did David. Both were mocked for their smallness. Both failed to make the proper impression. Both saved their people.
Jesus knew the Bible, and he used David's words to foretell the kind of battle he came to fight and the kind of victory he came to win.