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Who is Isaiah’s Shepherd of the Sheep? Hebrews Ventures an Answer

November 17, 2013
The prophet Isaiah

The prophet Isaiah

Reading through Isaiah, I’ve made connections between biblical texts that I never noticed before. I’ve posted about Philippians and Ephesians. Today I saw something in Isaiah 63:11 that seems to have inspired the author of Hebrews.

Isaiah 63:11

English: And the one who brought up from the land the shepherd of the sheep remembered the days of eternity. Where is the one who put his holy spirit in them?

Greek: καὶ ἐμνήσθη ἡμερῶν αἰωνίων ὁ ἀναβιβάσας ἐκ τῆς γῆς τὸν ποιμένα τῶν προβάτων· ποῦ ἐστιν ὁ θεὶς ἐν αὐτοῖς τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον;

Hebrews 13:20

English: And the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ, by the blood of the eternal covenant…

Greek: Ὁ δὲ θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης, ὁ ἀναγαγὼν ἐκ νεκρῶν τὸν ποιμένα τῶν προβάτων τὸν μέγαν ἐν αἵματι διαθήκης αἰωνίου, τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν…

Five things to note:

  1. Though Hebrews has “great” in addition to “the shepherd of the sheep,” the latter phrase (τὸν ποιμένα τῶν προβάτων in Greek) is identical in both passages.
  2. The author of Hebrews seems to want to explicitly identify “the shepherd of the sheep” from Isaiah, which he/she does by noting that this “great” shepherd is “our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  3. Did the author of Hebrews intend with “brought up from the dead” to echo Isaiah’s “brought up from the land”? The Greek verbs are different, but both have the ἀνα=up prefix, and both are in participial form.
  4. If Hebrews’s bringing up is meant to evoke Isaiah’s bringing up, is Hebrews taking Isaiah’s exodus motif in Isaiah 63 and holding up Jesus as the leader of the new exodus?
  5. Both passages have “eternity” (αἰώνιος) in view.

I haven’t checked commentaries yet, but after observing the above, I noticed that the critical apparatus (manuscript notes) in the Göttingen edition of the Septuagint notes that Hebrews 13:20 should be consulted.

I plan to see what others have written about this, but for now, the similarities above have me fairly convinced that this was a deliberate reference, and that the author of Hebrews was finding Jesus in Isaiah 63:11.

What do you think?

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