Between His Shoulders

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Atop my bookshelf stands a small wood carving of Jesus as a shepherd, with a staff in his hand and a lamb across his shoulders. It is primitive and roughly carved, yet I contemplate it often because I sometimes see myself as that lamb in need of care.

It is a reminder of the countless times Jesus has carried me when I’ve been too weak and wayward to take my next step, when He lifted me up and draped me across His shoulders, rescuing me from outer circumstances or inner failures I could not escape myself. More than that, it is a vivid picture of His love being a place of protection and rest.

“Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.” (Deut. 33:12 NIV)
Before the patriarch Moses died, he pronounced this blessing over the tribe of Benjamin, along with blessings for the other tribes of Israel. The temple, God’s dwelling place on earth, would be located in Benjamin’s territory, surrounded by the protection of shouldering hills. Benjamin is spoken of as a beloved tribe, enjoying intimate communion with the Lord.

This verse also reminds me of the shepherd, Jesus, portrayed often in the New Testament. In Luke 15 Jesus uses a parable about a lost sheep to convey the lengths He will go to seek a lost sinner. In the parable, when the shepherd finds his lost sheep, “he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.” A lamb carried on the shoulders of a strong shepherd or God’s temple secure in the folds of shouldering hills; quite different perspectives, yet vividly depicting the protective, caring heart of the Good Shepherd of my soul.

Not only do I see myself, a child of God, secure and shielded on His shoulders, I also draw comfort from being “the beloved of the Lord” and “the one the Lord loves.” Like a warm blanket, these words wrap around my heart with the everlasting, perfect love only God can provide. What more selfless act of love is there than that of Jesus’ sacrifice on my behalf?  “I came to give life with joy and abundance. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep in His care.” (John 10:10-11 The Voice)

There is a rest like no other found in the care of the Good Shepherd. The image of resting between His shoulders gives me such a sense of peace and safety. I can rest calmly there, even in the midst of trials and chaos, because I know what it is to experience that peace which passes all understanding, coming from His indwelling Holy Spirit. In his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Phillip Keller writes, “Our Shepherd knows best when He leads us through the dark valleys with Himself. He knows where we can find strength, and sustenance and gentle grazing despite every threat of disaster about us.”

My rough little carving represents the safest, most loving place I can be, resting between the shoulders of the Shepherd of my soul.

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In Simeon’s Arms

Simeon's Moment - Ron DeCainniSimeon’s robes flowed out behind him as he strode to the temple. Blood surged strongly through his aged limbs, making him feel years younger. How eagerly he had waited for this moment! Long ago God’s Spirit revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. This very morning in his prayers a fervency came upon him to hurry to the temple, for he knew the time had come.

The temple courts were crowded and noisy, the air thick with the smell of animals and smoke from the altar of sacrifice. The din reached Simeon as if from a distance as he listened in his spirit for the confirmation he knew was to come.

They were no different than many others in the crowd, yet Simeon’s heart hammered in his chest when he saw them, a young couple standing by a pillar, dusty and weary from travel. With one arm the man circled his wife’s shoulders protectively and in the other was a wooden cage containing two pigeons. The young woman held a child in her arms. This was the one.

Simeon was familiar with the prophecies about the Messiah coming as a child. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel, God with us”, the prophet Isaiah foretold. Yet how could the Redeemer, the Prince of peace, he who would be King over all the earth come as a mere helpless infant? If Simeon had learned anything in his years of faith, it was that Yahweh was a God of mystery and paradox. He no longer questioned, only trusted the Spirit within him.

The woman’s gentle eyes looked at him in question as Simeon eased the swaddled baby from her arms. He smiled in reassurance and she nodded trustingly. Simeon suspected the young mother of his Lord was getting used to unusual happenings concerning her child. He cradled the infant close to his chest, feeling the warmth from the little body spreading deep into his soul. The child opened his eyes and gazed up at Simeon. There were no earthquakes or shooting stars, just an indelible imprint on his heart. Here in his grasp was the one who would bind up the brokenhearted and comfort all who mourn….the long-awaited consolation of Israel. Lifting the child towards heaven, Simeon sang forth a hymn of praise.
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light of revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

The young couple marveled at what was said about their son. Like all parents, they thought their child was special, but did they know who he was destined to be? Simeon gently placed the baby back in his mother’s arms, speaking a tender blessing over the family. His eyes filled with tears and his heart was heavy as he imparted to the woman what the Spirit impressed on him. This child was meant to suffer according to Yahweh’s sovereign plan, so his mother too would feel the sword of sorrow pierce her own soul. She nodded perceptively at what Simeon said, then bent over her son. A small hand reached for her face and she smiled. Simeon knew that for now this was enough. This beloved child would bring much joy to the world, as he had brought it to an old man waiting at the temple, who could now go home in peace.
(based on Luke 2:21-35)

painting by Ron DiCianni