Psalm 78 opens by declaring:
1Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
2I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
4We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
It is interesting that, on one hand, the psalmist describes his psalm as being a “parable” and an utterance of “dark sayings from of old,” which suggests some form of mystery. (Think, for example, of how Jesus specifically used parables to veil the mystery of who he was.) On the other hand, the psalmist insists that he is writing merely things “that we have head and known/that our fathers have told us.”
Certainly, much of the psalm is a survey of Israel’s history, and therefore a story with which ever good Hebrew would have been intimately familiar. I think, though, that the psalmist sneaks in the mystery at the end of the psalm, masquerading its glory as something very obvious in Israel’s history:
70He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheepfolds;
71from following the nursing ewes he brought him
to shepherd Jacob his people,
Israel his inheritance.
72With upright heart he shepherded them
and guided them with his skillful hand.
What is so mysterious about describing David as the shepherd of Israel? Well, in three of the psalms directly surrounding Psalm 78 (Psalm 77:20, Psalm 79:13, and Psalm 80:1), God himself is described as the Shepherd of Israel. How could both David and God be the Shepherd of Israel?
“I AM the Good Shepherd…”