In Aramaic, verbs are either an action or they are very easy to understand. You could summarize the meaning into a very short phrase that would be easy to remember. And that’s the picture you should hold in your mind each time you read a particular word, such as “reconciliation.”
The verb root for “reconcile” is reah and it means to shepherd. The nouns that are built on this verb root are shepherd (or pastor), pasture and mind. I wondered what “mind” has to do with sheep and shepherding and feeding. But basically, the picture is that the mind is the place where the thoughts feed. The verb also takes on other meanings such as “to think, suppose, consider” because if you’re feeding your thoughts something, then that is what we refer to as “thinking.”
Other definitions for reah are to “feed, tend or shepherd.” Feeding refers to an action on our parts. But when the definition is tending, then it refers to how God tends us. The Lord is my Shepherd, and Jesus Christ is a shepherd, too. They are the ones who do the tending, the caring for, bringing the sheep to the pasture. The comparison is of us as the sheep and God as the Shepherd.
In terms of the definitions of reconciliation, God is always the one who is reconciling people to Himself. People don’t reconcile themselves to God. He does the reconciling; He is the shepherd; He is the one doing the tending. Tending is probably a better definition than feeding, because feeding presents the idea that you are doing something. I think that shepherding is the best definition because it combines both ideas of feeding and tending.
Let’s look at some of the familiar English definitions of “reconciliation.” The word “conciliate” from the Latin means to overcome the hostility of something and “re” means again. One of the English definitions is to “make one thing compatible with another.” For example: "The scientists had to accommodate the new results with the existing theories." They had to reconcile the theories together to make them compatible. Another definition is to “bring into consonance or accord, to harmonize one’s goals together with your abilities.” That is the definition that actually made the most sense to me as far as how the Bible uses the term. You would alter or regulate something to achieve accuracy or the desired results. An example would be if you get an alignment done on the wheels of your car, you correct the alignment of the wheels so that the car can go straight. You alter something to get a certain desired result. That’s the summary of the English definition.
Keeping in mind those English definitions, I think there are two aspects to reconciling. One is that there is a correction that happens whereby someone is put to right. The second part of that is that once they are put right then they’re satisfied (with the food, so to speak). They are brought to a new pasture and in that new pasture there is great food to eat. It is very, very healing, satisfying and provides peace. It’s a place to lie down and rest. We’re going to read that in some of the verses.
Before we look at the uses in the New Testament, let’s consider from the Hebrew in the Old Testament what it is that a shepherd does. Think about God being the Shepherd and how He does these things. Of course, the most famous description is in Psalm 23.
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures...” Once He brings the sheep into the pasture and they eat the good food until they are full and satisfied, the sheep lie down. That’s when they can rest. So it implies that He is leading the sheep to good pasture and that they are eating.
“He leadeth me beside the still waters” means to refresh with food beside the still waters. Sheep do not like to drink from a running stream, but instead they need quiet waters. It is the same with people. In order to be refreshed they need quiet waters. So He provides good pasture, quiet waters and what else? “He restoreth my soul…”
Now we’re starting to get a picture of what reconciliation is all about. It’s more than just eating the food, it’s what eating the food in the pasture does for us. It quiets us; it refreshes us; it restores us. We are led to a place of refreshment, quietness and rest where we feel satisfied and secure.
“...thy rod and thy staff comfort me.” They provide protection. What being brought into the pasture does is that it gives us a sense of security. What could harm me? If the shepherd is taking care of me, what could ever happen to me?
“…thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” This describes when a sheep is hurt, the shepherd would anoint the sheep with oil and heal it.
So far we’re seeing that the shepherd guides the flock to a place of pasture and quiet water so that the sheep can be free to rest. Then he takes care of, protects and heals them if necessary.
Now look at Zechariah 11, a very interesting passage, because it is about what a bad shepherd is. From looking at a description of a bad shepherd, you can gain insight into what a good shepherd is.
Turn around the first descriptive phrase and you have, “care for those being destroyed.”
The KJV says, “visit [care for] those that be cut off [perishing]. It means to take care of, such as when you visit someone in the hospital; you’re not just sitting there, you’re caring for them.
The second phrase is “seek the young.” The young means the scattered. The shepherd goes and seeks the scattered ones. Now think about that in terms of reconciliation. God is the Shepherd; He literally goes to seek those who are lost and have been scattered, to bring them into the new pasture.
The next phrase is “heal the maimed” (those broken or hurt). Part of the job of the shepherd is to heal those who are sick, such as to bind up broken bones.
Finally the phrase to “nourish the healthy” indicates that that the shepherd not only takes care of the scattered sick ones, dying ones or ones that need help, His job also is to nurture the healthy. (The KJV states it as to “feed the standing still” and the NASB says to “sustain the standing”.) So even the ones standing who appear not to need anything, need things! And it’s the shepherd’s job to figure out what they need.
So the four aspects of the shepherd’s job is to care for the perishing, seek the scattered, heal the broken and nourish the healthy.
Word Picture for Reconciliation
From the Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible, the pictograph for reah is the picture of the head of a man and next to it the picture of an eye. It means that man watches (as a shepherd). The watching is all these different things: caring, seeking, healing, protecting, feeding, tending. The shepherd closely watches over the flock.
To summarize, thus far there are two aspects to the word “reconcile.” The first is to put to right or alter something so it is compatible. The second part of the meaning is to cause someone to come to a new pasture so that they can be shepherded.
Now we can look at some of the verses that have the Aramaic word. The first use of the verb is in Matthew 5.
This has the first aspect in it about being put to right or to cause someone that had hostility against someone else to come back together again. It means to alter or make one thing compatible with another, to alter or regulate to achieve the desired results. Between two people you can do that; you have to do that when you have some sort of misunderstanding.
A particularly interesting use of the noun is not in the Peshitta text but it is in the Old Syriac. This is the record of Jesus’ birth, when the angels came to the shepherds that were watching over their flocks.
The words “a good hope” are the word “reconciliation” [tareutha] in the Old Syriac. What the angels were saying is that the shepherd has come. The one who was promised in the Old Testament, the one you’re looking for who is going to bring reconciliation to men, has come.
Up until now, I have intentionally not been inserting our definitions of shepherding, but now that we have this background we can start putting some of our definitions together
So there are two aspects: when we were enemies we had to get altered and put back right with God. The putting right with God is now causing us to be able to live (be satisfied with the pasture, have food, have protection, have care, be completely cared for by the shepherd). The word “shepherding” describes these two aspects.
We boast by way of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we have now received shepherding. We have received shepherding because the Shepherd took us out from where we were, which was enemy territory and was totally hostile to God, and He brought us into this new flock, gave us new pasture and completely cares for us.
Several other keys are in II Corinthians 5, the great passage about how we have the ministry of reconciliation.
Everything has become new from God. Why? We’ve got new pasture, new food, new care, new trust… everything!
“…who shepherded us to himself in Christ and has given us the service of shepherding.” He shepherds us so we then in turn can shepherd others.
God was in Christ. He was the one who shepherded the world by His majesty.
It was very majestic of God that He brought us out of the world and did not count to us our sins. The reason He can do that is because of the blood of Christ. His only begotten son died (shed his blood) to pay the price for that shepherding. But he was shepherding the world, not just believers, but each person who is even still an enemy.
And He placed in us the word of reconciliation or the word of shepherding.
So our message to other people is “Come! Be shepherded by God.”
Those verses are talking about how God, by way of Jesus Christ, reconciled everything to Himself. So, God is the Shepherd but it is by way of Christ’s shepherding also, and his bringing us to that pasture which causes us to be satisfied.
That is why it says he has now made peace; it literally means “peaced you.” He has made you still, so it’s the picture of being fed in the pasture and then lying down by still waters. He made peace.
That’s another result of being reconciled or shepherded by God, that we can be holy.
The last section we’ll look at is in Ephesians 2. This has both elements in it of being put to right and then tended as by a shepherd.
Two groups, Jews and Gentiles, were complete enemies, not only to God but to each other. God made a peace treaty in Jesus Christ and broke down the wall that stood in the middle.
He took these two groups of people who were both enemies to God and each other and he broke down the wall between them. Then he brought them into one body (a brand new pasture) and he reconciled the two of them so they would both be able to be shepherded by God. By it he destroyed the conflict or the enmity.
Since we’ve been shepherded then we have access and peace. And that’s another whole story!