So, being familiar with Psalm 23, David, and the metaphor of Christ as shepherd, it’s fairly easy to read this prophecy as a metaphor, as about more than just the shepherds. So when it get down to the more explicit statements, it’s not much of twist or reveal.
I wonder, though, whether the people that heard this first saw it coming. Was it delivered like Nathan’s parable of the rich man stealing the poor man’s sheep? Was it delivered to actual shepherds who happened to be terrible at their job and were just flabbergasted to be told God rather quite specifically and personally cared about some dumb animals?
I mean, God does say in multiple places that he does, in fact, care about the well being of the animals. And the sheep, as both Judah’s property and as general creation, to belong to God. So it shouldn’t be surprising at all to anyone.
But was the prophecy delivered literally first and metaphorically second?
I don’t think it matters. This is just how my brain works. I’m actually fairly good with understanding the symbolism in poetry and literature of various kinds, of picking up themes and motifs. I’m good with sarcasm and metaphor. Yet, somehow, I still barrel forward with the literal reading as often as I pick up on the cues. Whether they register a bit late and I go back and pick up the pieces or need to trip over a flag before I realize I missed something, I end up with a layered experience.
Sometimes I feel like that sometimes works to my benefit, actually. Sometimes I feel like people are so eager to find the ‘meaning’ they often miss the layers.
In this passage, I think God really was angry with the way the land and animals suffered under the corruption. Yes, the greatest offense was the way they profaned his name, but were also terrible stewards of his creation. The poor sheep, the literal sheep, suffered under their care.