4. Sheep In the Prophets
At the time of Ahab, king of Israel, Ahab inqured whether he should go into battle for Ramothgilead against the Syrians. He first asked all of his own prophets, who said that he shoule go into battle, because he would win. But Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, who was allied at the time, suggested,
1 Kings 22:7: And Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the LORD besides, that we might enquire of him? 8. And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may enquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so.
When Micaiah came to the king, he said,
1 Kings 22:17: And he said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd: and the LORD said, These have no master: let them return every man to his house in peace.
So under the rule of Ahab, these people were lost. In the wilderness, Moses had a concern that the people of Israel would become lost in this way,
Numbers 27:15: And Moses spake unto the LORD, saying, 16 Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, 17 Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the LORD be not as sheep which have no shepherd. 18 And the LORD said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him;
In this case, God provided a shepherd in the form of Joshua the son of Nun. Just as he was to supply the second Joshua, the good shepherd. This good shepherd, Jesus, also spoke of the people as being sheep without a shepherd.
Matthew 9:35: And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. 36. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.
These were a people who were lost --- not in the sense of not knowing physically where they were, but spiritually lost due to a lack of positive leadership. Jesus had compassion on them as he knew what their circumstances were. Jesus was, of course able to supply the needed leadership, as we see in Mark,
Mark 6:32: And they departed into a desert place by ship privately. 33. And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him. 34. And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.
Here Jesus wanted to get away from the crowds and be with his disciples privately, but the people saw where they had gone and followed after them. They had heard the teachings of Jesus and seen his works and miracles and wanted to see more. It was in this situation that Jesus again saw them as being sheep without a shepherd. His response was to teach them and herd them in the right direction.
In his first epistle, Peter used the same language to describe the transition when people took up faith in Jesus.
Again, in their days of ignorance, they were as sheep without a shepherd, but having taken on the faith in Jesus, they now had a shepherd and gardian.
1 Peter 2:11: Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; ... 25. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.
During the last supper, Jesus spoke of a time when his own disciples would be like scattered sheep. (also Mark 14:27)
Matthew 26:29: But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom. 30. And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives. 31. Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.
This quote was from Zechariah,
Zechariah 13:6: And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. 7. Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones.
Jesus knew that it would be a difficult time for his disciples after his death. Up until that time he had been their visible leader, and a shepherd to them --- leading them to the green pastures and still water. But afterward, that leadership would be gone and they would be scattered as the sheep without a shepherd.
The prophet Ezekiel was also critical of the performance of the shepherds of Israel, just as Micaiah had been,
Eze 34:1: And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 2. Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?
The shepherds of Israel were the leaders of the people. Here Ezekiel is passing on a warning to these leaders, the kings, priests, advisors and so on. Instead of feeding the flocks, they were feeding themselves. Instead of taking the proper care of the common people, they were spending their efforts on themselves. However, Ezekiel goes on to say that they will pay the price,
Ezekiel 34:10: Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them.
While for now they would get away with their irresponsibility, the time would come when they will be punished. The prophet goes on to say that the sheep also have a better future,
Eze 34:11: For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. 12. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. 13. And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country.
Under the irresponsible shepherds, the people were scattered as sheep without a shepherd, but the time will come when the sheep are gathered back together in their own land.
Amos 3:12: Thus saith the LORD; As the shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear; so shall the children of Israel be taken out that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed, and in Damascus in a couch.
Ezekiel then goes on to differentiate between parts of the flock
Eze 34:17: And as for you, O my flock, thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats. 18. Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures? and to have drunk of the deep waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet? 19. And as for my flock, they eat that which ye have trodden with your feet; and they drink that which ye have fouled with your feet. 20. Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD unto them; Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat cattle and between the lean cattle.
So not only were the rulers at fault, but the common people were a mixture also. After having enjoyed the good pasture, they destroyed it for others, and drunk of the water while fouling it for the others. The prophet laments that the rest of the flock have to eat and drink of these contaminated resources. This is not about abuse of power by the leaders, it is about inconsiderate and harmful influences by the common people. It is anything that can cause your brother to stumble, and God states that he will judge between the fat and the lean. The chapter goes on to say how in the future, there will be a good shepherd,
Ezekiel 34:23: And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd.