2. Shepherds in Early Times

The first shepherd recorded in the Bible was Abel, the son of Adam.

Genesis 4:1: And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD. 2. And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.

So Cain and Abel each chose different methods for acquiring food. Cain, the elder brother, chose farming, while Abel raised sheep. No comment is given about whether one approach was “better” than the other. Some time later, both Cain and Abel gave sacrifices to God.

Genesis 1:3: And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. 4. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: 5. But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.

Both men chose to bring sacrifices out of their labours. Cain, being a farmer, sacrificed his produce, while Abel took a sacrifice from his flock. It is recorded, however, that God had “respect” unto Abel's offering, but had no respect for that of Cain. This would have been disappointing to Cain, to find that his produce was not as acceptable as that of Abel. God confronted his anger in the next verse,

Genesis 1:6: And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? 7. If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. 8. And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.

So here, God provided a logical solution to Cain. While Cain had offered an unaccepible offering, this was not really a problem, as he had the opportunity to correct his actions. God asked “Why art thou wroth? and why is thy counenance fallen?” as if “what's the problem?” If God was saying that it was not a problem then obviously he didn't have a lot to be concerned about. At this point, he had not sinned or even necessarily done anything to be ashamed of. Furthermore, God then provided the solution to Cain, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” Here he was basically saying that Cain didn't need to be the first to make the acceptable offering --- just that he had to do it. History, in verse 8, shows that Cain did not choose to follow the advice, and indeed the commandment of God, and instead killed Abel --- making the first shepherd the first murder victim.

Cain's actions do not show logic. Initially, Cain had made a wrong choice, but the option was made open for him to correct this. The sensible thing to do would have been to follow humbly what God had told him and offer as Abel had. But there was an emotion acting here that overrode the logic. There was an issue of pride that Cain had to contend with. They had originally both offered from their own perspective, doing what they thought what was the right thing. It turned out that by God's standards, Cain chose the wrong thing, whereas his younger brother had been correct. Cain had to admit that he had been wrong and that his little brother was right. As well as that, Cain would have found it difficult to see why Abel's sacrifice had been better. From the human perspective, both had perhaps taken the best of their respective professions, and so should be as good as each other. But this was not the case, and God was quite specific at what He wanted. Even though the reason was not visible to the men, they still had to carry out Gods commandments. No amount of human logic can override the fact of what God required.

The question remains, though, as to why he killed Abel. Many years later another shepherd was killed (the good shepherd referred to earlier). In that case a motivating reason was given,

Mark 15:9: But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews? 10. For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy. 11. But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.

So Cain, seeing the ways of Abel, and the blessing Abel received, through pride, chose not to change and follow his ways. Instead he let his envy bring him to destroy Abel. In the case of Jesus, the chief priests and Jews saw the works of Jesus, but through pride, did not accept him. Instead, through envy they had him crucified.


After the incident between Cain and Abel, the next reference to sheep in the Bible is in the days of Abraham. In Genesis 11, Abram, as he was then known, had started moving from Ur of the Chaldees to the land of Cannan, but had only got as far as a place called Haran. At the start of Chapter 12, Abraham was called out by God to continue the journey to Cannan, to a promised land. After arriving in the land of Caanan, Abram was given a promise that that land would be his, but at the time was forced to keep moving due to the existing inhabitants. Soon after this, there was a famine, and Abram chose to go down to Egypt to find food. In going to Egypt, however, Abram had a problem. in Gen 12:11, His wife Sarai was a fair woman to look upon, and Abram knew that the Egyptians would want this beautiful, young 65-year old, and would kill him to get her. So instead, he devised a plot where he would say that she was his sister. Although misleading, this was actually correct, as she really was his half-sister (Gen 20:12). In any case, the scheme worked

Gen 12:14: And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair. 15 The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house. 16. And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels.

Instead of being killed for being a husband, he was blessed for being a brother. And as a consequence, he gained sheep, oxen, asses, servants and camels. Sarai still had a problem, however, as she had been taken into Pharoh's house. This was resolved when God sent plagues on the Pharoh, and the whole scheme become known.

Genesis 12:20: And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had.

The result, however, was that Abram was now rich in sheep, among other things, starting off the shepherd culture of Israel.


Jacob, also had dealings with sheep. When he found he had to flee from Esau, he went east to Haran,

Gen 29:1 : Then Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of the people of the east. 2. And he looked, and behold a well in the field, and, lo, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks: and a great stone was upon the well's mouth. 3. And thither were all the flocks gathered: and they rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone again upon the well's mouth in his place.

This shows something of how sheep were kept. Flocks were allowed to mix. This occurred in a sheepfold or around a well as seen here. When the time comes to separate, the sheep followed the call of their own shepherd. Just as in the case of the Good Shepherd who said,

John 10:27: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:

Not only were flocks alowed to mingle with one another, but often the sheep would be allowed to mix with goats. Eventually, the sheep and goats would need to be separated, however, and the shepherd would get all of the animals to come toward him, and tap each one in the required direction --- either to the left or the right. It is against this context that Jesus spoke of the judgement at his return.

Matthew 25:31: When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: 32. And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: 33. And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

When Jacob came to Haran, he stayed there for quite some time working for, and marrying Leah and Rachel. When Jacob decided to leave, he approached his father in law, Laban, about keeping some of the flock,

Gen 30:30: 30 For it was little which thou hadst before I came, and it is now increased unto a multitude; and the LORD hath blessed thee since my coming: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also? 31 And he said, What shall I give thee? And Jacob said, Thou shalt not give me any thing: if thou wilt do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep thy flock: 32 I will pass through all thy flock to day, removing from thence all the speckled and spotted cattle, and all the brown cattle among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats: and of such shall be my hire.

So for all the work he had done, and the prosperity he had given to Laben during his stay, Jacob asked for the spotted and speckled sheep. However, through some trickery and selective breeding, Jacob was able to make the strongest of the flock spotted --- thus making them his. So by the time Jacob left Laban, he had a large, strong flock for himself.