One of the most important occupations recorded in the scriptures is that the shepherd. Although the literal keeping of sheep was not particularly important in itself, attributes of this occupation lend it to be an important symbol. Perhaps the best recognised example of a symbolic shepherd is in the son of God, Jesus. In John 10:11, Jesus spoke of himself, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”
- Shepherds in Early Times
- The Shepherds of Israel
- Sheep In the Prophets
- The Good Shepherd
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.
The result, however, was that Abram was now rich in sheep, among other things, starting off the shepherd culture of Israel.
Genesis 12:20: And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had.
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.
3. The Shepherds of Israel
After settling into the land of Cannan, and progressing through the period of the Judges, the Israelites demanded a king. Their first king was Saul the son of Kish. At this time there were many battles with the surrounding Philistines. In 1 Sam 15, God called on Saul to fight against the Amalekites and completely destroy them.
1 Samuel 15:1: Samuel also said unto Saul, The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD. 2. Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. 3. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.
So in verse 1, Samuel had been sent to Saul with the message that he had to destroy the Amalekites. In v4, Saul responded to the call, and gathered the people together to number them. Later, In v7, it is recorded that he “smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou comest to Shur”. This shows that it was a successful battle for Saul, and he had achieved a resounding victory. But, in v9, we see that Saul failed to carry out the original commandment to the full. It is recorded that he spared the king Agag, and the best of the sheep, oxen, fatlings and lambs, and indeed anything that was “good” They did destroy the refuse and everything that was “vile”, but that wasn't the commandment that had been given to Saul. He had been told to destroy everything and not to take a spoil. Saul and the people would have thought that it was senseless to destroy the good things and that they might as well keep them They had done what they thought was the important job, and followed their own logic where it didn't seem reasonable to follow out the original commandment to the letter.
Shortly after this, God appeared to Samuel and said,
When Samuel confronted Saul the next day, Saul claimed that he had done the right thing,
1Sam 15:11: It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.
Saul thought that he had done a good thing by offering the sacrifice --- but he was wrong. But Samuel replied that it was better to obey than to offer sacrifice.
1Sam 15:20: And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. 21. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal.
The final result of this episode was that it was the final nail in the coffin of Saul's reign. This blatant disobedience on the part of Saul showed that he was not a suitable leader for God's people. As a result, God then called Samuel to anoint for him a new King over Israel,
1 Samuel 16:1: And the LORD said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons.
So there was to be a new king, which was to be one of the sons of Jesse. Samuel then went to Jesse to anoint one of his sons, and then at Samuel's request,
1 Sam 16:10: ... Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. And Samuel said unto Jesse, The LORD hath not chosen these. 11. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither.
The son that had been chosen was the youngest, who was out keeping the sheep. This David was then to go on to become perhaps the greatest military King of Israel, and a man after God's own heart. It appears fairly common practice that the youngest in the family became the shepherd. Usually, the yougest would keep the sheep while the elder boys would help with the sowing, plowing and harvesting. As they grew up the job would continually be passed down to progressively younger boys, until the youngest was left with the job of being the family shepherd.
A brief analysis of this situation reveals a number of similarities between Saul and Cain. Both Cain and Saul attempted to please God, but by using their own reasoning, rather than following the commandments of God. The pride of the elder and first was such that they did not relent to the will of God, and as a result lost His blessing. In both cases, animosity resulted, with Cain killing Abel, and Saul attempted to kill David on many occasions. So in each case, the shepherd humbly took on the commandments of God, where the elder had fallen short. This sequence of events was to occur again, however, with yet another shepherd.
Jesus, the good shepherd went through a similar ordeal. At the time of Jesus, the chief priests were the representatives of God in Israel. But they had left from following the commandments of God and instead worshipped the traditions of men. They may have felt that they were pleasing God, but just as in the case of Saul, they sought justification in traditions and sacrifices rather than obedience. To complete the similarity, just as Cain did to Abel, the chief priests through envy delivered Jesus up to death.
Life of David
The life of David introduces us to some aspects of shepherd life. His first major public appearace was at the time of a dispute with the Philistines.
1 Sam 17:3: And the Philistines stood on a mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on a mountain on the other side: and there was a valley between them. 4. And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.
This Goliath challenged the people of Israel to an individual challenge --- a one-on-one fighting contest where Goliath said,
1 Sam 17:9: If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us.
With Goliath being such a formidable opponent, there was no-one in the camp of Israel who thought that they could take on this challenge, and indeed, they were “sore afraid”. When David heard of it, however, he immediately sought to find out more about it, and then went to Saul to gain approval. It was hard to convince Saul, of course, as David was “but a youth”, but he gave this argument,
1Sam 17:34: And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: 35. And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. 36. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. 37. David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the LORD be with thee.
David was drawing on his experience as a shepherd to show that he could defeat the Philistine He saw Goliath as being just like the lion and bear that threatened his sheep in the past. Even more than this, David knew that God would deliver him, particularly because Goliath had “defied the armies of the living God”. When the time came, David refused to wear the armour that Saul had supplied him with, as he had not proved it. So instead,
1 Samuel 17:40: And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd's bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.
1 Sam 17:48: And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, that David hasted, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. 49. And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.
David then used Goliath's own sword to kill him. From the surface, this is a terrific story of the triumph of the underdog, but knowing that the support was from God, we know that really the victory was to the strong, and the man that trusted in God.
Throughout this episode, we learn of some of the equipment and methods of the shepherds of the time. In v40, David “chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd's bag which he had, even in a scrip” The scrip is a bag made of dried skin, and typically this was used to carry food while the shepherd was out in the fields, such as bread, cheese, dried fruit or olives.
A shepherd would also normally carry a rod. This rod would be used for protection and a weapon against wild animals. It would typically have been made of oak wood and be a couple of feet long, and one end was typically thicker --- this was the hitting end --- the one with more inetia In addition to the thickened lump, spikes would be driven into it for a greater impact.
Ezekiel refers to the rod in Ezekiel 20,
this refers to the practice of causing the sheep to pass under the rod for counting or inspecting. In the book of Leviticus, Moses wrote of the tithe of the herd,
Ezekiel 20:37: And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant:
In order to do this, the flock was herded through a narrow opening. The shepherd would dip the end of the rod in some colouring material, and mark the head of every tenth sheep as it passed. In this way one tenth of the flock could be separated out without partiality.
Leviticus 27:32: And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the LORD.
The scepter, which was an implement of the kings of the time, had its origins in the shepherd's rod. As a king, they were the shepherd of the people, and the rod was a symbol of protection, power and authority.
David's weapon of choice against Goliath, however, was not the club, but his sling. The sling was also a very useful implement. Typically, it was made of a patch of leather to hold the stone, and two strings of sinew, rope or leather. By swinging the apparatus above his head, and letting go of one of the strings at the appropriate time, the stone could be made to travel quite some distance. As in the case of Goliath, this could be used as a weapon against predators, such as the lion or bear or even robbers.
The sling could also be useful as a herding implement. If a sheep was lagging or heading off in the wrong direction a stone could be directed either behind or ahead of the sheep, as appropriate, to redirect it. contrast between the sling and scrip in 1 Samuel,
1 Samuel 25:29: Yet a man is risen to pursue thee, and to seek thy soul: but the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the LORD thy God; and the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as out of the middle of a sling.
Another implement carried by shepherds, was their staff, mentioned, for example, in Psalm 23:4. This was a stick of about 1.5 metres long, and was used for sheep handling, a walking stick, and as another protection device.
Before leaving David, we should consider Psalm 23 as it draws on the role of the shepherd,
Psalms 23:1: (A Psalm of David.) The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
In this chapter, David is likening God to a shepherd. Indeed, he is saying that God is his shepherd, In v2, he makes him lie down in green pastures. Green pastures, of course, are rich in food and save from starvation. He also leads him beside the still waters. Sheep don't like drinking from any fast-flowing watercourses, and instead need still ponds or pools of water. So, here the shepherd is supplying the basic needs of the sheep.
In v3, David goes beyond the shepherd analogy and speaks of how God leads him in the “paths of righteousness for his name's sake”. And though he walks through the valley of the shadow of death, he fears no evil (v4). The reason for this is that His rod and staff are a comfort, so here David is placing his trust in God as sheep do in their shepherd. The sheep don't know what their master's plans are for them, but follow him believing he will look after them. In the same way David had his problems in walking through the valley of the shadow of death, but had faith in the protecive ability of God. In particular, the staff and rod, the armour of the shepherd are a comfort.
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.
5. The Good Shepherd
The most notable parable concerning sheep and shepherds was the one told by Jesus about the Good Shepherd.
John 10:1: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. 4. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. 5. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. 6. This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.
This parable contrasts the shepherd with a robber. Theft is now, and always was a problem and at the time of Jesus, shepherds had to guard against robbers stealing their sheep. As protection they would build secured sheepfolds, and keep watch with the rod and sling. One thing the shepherd did have in his favour was that the sheep would know his voice.
At the time, flocks were smaller, and the shepherd had a closer relationship with his sheep. As an example, when a number of flocks were lying at a well, a shepherd could summon his own sheep through his call, and thus separate out his own sheep. A stranger could try to emulate the call, but it was difficult to fool the sheep, as they knew their master's voice. Jesus then goes on to explain the parable,
John 10: 7 : Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. 8. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. 9. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 10. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
Jesus then went on to contrast himself with the false prophets, in the analogy of the good shepherd and the hireling.
John 10:11: I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. 14. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
The Old Testament kings of Israel, who had left the people as sheep without a shepherd, were examples of these hirelings. They did not have the commitment to their flock that the Good Shepherd would. Instead they, and we, should act the way spoken of by Peter,
1 Peter 5:1: The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2. Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3. Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 4. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
It is through this chief shepherd that we have our hope,
Hebrews 13:20: Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, 21. Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.