"For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand..."
Shepherding is the most honored secular profession of the entire Old Testament era. Sheep and shepherds are referred to in the Bible more than five hundred times.
Along with tending gardens and farming, it is one of the world’s oldest professions. Abel was a keeper of sheep, and he offered to God of the firstlings of the flock (Genesis 4:2). The Hebrew founding fathers—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—were all shepherds. When Jacob’s small family migrated into Egypt, they described their occupation: “Thy servants are shepherds, both we, and also our fathers” (Genesis 47:3). David, Israel’s favorite king, was first a shepherd of his father’s sheep (1 Samuel 16:11).
The most beloved chapter of the Bible is the Shepherd’s Psalm, which compares the relationship between a man and his God to that of a sheep and his shepherd (Psalm 23). This figure is used often in the Old Testament (Psalm 74:1; Psalm 77:20; Psalm 78:20; Psalm 79:13; Psalm 80:1; Isaiah 40:11; Jeremiah 31:10; Ezekiel 34:12-15; Micah 7:14). God even pictured Himself as Israel’s Shepherd (Psalm 100:3). Needless to say, no one would have been surprised if the Messiah to come in the guise of a shepherd.
But Jesus’ hand never held a shepherd’s crook, so far as we know. He never counted and recounted sheep as they passed under His rod at sunset.He never crinkled His nose at the pungent sheep smell on a hot Jerusalem day, nor did He strain His eye to see if that was a wandering sheep far down the hillside. He never chased away a bear nor took a lion by the beard, as David did when his little lambs were threatened (cf. 1 Samuel 17:34-35).
The Shepherd’s Teaching
Still, Jesus knew about sheep and often talked of them. He made these remarkable statements that are filled with sheepfold rhetoric:
“I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7).
“I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:9).
“I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).
“The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
“I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine” (John 10:14).
“As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15).
“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” (John 10:16).
“When the Son of man shall come in his glory . . . before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left” (Matthew 25:31-33).
The Shepherd’s Actions
The New Testament pictures Christ as the Shepherd over His flock, the church (Matthew 25:32; Matthew 26:31; John 10:1-18; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 2:25). Jesus is identified as “the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11), “the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25), “the chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4), and the “great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20). Looking at the context of these a bit closer reveals that:
The “Good Shepherd” died for His sheep (John 10:11, John 10:15). David risked his life for his father’s sheep (1 Samuel 17:34), but Jesus did more. He sacrificed His life so that the flock might go to heaven (John 10:15).
The “one Shepherd” unifies His sheep (John 10:16). Jews and Gentiles, all races and nationalities, all economic and educational levels are all found in the same flock.
The “great shepherd” saves and protects the sheep (John 10:9, John 10:12; James 1:21; 1 Peter 1:8-9). He promised to never leave (give us up, let us go, relax His hold on us) or forsake us—leave us in the lurch (Hebrews 13:5; cf. 2 Timothy 4:10). A physician can save your life (cf. Job 2:4). A lawyer can save your fortune. A financial advisor can save your business (cf. Matthew 4:8-9; Luke 12:20). A coach can save your athletic career. An image consultant can save your reputation. But only Jesus can save your soul (Matthew 16:26; cf. Job 27:8; Psalm 49:8).
The Shepherd and Bishop (1 Peter 2:25) guides His sheep (Hebrews 13:20-21). He leads in the right way (John 10:4). Cattle are driven, but sheep are led. Jesus does not drive us to heaven, or even simply point the direction to us; He goes before us, showing us the way, step by step (1 Peter 2:21-22).
The “chief shepherd” will reward His sheep (1 Peter 5:4). He cares for His sheep individually (John 10:3). Jesus knows your name, and even the hairs upon your head (Micah 10:29-30).
The Shepherd’s Sheep
“We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3). “For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (Psalm 95:7). It is no accident that God compared man to sheep, because the behavior of sheep and humans is similar in many ways.
Thrupp’s old hymn says it best:
Savior, like a shepherd lead us:
Much we need Thy tend’rest care;
In Thy pleasant pastures feed us,
For our use Thy folds prepare.
Are you in His fold?