Bible story books for children seem incomplete without a picture of a shepherd out in the fields watching his sheep grazing. Our complicated world with city lights and noise seems far removed from that peaceful scene. Yet even today in Palestine and some other countries it is still possible to discover the shepherd with his sheep, doing much the same as shepherds have done for centuries. The Scriptures clearly describe the tragedy of sheep who have no shepherd. Moses pleaded with God “that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep which have no shepherd” (Num. 27:17 NKJV). Later, Micah “saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd” (1 Ki. 22:17). At the end of the Old Testament, Zechariah yearned for the people who were in trouble because they had no shepherd (Zech. 10:2). How many Christians today remain in trouble because there are no true shepherds to care for them?
The Bible Abounds With Shepherds
There are numerous references to shepherds in the Bible. Abel, “a keeper of sheep” and a righteous man was the first shepherd (Gen. 4:2). He is a picture of a greater shepherd who also was righteous and who died (Heb. 12:24). Rachel was a shepherdess (Gen. 29:9). Moses tended his father-in-law’s sheep (Ex. 3:1). David was perhaps the best-known shepherd of all.
Interestingly, both Moses and David rose from being shepherds of sheep to being shepherds of people. Moses led the children of Israel for forty years while David reigned as their shepherd-king for forty years. These examples surely indicate that the shepherding of God’s people is important in God’s estimation.
A few general observations can be made as we consider shepherding in God’s Word. First, it hardly needs to be said that a vital connection exists between the shepherd and his sheep. Israel nationally was “the sheep of His pasture” (Ps. 100:3). God led His flock using under-shepherds. For instance, Moses was described as “the shepherd of His flock” (Isa. 63:11). But an individual connection between the shepherd and a single sheep can also be discerned. One confessed, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep” (Ps. 119:176), and David could boldly affirm, “The Lord is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1).
Any shepherd is expected to be conscientious. How faithful and reliable the Lord was in leading His people of old: “He made His own people go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock; and He led them on safely, so that they did not fear” (Ps. 78:52-53).
Although far from perfect, Moses and David displayed faithfulness in their care of God’s people. Sadly, however, not all shepherds could be trusted. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel expose the failings of some of the despicable shepherds of their day (Jer. 23:1-4; Ezek. 34:2-10).
Significantly, this picture of the shepherd and sheep is not limited to the past. It is also found in descriptions of the future Millennium where regathered Israel, under the Lord, “shall all have one shepherd” (Ezek. 37:24). Yet even then He will employ under-shepherds to “feed them” and care for them (Jer. 23:4).
The Unique Shepherd
The greatest example of all shepherds is our Lord Jesus. Although “sent … to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” He had a great concern for the “other sheep” who did not belong to Israel’s fold (Mt. 15:24; Jn. 10:16). Looking out upon the crowds that came to Him, “He was moved with compassion for them because they were … like sheep having no shepherd” (Mt. 9:36). Eventually His great love caused Him to bear that awful cross to Calvary where, as the Good Shepherd, He laid down His life for the sheep (Jn. 10:11).
How wonderful, as believers, to enjoy His present shepherd care. As His sheep, we shall never perish (Jn. 10:28). He knows the name of each of us, speaks personally to us and directs our lives according to His perfect will (Jn. 10:3-4). This Great Shepherd is able to make us “well pleasing in His sight” (Heb. 13:20-21). He will never fail us, but will bring us safely to our eternal home. We can exclaim with confidence, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Ps. 23:6).
However, the Chief Shepherd still looks for under-shepherds who will care for His sheep. He looks for those who will display His compassion. As He stood with Peter beside the Sea of Galilee, three times He asked the searching question, “Do you love me?” In response to Peter’s honest answers He commissioned him in this way: “Feed My lambs … Tend My sheep … Feed My sheep” (Jn. 21:15-17).
The Shepherd’s Job
We can perhaps understand the shepherd’s task more clearly by referring to Ezekiel’s challenge to those shepherds who had failed in their duties: “Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?” he asks (Ezek. 34:2). He continues by listing six areas of concern that deserve our careful attention (Ezek. 34:4):
- The weak must be strengthened. All too often weak Christians have been stumbled by rigid systems of legality. The true shepherd is gentle with lambs.
- The sick need to be healed. There are many spiritually sick today. The caring shepherd will correctly diagnose the problem and minister the healing remedy.
- The broken need to be bound up. How many believers today have had their lives broken by painful experiences? Too often we fail to understand their traumas, and by our uncaring attitude we bruise rather than bind up.
- Those driven away must be brought back. It is easy to find fault with those who leave a fellowship of Christians, but some are driven away by unkindness. They need a loving, understanding shepherd to bring them back.
- The lost must be found. Even Christians can become lost to spiritual truths. The caring shepherd will seek them out and recover them.
- The sheep must not be ruled by force. Peter warns elders not to be “lords over those entrusted to you, but examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3). Diotrephes is a classic example of one who should never have been an elder because he “loved to have the preeminence” (3 Jn. 9-10).
The true shepherd will be like the Lord, serving willingly and without the motive of personal gain. He will be an example to others, just like his own Savior.
Our wonderful Shepherd feeds His flock, gathers and carries the lambs, and gently leads those with young (Isa. 40:11). Today He still seeks under-shepherds who will respond to Peter’s exhortation and accept the responsibility of humbly feeding and leading the flock of God in each assembly. We need to pray that God will raise up such men. And we must not make their task more difficult, but encourage them in this vital but often neglected ministry.
By Martin Girard
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org