I love the imagery of the shepherd and his sheep. It is actually a very prominent scene in Israel, for shepherds and their flocks can be seen all the time on the hillsides of the Judean Desert and Hill Country of Judah & Samaria. We see this image many times on each Israel tour I lead.
The Bible speaks often of God as a shepherd. In the Hebrew Scriptures we read:
Isaiah 40:11 – “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.”
Ezekiel 34:23-24 – “Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd. “And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I the LORD have spoken.”
Micah 5:4 – “And He will arise and shepherd His flock In the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God And they will remain, Because at that time He will be great To the ends of the earth.”
But in the Gospels, Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd – “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. (John 10:11).
The problem is that we are all like sheep. I know I am. At times we are stubborn and don’t follow. Other times we don’t listen and we get lost. Yet Jesus as our Good Shepherd remains patient with us despite our short-comings and wanderings.
I appreciated how Pastor Charles Pope once described sheep. In a recent on-line devotion, He said:
- Sheep are WAYWARD – It means that they just tend to wander off. It just grazes awhile then looks up, and looks around and says, in effect, “Where am I?” A sheep will nibble here and browse there and get lost lost, he doesn’t know how to get back to the sheep fold unless the shepherd goes and brings him back. Sheep just keep on going and don’t come back. Dogs and cats can find their way home, The horse can find the barn, But not the old sheep. It doesn’t know how to get back to the sheep fold unless the shepherd goes and brings him back.
- Sheep are WITLESS – That is to say they just plain dumb. Ever hear of a trained sheep? We train dogs and birds, horses and even lions. But the sheep cannot be trained! Now we human sheep like to think we are so smart. Sure we’ve been to the moon and we have all this technical computer stuff. But too many of us aren’t even smart enough to pray every day, get to Church on Sunday, and follow God’s basic directions for life. We’re so witless that we even do things that KNOW harm us. Even the simplest directions from God we either confuse or get stubborn about. We cop an attitude and say “We know a few things too.” That’s right, we do know a very few things. We’re so dumb, we think we’re smarter than God! We think we have a better way than God’s way. No that’s really dumb.
- Sheep are WEAK– A sheep just has no way to protect himself. The mule can kick, the cat can scratch, the dog can bite, the rabbit can run, and the skunk…you know what he can do. But the old sheep? Without the care of the Shepherd and the sheep dogs, the sheep is history. The wolf comes and all he can do is stand there and get killed.
- Sheep are WORTHWHILE animals. The sheep is a valued animal. In Jesus’ day many a man counted his wealth by sheep. Sheep give meat and milk, produce lambs and wool. Shepherds made many sacrifices in Jesus’ day to breed, herd, and protect these valuable animals. And so it is with us. We may not feel worthy at times, but apparently we were worth saving because the Lord paid the price of our redemption. He saw the price, and paid it all. And not with any diminishable sum of silver and gold but with his own precious blood (1 Peter 1:18-19).
- Sheep WALK together – Sheep flock together, and thus are safer. To be a solitary sheep is dangerous. It’s a good way to get devoured. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). The scriptures also say Woe to the solitary man! For if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up (Eccles 4:10). Sheep are not supposed to go off on their own, neither are we.
- Sheep are WARY– Jesus says, He who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. (John 10:11-14). Sheep have the remarkable quality of knowing their master’s voice and of instinctively fearing any other voice and fleeing from it.
He concludes (and rightly so, I may add) by saying, “In this matter real sheep are smarter than most of us. The goal for us is to be more wary, like sheep and to recognize only one voice, that of the Lord speaking though his Church, and to flee every other voice.”
This means following Jesus the Shepherd!
God, help me to trust where You lead, especially when I become wayward and witless.
God, help me to look to You, especially when I become weak.
God, help me to listen when you call, “Follow me!”