It is sometimes hard to comprehend the imagery of the Bible when ancient customs and common knowledge has been lost in the experiences of modern man. Such is the ways of the shepherd. So common was the shepherd in ancient times that everyone knew the tasks and careful oversight the shepherd gave to his flock. It would be similar to our knowledge of a policeman or fire fighter today. The shepherd was keenly aware of the status of his flock because it was his means of sustaining his life and the livelihood of his family. If he was not careful he could not cloth or feed his family from the fruits of his efforts with his flock. Yes, he was a very important individual to the family and the local economy. Not until the advent of a more agricultural society did the status of the shepherd diminish from being highly esteemed to being a lowly position.
What I wanted to understand was the reason Christ used the model of the shepherd to help his people understand his relationship to us. What qualities existed with these shepherds that they were chosen to be Christ’s example? I began to research the sources of this ancient profession and found a wealth of information. As I read about shepherding I began to understand many of the phrases used to explain our relationship with the “Good Shepherd”, Christ .
Tasks of the Shepherd
The shepherd was always on the lookout for members of his flock that needed personal attention. Many time lambs would be scratched and I need of soothing olive oil that the shepherd kept in a ram’s horn. Insects will bother a sheep to the extent that it will slam its head in the dirt or upon a tree to its death, but the shepherd only has to apply oil on his head to rid the irritation and calm the animal. “Thou anointest my head with oil”(Psalm 23:5)
When crossing water, the shepherd leads the way, favored sheep will follow him always and leap into the water, soon the rest of the flock crosses the water with hesitation and alarm. If one is swept away the shepherd quickly leaps into the water and rescues it, carrying it back in his bosom to safety. “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee..” (Isaiah 43:2)
A sheep that strays from the flock, becomes utterly helpless, they become bewildered and have no sense of locality, they are lost. They must be brought back and restored to the fold. “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant” (Psalm 119:176)
Gathering scattered sheep is conducted by the shepherd standing in the center and giving a unique call, the sheep know their shepherds voice and responds. The shepherd does not commence to lead them until he knows all of his flock are there. “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”…(Ezekiel 34:12)
The shepherd has intimate knowledge of his sheep, a deep personal relationship exist. Each evening they are counted, but often the shepherd dispenses of this for he is able to feel the absence of anyone of his sheep. “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep” (John 10:14)
Seeking still waters, sheep are afraid of moving water and the shepherd will seek pools of still water that provides a quiet place where they may quench their thirst. “He leadth me beside still waters” (Psalm 23:2)
There are many more shepherd’s ways that correlate with the relationship we have with our Lord. Guarding the flock from wolves, protecting the flock from robbers, watering and feeding the flock so that they may grow, are some of the many more examples of God’s love and mercy for His flock.
Truly, my understanding of God’s relationship to me in His flock has become much more richer and deeper. If you can place yourself in the ancient hills of Jerusalem watching over your flock you to will appreciate the model Christ has chosen to explain his relationship to each one of us, in the ways of the Shepherd.