Shepherds, Sheep and Scriptures
Shepherds, Sheep and Scriptures
Ever wonder why Christ used the example of shepherds and sheep when He was talking to people? For example: He is referred to as the Good Shepherd, in other situations non-Christians are referred to as, “lost sheep” and sometimes called the sheep that has gone astray. According to one source, shepherds or sheep are mentioned 247 times in the Bible. It is the purpose of this Hub to examine why shepherds and sheep played such as important role in the Scriptures.
The shepherd was a very important person in both the Old and New Testaments. His responsibilities for the sheep were great and much sacrifice was required of a person who was a shepherd since he was responsible to the total welfare of his flock of sheep. For example: The Shepard’s were the first group the angels went to when they announced the birth of Christ as they were watching over the sacrificial sheep. (Luke 2:8-11) The angels were indicating to these shepherds that their job was done, because Christ was replacing the need of sacrificial sheep. Sheep were one of the most important means to maintain the economy in the day of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Besides providing wool, they also provided milk and meat. In fact, very few “parts” of the sheep were not used; the horns were used as musical instruments or to hold oil, the skins provided material for clothes and wall coverings. That is the reason this position of Shepherd was so important and why the shepherd had to be totally dedicated to his flock – even to the point of defending his flock to the death if required.
A complete purpose of why Christ uses the Shepherd and sheep as an illustration can be seen in the 23rd Psalm.
He establishes Himself as the Good Shepherd. As the 23rd Psalm is read further, a person can see how important was this position.
First, the Shepherd feeds the sheep – “… I shall not want”. The Shepherd finds a place where the sheep can rest which was usually a pasture. This is more important than is realized, because if a sheep falls to it’s side or back and the Shepherd doesn’t see this, the sheep will die in a short period of time. Sheep are top heavy, and once on it’s side or back, it can’t get back on it’s feet and the pressure on the lungs will cause the sheep to suffocate.
Second, the Shepard leads the sheep to still waters. If none can be found, the Shepard will scoop out a small place in the bank of the river so the water is still and not running. Why? Have you ever picked up a wet wool sweater out of water – did you discover how heavy a wool sweater becomes when wet? If a sheep ever got into water and it soaked the coat of the sheep, he’d drown. (Sheep can’t swim.)
Third, the Shepherd leads the sheep. He doesn’t push them or heard them like cattle. If the sheep have to traverse a narrow mountain path, the Shepard will stand on the outside edge, with his back to the open side of a cliff, hold out his arms with the rod in one hand and the staff in the other, making himself a fence so the sheep will continue their journey up the narrow path.
Fourth, the Shepherd was responsible for the safety of the sheep. The Shepherd was an excellent “slinger”. You can see an example of this by reading the account of David and Goliath. (David was a shepherd.) A good slinger could hit a target from 50’ away. Side note: people often think of a sling shot we use to make as kids out of old rubber inner tubes.) In one way, this is the closest example available, but the sling they used, and the method in using it is a little different. The sling was made of two straps, with a pouch attached at one end. A stone was place in the pouch and the slinger would then do a “wind up”, similar to a softball pitcher. When the shepherd got to the speed needed, he would release one of the straps and let the stone fly.
Another way the Shepherd protected his sheep was at night. Most of the time he would find a cave where to sleep the sheep if he was too far away from a coral. As each of the sheep went into the fold, (that’s what a group of sheep is called-similar to a herd of cattle,) rather it be a cave or coral, the shepherd would be the "gate" and the sheep, had to pass under his rod. Since the shepherd had already given each of his sheep a name earlier, the sheep would respond to the their name when he called for them. (Just like a pet dog or cat in a home will respond to their name.) If he called one of them, and the sheep didn’t respond, the Shepherd would then look for this lost sheep – hence the shepherd’s staff. If the sheep that was lost and was trapped in some sort of crevice the Shepherd could reach down and pull the sheep out using the staff. After the sheep were all accounted for, the Shepard would sleep in front of the entrance and make himself the gate to the entrance, so none of the sheep could get out or dangerous animals, such as a loin, could get in without having to disturb the Shepherd.
Now, the next time you read the Scriptures, and it refers to sheep or shepherds you may have a better understanding of how Christ was relating to the people He was talking too and how relevant it is today.