It’s interesting that God compares elders, pastors, and Israel’s kings to “shepherds.”
When God gives an analogy or tells a story, it is always to give insight into truths He wants us to understand.
The relationship between sheep and a shepherd gives incredible insight into what the role should be between those in oversight towards those under them. (This can apply to elders/pastors in a church towards the laity, parents towards children, employers towards employees, etc…)
Shepherds have several responsibilities when it comes to their sheep:
- Shepherds are to provide protection from the enemies of the fold.
- Shepherds are to provide food for the sheep.
- Shepherds are to provide water for the sheep.
- Shepherds are to attend to any sick or injured sheep.
Shepherds also have a role when it comes to their relationship with their sheep:
- Shepherds guide the sheep.
- Shepherds teach the sheep to trust and follow them.
- Shepherds teach their sheep to be attentive to their voice.
- Shepherds work to keep their sheep calm.
Sheep have a wide variety of enemies that the shepherd needs to protect against. The enemies vary according to geographic location and habitat. The enemies can be wild animals, cattle thieves, poisonous weeds, uneven ground, and sometimes the sheep themselves — their own propensity to be easily scared and to bolt, thus resulting in injury.
Shepherds have various means of protecting their sheep. In Biblical times and in nomadic regions, the shepherd’s staff or rod was used to protect the sheep, along with the sling-shot. The rod was used to ward off wild animals or thieves. The rod was never used against the sheep themselves.
There have been some stories circulating about a shepherd braking the legs of a naughty sheep until it learned to obey. I began to research to see if there was any substantiation to such a claim. I read a number of articles on this topic and concluded that the claim of a shepherd braking a sheep’s legs is inaccurate.
Instead, we have the Biblical story of a shepherd leaving his 99 sheep to look for his lost sheep, the disobedient sheep who wandered off. We see the shepherd returning to the fold and rejoicing over his sheep that was found. Nowhere, do we continue to read that the shepherd then broke the legs of that naughty sheep to teach the sheep not to wander again.
Shepherds were to provide food and fresh water for their sheep. This meant foraging for new pastures and good stream beds. Sometimes, this meant keeping them at home in the winter and feeding the sheep themselves. A good shepherd always looked after the physical and practical needs of his sheep. If the old streams dried up or the old pastures became barren, it was time to move on to new fertile pastures. The shepherd was concerned about keeping the food and water sources fresh and abundant for the sheep.
Shepherds also cared for the sick and injured sheep. They knew the basics of “first aid” care for their sheep. They knew what brought healing, and healing was always the goal. The goal of the shepherd was always to restore the sick or injured back into full health. This meant gentle and appropriate care.
Shepherds played a personal role in the lives of their sheep. By spending hours near the sheep, the sheep learned to recognize the voice of their shepherd. This was imperative for protection, provision, security, and guidance. Often shepherds would calm their sheep by playing musical instruments, such as the harp or a flute-like instrument. Shepherds understood that a gentle and calm manner would protect the sheep against anxiety and help the sheep to follow the shepherd’s guidance more clearly.
The hours the shepherd spent with his sheep taught them to be attentive to his voice and to trust that voice to guide, protect, and provide. Sheep that recognized their shepherd were much calmer and therefore able to be attentive to guidance.
Shepherds gained the trust of the sheep in order to effectively guide them.
It’s interesting that God didn’t compare leaders to cowboys. Cowboys tend to yell and crack a whip against the ground to scare cattle into submission.
Shepherds though never use force against the sheep. They use a calm manner to guide their sheep.
Guidance implies personally demonstrating how something is to be done or leading towards help.
Guidance implies an ongoing relationship that assists the one being guided towards a positive direction. It involves an investment of time, energy, and resources.
Guidance doesn’t just lead away from danger but purposely leads towards something positive (e.g., growth, provision, protection).
In the Bible, Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd. Just reading what it means to be a shepherd gives us beautiful insight into how God sees us and how He interacts with us.
The voice of the enemy may try to convince us otherwise, but God’s voice is always that which lovingly steers us in a direction that is always for our good. I love the following quotes, taken from Discerning the Voice of God, by Priscilla Shirer:
The Lord reminded me that He seeks to deliver me from the guilt of the past and move me toward the promise of the future. His goal is never to bring guilt and condemnation by continually reminding me of my past sins but rather to bring healing and obedience by turning my attention to my future with Him.
God doesn’t point out our sin to condemn us. God’s purpose in lovingly revealing our sin is to encourage us to acknowledge it and confess it so He can change us. The Enemy’s voice brings condemnation. You will know condemnation because it will bring guilt and offer no clear means of relief. The Holy Spirit brings conviction that always provides a road map out and away from a specific sin. His aim is always to lovingly steer us in the direction of His grace.
He doesn’t bring up the past without pointing to the future.
He doesn’t want me to come to Him out of guilt but out of love and affection. I know He is wooing me when I feel a soothing conviction that tenderly urges me to respond to His love.
In First Corinthians 13, we are told that we can endure immense suffering through persecution, we can be able to preach a doctrinally-correct and eloquent sermon, we can do all kinds of good works for others, but if we don’t have love, it means nothing. Ouch!
Jesus tells us that love is the key, love is the foundation, love is the “vehicle” or “instrument” that helps to communicate God’s message accurately to His people. What is that message? It’s a message of grace.
Jesus didn’t come to condemn sinners. He came to save sinners.
Our sanctification is an ongoing work of redemption in our lives. It’s not a work of condemnation and fearful subservience to a narcissistic god. Our God is Love Himself. What He does is always, always for our good. Even His voice of conviction is only so that we can be brought into a more abundant life of true freedom.
I leave you with the following descriptions of love:
- Love pursues.
- Love heals.
- Love empowers.
- Love motivates the recipient towards personal growth
- Love inspires.
- Love frees.
- Love endures.
- Love thinks the best, regardless of past or present failures.
- Love believes.
- Love forgives.