One of the most beloved psalms of all times is Psalm 23, composed by David, and found in the Old Testament Book of Psalms. Here is Psalm 23 from the NKJV:
The Lord the Shepherd of His People
A Psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down
in green pastures;
He leads me beside
the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through
the valley of the shadow
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell
in the house of the Lord
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want….” Have you ever thought about all the things a shepherd has to do in taking care of his or her sheep? As I was seeking information online regarding shepherding, I came across an article written by a woman who has been a shepherd at Vermont Grand View Farm in Vermont for many years. The article was published on September 24, 2019, and titled, “Skills of a Shepherd,” by Kim Goodling, a shepherd, and in the article she lists the skills that make a good shepherd:
Our farmstay guests often seem to have a romantic view of what I do as a shepherd. I have come to realize that they really have very little knowledge behind the skills of a shepherd. It’s as if they are looking through mist, only getting half of the picture of the life of a shepherd. They can see the general forms and shape of my work but not the day to day details. If I were to write an ad for a shepherd position, here is a list of skills and attributes that would make a fine shepherd:
Skills of a Shepherd
- Must be tough at heart. Shepherding is not just about sweet lambs and bucolic pastures with sheep grazing. It is about the survival of the fittest. It is about making life and death decisions that will tear your heart apart.
- Must be willing to do hard work. Shepherding does not just require hard physical labor of moving fences, moving sheep, and handling 40 pound bales of hay. It is about heart work. It is having to do hard things and making hard decisions. It is about learning to go with your instincts and let your gut be your guide.
- Must be willing to be humbled daily. Proud people need not apply. If there is any one thing that can bring you to your knees, it is shepherding. There will be days when you make the wrong decision, when you overlook the obvious, when the not so obvious will attack and leave you on your knees. If ever you thought you knew it all, forget it! There will always be days when you realize there is much yet to learn.
- Must not be afraid to learn new things. On a regular basis, you will be required to learn a new skill, a new task, a new way of doing things. An experienced shepherd once told me as she was coaching me over the phone on how to do an internal exam on a laboring ewe, “if you don’t want to do it, then you should not be a shepherd.” Shepherding will take you out of your comfort zone at times and you have to be willing to step forward.
- Must have great endurance. Shepherds must be willing to work in all adverse weather conditions-rain, sleet, snow, subzero degree temperatures, extreme heat, and humidity AND they must be able to keep sheep alive in such adverse conditions. They must be able to work with little sleep, lift with little strength, study with weak knees.
- Must exhibit ability to observe. One time my husband found me just standing in our paddock area with the sheep. He asked me what I was doing. I responded, “getting to know my sheep.” It takes great observation and getting to know what normal looks like to identify what is NOT normal.
- Must have the patience of a saint. Sheep will test you and you must be able to outlast them and outsmart them. Once you think you have them figured out, they are at it again…. (Quote source here.)
It’s not easy being a shepherd of sheep, yet that is how Jesus describes himself as “the Good Shepherd,” in John 10. In answer to the question, “What did Jesus mean when he said, ‘I am the good Shepherd’?” GotQuestions.org provides this answer:
“I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11) is the fourth of seven “I am” declarations of Jesus recorded only in John’s Gospel. These “I am” proclamations point to His unique, divine identity and purpose. Immediately after declaring that He is “the door” in John 10:7, Jesus declares “I am the good shepherd.” He describes Himself as not only “the shepherd” but the “good shepherd.” What does this mean?
It should be understood that Jesus is “the” good shepherd, not simply “a” good shepherd, as others may be, but He is unique in character (Psalm 23; Zechariah 13:7; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; 1 Peter 5:4). The Greek word kalos, translated “good,” describes that which is noble, wholesome, good, and beautiful, in contrast to that which is wicked, mean, foul, and unlovely. It signifies not only that which is good inwardly—character—but also that which is attractive outwardly. It is an innate goodness. Therefore, in using the phrase “the good shepherd,” Jesus is referencing His inherent goodness, His righteousness, and His beauty. As shepherd of the sheep, He is the one who protects, guides, and nurtures His flock.
As He did in declaring that He is “the door of the sheep” in John 10:7, Jesus is making a contrast between Himself and the religious leaders, the Pharisees (John 10:12–13). He compares them to a “hireling” or “hired hand” who doesn’t really care about the sheep. In John 10:9, Jesus speaks of thieves and robbers who sought to enter the sheepfold stealthily. In that passage the Jewish leaders (Pharisees) are contrasted with Christ, who is the Door. Here, in John 10:12, the hireling is contrasted with the true or faithful shepherd who willingly gives up his life for the sheep. He who is a “hireling” works for wages, which are his main consideration. His concern is not for the sheep but for himself. Interestingly enough, the shepherds of ancient times were not usually the owners of the flock. Nevertheless, they were expected to exercise the same care and concern the owners would. This was characteristic of a true shepherd. However, some of the hirelings thought only of themselves. As a result, when a wolf appeared—the most common threat to sheep in that day—the hireling abandoned the flock and fled, leaving the sheep to be scattered or killed (John 10:12–13).
First, to better understand the purpose of a shepherd during the times of Jesus, it is helpful to realize that sheep are utterly defenseless and totally dependent upon the shepherd. Sheep are always subject to danger and must always be under the watchful eye of the shepherd as they graze. Rushing walls of water down the valleys from sudden, heavy rainfalls may sweep them away, robbers may steal them, and wolves may attack the flock. David tells how he killed a lion and a bear while defending his father’s flock as a shepherd boy (1 Samuel 17:36). Driving snow in winter, blinding dust and burning sands in summer, long, lonely hours each day—all these the shepherd patiently endures for the welfare of the flock. In fact, shepherds were frequently subjected to grave danger, sometimes even giving their lives to protect their sheep.
Likewise, Jesus gave His life on the cross as “the Good Shepherd” for his own. He who would save others, though He had the power, did not choose to save Himself. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Through His willing sacrifice, the Lord made salvation possible for all who come to Him in faith. In proclaiming that He is the Good Shepherd, Jesus speaks of “laying down” His life for His sheep (John 10:15, 17–18).
Jesus’ death was divinely appointed. It is only through Him that we receive salvation. “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own” (John 10:14). Furthermore, Jesus makes it clear that it wasn’t just for the Jews that he laid down His life, but also for the “other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16). The “other sheep” clearly refers to the Gentiles. As a result, Jesus is the Good Shepherd over all, both Jew and Gentile, who come to believe upon Him (John 3:16). (Quote source here.)
So the sheep are both Jews and Gentiles who come to believe in Jesus. GotQuestions.org gives us the significance of sheep in the Bible:
God first compared the Israelites to sheep and later applied that label to all who are called by His name (Ezekiel 34; Matthew 10:6; 15:24). God’s people are compared to sheep for several reasons (Psalm 79:13; 100:3). First of all, sheep are one of the few animals that do not have a defense system. Sheep are helpless without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36; Numbers 27:17). The first line of Psalm 23 reflects the wonderful truth that God Himself is our Defender: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.” Without the Lord our Shepherd, we are helpless when our enemy Satan attacks (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
Second, sheep are notorious for following the leader, regardless of how dangerous or foolish that may be. Like sheep, human beings are extremely gullible when an attractive or charismatic leader promises a shiny new idea. History is replete with tragic illustrations of the “herd mentality” in action (Acts 13:50; 19:34; Numbers 16:2). That sheep-like mentality was in evidence when Pilate brought Jesus before the people to ask what should be done with Him. Only days before, Jesus had been the popular Teacher who healed, forgave, and taught about God. People eagerly followed Him. But, less than a week later, “the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead” (Mark 15:11). Within moments, the very crowd that had witnessed His miracles was shouting, “Crucify Him!”
A third reason human beings are compared to sheep in the Bible is that sheep are prone to wander away from the flock (Isaiah 53:6). A sheep’s only chance of survival is with the flock under the care of a competent shepherd. Yet sheep become overconfident, rebellious, or distracted, and they wander away. They spy greener grass in the other direction or fail to notice when the flock moves away. Peter had this tendency in mind when he warned the church to be on the alert because the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). A lion does not attack the flock. It waits until a solitary lamb wanders too far from the shepherd. One of Jesus’ most famous parables is about a lamb that strayed so far it became lost. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, left the ninety-nine sheep in the fold and went in search of the one lost lamb (Luke 15:2–17).
Sheep were the first creatures to witness a sky filled with angels as their shepherds heard the good news of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:8–15). God could have sent the news of the newborn King to the palace or the temple. Instead, He announced the arrival of the Lamb to a field full of sheep. Jesus is often compared to a lamb because He was meek and non-threatening (John 1:29, 36; Isaiah 53:7). Even in heaven, when the Day of the Lord arrives, Jesus is still called the Lamb (Revelation 5:12; 13:8). But in an ironic twist, the One called the Lamb pours out His wrath like a lion to destroy all those who continue to oppose Him (Revelation 6:16; 14:9–11).
Sheep are significant throughout the Bible. We can learn a lot about God and His dealings with humanity by understanding their nature. They teach us about ourselves and our helplessness without Christ. They remind us about sin’s shocking consequences when innocence is sacrificed to atone for the guilty. But they also teach us about God and His desire to deal tenderly with us: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Isaiah 40:11). When we study the ways sheep are used as teaching tools in the Bible, it helps us better understand ourselves in relation to our Good Shepherd. (Quote source here.)
I’ll end this post with the words of Jesus from John 10:27-30 (NIV)–My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand….
I and . . .
The Father . . .
Are one . . . .
YouTube Video: “Come What May” by We Are Messengers:
Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
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