The Significance of the Shepherd
The voice of our Savior, Jesus Christ, is a voice like no other, one that brings the blessings of a good shepherd. But why was the shepherd’s job so significant in Biblical times? Why is Jesus the good shepherd, and what are the implications for us today?
Easton’s Bible Dictionary describes the duties of a shepherd in biblical times as “very onerous”:
In early morning he led forth the flock from the fold, marching at its head to the spot where they were to be pastured. Here he watched them all day, taking care that none of the sheep strayed, and if any for a time eluded his watch and wandered away from the rest, seeking diligently till he found and brought it back. In those lands sheep require to be supplied regularly with water, and the shepherd for this purpose has to guide them either to some running stream or to wells dug in the wilderness and furnished with troughs. At night he brought the flock home to the fold, counting them as they passed under the rod at the door to assure himself that none were missing. Nor did his labours always end with sunset. Often, he had to guard the fold through the dark hours from the attack of wild beasts, or the wily attempts of the prowling thief (see 1 Samuel 17:34).
The shepherd David understood this definition fully and personally as he penned the words of Psalm 23:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of
the shadow of death,
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 overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Today this familiar psalm has become the centerpiece of many funerals, seemingly pointing the deceased toward their heavenly home. But David understood that this psalm was about life! This psalm is about the Living God’s guidance over His children throughout each step on earth and throughout eternity.
From the beginning of creation, the LORD—the great I AM—has served as our Good Shepherd. He planted man in the lush and fruitful Garden of Eden, supplying our every need, but the appetite of our wandering hearts deceived us. We believed the lie that there was more than our All-in-All. And our dissatisfaction enslaved us. Over the course of time, despite our sin, our Shepherd led us out of captivity to the Promised Land, stilling the waters of the Red Sea and Jordan so that we could pass into greener pastures.
Yet our dissatisfaction continued. Our enemy persisted in his deceitful ways. He convinced us that being set apart by the One True God was more hindrance than help. We took our eyes off of the Shepherd and gazed at the flocks around us. We preferred their human, imperfect shepherds, and grumbled our demands at God. Heartbreakingly aware of where our choice would lead, our All-in-All gave us our less-than kings. A few responded to the call admirably, but none perfectly. Yet, even in the midst of our wandering, God was shepherding, preparing a place for us in the presence of our enemies so that we could dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Hundreds of years after the death of King David, the former shepherd boy and insightful author of Psalm 23, God speaks through the prophet Ezekiel. In a few short words, God speaks of His disdain for the false shepherds’ ways and of His plan to reinstate His position as the Good Shepherd: “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them… I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:10, 23).
How could our God place His servant David—a king who had been dead for some 400 years—over His flock as the “one shepherd”? We need only look to John for the answer. Jesus of Nazareth, from the house and lineage of David (Luke 2:4b), stands before His people and declares, “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay my life down for the sheep” (John 10:12-15, emphasis added).
Friend, do not gloss over these words! In a matter of three sentences, Jesus Christ of Nazareth revealed his full identity. His words not only fulfilled the prophecy of Ezekiel, but also Psalm 23! Centuries before his ancestor/King walked this earth, David wrote that I AM was his shepherd. And at the appointed time, that ancestor declared himself as “I AM the good shepherd.”
And what does this good shepherd do for us?
- He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. – John 10:3
- He serves as our door to salvation and provision. – John 10:9
- He gives us life in abundance. – John 10:10
- He lays down His life for us. – John 10:11, 12
- He serves as our one true shepherd. – John 10:16
Our Father has loved us with an everlasting love—the same yesterday, today and forever. He is our shepherd who leads us to green pastures, beside still waters, through shadowy valleys and into His house forever. And how should we respond? Fully fueled by the love of our one shepherd, let us pour that love out to others.
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we out to lay down our lives for the brothers.” 1 John 3:16