Sheepherding was a chief industry of the Hebrew people in ancient times. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all shepherds. When Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac, the servant mentioned the fact that the Lord had given Abraham’s family flocks and herds as evidence of his honored status (Gen. 24:35). Isaac’s possession of many flocks and herds caused the Philistines to envy him (Gen. 26:14). Later, Jacob would manage Laban’s flocks (Gen. 30).
In the Ancient Near East, kings and other leaders were styled as shepherds of their people. When God sent Samuel to anoint the next king of Israel after Saul, he went to Jesse’s house, but the youngest son was not present. David was out keeping the sheep (1 Sam. 16:11). He knew that God would be with him in a battle against Goliath for the Lord had already delivered him from bears and lions in his defense of the flock (1 Sam. 17:34-36). Later, when the tribes of Israel gathered at Hebron to make David king, they said, “Also, in time past, when Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel out and brought them in; and the LORD said to you, ‘You shall shepherd My people Israel, and be ruler over Israel’ ” (2 Sam. 5:2). It is no surprise that God is often referred to as a shepherd (Psa. 28:9; 80:1; Isa. 40:11; Ezek. 34:15). David famously wrote, “The LORD is my shepherd” (Psa. 23:1).
We might not like to think of people as sheep, but the figure is fitting. God’s children cannot be appropriately represented by the metaphor of dogs, lions, or tigers. Predators, who are dangerous to all other living things, are not characteristics of God’s people. The helplessness of the sheep is the chief characteristic that causes them to represent God’s people so well. A deer’s quickness can allow him to escape danger. An animal with fangs and powerful claws, like a lion, allow him to stand up against any beast of the jungle. However, a flock of sheep run together until they are killed. Such a defenseless type of animal is used to describe us. We are defenseless on our own and need the Lord to protect us. The shepherd stayed by the sheep day and night to protect them from predators or robbers. We need God to stay by our side, to guide us, protect us, and provide for us.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). Jesus shepherds our souls (1 Pet. 2:25). Elders in the church watch out for our souls (1 Pet. 5:1-3). They operate under Jesus, the chief shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4). The Lord wants His flock fed and protected from spiritual harm (Jn. 21:15-17; Acts 20:28, 29). If a shepherd finds one sheep is missing, he leaves ninety-nine to go looking for the missing one (Mt. 18:12-14; Lk. 15:4-7). Stay close to the Lord our Shepherd and His flock. Spiritual dangers and death lurk if you should wander off alone.