When we join God’s family through faith in the Lord Jesus as God’s Son, we enter into His Divine protection and care. Thereafter, He like a Shepherd looks after every aspect of life of His sheep, from food to protection, to health and well being. As a friend is ever available, so is the Lord to those who seek and call to Him and also ensures protection from the enemies up to laying down His own life. In Him is new life of abundance that He has assured.
God as a Shepherd – Abraham was asked by his son Isaac about lamb for the sacrifice while on their way to mount Moriah and in answer he called God Yehowah Yireh, meaning the ‘LORD will provide’ (Genesis 22:7-8). Abraham had already entered into God’s presence through the door of faith and he could count on His provisioning. When a believer also expresses faith in Lord Jesus as Savior and enters into His presence, he/she receives the right to be a part of His family with right to Divine provisioning, protection and care. That is what the Lord as a Good Shepherd promises to do.
Jesse told Prophet Samuel about his youngest son David as the keeper of the sheep (1 Samuel 16:14) using Hebrew word ‘raah’ meaning ‘pasture, tend, graze, care for’. David explained to King Saul one part of his role as ‘rohi/ro’i’ who cares for the sheep, the shepherd to save his sheep from the attack of a lion or a bear by fighting and defeating the same (1 Samuel 17:33-35). Realizing his own role as ‘rohi’, David then refers to Jehowah as his ‘Rohi’, who provides for him, protects and leads him on the right paths that lead to a good life (Psalm 23:1). The Son of David, the Savior Lord, then refers to Himself as the ‘Good Shepherd’ (John 10:14). Greek word ‘poimen’ used here means ‘shepherd or pastor in Latin’, someone the LORD raises to care for the total well being of His people. It is closely related to another word ‘gedeon’ meaning to ‘feed the flock’.
Lord Jesus is referred to as s Shepherd, 3 times in the New Testament; first He is referred to as the Great Shepherd’ (Hebrews 13:20). Secondly, Apostle Peter refers to Him as ‘the Chief Shepherd’ (1Peter 5:4) and finally the Lord calls Himself ‘the Good Shepherd’ (John 10:14).
What are the characteristics of our Shepherd? – First, He follows the right way, for he enters in by the door only (John 10:2). Second, He is recognized by the porter, the cherubim and the Holy Spirit for the door is opened for him (John 10:3). Third, He knows His sheep and calls them ‘by name’ (John 10:3) and Apostle Paul recognizes this that ‘the Lord knows them that are His’ (2 Timothy 2:19). Four, The sheep know Him and follow (John 10:4, 14 & 27). Five, He leads His sheep and they follow Him (John 10:3). Six, He is the only true Shepherd (John 10:8). Seven, He gives His life for the sheep to give them life by shedding His own blood as their Redeemer (John 10:11). The shepherds faced many threats from robbers, wild beasts and the weather, placing their life in danger to lead their flock home safely. Since all of mankind has gone astray, our Shepherd laid down His life for we were all in the greatest danger of falling into the ‘bottomless pit’ (Isaiah 53:6). Eight, The Good Shepherd takes up His life so that His sheep can also, for He has ‘the power to lay it down, and the power to take it again’, assuring eternal life to all believers (John 10:18). Nine, He imparts eternal abundant life being the Door to lead us into His and our Father’s house in heaven for He came to give this life (John 10:10 & 28). He gives this through peace with God (Romans 5:1) and peace of God (Philippians 4:7). Ten, He is God’s only begotten Son, loved and sent with authority by Him and is one with Him (John 10:17-18, 30 & 38). He could make such a promise for He is fully God and fully Man and though His own rejected Him, He does not reject us.
Why believers’ are called sheep by the Lord? First, because sheep have no sense of direction and can be easily led astray like Eve believed the serpent’s lies to sin (Genesis 3:4).Second, sheep cannot defend themselves and except running away in any direction and kicking, they can do nothing else. Three, sheep cannot carry burdens and our Good Shepherd willingly takes all our worries and lack. Four, sheep are valuable, especially for the owner, for their wool and minimal needs. Five, sheep cannot care for themselves when wounded or when lost. Six, sheep are innocent and gullible, easy to be deceived.
The Good Shepherd promises not only to care for His sheep but to also look for the one lost and bring it back while also thinking and caring about those that do not belong to His sheepfold. We are blessed for He has chosen us and made us a part of His flock and leads us to His own home, where He has prepared a place of eternal rest for us.
David’s Shepherd and our Goof Shepherd – King David had spent his early years in solitude, alone with the sheep and this developed his heart into the likeness of God’s heart. He meditated on the Word Of God, composed and sang hymns in God’s praise and honed his skills as a warrior, musician, a poet and a scholar. Psalms written by him reveal his heart and the richness of his feelings of devotion to Jehovah, the God whose love he sought and whom he himself deeply loved.
The basic need of every human being living outside the protection of the Garden of Eden is twofold. First, His labour of sweat and blood must yield enough for his family and secondly, the thorns and thistles of the crop and the forces of darkness must not inflict undue pain. God is portrayed as two figures in Psalm 23, as the Shepherd, He guides and protects His flock, which is His human role and second, as God He provides for humans as a host, allowing them to enjoy these blessings and celebrate, thus fulfilling both our needs. David used the failures of his life to bounce back to great spiritual heights through repentance and seeking Divine help to return to intimacy with God. Since he followed God, he could visualize God as a Shepherd who not only meets all his needs but also helps him control his wants and desires.
Lord Jesus promised, ‘Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you’ and King David prophetically identified this role of God as a provider meeting all needs while ensuring peaceful existence near ‘still waters’, where there is no turmoil (Psalm 23:2). Lord Jesus has promised protection and right of movement through the Door to the abundant life to ‘find pasture’ where all needs are met (John 10:9-10). The Shepherd was envisaged by David to restore his soul and leading on the path of truth and righteousness, away from sinfulness and destruction (Psalm 23:3). Apostle Paul terms the Israelites efforts of trying to establish their own righteousness, ‘being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes’ (Romans 10:3-4).
There are three types of righteousness, first, God’s righteousness, which is about the holy character of God and the extent of His holy law. second, their own righteousness which we presume to be good enough and desire this to be taken as the ultimate standard. Third, righteousness of God which is about God’s plan to bring righteousness to man.
David prophetically looks at the Shepherd to restore his soul from the heavy burdens of sins through forgiveness and then imputing His own righteousness to His followers. His faith in the heavenly Shepherd is such that even in times of great pain and struggle to just survive, he was not afraid because of the assurance of His presence to strengthen and protect (Psalm 23:4). Lord Jesus’ revealing Himself as the Good Shepherd, who gives life and that too life of abundance, fulfills the entire psalm 23. The Greek word ‘perissos’ translated ‘abundance’ has a mathematical relationship implying surplus. It is more than contentment in God’s provisioning ‘according to His riches and glory in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:19). Abundant life is especially long, comfortable and full of satisfaction and contentment. Charles Spurgeon compares the old life to a flickering candle and being changed into a bright and distinct fire with a lot of stamina, increased energy, large sphere of influence, ability to achieve, overflowing with joy and desire to win. Sheep with abundant life give honor to the Shepherd.
The Jews recite Psalm 23 on Sabbat before each meal to give thanks to the Shepherd and during final prayers expressing trust in Him that He will surely provide after that one day of rest and no work. The blessing of ‘You set a table before me in the presence of my adversaries’ becomes significant before reentering the chaos and toils of the world to earn a living, thus giving confidence and trust to face every situation. It is this anointed state that results in ‘my cup overflows’ with an assurance of eternal residence in God’s presence in His house in heaven. The Good Shepherd has promised to prepare a place for each believer in His Father’s house while His ‘goodness and kindness’ will be with me all the days of my life here on earth and even thereafter (John 14:1).
Responsibilities of the sheep – The Good Shepherd has completed His role and to appropriate all that He has given, we are also required to do our bit. The command is clear, ‘be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the laws which Moses My servant commanded you, do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go’ (Joshua 1:7). A sheep must be totally dependent on its shepherd’s help, guidance, protection and care, for straying from that means all kinds of dangers. The enemy of our soul is always prowling ‘like a roaring lion, seeking whom to devour’ (1 Peter 5:8). He is not a lion but pretends to be one to scare and scatter and then devour the sheep. We must abide by the words of our Good Shepherd and follow Him – Even when due to our sin we are separated from the flock, He comes looking (Matthew 18:12-13).
The sheep must also be careful of the goats in their midst who will attempt to mislead by denying the work of the Shepherd; who accuse Him of aligning with the devil or of blasphemy (John 10:19-20). And who will try to distort the message of salvation of the Shepherd.
The sheep are also required to encourage and lead others to their Good Shepherd and welcome them. The Jewish Midrash, the ancient commentary on Scripture tells a story to illustrate this. A king was very fond of the prize breed of his sheep and ensured special care for them. One day a deer strayed from the wild and joined the flock and day after day stayed on with the sheep. The shepherd was stopped by the king from sending the deer away with the reasoning that the sheep have no option but to go where we take them but the deer has freedom to go anywhere, yet it stays put despite various other options, for it finds great value with the sheep. For this reason the deer becomes precious and deserves equal and even better care, protection, food, treatment, love and attention than the rest of the flock. Have we as the Lord’s sheep tried to give better spiritual nourishment, love and care to a deer that comes into our church.
Moses was considered their shepherd by the Israelites and he stood before the LORD for forgiveness for their sin of making the Golden Calf. Moses sought forgiveness for them going to the extent of praying to God to say that otherwise, ‘blot me out of Your book which You have written’ (Exodus 32:32). Our Good Shepherd promises that ‘I will give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one’ (John 19:28-30).
His sheep are in His hand and this hand is beneath us and the hand of the Father is above us and we are secured between the clasped hands of Omnipotence. Apostle Paul the great suffering Apostle could declare, ‘I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:38-39). Who would not like to be in the sheepfold of such a Great and Loving Shepherd?
God has ever kept His people protected in the safety of His hands. We go astray away from Him due to our sins and the Shepherd’s dog of sickness, lack and pain leads us back into His forgiving arms. But there are many others who are tested like Job, by the Father, to strengthen them and prepare and train them for bigger roles. This is for sure that our Good Shepherd always keeps His eye on His sheep to ensure their safety and state of blessedness.