The shepherd metaphor is recorded more than 500 times in Scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments. Over and over the gentle, caring relationship between God and his people are woven into the language and imagery of the relationship between a Shepherd and His sheep.
Isaiah wrote of God: “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.” (40:11) The Lord Jesus identified Himself as The Good Shepherd in John 10:11, and the Psalmist David, himself a Judean shepherd, listed in Psalm 23 real life benefits for us, His sheep, to stay close to our Shepherd.
Provision. Psalm 23 begins, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” The Psalmist is stating an absolute trust in the One Who meets every need, spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, and socially. He is saying, “I shall not lack for any good thing!” The Good Shepherd will always “make us to lie down in green pastures, beside still waters.”(vs. 2) Scholars say that sheep will not lie down if they are afraid.
But a deep trust in the Good Shepherd’s perfect provision dispels all fears. Just the sound of his assuring voice calms the fearful heart in the midst of danger. Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” (Lk. 12:32) The Psalmist wrote: “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep for You, Lord, only make me dwell in safety.” (Ps 4:8)
Leadership. “He leads me in the path of righteousness, for his name’s sake.” (vs. 3) A good shepherd goes before his sheep, leading them to life’s sustenance. The main part of Judea is a central plateau, lending itself more to pastoral than agricultural topography. The ground for the most part is rough and stony, with very little grass. There are no protecting walls, and on either side of the narrow plateau, the ground dips sharply to the dangerous deserts. In Judea, the sheep are never without a shepherd, because left to themselves, they will bypass the fertile fields of grass, and wander into the desert to perish.
The shepherd leads them, knowing his very reputation is at stake. This shepherd will even lead a flock of sheep through “the valley of the shadow of death” (vs. 4) to perfect safety. The Psalmist said to his Shepherd, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105) Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow Me.” (Jn 10:27)
Protection. “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” (vs. 4) A good shepherd guards his sheep against wild animals, thieves and robbers. Even when the sheep are challenged to pass through narrow ravines, where ravenous beasts might be waiting in ambush, the sheep closely following the shepherd are not afraid. The Psalmist said, “I fear no evil for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” (vs. 4) The shepherd’s rod is a long stick to fight off any intruder that endangers the flock; the shepherd’s crook helps guide a wayward sheep to safety.
David, himself a shepherd, once spoke of killing a lion and a bear, as he protected his helpless, dependent sheep. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, said: “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy; but I am come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” (Jn 10:10) A good shepherd will even lay down his very own life, in protection of the sheep. Jesus said, “I lay down My life for the sheep.” (Jn 10:15) The Good Shepherd did exactly that, on a cruel Roman cross, proving His sacrificial love for us, the sheep of His pasture.
Jim and Judy Vaught are ministers at Calvary Assembly of God in Mount Airy.