One thing that I love about the Bible is that none of it is arbitrary. I’ve mentioned this before a couple of times on the blog. God is very precise, and since He is God and can do anything He wants, we can be sure that He has particular reason for every jot and tittle in the Holy Writ. This has fascinating implications. I thought it would be interesting to look at the shepherd/sheep illustrations that are throughout the Old and New Testaments.
According to Florida A&M University, raising sheep is the oldest organized industry. All through the Old Testament we find shepherds: Abel, Abraham, Moses, and David are some prominent ones that come readily to mind. When Joseph rose to prominence in Egypt and brought his family down to be with him, it mentions that they were shepherds and were given their own area separate from the Egyptians to raise their flocks. God, knowing that people were familiar with shepherding and sheep, seeing as their survival was dependent on these animals, used shepherds/sheep as an understandable illustration for communicating His truth.
Sheep are social creatures. Their only defense against predators is to group together in a flock. This ingrained instinct can also cause problems because if one sheep walks off a cliff, all of the others will follow in their attempt to ‘group’. This is why a shepherd is essential to the survival of the sheep. A shepherd protects sheep from predators, inspects them for illness, and provides leadership to animals that are hard-wired to follow. Sheep also become stressed when separated from their flock.
Sheep have excellent memories. Researchers at University of Cambridge found in a study they conducted, that sheep can remember faces of people and other sheep for up to two years. They can also recognize the faces of other sheep and people from photographs! They have a superb sense of hearing. Sheep recognize their shepherd’s voice. Many years ago, when I was a new believer, my pastor at the time explained during a sermon that back in Bible times, shepherds would corral their sheep with other shepherd’s flocks in a large holding pen. Because sheep recognize their shepherd’s voice/call, all he has to do is enter the pen, give his call and walk out, and only his sheep will follow.
In Biblical times, flock pens were designed with very narrow openings in the fence. This allowed for individual inspection of each sheep by the shepherd, as they passed through the narrow gate. The shepherd would then lay across the opening to keep the sheep in, and the predators out.
It is notable that Abel’s offering of the first born of his flock was accepted by God, where as the labor of his brother Cain’s hands, was not. When the sacrificial system was instituted for the nation of Israel, every evening and morning a lamb was sacrificed for the sins of the people. When God delivered the Israelite’s from Pharaoh, He had them paint their doorposts with the blood of a lamb, so the destroyer would pass them over and they would live.
As you were reading through the sheep and shepherd facts above, I hope many bible verses and examples came to mind. Learning about sheep and shepherd’s and their relationship to each other brings a deeper understanding to Biblical truth. I bet we would all agree that using sheep as a metaphor for people is pretty accurate. We are social beings. We are vulnerable and need protection. When there is no leadership, we end up doing idiotic things that can lead to our demise, spiritually and physically. We are prone to wander and get lost.
Jesus as the shepherd is also apropos. He is our protector, healer, and guide. He is the narrow gate, through which salvation is exclusively found. For those who are born-again believers, we are His sheep who recognize His voice and follow Him (notice the implication that all of the other ‘sheep/people’ who are not His will not recognize his voice and will not follow him when he leads His flock out of the pen). He is the good shepherd who will leave the flock and go out to find the one lost sheep, rejoicing over it more than those who were not lost.
Jesus is also the lamb. Sacrificial lambs had to be spotless, without blemish. This pictured sinlessness. Blood is required to atone for sin. The blood of lambs was shed to cover sin temporarily in Old Testament times, looking toward the death of the coming Messiah Jesus. The ultimate spotless lamb, Jesus, was crucified on a cross, His blood poured out for the sins of all who would believe in Him. He is the Good Shepherd and the Spotless Lamb.
Psalm 23 The Lord is my Shepherd…
Matthew 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
John 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep
John 10:7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.
1 Peter 2:25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
John 1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Revelation 12:13-14 In a loud voice they said: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
Soli Deo Gloria!