What comes to mind when you think of a shepherd? Most likely a pastoral scene complete with rolling hillsides, a sheepdog, and a young boy around the age of 13 with a long staff as in the photo above. Minding sheep is more than completing a chore such as walking a dog. Shepherds need to be brave, alert, and quick on their feet to be effective in their job. Wolves and other dangers could present themselves at any time and he or she must be prepared to defend and protect the herd.
Not all problems they face come from external sources. A sheep might have a tendency to run off and find trouble and the shepherd would have the difficult task of training it to trust the shepherd. When those attempts failed the shepherd might break the sheep’s legs and carry it around his neck to learn to rely on the shepherd. As cruel as it sounds to animal lovers everywhere, this was an act of kindness. Around his neck the shepherd could keep the sheep safe from wandering off alone where a wild animal could maul it, or prevent the sheep from falling off a cliff or down the side of a mountain. The sheep would eat from the loving hand of the shepherd. During the healing process the sheep would learn that the shepherd is kind and trustworthy.
Hebrews 12:11 says:
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
I can not think of anyone who likes being disciplined but we can learn to love discipline by God because as Hebrews 12:6 tell us:
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
His discipline is a sign of his love for us, wanting to keep us safe and close to Him. I’m not suggesting that God will break your legs nor that He will cause you any harm, but He often lets us deal with the consequences of our own actions.
What does being a shepherd mean?
In the New Testament it is the Greek word poimēn (G4166) and it means to be a shepherd or pastor from the Greek root word meaning ‘to protect’. Let’s look at it in John 10:1-16 .
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.
The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
Here Jesus is explaining how a true shepherd does not run away leaving his sheep to face danger but instead would sacrifice his own life to protect them. Of course He is speaking of more than the shepherds of His day but also of the preachers and pastors of today. A shepherd doesn’t stand back and watch as a member of the church struggles with sin or dangerous theology. A pastor/shepherd fights on behalf of the flock to keep them safe.
There will be times that people will fail at this; that is not an accusation but a realization that we are human and will not always get it right even with the best of intentions. But God. He always will be there for us, guarding and guiding us if we will just listen.
Look for others instances of God being referred to as our shepherd in the Bible.
To get you started look at Psalm 23.
How understanding God as your shepherd changes how you see and trust Him. Write your responses in your journal.
For God to reveal Himself as Shepherd in your life and thank Him for all the times He has been there guiding you, especially when you didn’t realize or acknowledge Him in the past.