Even though I grew up on a farm, I do not have much experience with farm animals. I know more about wheat, barley, sugar beet than I do sheep, cows, goats. Don’t take me for an expert on farming, I’m guessing you are not either.
So, when the Bible tells us that God is like a shepherd and Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd, we have to use our imagination and search in the Bible for clues as to what this means for us.
There is good reason why the analogy of Shepherd is used for God. Abel kept sheep (Genesis 4:2). Abraham and his family were shepherds (Genesis 12:16). Isaac had so many sheep, he was the envy of his neighbors (Genesis 26:14). And it wasn’t just men who were shepherds. Rachel was a shepherd (Genesis 29:9). Sheep and shepherds were everywhere in the ancient world, even in Jesus’ day.
Here are a few characteristics about God and Jesus that are encouraging to us when we think about God, and Jesus, as our Shepherd.
Shepherds devote their time and energy to looking after sheep. I noticed this on a trip to Israel when I spotted a lone Bedouin shepherd on a hilltop. A shepherd lives separate from the normal hubbub of life, watching over the flock, finding pasture, and protecting the sheep at night.
This commitment comes at a cost. When Samuel came to anoint a son of Jesse’s as the next king, David was not even considered (1 Samuel 16:1-13). David the shepherd was forgotten and insignificant. And yet to his sheep, there was no one more important.
The same could be said about Jesus. He chose to spend his time with people who were unimportant—those he saw as sheep without a shepherd—rather than hobnobbing with the leaders of the day.
It is the same for us. The Creator God who made the world and the galaxies, chooses to commit his time and energy in protecting you. This is how Isaiah 40:11 (MSG) describes God:
Like a shepherd, he will care for his flock, gathering the lambs in his arms, Hugging them as he carries them, leading the nursing ewes to good pasture.
What you are facing today is not unimportant to God. Instead, you are of utmost importance to him. God is dedicated to providing for you and all your needs.
There is nothing luxurious about the life of a shepherd. He or she lives with the sheep and, as I read the other day, smells like the sheep. A shepherd doesn’t go home each night to a comfortable bed but sleeps with the sheep in the fields.
Jesus used the analogy of himself as a shepherd living with his sheep. He talked about opening the gate and leading the sheep. This would have happened in the morning, after the shepherd had spent the night with his sheep in the pen, protecting them from any dangers in the night.
If you are wondering whether God is close when you face fears and dangers, you can be assured that God can hear the beat of your heart, he can feel your breath. He is with you in the middle of the darkness of whatever you face.
Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure.Psalm 23:4 MSG
Shepherds faced and stood up to extreme danger. They risk their lives for their sheep.
David told Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.”
Jesus said this about himself:
“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary.”John 10:11 MSG
And that’s exactly what Jesus did.
Let’s worship God and give praise to him for his selflessness, devotion, and generosity shown through Jesus.