Reading Time: 3 mins

Sheep and Shepherds

Reading Time: 3 mins

In Israel today, it's still possible to witness the same scene the disciples saw 2000 years ago when the Bedouin shepherds bring their flocks home from various pastures at the end of the day.

On my trip to Israel a few years ago, I was surprised to see a number of Bedouin shepherds out in the fields doing their thing. The Bedouins still live in tents and practice a nomadic lifestyle with permission from the authorities to graze their flocks in rural areas around Bethlehem and Jerusalem. These rugged shepherds know perhaps better than anyone the meaning of the phrase, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" (Psalm 23:1).

They know what it's like to leave the village and go out into the open country, where you're all alone and on your own. No police protection, no cell phones, no one to come help in the case of thieves, robbers, or an attack by wild animals. Most of us don't live in that kind of world. Even those of us who live out in the country still have neighbors not too far away.   

The Ancient Near East scholar Dr. Kenneth Bailey experienced the reality of Psalm 23:1 during the 1970s Lebanese Civil War. The civil war meant there was no electricity, no water, and no telephones. The police had disappeared, the army had fallen apart, and the National Guard didn't even exist. The only protection available came from small groups of people who banded together to protect themselves. Just like for the Bedouin shepherds,  the truth that the Lord is our shepherd was more than a metaphor for Dr. Bailey. But when you get down to it, this truth is the only real protection any of us have in this life, especially when it comes to protection from the enemies of sin, death, and the devil.

Everyone experiences fear of what the future will bring. Will we be safe? Will we have enough? Will our needs be met? Will we be able to provide for our family? As Christians, we believe that God will provide for us. We trust in him and believe that he will keep his promise to never leave us nor forsake us, to be with us always, to the very end of the age.

Jesus the Good Shepherd says, "Follow me." If we're going to follow Jesus, we are going to need to hear his voice, and in order to hear his voice, we need to listen to his word.

Bad shepherds in the Middle East use rocks and sticks on their sheep, but good shepherds don't do that. Good shepherds go before the flock, using a little call or whistle to round up the sheep. Dr. Bailey tells the story of a Palestinian shepherd he knew of that had five hundred sheep with no dog and no assistant. He would just slowly walk in front of the flock, and every minute or two, he would let out a little call that his sheep knew well. The good shepherd knows his flock, and the sheep know his voice. 

But sheep go astray occasionally, and when a sheep is lost, the shepherd goes after the lost sheep. Shepherds will tell you that when a sheep is lost, it becomes afraid and finds a bush to hide under. Then, it starts bleating loudly, hoping it will be found. The shepherd knows this and knows that he has to get there quickly because wild animals will also hear the bleating sheep, and it's only a matter of time until something bad happens.

Once the shepherd finds his lost sheep, it will probably be too scared to move, so he has to pick it up, put it over his shoulders, and carry it back to the village. You've probably seen a picture of Jesus carrying a sheep over his shoulder. It's one of the oldest and most beloved icons from the early church.

He leads us, guides us, feeds us, and saves us. Why does he do all of this? For his own namesake. It's who he is. It's what he does. Not because of any inherent goodness in sheep like us but simply because he is the Good Shepherd, and we are the sheep of his pasture. 

In Israel today, it's still possible to witness the same scene the disciples saw 2000 years ago when the Bedouin shepherds bring their flocks home from various pastures at the end of the day. Often, those flocks end up at the same watering hole around dusk. When they all gather together, several small flocks suddenly turn into one big one. But the shepherds don't worry about the sheep getting mixed up. When it's time to go home, each one has his own special little call, and when they hear it, the sheep withdraw from the crowd to follow their shepherd home. They know who they belong to. They know their shepherd's voice, and he is the one they will follow.

"I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me...I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:14-15).