Looking after sheep was no easy calling. It required great skill and courage. Herds were often quite large, thousands or even ten thousands of sheep. The flocks spent a good part of the year in the open country. Watching over them required a great deal of attention and care. Sheep who strayed from the flock had to be sought out and brought back by the shepherd.
Since hyenas, jackals, wolves, and even bears were common and fed on sheep, the shepherds often had to do battle with these wild and dangerous beasts. A shepherd literally had to put his life on the line in defending his sheep. Shepherds took turns watching the sheep at night to ward off any attackers.
The sheep and their shepherds continually lived together. Their life was so intimately bound together that individual sheep, even when mixed with other flocks, would recognize the voice of their own shepherd and would come immediately when called by name. This is how God’s Care for His Chosen People is reflected in the intimate way that the Israelite Shepherd cared for their flock.
The Old Testament often spoke of God as shepherd of His people, Israel. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (Psalm 23:1). Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! (Psalm 80:1) We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture (Psalm 100:3).
The Messiah is also pictured as the shepherd of God’s people: He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms (Isaiah 40:11). Jesus told His disciples that He was the Good Shepherd who was willing to lay down His life for His sheep (Matthew 18:12, Luke 15:4, John 10).
When He saw the multitude of people in need of protection and care, He was moved to respond with compassionate concern. His love was a personal love for each and every person who came to Him in need. Peter the apostle called Jesus the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls (1 Peter 2:25).
A life freely submitted to Jesus, the Good Shepherd will know peace and security. In the person of the Lord Jesus we see the unceasing vigilance and patience of God’s love. In our battle against sin and evil, Jesus is ever ready to give us help, strength, and refuge. Let us trust in His grace and help at all times.
“Lord Jesus, you guard and protect me from all evil. Help me to stand firm in your word and to trust in your help in all circumstances. May I always find rest and refuge in the shelter of your presence.”