While in Jordan some time ago, I met two young shepherd boys while they were moving their sheep. I was intrigued by them. As you can see in the picture below, the land where they tended their sheep was a very rough and barren terrain.
I had to ask myself, What makes a “good shepherd?” What does it take?
Maybe I should start with a different question, “What are sheep like?”
With no personal experience but through a little research, this is what I learned about the characteristics of sheep:
1. constantly need fresh water, fresh pasture grass – but have very little discernment in choosing food or water (even eating poisonous plants or drinking dirty water)
2. timid, fearful, easily panicked – they need a calming influence
3. very vulnerable to enemies – easily killed since they have little or no means of self-defense; they can only run
4. easily “cast” and helpless – sheep can get flipped over on their back and since they are unable to right themselves, they will eventually die if not turned over by the shepherd
5. vulnerable to mob psychology – they are truly “followers”
6. jealous, competitive – rivalry for status, dominance
7. stubborn & demanding – will insist on their own way
8. creatures of habit – if left to themselves they will follow the same trails until they become ruts; graze the same hills until they turn to desert wastes; pollute their own ground until it is corrupt with disease and parasites
9. foolish, slow to learn – perhaps it sounds unkind but from what I have read, sheep are not the most intelligent of animals!
10. prone to wander, to stray – always looking for a hole in the fence; always looking for “greener pastures”
To sum up, sheep are. . .well, sheep are. . .a lot like. . .us.
No wonder the ancient prophet Isaiah said, “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. . .” (Isaiah 53:6).
Like sheep, there is an inherent stubbornness and arrogance in all of us to do our own thing, to go our own way. We pridefully want to rule our lives. But it won’t work. We all need a shepherd to help keep us on God’s righteous path.
Also. . .sheep are totally dependent on a shepherd for their every need. They simply cannot thrive (or even live) without close supervision and without the calm, strong voice of their shepherd. In short, they need constant care.
What are the characteristics of a shepherd? What do they do?
Again, with no personal experience but through a little research, this is what I learned about the job description of shepherds – “good” shepherds that is (mostly from Phillip Keller’s book, A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23):
1. leading the sheep – “no other class of livestock require more careful handling, more detailed direction, than do sheep;” for the most part, the shepherd goes ahead of the sheep rather than driving them
2. feeding the sheep – “he will go to no end of trouble and labor to supply them with the finest grazing, the richest pasturage, ample winter feed, and clean water”
3. protecting the sheep – “he will spare Himself no pains to provide shelter from storms, protection from ruthless enemies (dogs, coyotes, cougars, bears) and the diseases and parasites to which sheep are so susceptible”
4. inspecting the sheep – inch-by-inch examination of each sheep is performed in intimate detail; looking for wounds or diseases
5. counting the sheep – making sure not one is missing!
6. searching for lost sheep – wherever they may have strayed; when he finds one, he puts it on his shoulders and carries it joyfully back home
7. loving the sheep – “for him there is no greater reward, no deeper satisfaction, than that of seeing his sheep contented, well fed, safe and flourishing under his care;” a good shepherd loves his sheep!
I wonder if my young shepherd friend I met in the hills of Jordan was a “good shepherd.”
But what about us – you and me – as “sheep”?
Have we gotten off of God’s path? Are we straying?
Do we feel that no one is concerned about us – that no one cares for our souls? That no one cares about the deepest parts of us?
At one point in his life, King Dawud (David) felt like this. He cried out in despair, “no one is concerned about me. . .no one cares for my soul” (the Zabur, Psalm 142:4).
1,000 years later, a man appeared upon the scene in the same land of Palestine. He was a descendent of King Dawud. He healed lepers and raised people from the dead. You already know who it was. Jesus. Perhaps you call him Isa.
Jesus not only did miracles, he came to rescue “lost sheep” – people like you and me (see Luke 15:1-7 in the Injeel).
Jesus said about himself,
“I am the good shepherd. . .” (the Injeel, John 10:11). In other words, “I care about you. I care about your soul – all your fears, hurts, struggles, and yes, even your sins and failures. I care about all of it.”
He cares. He is a “good shepherd.”
Jesus said 2,000 years ago that he cares for us – no matter how far we have strayed from God. No matter how lost we feel (or actually are). His word still stands. He still cares for our souls – the deepest parts of us. Totally, completely, unreservedly. He proved it. He backed up his words with action. Hear the rest of his statement:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep” (the Injeel, John 10:11).
Jesus did that. He gave everything for you, for me.
He is the shepherd.
And he is good.
Ask him – invite him – to be your good shepherd.
He promises that he will.