Sunday, December 12, 2010
In Abraham's time (which is called the Patriarchs Period meaning the time of the origin of the Jews with their forefather's Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), he was nomadic. He travelled and lived in tents (nice tents, but tents). He was very wealthy but he did not have a permanent home. He and his family and servants dwelt in tents. In ancient times, wealth was equated with how large their herds were. The more livestock they had, the wealthier they were. But with all this livestock, you had to move on when grazing began to deplete the fields. Good livestock managers had to be on the lookout for grazing fields and water and, thus, had to keep moving in order to provide for their herds. Jacob was a livestock manager for his father-in-law, Laban. When you read about how he met and married Rachel and Leah, you will learn how he prospered in his role as shepherd for his father-in-law.
But the Israelites (aka Jews, Hebrews) spent about 400 years in Egypt, partly as an honored member of Egyptian society (due to Joseph) and, lastly, as heavily oppressed slaves for the Egyptians. Through all those generations, they were no longer nomadic sheepherders. Even after they left Egypt, they preferred having permanent abodes, villages, and towns. They and their families would live in a permanent home but they still had livestock. Much like the farms and ranches we know of today. Those who took care of the sheep were called shepherds. Sometimes it was the owner himself or actual members of the family, sons and daughters, who took care of the sheep and sometimes it was servants and hired men. If the owner or family member took care of the flocks, the sheep would be well taken care of. Owners had a vested interest in having a healthy flock. If it was a servant or hireling, there was the possibility of neglect and abuse. You had to be able to trust the shepherd. King David once tended his father's flocks.
1 Samuel 17:33-36 And Saul said to David, You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him (Goliath, the Giant). For you are but a youth, and he is a man of war from his youth. (34) And David said to Saul, Your servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock. (35) And I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb out of its mouth. And when it rose against me, I caught it by the beard, and struck it and killed it. (36) Your servant killed both the lion and the bear. And this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.
2 Samuel 7:8-9 Now, therefore, thus (Samuel) shall say to my servant David, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. (9) And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.
Moses tended his father-in-law's sheep while he was in exile in the land of Midian.
Exodus 3:1-2 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. (2) And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.
Shepherds spent most of their time in the fields watching over the flocks. There were no fences. By the way, there were no fences in the times of the Wild West in America either. Which was one of the reasons you had cowboys. It wasn't until barbed wire was invented and accepted by ranchers that you had enclosed and fenced range lands.
Sheep had to have grasses to eat and water to drink and they had to be protected. Shepherds were totally responsible for the sheep. If they were far from home, they had simple tents. They had a mantle, made probably of sheep skin with the fleece on. For rain, the skin was protective and for cold, he turned it inside out for warmth. Sometimes a tower was erected in order to better see the sheep in order to watch over them. The shepherd carried a small bag, or wallet, for food. He carried a sling for a weapon and a staff which served the double purpose of a weapon, and a crook for the management of the flock.
1 Samuel 17:40 Then (David) took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd's pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.
“In early morning he led forth the flock from the fold, marching at its head to the spot where they were to be pastured. Here he watched them all day, taking care that none of the sheep strayed, and if any for a time eluded his watch and wandered away from the rest, seeking diligently till he found and brought it back. In those lands sheep require to be supplied regularly with water, and the shepherd for this purpose has to guide them either to some running stream or to wells dug in the wilderness and furnished with troughs. They brought the flock home to the fold, counting them as they passed under the rod at the door to assure himself that none were missing. Nor did his labours always end with sunset. Often he had to guard the fold through the dark hours from the attack of wild beasts, or the wily attempts of the prowling thief (see 1 Samuel 17:34).” Deane's David.
2 Chronicles 26: 9-10 And (King)Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate and at the Valley Gate, and at the Turning, and fortified them.
(10) And he built towers in the desert, and dug many wells. For he had many cattle, both in the low country and in the plains. He also had husbandmen and vinedressers in the mountains, and in Carmel. For he loved the earth.
Genesis 29:1-9 And Jacob lifted his feet and went to the land of the sons of the east. (2) And he looked, and behold, a well was in the field! And, lo, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it, for they watered the flocks out of that well. And a great stone was upon the well's mouth. (3) And all the flocks were gathered there. And they rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone again upon the well's mouth in its place. (4) And Jacob said to them, My brothers, where are you from? And they said, We are from Haran. (5) And he said to them, Do you know Laban the son of Nahor? And they said, We know him. (6) And he said to them, Is he well? And they said, He is well. And, behold, his daughter Rachel comes with the sheep. (7) And he said, Lo, the day is yet high. It is not yet time for gathering the cattle together. Water the sheep, and go feed them. (8) And they said, We cannot, until all the flocks have been gathered together. And they roll the stone from the well's mouth, then we water the sheep. (9) While he still spoke with them, Rachel came with her father's sheep, for she kept them.
The firstborn of a sheep was dedicated to the Lord and flocks had to be tithed. I.e., a tenth (1/10th) was given to the Lord. It is said that when a man gave the tithe of his sheep or calves, he shut them all in one fold, in which was a narrow door, to let out but one at a time. He then stood by the door, with a rod dipped in vermilion in his hand, and as they passed he counted them with the rod; and when the tenth came he touched it, by which it was distinguished as the tithe calf or sheep. The sheep was one of the most important animals of the Old Testament sacrifices and there are stories where thousands were sacrificed at a time. The sacrifice of the lambs just before the Angel of Death swept through Egypt killing the first born meant life or death to the Israelites. They were required to sacrifice a lamb without blemish and to put the blood on the door posts and lintel to mark the home so the Angel of Death would "pass over" that house and all inside were safe. So sheep were very integral to the Jewish religion. The sheep also provided skins, wool, meat and milk for the people. It was an essential domestic animal.
Leviticus 27:26 "But a firstborn of animals, which as a firstborn belongs to the LORD, no man may dedicate; whether ox or sheep, it is the LORD's.
Leviticus 27:32 And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman's staff, shall be holy to the LORD.
Sheep are a peculiarly helpless animal. They have to be led to their food, they cannot find food on their own like goats or cattle. Sheep are also more likely to overeat which can cause enterotoxemia or eat toxic carob husks. They have to be protected from themselves as sometimes they wander off or get caught in a hole or crevice. They also have to be protected from wild animals or thieves. Predators account for many sheep deaths.
In the mountains the sheep are gathered at night into folds, which may be caves or enclosures of rough stones.
In going to pasture the sheep are not driven but are led, following the shepherd as he walks before them and calls to them. Sheep have good hearing, and are sensitive to noise when being handled. Even though there be 2 flocks intermingled, each shepherd can call their sheep and each sheep knows which shepherd is his shepherd and will follow his shepherd.
Genesis 33:13 And (Jacob) said to him, My lord knows that the boys are tender, and the flocks and herds with me are suckling. And if the men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die.
Sheep have excellent peripheral vision but very poor depth vision and may balk at shadows or dips in the ground. Sheep also have an excellent sense of smell.
All sheep have a tendency to congregate close to other members of a flock and follow a leader. When one sheep decides to go somewhere, the rest of the flock usually follows, even if it is not a good "decision." For example, sheep will follow each other to slaughter. If one sheep jumps over a cliff, the others are likely to follow. Sheep can become stressed when separated from their flock members. It will become highly agitated if it is separated from the group. Sheep have face recognition which enables them to recognize and remember humans and other sheep for years.
For sheep, the primary defense mechanism is simply to flee in panic from danger but cornered sheep may charge or threaten to do so through hoof stamping and aggressive posture. Sheep have little ability to defend themselves from predators. Even if they survive the attack, they may die of the injuries or of the sheer panic they experience. Sheep have an amazing tolerence for pain. They do not show pain, because if they do, they will be more vulnerable to predators who look for those who are weak or injured so the shepherd must be on the watch for hurt or sick sheep.
Sheep cannot be overdriven, they have to have rest.
Sheep do not seek shelter from rain but they do seek shade.
They do not possess the instinct of many other animals for finding their way home.
The usual time for watering is at noon, at which time the flocks are led to the watering-places. After drinking, the animals lie down or huddle together in the shade of a rock while the shepherd sleeps.
The shearing of the sheep was a large operation and evidently became a sort of festival.
The shepherd had to be watchful and alert to protect the sheep. He had to be tender and careful, sensitive to what was happening to them so that he did not overdrive them or lead them into any trouble. He stood at the gate and watched them, checking over them and counting them. He had to know the sheep intimately so that he could differentiate between them and know that they were in good condition. If any were missing, he had to know which ones. The shepherd would go looking for the lost sheep and if they were injured, he had to carry them back on his own shoulders.
Now that we have read about sheep and shepherds, we can easily see why Jesus is called our Great Shepherd!
Hebrews 13:20 Now the God of Peace, He leading up out of the dead, the great Shepherd of the sheep, in the blood of the everlasting covenant, our Lord Jesus,
God has cared for His people like a shepherd cares for his sheep. How like sheep we are! Do we not follow the crowd even if it leads to disaster? Despite our Savior's free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, we can't seem to find our way out of a paper bag! We will follow after every false teaching that comes along rather than accept Jesus as our Savior. We will overindulge in all kinds of toxic sin. And we seem to need partners in crime so we flock together in our dens of iniquity. How often do our sinful thoughts become sinful actions when we are in a crowd? We can't find our way out of the rain but we sure can find the dark places to hide so we can sin. Satan looks for the weak and hurting to attack and instead of running to our Shepherd for protection we blindly run in panic right into the trap! We are so shallow and we don't think deeply which leads us into a hole we can't get out of. We are helpless to save ourselves from our sins but God did not leave us helpless! We need a leader to lead us out of danger and sin and lead us into the light of His love!
As a Good Shepherd, He knows His own and He calls to them and we respond. He knows us by name and can differentiate us. He knows the very hairs on our head and knows our every thought. Those of us who will accept His Salvation are His Children. But there are many sheep who are not His and will not respond to His Call. He knows them too, but He knows they will refuse Him to their dying breath. His offer to save them is rejected.
It was He, the Good Shepherd, who came looking for us, His lost sheep. He sacrificed His own Son for His Sheep! We are dedicated to God. We are the ones marked by the "vermillion" (deep and bright red) on His Rod which symbolizes the blood of Jesus! We are forever marked as His Children. By having the Holy Spirit living within us, it assures anyone that we are His. It is His Mark!
He is alert and watching and knows when we, His Sheep, are hurt. He provides, protects and guides us.
The shepherd's office represents Jehovah's tender care of His people, Israel, and His Children through the New Covenant, those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior, Christians. (True Christians, not cultural "Christians".)
Genesis 49:22-25 Joseph, you are a fruitful vine growing near a stream and climbing a wall. (23) Enemies attacked with arrows, refusing to show mercy. (24) But you stood your ground, swiftly shooting back with the help of Jacob's God, the All-Powerful One-- his name is the Shepherd, Israel's mighty rock. (25) Your help came from the God your father worshiped, from God All-Powerful. God will bless you with rain and streams from the earth; he will bless you with many descendants.
Psalm 23:1-6 (A psalm by David.) You, LORD, are my shepherd. I will never be in need. (2) You let me rest in fields of green grass. You lead me to streams of peaceful water, (3) and you refresh my life. You are true to your name, and you lead me along the right paths. (4) I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won't be afraid. You are with me, and your shepherd's rod makes me feel safe. (5) You treat me to a feast, while my enemies watch. You honor me as your guest, and you fill my cup until it overflows. (6) Your kindness and love will always be with me each day of my life, and I will live forever in your house, LORD.
Psalm 78:52 Then God led his people out of Egypt and guided them in the desert like a flock of sheep.
Isaiah 40:10-11 Look! The powerful LORD God is coming to rule with his mighty arm. He brings with him what he has taken in war, and he rewards his people. (11) The LORD cares for his nation, just as shepherds care for their flocks. He carries the lambs in his arms, while gently leading the mother sheep.
Isaiah 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, each one to his own way; and Jehovah has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
Jeremiah 50:6-7 My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have caused them to go astray; they have turned them away on the mountains. They have gone from mountain to hill; they have forgotten their resting place. (7) All who have found them have devoured them. And their enemies said, We do not offend, because they have sinned against Jehovah, the habitation of righteousness, even Jehovah, the hope of their fathers.
Spiritual leaders are also referred to as "Shepherds".
Ezekiel 34:2-31 Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to them, So says the Lord Jehovah to the shepherds: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? (3) You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you kill the fat ones, but you do not feed the flock. (4) You have not made the weak strong, nor have you healed the sick, nor have you bound up the broken. You have not brought again those driven away, nor have you sought that which was lost; but you have ruled them with force and with cruelty. (5) And they were scattered for lack of a shepherd. And they became food to all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. (6) My sheep wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill. Yea, My flock was scattered on all the face of the earth, and none searched nor sought for them. (7) Therefore, shepherds, hear the Word of Jehovah: (8) As I live, says the Lord Jehovah, surely because My flock became a prey, and My flock became food to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, nor did My shepherds search for My flock, but the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock, (9) therefore, O shepherds, hear the Word of Jehovah. (10) So says the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock. Nor shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver My flock from their mouth, and they will not be food to devour. (11) For so says the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. (12) As a shepherd seeks out his flock in the day that he is among his scattered sheep, so I will seek out My sheep and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. (13) And I will bring them out from the peoples, and gather them from the lands, and will bring them to their own land and feed them on the mountain of Israel by the rivers, and in all the places of the land where people live. (14) I will feed them in a good pasture, and their fold shall be on the high mountains of Israel. There they shall lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. (15) I will feed My flock, and I will cause them to lie down, says the Lord Jehovah. (16) I will seek the lost, and bring again those driven away, and will bind up the broken, and will strengthen the sick. But I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment. (17) And you, My flock, says the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I judge between lamb and lamb, between rams and he-goats. (18) Is it a small thing to you to have eaten up the good pasture, but you must trample the rest of your pastures with your feet? And to have drunk of the clear waters, but you must foul the rest with your feet? (19) And My flock, they eat what your feet have trampled, and they drink what your feet have fouled. (20) So the Lord Jehovah says this to them: Behold I Myself will even judge between the fat lamb and the lean lamb. (21) Because you have thrust with side and with shoulder, and have pushed all the weak with your horns until you have scattered them to the outside, (22) therefore I will save My flock, and they shall no more be a prey. And I will judge between lamb and lamb. (23) And I will set up one Shepherd over them, and He shall feed them, My servant David. He shall feed them, and He shall be their Shepherd. (24) And I Jehovah will be their God, and My servant David a ruler among them. I Jehovah have spoken. (25) And I will make a covenant of peace with them, and will send the evil beasts out of the land. And they shall dwell safely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. (26) And I will make them, and the places around My hill, a blessing; and I will bring down the shower in its season. There shall be showers of blessing. (27) And the tree of the field shall yield her fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase. And they shall be safe in their land, and they shall know that I am Jehovah, when I have broken the bands of their yoke, and have delivered them out of the hands of those who enslaved them. (28) And no more shall they be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beast of the land eat them. But they shall dwell safely, and none shall terrify them. (29) And I will raise up for them a noted planting place, and they shall never again be of those gathered by famine in the land, nor shall they bear the shame of the nations any more. (30) And they shall know that I, Jehovah their God, am with them, and they, the house of Israel, are My people, says the Lord Jehovah. (31) And you My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, are men, and I am your God, says the Lord Jehovah.
Micah 7:14 Lead your people, LORD! Come and be our shepherd. Grasslands surround us, but we live in a forest. So lead us to Bashan and Gilead, and let us find pasture as we did long ago.
Jesus is the Lamb of God, the Good Shepherd and the Gate to safety.
John 1:29 The next day John sees Jesus coming to him and says, Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
Matthew 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he felt sorry for them. They were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Matthew 18:11-14 For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. (12) What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them strays, does he not leave the ninety and nine and go into the mountains and seek the straying one? (13) And if it happens that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety and nine which did not stray. (14) Even so it is not the will of your Father in Heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
Matthew 25:31-34 But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He shall sit on the throne of His glory. (32) And all nations shall be gathered before Him. And He shall separate them from one another, as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats. (33) And indeed He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats off the left. (34) Then the King shall say to those on His right hand, Come, blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
John 10:7-16 Jesus said: I tell you for certain that I am the gate for the sheep. (8) Everyone who came before me was a thief or a robber, and the sheep did not listen to any of them. (9) I am the gate. All who come in through me will be saved. Through me they will come and go and find pasture. (10) A thief comes only to rob, kill, and destroy. I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest. (11) I am the good shepherd, and the good shepherd gives up his life for his sheep. (12) Hired workers are not like the shepherd. They don't own the sheep, and when they see a wolf coming, they run off and leave the sheep. Then the wolf attacks and scatters the flock. (13) Hired workers run away because they don't care about the sheep. (14) I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and they know me. (15) Just as the Father knows me, I know the Father, and I give up my life for my sheep. (16) I have other sheep that are not in this sheep pen. I must bring them together too, when they hear my voice. Then there will be one flock of sheep and one shepherd.
1 Peter 2:24 Christ carried the burden of our sins. He was nailed to the cross, so that we would stop sinning and start living right. By his cuts and bruises you are healed. (25) You had wandered away like sheep. Now you have returned to the one who is your shepherd and protector.
1 Peter 5:1-4 I exhort the elders who are among you, I being also an elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed. (2) Feed the flock of God among you, taking the oversight, not by compulsion, but willingly; nor for base gain, but readily; (3) nor as lording it over those allotted to you by God, but becoming examples to the flock. (4) And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you shall receive a never-fading crown of glory.
And, lastly, we must not forget the story of those lowly shepherds keeping their flocks on the very night of Jesus' birth!
Luke 2:8-20 And in the same country there were shepherds living in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. (9) And lo, the angel of the Lord came on them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them. And they were grievously afraid. (10) And the angel said to them, Do not fear. For behold, I give to you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. (11) For to you is born today, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (12) And this is a sign to you. You will find the babe wrapped, lying in a manger. (13) And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, (14) Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (15) And it happened as the angels departed from them into Heaven, the shepherds said to one another, Indeed, let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing which has happened, which the Lord made known to us. (16) And hurrying they came and sought out both Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger. (17) And seeing, they publicly told about the word spoken to them concerning this Child. (18) And all those who heard marveled about the things spoken to them by the shepherds. (19) But Mary kept all these sayings, meditating in her heart. (20) And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as was spoken to them.
Why would angels announce the birth of the Messiah to some poor shepherds? God and His Son call themselves the Good or Great Shepherd so it should not surprise us. The angels did not go to the princes and chief priests, nor to the wealthy and intelligent men in Jerusalem, or the famous or high ranking politicians. No, the angels were sent to rough and illiterate men. Those everyday workers who do their duty and work for an honest living. God is pleased to choose and call, and reveal his secrets to regular Joe Blows. God hides them from those who think they are so wise and so much better than others.
This revelation to the shepherds should make us think, as we remember that shepherds, as a class, were under the Rabbinic ban, because of their necessary isolation from religious ordinances, and their manner of life, which rendered strict legal observance impossible. And, yet, here is God making the world's greatest announcement to these. The poverty and simplicity in which they found the baby Christ, were no shock to them and their faith, for they knew what it was like to live a life of comfortable communion with God in very poor and humble circumstances. After the great announcement was made by the angels, they did not say, "Let us go and see if it's true." They said, "let us go to Bethlehem and see". They had no doubt the announcement was true. They didn't have to see to believe, they believed and went to see. They evidently left their flocks of sheep and rushed to Bethlehem to see Jesus. And they didn't go home first! It was urgent for them to see the Christ child! Once they had met Mary and Joseph and seen the child, the Bible says they publicly told of their experience to all they could. Once they met the Savior, the Messiah, Emmanuel (God With Us), they had to tell others about it.
Now, 2,000 years later, I worship the same Christ as those lowly shepherds. I have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and I glorify Him just as the angels did that night so long ago. I am one of His Sheep, sealed with the Holy Spirit, marked by His Blood. Should I do any less than to follow Him and obey Him, to worship and adore Him, tell others of what He has done for me?