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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

Shepherd

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The occupation of shepherd was one of the earliest recorded (Genesis 4:2). In the dry semi-desert countries of the Bible story, shepherds lived a hard tough life, battling against heat, drought and wild animals (Genesis 31:38-40; Amos 3:12). It is therefore not surprising that ‘shepherd’ became a word symbol for a leader of God’s people. The emphasis is not only on care and leadership, but also on the ability to endure hardship. The shepherd must be prepared to battle against all opponents who threaten the welfare of those in his care (John 10:1; John 10:10-12; Acts 20:28-29).

Life of a shepherd

Shepherds were a common sight in Palestine and neighbouring countries. They lived in tents and moved around from place to place with their flocks in search of grass and water (Exodus 3:1; Deuteronomy 8:15; Isaiah 13:20; see also SHEEP). Often the only water available was at wells that people had dug. These wells were frequently the cause of disputes (Genesis 26:12-32).

After the Israelites took possession of Canaan, the shepherds among them settled down more or less permanently with their flocks. They still faced the problem of finding good pastures and water, and still had to meet attacks by wild animals (1 Samuel 17:34; Psalms 23:2; Psalms 23:4-5; Matthew 10:16). Additional dangers came from thieves who stole sheep by night, and desert people who raided in groups (Genesis 31:39; Job 1:14-15; 2 Chronicles 21:16-17; John 10:10). The shepherd’s only weapons were a sling and a stick, though he may have used trained dogs to help him in his work (1 Samuel 17:40; 1 Samuel 17:49; Job 30:1; Psalms 23:4; Zechariah 11:7; Zechariah 11:10).

Sheep had to be protected and watched by shepherds constantly, otherwise they would wander away and be lost. If sheep became lost, the shepherd sometimes had to risk his life in searching for them and rescuing them (Ezekiel 34:8; Ezekiel 34:12; Matthew 18:12). The shepherd was responsible to pay the owner the cost of any sheep lost while in his care, unless he could satisfy the owner that he was not to blame for the loss (Genesis 31:39; Exodus 22:10-13).

At night the shepherd usually kept his sheep in a walled enclosure called a fold, as an added protection against dangers (Numbers 32:36; Micah 2:12; Habakkuk 3:17; Luke 2:8; John 10:1). He counted the sheep as they went in at night, to make sure that none was missing; then, in the morning, he led them out into the fields (Jeremiah 33:13; Ezekiel 20:37; John 10:3; John 10:27; John 17:12).

Leaders of God’s people

The Old Testament often refers to the leaders of Israel as shepherds, and to the people as the flock (Numbers 27:17; Isaiah 63:11). Many of Israel’s leaders were bad shepherds, and because of them the nation crumbled (Isaiah 56:11; Jeremiah 50:6; Ezekiel 34:2-6; Zechariah 11:15-17).

In the New Testament also leaders of God’s people are referred to as shepherds of the flock. As elders of a church they have the responsibility to lead it, feeding it with spiritual food and protecting it from spiritual harm (John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28-29; 1 Peter 5:1-3; see ELDER; PASTOR).

The true shepherd, however, is always God (Genesis 49:24; Psalms 23:1; Isaiah 40:11). This is seen clearly in the illustration Jesus used to picture himself as the good shepherd. He was so concerned for the sheep that he died for them (John 10:1-29; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; 1 Peter 5:4; cf. Ezekiel 34:23-24).


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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Shepherd'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bbd/s/shepherd.html. 2004.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, July 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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