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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Shepherds

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The patriarchal shepherds, rich in flocks and herds, in silver and gold, and attended by a numerous train of servants purchased with their money, or hired from the neighbouring towns and villages, acknowledge no civil superior; they held the rank, and exercised the rights, of sovereign princes; they concluded alliances with the kings in whose territories they tended their flocks; they made peace or war with the surrounding states; and, in fine, they wanted nothing of sovereign authority but the name. Unfettered by the cumbrous ceremonies of regal power, they led a plain and laborious life, in perfect freedom and overflowing abundance. Refusing to confine themselves to any particular spot, (for the pastures were not yet appropriated,) they lived in tents, and removed from one place to another in search of pastures for their cattle. Strangers in the countries where they sojourned, they refused to mingle with the permanent settlers, to occupy their towns, and to form with them one people. They were conscious of their strength, and jealous of their independence; and although patient and forbearing, their conduct proved, on several occasions, that they wanted neither skill nor courage to vindicate their rights and avenge their wrongs. In the wealth, the power, and the splendour of patriarchal shepherds, we discover the rudiments of regal grandeur and authority; and in their numerous and hardy retainers, the germ of potent empires. Hence the custom so prevalent among the ancients, of distinguishing the office and duties of their kings and princes, by terms borrowed from the pastoral life: Agamemnon, shepherd of the people, ‘Αγαμεμνονα ποιμενα λαων , is a phrase frequently used in the strains of Homer. The sacred writers very often speak of kings under the name of shepherds, and compare the royal sceptre to the shepherd's crook: "He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheep folds; from following the ewes great with young, he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance. So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands." And Jehovah said to David himself: "Thou shalt feed my people Israel, and thou shalt be a captain over Israel." The royal Psalmist, on the other hand, celebrates, under the same allusions, the special care and goodness of God toward himself, and also toward his ancient people. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." "Give ear; O shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubim, shine forth." In many other places of Scripture, the church is compared to a sheep fold, the saints to sheep, and the ministers of religion to shepherds, who must render, at last, an account of their administration to the Shepherd and Overseer to whom they owe their authority.

The patriarchs did not commit their flocks and herds solely to the care of menial servants and strangers; they tended them in person, or placed them under the superintendence of their sons and their daughters, who were bred to the same laborious employment, and taught to perform, without reluctance, the meanest services. Rebecca, the only daughter of a shepherd prince, went to a considerable distance to draw water; and it is evident from the readiness and address with which she let down her pitcher from her shoulder, and gave drink to the servant of Abraham, and afterward drew for all his camels, that she had been long accustomed to that humble employment. From the same authority we know that Rachel, the daughter of Laban, kept her father's flocks, and submitted to the various privations and hardships of the pastoral life in the deserts of Syria. The patriarch Jacob, though he was the son of a shepherd prince, kept the flocks of Laban, his maternal uncle; and his own sons followed the same business, both in Mesopotamia, and after his return to the land of Canaan. This primeval simplicity was long retained among the Greeks. Homer often sends the daughters of princes and nobles to tend the flocks, to wash the clothes of the family at the fountain, or in the flowing stream, and to perform many other menial services. Adonis, the son of Cinyras, a king of Cyprus, fed his flocks by the streaming rivers:

Et formosus oves ad flumina pavit Adonis.

VIR. Ecl. x, 50. 18.

"Along the streams his flock Adonis fed." DRYDEN.

Andromache, the wife of Hector, complains that Achilles had slain her seven brothers when they were tending their flocks and herds. AEneas pastured his oxen on Mount Ida, when Achilles seized them, and forced the Trojan hero to flee. Phoebus himself was a keeper of oxen in the groves and valleys of Mount Ida. This custom has descended to modern times; for in Syria the daughters of the Turcoman and Arabian shepherds, and in India the Brahmin women of distinction, are seen drawing water at the village wells, and tending their cattle to the lakes and rivers.

The flocks and herds of these shepherds were immensely numerous. The sheep of the Bedoween Arabs in Egypt, and probably throughout the east, are very fine, black-faced and white-faced, and many of them clothed in a brown coloured fleece: and of this superior breed the ample flocks of the Syrian shepherds consisted. So great was the stock of Abraham and Lot, that they were obliged to separate, because "the land was not able to bear them." From the present which Jacob made to his brother Esau, consisting of five hundred and eighty head of different sorts, we may form some idea of the countless numbers of great and small cattle which he had acquired in the service of Laban. In modern times, the numbers of cattle in the Turcoman flocks, which feed on the fertile plains of Syria, are almost incredible. They occupy sometimes three or four days in passing from one part of the country to another. Chardin had an opportunity of seeing a clan of Turcoman shepherds on their march, about two days' distance from Aleppo. The whole country was covered with them. Many of their principal people with whom he conversed on the road, assured him, that there were four hundred thousand beasts of carriage, camels, horses, oxen, cows, and asses, and three millions of sheep and goats. This astonishing account of Chardin is confirmed by Dr. Shaw, who states, that several Arabian tribes, who can bring no more than three or four hundred horses into the field, are possessed of more than as many thousand camels, and triple the number of sheep and black cattle. Russel, in his "History of Aleppo," speaks of vast flocks which pass that city every year, of which many sheep are sold to supply the inhabitants. The flocks and herds which belonged to the Jewish patriarchs were not more numerous.

The care of such overgrown flocks, says Paxton, required many shepherds. These were of different kinds; the master of the family and his children, with a number of herdsmen who were hired to assist them, and felt but little interest in the preservation and increase of their charge. In Hebrew, these persons, so different in station and feeling, were not distinguished by appropriate names; the master, the slave, and the hired servant, were all known by the common appellation of shepherds. The distinction, not sufficiently important to require the invention of a particular term, is expressed among every people by a periphrasis. The only instance in the Old Testament, in which the hired servant is distinguished from the master, or one of his family, occurs in the history of David, where he is said to have left the sheep, על שומר , "in the hand of a keeper," while he went down to visit his brethren, and the armies who were fighting against the Philistines under the banners of Saul, 1 Samuel 17:20 . This word exactly corresponds with the Latin term custos, "a keeper," which Virgil uses to denote a hireling shepherd, in his tenth Eclogue:

Atque utinam ex vobis unus vestrique fuissem, Aut custos gregis, aut maturae vinitor uvae.

"O that your birth and business had been mine, To feed the flock and prune the spreading vine!" WHARTON.

In such extensive pastoral concerns, the vigilance and activity of the master were often insufficient for directing the operations of so many shepherds, who were not unfrequently scattered over a considerable extent of country. An upper servant was therefore appointed to superintend their labours, and take care that his master suffered no injury. In the house of Abraham, this honourable station was held by Eliezer, a native of Damascus, a servant in every respect worthy of so great and good a master. The numerous flocks of Pharaoh seem to have required the superintending care of many overseers, Genesis 47:6 . Doeg, an Edomite, was entrusted with the whole pastoral establishment of Saul, 1 Samuel 21:7 . But in the reign of David, the important office of chief herdsman was abolished, and the vast flocks and herds of that monarch were entrusted to a number of superintendents; animals of the same species forming a separate flock, under its proper overseer, 1 Chronicles 27:29 . These overseers, in the language of the Hebrews, were called the princes of the flock; they were treated with great distinction, and seem to have been selected in the reign of David from among the nobles of his court. Eumaeus, a person of noble birth, agreeably to this custom, was charged with the care of the herds of swine belonging to Ulysses. The office of chief shepherd is frequently mentioned by the classic authors of antiquity. Diodorus relates from Ctesias, that Simma was overseer of the royal flocks under Ninus, king of Assyria. According to Plutarch, one Samo managed the flocks and herds of Neoptolemus, the king of the Molossians. The office of chief shepherd was also known among the Latins; for, in the seventh AEneid, Tyrrheus is named as governor of the royal flocks:

Tyrrheusque pater, cui regia parent

Armenta, et late custodia credita camp.

"Their father, Tyrrheus, did his fodder bring Tyrrheus, chief ranger to the Latian king." DRYDEN.

And Livy informs us, that Faustulus held the same office under Numitor, king of the Latins. But it is needless to multiply quotations; every scholar knows that the Greek and Roman classics abound with allusions to this office, which in those days was one of great importance and dignity, on the faithful discharge of which the power and splendour of an eastern potentate greatly depended. The office of chief shepherd, therefore, being in pastoral countries one of great trust, of high responsibility, and of distinguished honour, is with great propriety applied to our Lord by the Apostle Peter:

"And when the chief shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory which fadeth not away," 1 Peter 5:4 . The same allusion occurs in these words of Paul: "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will," Hebrews 13:20 .


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Shepherds'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/s/shepherds.html. 1831-2.

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