The Shepherd and the Sheep

“The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” —Psalm 23:1

IN THE SCRIPTURES our Heavenly Father has often illustrated his thoughts with word pictures. This wise method helps his children to better understand his care and protection. For example, in Psalm 91:2 we read, “I will say of the Lord, he is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.” Actually the expressions ‘refuge’ and ‘fortress’ are not merely words, they are word pictures, which carry messages of assurance implicit in their meanings.

A fortress is a place of protection, and immediately we realize that in our God we have a place of safety, a refuge into which none of our enemies can enter. It is an impregnable fortress, a veritable ‘Gibraltar’, within which we are secure as long as we abide under the shadow of the Almighty. How wonderful is this word picture—and many others—used in the Bible, and how clearly they teach us what our Father wants us to understand!

In the Twenty-third Psalm we have another of these word pictures. Here the Lord God is pictured as a shepherd, and we as the sheep of his pasture. Immediately as we contemplate the Lord as our shepherd, we can see him walking beside us as we journey along in the ‘narrow way’. We see him with a shepherd’s crook in his hand, and we know that through his providences he is directing our paths lest we go astray.

When comparing himself to a shepherd, the Lord gave us a very apt illustration—an illustration of the care that he gives to his people—care which is solicitous of our welfare—care that is concerned with our spiritual interests—care that is patient toward us because of our fallen condition and inexperience—and care that is untiring in its love, its sympathy, and understanding of us. As we look back upon our lives, we know that we have needed the Shepherd’s care. And as we look forward to each of life’s experiences still ahead of us, we are cognizant of the fact that we also will always need our Shepherd’s care.

The Lord, in designating us as his sheep, gave us another very appropriate word picture, calling attention to the characteristics he desires to see manifested in us. These include meekness, docility, obedience to the Shepherd’s voice, as well as unfaltering loyalty. These are all Christ-like qualities.

As human beings striving to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, we are not able within the limitations of our own strength to compete with the world and the things of the world. We are not qualified to compete with the wayward ‘goats’, the roaring ‘lions’, the vicious ‘bears’, and the subtle ‘serpents’, which we encounter in this world.

The Master said: “I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.” (Matt. 10:16) We know that we are not qualified to engage in battle with ‘wolves’, yet we have no reason to be afraid. We need not fear because, the Lord is our Shepherd, and we are under the tender Shepherd’s care.

All things are of the Father and by the Son; so Jesus is our “Good Shepherd.” We know that our Lord Jesus loves us. We even know how deeply he loves us. The record is clear—he laid down his life for the sheep. He loved us enough to die for us. There is a phrase in the parable of the sheepfold which is significant. It is the one that says: “He calleth his own sheep by name.” (John 10:3) This means that he knows our names; that he is interested in us not merely as a flock, but also as individual sheep.

Just as God loves the flowers he created and cares for those which bloom in the desert unseen by anyone, and are as beautiful and as fragrant as those that grow in a garden, so it is with the sheep. Whether we are in the wilderness apart from other sheep, or not, we know that the Shepherd is there to care for us. The isolated sheep are tended with just as much care and just as much devotion as are the sheep that dwell in the green pastures of Christian fellowship.

The Lord guides and protects and guards all of his flock. Another text declares: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd.” (Isa. 40:11) This is a promise which should remain with us constantly. No matter where we are, or what project we are engaged with during the work hours, or leisure hours of our day we can still get encouragement from the realization that “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd.” And we know that “he … neither slumbers nor sleeps.”—Ps. 121:4

The Lord is our Shepherd,
     Our Guardian, our guide,
Whatever we need,
     He will kindly provide.

To the sheep of his pasture,
     His mercies abound,
With care and protection
     His flock he’ll surround.

The story is told that the shepherds of the East, in Bible times and even now, often at night during the colder part of the year will bring their flocks to a central place and put them in a sheepcote for the night. A sheepcote—a safe enclosure—sometimes is made only of bramble bushes designed to keep out marauders or destructive animals. Throughout the night there may be several flocks of sheep mingled together in this enclosure. But in the morning the shepherds come for their sheep. When the porter, or watchman, opens the gate, each of the shepherds gives his own peculiar call, calling many of the sheep by their names. Then each shepherd starts toward the pasture knowing that his sheep will follow him. And there they go—one here, one there—jumping over the others, each trying to get behind his shepherd. First there is a thin line, and then a larger group, as each follows his own leader in the direction of the pasture he has chosen.

It is said that even now this scene is enacted by the shepherds as it was in the days of our Lord. Against this background we are better able to understand the words of the Master when he said: “When he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.”—John 10:4,5

The voice of the Lord is the voice of truth. The Lord said that false shepherds would come and will call to the sheep, hoping to find followers. Some of them call with a message that the majority of mankind are going to eternal torment, that they will suffer the pangs of eternal fire unless they follow them. That does not sound much like the Christian message. That does not sound much like “peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” (Luke 2:14) That does not sound much like “good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people; for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”—Luke 2:10,11

Is it not strange that glad tidings are preached only one Sunday a year, and the rest of the year a different Gospel is offered? Oh that the Christian message—the message of the coming glorious kingdom—should be given to the world every day of the year!

Another ‘strange shepherd’ calls. He says the way of salvation is far removed from the idea of a child being born in a stable, or of a man being crucified on a cross. He may say that the message of salvation has nothing to do with one man being the Savior of the world, that the atoning blood of one man has no efficacy. Salvation, he says. is through a process of evolution. It is the fittest who survive. Faith has nothing to do with it. There is no original sin. There never was a fall from Adamic perfection. There was no need for a Christ to come as the Savior of the world.

How far removed from the evolution theory is the comforting message, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.” (Isa. 9:6,7) We hear the message of the kingdom in those words.

This is our message to the world: it is the message of the kingdom. It is the message which, in its fulfillment, is that the kingdom shall extend from sea to sea, and from the rivers even unto the ends of the earth. Yes! We hear the true Shepherd’s voice speaking this message, and as we hear it, we agree with the words of the hymn that “Jesus has satisfied, Jesus is mine.”

But the sheep whom the Shepherd is now calling to follow him to the safe and bountiful, peaceful pasture, caring for, calling by name—those who know his voice are, after all, but a ‘little flock’. They are few, but the sheep in this little flock do not constitute the only sheep in the Lord’s great kingdom. No, the Master said, “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”—John 10:16

This text of Scripture has puzzled many. Who are the ‘other sheep?’ The parable of the sheep and the goats identifies these other sheep. It tells us that in the Millennial Age there will be another flock of sheep separated from the goats. This will be a flock of sheep to whom the Lord said: “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”—Matt. 25:34

After the ‘little flock’ is complete and gathered to their heavenly fold, then the other sheep—the willing and the obedient of the Millennial Age—all the families of the earth—will be delivered from the power of death into the kingdom of God. They shall hear his voice, and there shall be one fold, and one Shepherd.

In Ephesians 3:15 Paul wrote concerning, “the whole family in heaven and earth.” One family in heaven and in earth! One family, one fold, one Shepherd. It is in this same vein that the Apostle Paul said in Ephesians 1:10, “In the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one, all things in Christ both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.” Hallelujah, what a Savior!

In Matthew 18:11 and on, we read: “The Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, … and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.”

The ‘ninety and nine’ represent the various others of God’s creation, including the angels, the archangels, the cherubim, the seraphim, and all the heavenly hosts. The sheep that was lost, the sheep that left the fold, the sheep that went astray, represents the human race which became estranged from God. The Shepherd is Jesus, who left the ninety and nine—the heavenly courts, the heavenly hosts—to go down to the earth as the babe in Bethlehem’s manger.

Jesus said that he came to seek and to save that which was lost. At Calvary our Lord Jesus purchased the right to find that lost sheep, and to restore him again to the fold of God. And, at the end of his thousand-year kingdom the human race, which was lost and estranged from God, again will have been brought into the sheepfold. Those who now hear his voice and follow him wheresoever he leads them will become part of the family of God in heaven, united with all the other heavenly hosts; the world of humanity will remain here upon earth—they will comprise the earthly phase of the family of God. Certainly, when this has all been accomplished, there will be rejoicing in heaven, for the Shepherd will have found the lost ‘sheep’ and restored it to the fold. Then will God’s will be done in earth even as it is in heaven. Then will be fulfilled the promise of glad tidings of great joy to all people, because there was born in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

At the time of Jesus’ birth the angels sang. In the fulfillment of this kingdom story, that runs throughout the Scriptures from one end to the other, not only the angels, but men also will sing. Yea, all of the created beings who have been found worthy of eternal life will sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men,” because he who was called Emmanuel, which means, ‘God with us’, had saved his people from their sins.”—Matt. 1:23,2

Dawn Bible Students Association
|  Home Page  |  Table of Contents  |