The LORD comforts His people. Isaiah 40 is a beautiful chapter showing the care the LORD has for His people, even when they go astray.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:11 ESV)
The photo below is just one of hundreds that I have made of shepherds with their sheep. Notice that there are two separate flocks and two shepherds.
Shepherds tending their flocks at Socoh. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
Socoh is identified with the tel on the left of the photo. It is located on the south side of the Elah valley. Socoh was a city of Judah where the Philistines gathered to fight with Saul and the men of Israel (1 Samuel 17).
Shepherds frequently take the lambs in their arms. The Photo below was made near Heshbon in Jordan.
A shepherd and a lamb. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
Recently during a mid-week Bible study, a brother presented a short talk on the question the LORD asked Moses.
The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” (Exodus 4:2 ESV)
We are not surprised to find a staff in the hand of Moses. Earlier in the same context we have learn that Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro.
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. (Exodus 3:1 ESV)
Shepherd with his sheep at Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
The staff and the rod (Psalm 23:4) were the tools of the shepherd of Bible times. Here is a brief comment about the rod and staff from the Florida College Annual Lectures of 1993.
“Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me” (vs. 4). Shepherding was a dangerous profession. There were wild animals, thieves and robbers, and some means for defense was needed. The shepherd would carry the rod and staff for the protection of his flock. The rod (Hebrew, shēbet) was a short club about 30 inches long made from an oak sapling. The bulging head was shaped out of the stem at the beginning of the root. It was especially used as a weapon against men and animals who might threaten the flock. The staff (Hebrew, mish’eneth) was a straight pole about six feet long. Mackie says,
“Its service was for mountain climbing, for striking troublesome goats and sheep, beating leaves from branches beyond the reach of his flock, and especially for leaning upon. As he stood clasping the top of his stick with both hands, and leaning his head against it, his conspicuous and well-known figure gave confidence to the sheep grazing around him among the rocks and bushes of the wilderness.” (Mackie 291)
Most of the shepherds that I have seen throughout the Middle East carry a short staff – one that comes about waist high.
Psalm 23 is one of the best known and most loved chapters of the Bible. In it David describes his relationship to the LORD under the analogy of a sheep and his shepherd.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:1-4 NIV)
This Psalm describes one of the common scenes in certain parts of the Middle East. Our photo was made in the mountains of ancient Urartu (Ararat) in eastern Turkey. Notice especially the green pastures and the quiet waters.
A shepherd provides green pastures and quiet water for his sheep. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
Jesus called Himself the “good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14). Jesus wants the same of elders or overseers in the local church, and He reminds them that it is God’s flock and that He is the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4).
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers– not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:1-3 NIV)
Good shepherds serve God’s flock willingly to provide food, care, and protection for the sheep. The concept of “lording it over” the flock or “domineering” is foreign to the spirit of a good shepherd. Overseers lead the flock by their example of godliness.