“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” (John 10:1-6)
What are some of the characteristics of a true and faithful shepherd? The qualities which a literal shepherd of sheep in ancient and present Israel certainly apply to the Lord Jesus Christ and His relationship to his followers or disciples. In the immediate aftermath of healing a man born blind in John 9, and the dialogue which followed with the unbelieving Jewish religious leaders known as the Pharisees, Jesus shared a parable in John 10:1-21 regarding a typical or faithful shepherd and his relationship to his sheep. One of the most significant characteristics of the shepherd was being a guardian and protector of the sheep.
The IVP Background Commentary states, “It (John 10) is based on Old Testament images of God as the shepherd of Israel (Genesis 48:15; 49:24; Psalm 23:1; 28:9; 77:20; 99:6; Is 40:11; Ezekiel 34:11–31), of Israel as his flock (Psalm 74:1; 78:52; 79:13; 100:3) and of abusive or unfaithful religious leaders as destroyers of his flock (Jeremiah 23:1–2; Ezekiel 34). Faithful human shepherds (Jeremiah 3:15) included Moses, David (2 Samuel 5:2; Psalm 78:71–72) and the Davidic Messiah (Micah 5:4).”
Pastor Burk Parsons explains that, “When we hear the word shepherd, we typically think of a gentle, mild-mannered man in a relaxed posture surrounded by sheep grazing in a serene valley with beautiful hills. But that’s only part of the picture. Shepherds are first and foremost guardians and protectors of the sheep. They must be gentle and strong, tender and courageous, caring and fierce. Today, in many parts of the world, as in the ancient Near East, shepherds are some of the most skilled hunters and warriors among their people.”
I discovered that shepherds carry not only rods but also staffs (Psalm 23). What I once thought were two words referring to the same instrument, I discovered I was mistaken.
The rod was a short club that could be thrown with great speed at a fast-approaching predator. The rod was also used to discipline the sheep when they were fighting, to examine the sheep, beneath their wool, to ensure they were free from skin diseases, and to also number the sheep (Ezekiel 20:37).
The staff, on the other hand, was a much longer, narrow rod with a crook on the end that was used for many purposes. It was primarily used to guide the sheep and to rescue them from thickets or from the crag of a rock.
The shepherd’s rod and staff were always visible to the sheep. The shepherd always walked and dwelt among his sheep, rather than sit on a hillside overlooking the sheep. He was always with them. His rod and his staff, the tools he used to guard, rescue, and protect his sheep, were a constant comfort to his flock. In John 10, Jesus describes in His parable the characteristics of the true shepherd.
First, true shepherd enters by the gate to the sheepfold and not by another way, as would a thief or a robber. During the cold winter months, sheep were kept inside a pen at night. The pen, or corral, usually had a stone wall, which might have briers on top of it. Remember, winter was approaching at the time of the Feast of the Tabernacles (John 7-9). Jewish law distinguished thieves from robbers in that the former broke in, whereas the latter often lived in the wilderness and would have no reason to enter the sheep pen other than by the gate. Jesus said, “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens.” Jesus is the true shepherd of believing sinners.
Second, the sheep know the voice of the shepherd. “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” We follow and hear the voice of the Lord when we obey His Word.
What is true of literal shepherds is also true of our spiritual shepherd: the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the true Shepherd and Savior of our souls. His voice, or word, we are to follow and obey.
Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Shepherd of your soul? Are you following Him by obedience to His Word: the Bible?
Soli deo Gloria!