The Good Shepherd
As we begin this story of the Good Shepherd, it is important to understand that in the New Testament the word in the original Greek for “pastor” and “shepherd” is the same. According to Vine’s An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, the definition of “pastor” is “a shepherd, one who tends herds or flocks.”
When God enters into a relationship with a group of persons and calls them His people, He makes Himself responsible for their care as a shepherd looks after his flock. It is a blessing to know that God has always concerned Himself for His sheep and provided for them in the best possible way.
In this short study we will see:
How He provides and cares for those who are precious to His heart.
He Himself has given to some of His servants the very special charge of caring for His own.
The precious work that He has entrusted into the hands of those who have this great privilege and responsibility of being instruments of the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Shepherd work is a work of those who are valiant, not lazy or self-seeking. It is for the one who has been called by the Lord and is willing to serve sacrificially with his whole heart. There is One who gives this charge and to whom His servants are accountable.
- The Good Shepherd
- The First Shepherd – Abel
- The Good Shepherd –The Lord Jesus Christ
- Self Evaluation
- Other Shepherds In The Bible
- The Hireling and Bad Shepherds
- Bad Shepherds
- Biblical Aspects of Shepherding
- Who Calls One To Be A Shepherd?
- God As Shepherd
- What Is The Function Of A Shepherd?
- What Is Shepherding?
- God is the Owner of the Sheep
- The Importance Of Prayer
- Jotham’s Instruction On Authority
- Olive Tree
- Fig Tree
- The Vine
- The Bramble
- Caring For One Another
- A Final Challenge and Important Consideration
- One More Important Consideration
- Jesus Christ: Shepherd of Shepherds
- Noble And Wicked Shepherds
- In-Depth Shepherd Imagery In Zechariah Summary
- The Problem Encountered
- The Metaphor of the Shepherd in the Literature of the Ancient Near-East
- The Metaphor of the Shepherd in the Literature of the Hebrew Bible
- The Shepherd-King Metaphor
- The Shepherd-God Metaphor
- Explicit References
- Implicit References
- The Historical And Literary Contexts Of Zechariah
- Historical Context of Zechariah
- The Literary Context of Zechariah
- Zechariah 1-8
- Zechariah 9-14
- The Metaphor of the Shepherd in Zechariah 11:4–17
- Zechariah 11:1–3
- Zechariah 11:4–14
- Zechariah 11:4–6
- Zechariah 11:7–14
- Zechariah 11:15–17
- Good Shepherd with Special Reference to Ezekiel 34.
- The Lord Jesus As Our Shepherd
- Qualities of shepherd
- I Shall Not Want
- Lie Down in Green Pastures
- Leadeth Me Beside Still Waters
- Restoreth My Soul
- He Leadeth Me in the Paths of Righteousness
- There will be many seeking to lead us on dangerous paths.
- Job compared the wicked to sheep who refused to stay on the path.
- For His Name’s Sake
- Yea, Though I Walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
- I Will Fear No Evil: For Thou Art With Me
- Thy Rod & Thy Staff They Comfort Me
- Thou Preparest a Table Before Me in the Presence of Mine Enemies
- Thou Anointest My Head With Oil; My Cup Runneth Over
- Surely Goodness & Mercy Shall Follow Me all the Days of My Life
- God’s goodness will follow and accompany us for the rest of our life.
- And I will dwell in the House of the Lord Forever
- Like Sheep Devoid Of A Shepherd: The Shepherd Metaphor & Its Importance For Biblical Leadership
- The shepherd imagery in Zechariah 9-14
- The Shepherd Image In The Hebrew Bible
- The Origin And Composition Of The Shepherd Passages In Deutero Zechariah
- Zechariah 11:17 and 13:7-9
- Zechariah 10:3a
- Different Perspectives On The Shepherd Image
- Lack of a shepherd (10:2b)
- The shepherds who do not care for their flock (10:3a)
- Wail of the shepherds (11:3)
- The prophet as shepherd (11:4-14)
- The three bad shepherds (11:8)
- The worthless shepherd, who deserts his flock (11:15-17)
- God as “uncaring shepherd” (11:4-17)
- God’s shepherd, his associate (13:7-9)
- Summary and Concluding Remarks
- The Shepherd Model: Leading God’s People
- Jesus the Good Shepherd
- How to be a great Shepherd (Leader)
- The Only Good Shepherd: Jesus
Even though not all have been given the gift of a shepherd, each one of us has the privilege and responsibility to care for one another.
May the Lord bless this little study for our learning, help, direction and blessing; for the better care, growth and benefit of the Lord’s sheep; and most importantly for the glory and honour of our Saviour and Lord.
The First Shepherd – Abel
God tells us in Genesis, “Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in process of time, it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof” (Genesis 4:2-4).
We remember that Adam and Eve were put out of the garden after they sinned. Sometime later they had two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain cultivated crops and Abel shepherded sheep and goats. As we consider this it is interesting to see that God speaks of eating meat only after the flood. It seems that Abel did not have his animals for meat. So, what did Abel do with his sheep? He brought the best and the fat-test as an offering to God! And, beginning with Abel we see that most of the Old Testament sacrifices were sheep and goats.
What a beautiful example, full of significance, for all pastors! The first shepherd mentioned in the Bible had as his purpose of heart to care for the sheep in such a way that he could present them to God as a special offering – well cared for, strong, fat, healthy, pleasant, with-out defect or wound; something that would be very pleasing to the heart of God to His honour and glory. By contrast, during the time of Malachi, the priests offered animals that were damaged, lame and torn to God’s displeasure (Mal. 1:8). Abel is a wonderful example in his attitude, care, selflessness and purpose of heart. What a challenge for the one who has been given the wonderful privilege and charge as a pastor of God’s flock. May the purpose of his heart be to present to God that which is pleasing, not for himself but for God!
Our Lord Jesus Christ was the perfect shepherd. We read: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
What was this joy that was before the Lord Jesus? It was to glorify God. Certainly, it had to do with our salvation and bringing many sons to glory, but His foremost desire was to glorify God and to restore that which Satan had robbed through sin. This was His joy. He was ready to suffer the mocking, the hate, the shame, the curse of being nailed to the cross, the abuses of man, and the weight of our sins – even to be made sin and to be forsaken by the Holy God. He did this for God and to have sheep from every tribe, tongue, people and nation. It was for these reasons that the Good Shepherd suffered, even to the point of giving His life for His sheep.
“The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). The Lord Jesus, our perfect example said, “I am the Good Shepherd; the Good Shepherd giveth His life for His sheep” (John 10:11). The Lord Jesus Christ came to seek that wayward, lost sheep. Finding that one, He carried it on His shoulders, rejoicing: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost until he finds it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing” (Luke 15:4-5).
The Good Shepherd –The Lord Jesus Christ
The Lord Jesus not only gave His life so that His sheep could have eternal life, but He also shepherds them every day. He cares and provides for every need of the believer while they are in this hostile, worldly wilderness. Psalm 23 shows us what the Lord, the Good Shepherd, does for His sheep on a daily basis. In this, He is the example for pastors as to how they should serve, minister and shepherds the sheep that the Lord has put under their care. When we read this chapter questions for pastors are brought to mind:
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (v.1). Can the sheep under your care say the same about the way that you are caring for them? Are you really meeting their needs?
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures” (v.2a). As the sheep are not able to rest unless they are satisfied, thinking of the green pastures, what are you giving your sheep to eat? Are you giving good things: “spiritual milk” (1 Pet. 2:2) and the Word of God? Or are you presenting things that are not from the Bible, such as your own opinions, the unbiblical teachings of a denomination, words to tickle the ears, or ideas and thoughts that will not offend the congregation so as to not lose members? Sheep lie down when they are at peace. Is the situation in their personal lives and in the flock such that they can rest quietly, or is there friction and strife? Problems between sheep affect the entire flock.
“He leadeth me beside still waters” (v.2b). Are you satisfying the thirst of the sheep with pure, fresh water?
“He restoreth my soul” (v.3a). Are you able to comfort or restore those who have hurts and pains in their lives, in their marriages or in their homes? Do you have a good knowledge of the condition, needs and concerns of the sheep? Do you have time for them?
“He leadeth me in the path of righteousness” (v.3b). Are you leading the sheep blamelessly and without respect of persons, your-self being truly righteous? Do you know the right way so that you are able and qualified to guide others?
“Yea though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death I will fear no evil for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (v.4). Are you ready to put yourself in front of danger for the protection of the sheep? Do you have the necessary instruments to protect them, guide them and correct them? Are you sufficiently competent to use the instruments in the correct way that will not hurt or discourage?
“Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of my enemies” (v.5a). While here in the enemy’s land where believers are mocked and despised, are you able to provide a spiritual feast for the sheep entrusted to you? Can you direct them to the Lord Jesus?
“Thou anointest my head with oil” (v.5b). At times there are wounds and disease in the sheep that require the application of the correct medicine in a loving, gentle way. Do you know how to do that?
“My cup runneth over” (v.5c). Are the cups of your sheep running over in praise to God for what He has provided for them, including the care granted through the pastor in whose hands God has placed them?
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (v.6). This is the response of a sheep that is very secure, content and well cared for; enjoying the tenderness of God’s love.
As His sheep, this should be our response when we think of the Perfect and Good Shepherd and the wonderful care that He gives us. But sadly, many times we complain and are not content. This is our fault, not His. In the same way, the sheep that God has put under our care are many times not satisfied and content. As a pastor one may need to ask, “Is it my fault? Am I an Abel? Am I following the example of the Good Shepherd, to God’s honour and glory?”
Other Shepherds In The Bible
Although the Lord Jesus is our perfect example and model, we can find many valuable lessons and warnings by considering other shepherds in the Bible.
When we consider Jacob’s example as a shepherd we see that the work of a pastor is not for the coward and weak. It is not easy and does not consist of a life of comfort. Sacrificing, serving and giving is in the place of receiving. Shepherds must even be ready to risk their lives. The position is one of total surrender for the sake of the sheep. Jacob said to his father-in-law Laban, “Twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten. That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst, thou require it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes” (Genesis 31:38-40).
We understand the suffering that he experienced in the wilderness, consumed by the extreme heat of daytime or the unpleasant cold of the night. Despite the conditions, he did not leave the sheep alone; he suffered with them. He was constantly watching over them, not allowing sleep to overpower him because he knew that the sheep were his responsibility. He had to watch, he had to provide, he had to protect because he was responsible for their well-being, even though they belonged to someone else. What a lesson for those who are shepherds of God’s flock today!
Rightly so, we read this next verse thinking of the subjection of the sheep to the shepherd and those who rule over them: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17). But, let’s focus on the responsibility of the shepherd.
The one who is a pastor called of God must look after the souls of the sheep that have been given into his care. Every sheep is to be considered a treasure. What does one do with a treasure? He looks after it and guards it with all his heart! While looking after Laban’s flock Jacob was personally responsible for the life and condition of each, individual sheep. He had to give an account to the owner for every precious one. Similarly, one day the shepherds of the Lord’s flock will give an account to God for how they cared for the sheep. Then they will be rewarded for their work.
From Jacob’s example, we see the importance of knowing and dealing with each sheep in relation to its individual condition and limitations. Speaking one day to his brother Esau, Jacob said, “My lord knoweth that the children are tender, and the flocks and herds with young are with me: and if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die. Let my lord, I pray thee, pass over before his servant: and I will lead on softly, according to as the cattle that goeth before me and the children be able to endure” (Genesis 33:13, Genesis 33:14).
Jacob knew that he could not push his sheep excessively as this would be harmful to them. The mature ones could withstand more than the younger ones, but to push the young ones too much would be unhealthy. We see this same principle in 1 John 2 where the apostle addressed three distinct groups of people: children, fathers and young men; speaking to each according to their maturity. All believers are not equal – some need milk while others meat. The pastor should know what each one needs and is capable to bear.
From these points we understand that it is not the sheep of the flock that serve the pastor; it is the other way around. The pastor suffers, sacrifices, protects, provides and invests his all, even to his life, for the sheep. He does not concern himself with his own pleasures or desires nor seek his own importance. Rather, he wants the sheep to prosper since they are not his but they belong to the Good Shepherd who gave His life for us all.
About Moses, Isaiah wrote: “Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is He that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of His flock? Where is He that put His Holy Spirit within him? That led them by the right hand of Moses with
His glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make Himself an everlasting name?” (Isaiah 63:11, Isaiah 63:12). We remember that Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s palace in Egypt receiving what was probably the best education available. But God had a special purpose for Moses and in His counsels, He brought him to the desert where he spent 40 years looking after his father-in-law’s herds. During those 40 years, Moses was in the school of God. When his preparation was finished God called Moses to shepherd His people.
Moses was a very special example of what a pastor should be! He is known to be the meekest man of all (Numbers 12:3) – even though the people of Israel were rebellious and tried his patience many times. . Because of their disobedience God said several times that He would destroy the people of Israel. . But Moses intervened on their behalf and petitioned God that He not do so, asking that he, Moses, be destroyed rather than the people (Exodus 32:32).
Although Moses was such an important and esteemed man, who alone had the privilege of coming into the very presence of God, he did not seek his own glory or interests. Rather, he sought blessing for the people, the flock of God.
Before David became the king of Israel he looked after his father’s herds; he was a shepherd. Although well qualified to write from the perspective of a shepherd, he wrote Psalm 23 as being one of the sheep who experienced the joy of the Good Shepherd – Jehovah.
When David told Saul that he was ready to fight Goliath, he convinced the king with the following words: “Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him.. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear” (1st Samuel 17:34, 1st Samuel 17:35, 1st Samuel 17:36).
How courageous it was for a young man of 15-20 years of age to put his life at risk for the sake of the sheep – which were not his own, but his father’s. This demonstrates the character of a true shepherd – an example or figure of our Lord Jesus who gave His life to free us from the power of Satan, our enemy. David did not do this in his own strength but the power of God. So for pastors today, as with all of us – without the Lord we can do nothing.
Later in life, King David ordered a census to see the greatness of his army. God was angry at David for doing this and chastened him for it. He sent an angel which went through the nation killing many people. When David saw what was happening he cried out to God, “Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? Let Thine hand, I pray Thee, be against me, and against my father’s house” (2nd Samuel 24:17). Knowing he was the guilty one, it hurt David to see the people suffer. Acknowledging his own guilt and responsibility, he put himself between God and the people to protect them.
This act of protection is just what the Lord Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane. He put Himself between His disciples and the enemies who came against Him. Jesus told His enemies to let the others go free. We can apply this to ourselves. The Lord Jesus, who never sinned and was not guilty, took our guilt and punishment – dying for us. . We read in Isaiah: “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes, we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all”.
The apostle Paul had the privilege of revealing the great truths about the Church after it began on the day of Pentecost. Before that, God had Israel as His own chosen people. His relationship with them was based on laws, sacrifices and temple worship. But when they rejected their Messiah by crucifying Him, God set them aside temporarily (waiting for the time when He will take up His relationship with them) and started a special relationship with a new group of people consisting of all believers, the Church. God revealed through Paul how the Church was to function, its membership, the gifts and many other things.
Besides being a teacher and evangelist, Paul was a pastor. We see this in several things that he said in his letters. To the Corinthians, he wrote: “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?” (2 Corinthians 11:28, 2 Corinthians 11:29). Paul was saying that if anyone had a problem, difficulty or weakness he felt it as if it was his own.
With care and affection, He wrote as a nursing mother to the Thessalonians: “We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls because ye were dear unto us. For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable [a burden] unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-9).
On another occasion he wrote to the Corinthians as a father: “I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me” (1 Corinthians 4:14, 1 Corinthians 4:15, 1 Corinthians 4:16), and “Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved” (2 Corinthians 12:14, 1 Corinthians 4:15).
To Timothy, his son1 in the faith, Paul wrote: “I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day; Greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy” (2nd Timothy 1:3, 2nd Timothy 1:4). We feel the concern that Paul as a shepherd had for one of the sheep, Timothy.
To those of Philippi he wrote: “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith” (Philippians 1:23, Philippians 1:24, Philippians 1:25). He continued, “Yea, and if I am offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all” (Philippians 2:17). It is obvious from these verses that he was happy and ready to give his life, his all, for the sheep.
Without a doubt, we see that Paul was a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ and that he cared for the flock with the same attitude as did the Good Shepherd. Both gave themselves totally in service for the sheep.
Reflecting on these beautiful examples we soon understand that to be a pastor is a service of great self-sacrifice, a giving of oneself for the sheep. It is not for personal prominence, but for the purpose of producing a people, at whatever personal cost, that are very pleasing to God!
The Hireling and Bad Shepherds
The Hireling Is Not A Shepherd
The Lord Jesus, when speaking about Himself in John as the Good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep, spoke about the hireling. We read in John 10:11, John 10:12, John 10:13: “I am the Good Shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is a hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is a hireling, and careth not for the sheep.” Since the hireling is only looking after the sheep for a wage he does not care that much for them. He certainly is not ready to give his life for them as did the Good Shepherd. So one needs to ask himself: “Am I doing this work like the hireling or like the Good Shepherd?”
In Ezekiel 34 God has a message for the shepherds of the people of Israel: “Thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.
And they were scattered because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them. Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord; As I live, saith the Lord God, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves and fed not my flock;
Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord; Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them. For thus saith, the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep and seek them out”. As this is only a portion of the chapter, we encourage you to read the entire chapter to understand God’s message of condemnation to the shepherds of Israel and His warning about what He is about to do against them and for His people.. Notice how the Lord, our Good Shepherd in Psalm 23 does everything to meet the needs of the sheep, while the pastors in Israel in Ezekiel 34 did not.
How terrible it is to read these accusations against the pastors of old in Israel, their interests being only themselves. They abused those whom God had given under their care. Of course, they did not recognize themselves as being like that – which is the same problem today. Some are simply making themselves rich at the sheep’s expense. But God saw all the pastors of old did and took account. He rejected them and said that they would receive a just recompense [compensation] for their works (Luke 23:41).
It is important that pastors put themselves in the light of God’s Word to be judged according to His way of thinking and working. With great sadness Paul spoke to the elders in Ephesus, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:28, Acts 20:29, Acts 20:30, Acts 20:31).
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:9, Jeremiah 17:10).
So it is that many times we deceive ourselves to justify what we are doing. But the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd of the sheep warns, “Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord. Therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the Lord. And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase” (Jeremiah 23:1, Jeremiah 23:2, Jeremiah 23:3, Jeremiah 23:4) and “Howl, ye shepherds, and cry; and wallow yourselves in the ashes, ye principal of the flock: for the days of your slaughter and of your dispersions are accomplished; and ye shall fall like a pleasant vessel. And the shepherds shall have no way to flee, nor the principal of the flock to escape. A voice of the cry of the shepherds, and a howling of the principal of the flock, shall be heard: for the Lord hath spoiled their pasture” (Jeremiah 25:34, Jeremiah 25:35, Jeremiah 25:36).
Remember that we have already seen that pastors will one day give an account to God of how they have carried out this service as shepherds of the flock of the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 13:17). This position is very serious and gives great responsibility. One day God will judge and reward [recompense] each one according to how they have carried out their service, both good and bad.
Biblical Aspects of Shepherding
Who Calls One To Be A Shepherd?
Although he felt incapable, the call that Moses received was a call directly from God. We read: “Come now, therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt. And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:10, Exodus 3:11). It was the same with David. “Now therefore so shalt thou say unto my servant David, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I took thee from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, to be ruler over My people, over Israel” (2 Samuel 7:8).
In the New Testament, we read: “Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed My lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed My sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? And he said unto Him, Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed My sheep” (John 21:15, John 21:16, John 21:17). It was the Lord who called Peter.
Even the great apostle Paul did not take this honour for himself but it was given to him by God. “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:1-2).
We read that is was God, by the Holy Spirit, who also selected the elders of the church. “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).
That God chooses pastors is important for all of us to understand in this day and age when there are many varying and incorrect practices of people taking responsibilities on themselves or being given them by others. We may ask where in Scripture do we find the common practices of our day, such as ordination or the selection of a pastor by a congregation? Where are the Biblical justifications to hold church elections where the majority of the members decides? They cannot be found.
Bible college courses or seminary may increase knowledge, but we never find them in Scripture to be qualifications for God’s calling. A person designating himself as a pastor or referring to a congregation as being “my church,” as if he was the owner, places himself in disagreement with the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church, of which there is only one. To take such a position is a very serious thing and should be abandoned because it robs the Lord of His rights and position as head of the Church.
When evaluating his abilities, Moses did not consider himself to be capable, even though God called him. And when Samuel went to anoint a new king over Israel the family totally forgot about David. Oh! his brother was very well qualified, they thought; even Samuel thought so. . But God said “No!” We read: “And it came to pass when they came, that he looked on Eliab, and said, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.’ But the Lord said unto Samuel, ‘Look not on his countenance, or the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart’” (1st Samuel 16:6, 1st Samuel 16:7).
When considering spiritual things, worldly human thoughts have no place. Neither should we say, “Well this is the way that we have done things over the years”; or “This is the way our denomination does things.” We need to search and examine by asking, “What does the Bible say?” Then we need to put the biblical teaching into practice.
When Moses understood that he could not enter into the land of Canaan, he petitioned God that He would not leave Israel without a pastor.
“Moses spake unto the Lord, saying, Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd. And the Lord said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay thine hand upon him; And set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. And thou shalt put some of thine honour upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient. And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the Lord: at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation. And Moses did as the Lord commanded him: and he took Joshua and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation: And he laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge, as the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses” (Numbers 27:15, Numbers 27:16, Numbers 27:17, Numbers 27:18, Numbers 27:19, Numbers 27:20, Numbers 27:21, Numbers 27:22, Numbers 27:23).
It is beautiful to see that Moses asked God and God Himself chose the one to be the pastor who would replace Moses. Moses did not even suggest Joshua, even though Joshua had been at his side for many years and seemingly was the obvious choice. It was God who chose!
We know that the Lord is our shepherd. He gave His life for His sheep; and since the Lord has done so, certainly a priority of His heart is the proper care of His own. Mark tells us, “Jesus, when He came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and He began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34). Since the Lord had compassion for this multitude, can we even imagine that He would not provide shepherds for His sheep? It is best to let Him choose, in His love, the ones to look after us.
In Hebrews 13:20 the Lord who is over all has the title of “the Great Shepherd of the sheep.” And in 1 Peter 5:1 He is called the “Chief Shepherd,” He is the one who is the most interested and involved with His sheep – more than any other. He has given the charge and responsibility for the care of His sheep to others, but He is lovingly watching to see how both His sheep and the pastors are doing.
God As Shepherd
God was Israel’s pastor and they recognized Him as such. “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth” (Psalm 80:1). “Behold, the Lord God will come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him: behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:10, Isaiah 40:11).
Just as God cared for Israel, so He will also care for believers. He will not leave us without a shepherd. “He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11 Ephesians 4:12). Jesus Christ has all of the rights over the Church because it belongs to Him: “He is before all things, and by Him, all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:17, Colossians 1:18). The Lord Jesus Christ has taken it upon Himself to look after His Church. Therefore He is the One who calls and gives pastors to it, and they are responsible to Him.
What Is The Function Of A Shepherd?
God has given various gifts, some prophets, some evangelists, and some teachers and pastors. By the lists that are given in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 and Ephesians 4 we understand that normally speaking one person does not have all of these gifts. Perhaps a believer will only have one gift. So we need to ask, “What is the gift and work that the Lord wants from the one He has called to shepherd? Is it to rule, be the director, guide and delegate all in the church? Should he preach all the messages, direct the singing, choose all the hymns and say all the prayers? Is it to have a regular salary? From the Scriptures, we know that this is not what the Lord has in mind.
In Peter we read that all believers are a royal and kingly priest-hood, to give glory to the Lord: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in scripture. Behold, I lay in Sion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe He is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1st Peter 2:5, 1st Peter 2:6, 1st Peter 2:7, 1st Peter 2:8, 1st Peter 2:9).
It is the privilege and responsibility of all believers to offer spiritual sacrifices to God when the church meets. This may be through prayer, praise, a reading of Scripture or through a hymn that is sung. This is not reserved for only one person or group of persons, but for every believer within the limits that the Word of God gives to the spiritual condition of a believer and the limitations on sisters in the church.
Furthermore, God has given a gift to each member of the Body of Christ. We do not all have the same gift and neither do we have all of the gifts. Having one or a few who are chosen to preach, direct, organize and delegate takes away the right of the Lord Jesus to be the Lord and Head in His own Church – a very serious matter. In many places today the right of the Lord to use whom He desires by the Holy Spirit to give praises, to preach the Word or to pray is restricted by the human organization. In so doing the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ has been replaced.
What Is Shepherding?
It is the work done by one who has been called by the Lord, given the charge and prepared by Him to look after His sheep. He must be able to teach but he may not necessarily be involved in public preaching as this is the work of the one who has the gift of a teacher. A shepherd looks after the sheep. He senses their weaknesses and needs, hopefully before they go astray. He helps, encourages and strengthens them. Many times the work is done in private between the shepherd and the sheep solely in the presence of God.
If a sheep goes astray there is more work to be done. One day Jesus, speaking to the Pharisees, asked, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4). The sheep was lost. By itself, the helpless one would not have returned home so the shepherd had to go look for it. The search was difficult and lonely. With perseverance, he looked and looked and looked until he found the lost sheep. He didn’t give up until he found and brought it home again, sharing his joy with everyone. The shepherd examined the found sheep to see if medicine or an ointment needed to be applied, being concerned until he was certain that it was fine.
When others are discouraged or give up, the pastor applies himself fully for the restoration of the dear, lost sheep. He gives his life in service for the sheep. Without looking for attention and his own glory, he works out in the field – a shepherd with the sheep. He watches carefully and knows the condition of those under his vigilance and responsibility: “Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks and look well to thy herds” (Proverbs 27:23). We are reminded that David followed the sheep: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I took thee from the sheepcote, from following the sheep” (2nd Samuel 7:8). From that vantage point, he could survey and watch over them. He would quickly see the one who was going astray, hurt or in need. The shepherd could then intervene and give the needed help.
A pastor guides more than he commands. “The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd” (Ecclesiastes 12:11). A goad is a sharply pointed pole that was used to prick the animal without damaging it, to guide and encourage it to continue on. Guiding is by using the Word of God, necessitating a proper manner of life by the shepherd as an example for the sheep. “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation” (Hebrews 13:7).
The shepherd must recognize spiritual dangers and protect and warn the sheep under his care. This includes being a good example, opening the pathway, and watching for and removing dangers and obstacles. “When he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice” (John. 10:4).
A shepherd is one who has compassion and gives comfort. The Lord Jesus shows how we should comfort others. One day the Lord said to his disciples, “And now is My soul troubled” (John 12:27) because He knew that in a few hours He would be suffering on the cross. But even with this burden in His heart, only a few moments later with His disciples sad and troubled, He said to them, “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1). The burden of that which was before Him was so much greater than the sorrow of His disciples, yet, rather than being occupied with Himself He was concerned with them and their needs.
With an attitude of humility and compassion, a good pastor is there to lift the one who has fallen in the way. He is one who knows how to apply a spiritual remedy for the one who is wounded and hurt. “And He said unto them, ‘What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?’” (Matthew 12:11).
Peter, chosen by the Lord Himself to keep and feed the sheep and lambs, teaches that if shepherds do well there will be a good return from the Lord. He said, “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being [examples] to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1st Peter 5:1). Considering his words we are reminded:
God is the Owner of the Sheep
The elders need to feed the flock voluntarily and with a good heart rather than under obligation or for dishonest gain.
Pastors, although having a certain authority in their leadership role, are not to act like dictators. Rather, they are to be good examples.
By meditating on each of these words we will reap rich teaching on the conduct and character of those who have been enlisted in the service of a shepherd.
The Importance Of Prayer
Reading Deuteronomy 9 we discover a quality which is necessary for the life of a pastor. Moses wrote: “Furthermore the Lord spake unto me, saying, I have seen these people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people. Let Me alone, that I may destroy them, and blot out their name from under heaven: and I will make of thee a nation mightier and greater than they. And I fell before the Lord, as at the first, forty days and forty nights: I did neither eat bread nor drink water, because of all your sins which ye sinned, in doing wickedly in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger. I prayed therefore unto the Lord, and said, O Lord God, destroy not Thy people and Thine inheritance, which Thou hast redeemed through Thy greatness, which Thou hast brought forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Yet they are Thy people and Thine inheritance, which Thou broughtest out by Thy mighty power and by Thy stretched out arm” (Deuteronomy 9:13, Deuteronomy 9:14, Deuteronomy 9:18, Deuteronomy 9:26, Deuteronomy 9:29).
We may be reminded of the story of Moses when he was up in the mountaintop with God: Israel made the golden calf and worshipped it. God told Moses that He saw the wickedness of the people and said He would destroy them and start over again through Moses. Not desiring this, Moses implored God, interceding on behalf of Israel.
Moses requested that God not destroy them, reminding the Lord of His relationship with His people and the testimony of His great work of redeeming Israel from the bondage of Egypt by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Just think about it, Moses spent 40 days on the mountaintop in God’s presence interceding for Israel. . He was not there seeking something for himself but was there on behalf of Israel, seeking what was for their good and for the glory of God.
In a similar way, Samuel was “grieved … and he cried unto the Lord all night” over Saul and his failure to obey God’s instructions (1st Samuel 15:11). Oh, how Samuel cared about one!
These instances remind us of the Lord Jesus Christ interceding for all His sheep in John 17. We also think of His intercession for Peter: “The Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fails not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:31, Luke 22:32).
Obviously, a very great and important part of the work of a pastor is prayer, whether privately interceding for the sheep or praying with the sheep. God’s strength, not ours, keeps the flock. So we ask, “How often are you praying? How much of your time is invested in prayer for each individual sheep as well as the flock that God has placed under your care?”
Jotham’s Instruction On Authority
In the Old Testament book of Judges we have a story that is very instructive on authority. God, through Gideon, accomplished a great victory for Israel and they wanted to crown this man as their king.
But “Gideon said unto them, ‘I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you’” (Jude 8:23). “And Gideon had threescore and ten sons of his body begotten: for he had many wives. And his concubine that was in Shechem, she also bares him a son, whose name he called Abimelech” (Jude 8:30, Jude 8:31).
“And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem unto his mother’s brethren, and communed with them, and with all the family of the house of his mother’s father, saying, ‘Speak, I pray you, in the ears of all the men of Shechem, Whether is better for you, either that all the sons of Jerubbaal, which are threescore and ten persons, reign over you, or that one reign over you?
Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.’ And his mother’s brethren spake of him in the ears of all the men of Shechem all these words: and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech; for they said, ‘He is our brother.’ And they gave him threescore and ten pieces of silver out of the house of Baalberith, wherewith Abimelech hired vain and light persons, which followed him. And he went unto his father’s house at Ophrah, and slew his brethren the sons of Jerubbaal, being threescore and ten persons, upon one stone: notwithstanding yet Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left; for he hid.
And all the men of Shechem gathered together, and all the house of Millo, and went, and made Abimelech king, by the plain of the pillar that was in Shechem. And when they told it to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice, and cried, and said unto them, ‘Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you. The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, “Reign thou over us.” But the olive tree said unto them, “Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?”
And the trees said to the fig tree, “Come thou, and reign over us.” But the fig tree said unto them, “Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?” Then said the trees unto the vine, “Come thou, and reign over us.” And the vine said unto them, “Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?” Then said all the trees unto the bramble, “Come thou, and reign over us.” And the bramble said unto the trees, “If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon” (Jude 9:1, Jude 9:2, Jude 9:3, Jude 9:4, Jude 9:5, Jude 9:6, Jude 9:7, Jude 9:8, Jude 9:9, Jude 9:10, Jude 9:11, Jude 9:12, Jude 9:13, Jude 9:14, Jude 9:15).
Let us briefly examine what the trees said when it was suggested to each one that they should become king.
“Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?”
The tree chose to do the work that God had given it to do, rather than to be important in the eyes of others. It wanted to please both God and man with its oil.
We remember that the lamps of the tabernacle used olive oil so we see this as an example of being a bright testimony shining for the honour of God in the midst of a generation shrouded in great darkness.
The olive did not want to abandon this important function that God had entrusted to it just to satisfy the multitude by taking a place over the rest.
The fig tree had the same attitude. “Should I forsake mysweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?”
How beautiful. The fruit of the fig tree was food and sweetness for those around it. One day the Lord Jesus seeing a fig tree sought to satisfy His hunger with its fruit.
But when He arrived at the tree He found none (Mark 11:12, Mark 11:13). May God find in us sweetness, or food, for Himself.
In the Scriptures, we often find that when someone offered a burnt offering to God it ascended as a sweet-smelling savour to Him. May this also be the case in our service for Him.
The response of the vine was the same: “Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?” It did not want to be great for itself, but it wanted to give joy to the heart of God. If this desire is found in us we too will give joy to His heart and those around us.
Unlike the others, the bramble wanted to be great. Even though it was the lowest of all the trees it was the first to want the highest position. “If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.” We see the attitude of the bramble: the one that was the least qualified wanted to be the most important and to rule overall. What a contrast between the bramble and the three trees. . The bramble was looking for self-importance whereas the trees wanted to serve God, producing the fruit intended by God for His glory and man’s blessing.
There is an important lesson for us in this parable. We see that the trees understood that they had a special, God-given task. They realized that it was their privilege to do His work in the sphere that He had given them and because of this they were not willing to give this place up just for their own interests.
Equally today God has given to each one of His children a gift, a service for Him. All believers have a gift; but just as there were an olive tree, a fig tree and a vine, there is diversity. May we recognize and understand what God has entrusted to us individually – each one having his or her specially designated service. May none of us usurp the service that God has given to some-one else and let no one take a position that God has not given or which is not of God.
During the time of the apostles, a certain man had the same attitude as the bramble, but this attitude is just the opposite of what should characterize a pastor. We read: “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church” (3rd John. 1:9, 3rd John. 1:10).
Today’s concept of a pastor as found in many congregations is not what we see in the Bible and cannot be justified by Scripture. So if we want to be honest and serious in our walk with the Lord in the way that we meet together, we must separate ourselves from that which is not according to His Word. It is the glory and honour of the Lord that is important. Continuing with a person designated as a pastor who takes the position of the head or director is to take away from the Lord His rights – something we should never do.
Yes, thank the Lord that there are shepherds! He has provided them. If we did not have them the sheep, the flock would be in much greater difficulty. As with all gifts, He has called those to be pastors to do His work for the blessing and good of the entire Body of Christ, the whole
Church, not just a small local part of it. Those who have been called to this service and given this gift have a wonderful responsibility to Him who has called them. One day they will give an account to Him who will judge how they have done.
We have seen clearly from various verses and examples in the New Testament that the gift of pastor is not a person, but it is a spiritual gift entrusted by God to one of His children to be used in the power of the Holy Spirit. This gift is for the benefit and building up of all believers, for God’s glory.
The Bible does not teach the common practice of one calling himself “pastor” of a group to be their leader, nor that a person should take the place of directing in a time of worship, prayer or edification – the preaching of the Word. Such actions take from the Lord Jesus Christ His rights to direct His Church in the way that He knows is best! Doing so is a very serious offence.
Our Lord, who is the head of the Church, is the only One who right-fully chooses, prepares, commissions and provides all that is necessary to fulfil the functions of the gift of pastor. Such a service is one of total self-denial, surrendering his own rights for the sake of the Lord’s sheep. The Lord has charged this person with this function and as such the pastor must look to Him, rather than the flock under his care, for spiritual guidance and provision as well as for his daily physical needs.
Caring For One Another
The work of caring for one another is not just for pastors. We have seen that all of the elders of the local church are also to serve in this way. And all who are spiritual must help those who are discouraged and in need. Paul said, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in a fault, ye which is spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1).
The Lord taught us through the parable of the good Samaritan that we need to look after one another. Jesus said, “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. Jesus said unto him, ‘Go, and do thou likewise’” (Luke 10:30, Luke 10:33, Luke 10:34, Luke 10:37).
Then in James, we read “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one converts him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (James 5:19, James 5:20). So we see that it is the responsibility of all of us to look after each other thus doing the work of a shepherd.
There is one of whom we have not spoken because we do not normally associate him as being a shepherd. However, when we read his story we see that he was.
Jacob had many sheep and Joseph and his brothers looked after them. For certain reasons Joseph’s brothers had bad feelings toward him and these feelings were so strong that the Bible says that they hated him.
One day Jacob sent Joseph to see how his brothers were doing as they were looking after the sheep near Shechem, which was about 50 miles (80 kilometres) away. Even though they were so far away and Joseph knew that his brothers hated him, Joseph obeyed his father and went. He wanted to do that which was the desire of his father, the one who had given him this service. His father “said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. And he said to him, Here am I. And he said to him, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brethren, and well with the flocks; and bring me word again” (Genesis 37:13, Genesis 37:14). So because of the love he had for his father Joseph went. He left Hebron, where they were living, and came to Shechem. But they were no longer there. Joseph inquired and was informed that his brothers had taken the flocks to Dothan, another 20 miles (25 kilometres) further. So Joseph went and searched for his brothers until he found them because his father was concerned about them.
As we reflect on this story we understand that this is a figure of how our heavenly Father cares for us. We also see the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son who was loved by His Father left the Father’s house to come and look for us. There are many beautiful things in this story about Joseph that are a figure of the Lord Jesus: the relationship between him and his father, his service, how he was hated by his own brethren, his suffering but also his exaltation and glory as of the ruler and saviour of the world, and the restoration of the relationship between him and his brothers. What a wonderful example for each one of us.
Like Joseph, we also need to think of the needs of our brothers and sisters. Our service should first of all be motivated by love for our Father. He tells us, “Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brethren,” and just like Joseph, we should have a heart ready to obey our Father. We should be willing to sacrifice ourselves without regard to their attitude toward us or any other negative things that there may be to deviate us from this service. Joseph’s response to his father was “Here am I…” What is our response?
A Final Challenge and Important Consideration
Pastoral or shepherd care is very important and necessary – something that each one of us must practice. “And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). So we ask ourselves: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is a resounding, Yes! Yes, I am! Yes, bless God that the Lord Jesus Christ has given shepherds to His Church to care for His own with the purpose that there would be healthy, holy children of God who are pleasing to the Lord, for His honor and glory.
Yes, if Jesus Christ has given you the gift of a shepherd put it into practice in the manner that the Word of God teaches.
Yes, if you do not have this gift, still do the work of a shepherd, looking after your brother and sister in Christ by means of this important and necessary service.
One More Important Consideration
Although it was the Lord who commissioned Peter as a shepherd, we may wonder what qualities were needed by Peter to do this service? The Lord Himself gave the answer:
He was to love the Lord – “Do you love Me?”
He was to follow the Lord – “Follow thou Me”.
Isaiah 50:4 says “The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned” (italics mine). We can only speak words of encouragement to help others when we fill ourselves with the Lord Jesus in His Word and follow Him. When the Lord opened the Scriptures which spoke of Himself to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus their hearts burned within them, and when they saw the Lord they were so invigorated with joy they returned to their brethren to be a blessing to them. So too with us, the only true way to serve others is to love and follow the Lord in intimate fellowship with Him.
“Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do” (1st Thessalonians 5:11).
Jesus Christ: Shepherd of Shepherds
“Good Shepherd” paintings abound. We have all seen them: the central figure stands in an idyllic scene gently caressing a lamb in his arms or carrying it across his shoulders; other sheep crowds around or blissfully lie nearby; the bearded face displays a kind, loving, and often other-worldly expression. These images lie firmly embedded in the imagination and tend to surface each time we hear of the Good Shepherd, Great Shepherd, our Chief Shepherd. They give us a sense that we intuitively understand the significance of the biblical shepherd metaphor.
When was the last time that you saw, touched, heard, or smelled sheep outside of a petting zoo? Have you ever fed, led, birthed, butchered, sheered, chased, or chastened a sheep? The extent of my involvement with sheep is probably akin to yours: Sometimes I wear the wool someone else has processed and I have been known to enjoy the occasional lamb chop—that is all. My experience with shepherding is exactly none. Our common lack of experiential knowledge should lead us to wonder whether our understanding of this important metaphor has been shaped by common assumptions that, under closer analysis, will not match the biblical data.
In this workshop, we will take a fresh look at the Bible’s use of the shepherd metaphor. We will invest most of our energy in tracing thematic threads that lie outside of the famous Good Shepherd passage (John 10) and will see the metaphor woven tightly into the entire biblical metanarrative, from the Pentateuch to Revelation. Most important, we will see that the imagery of a divine Shepherd-King informs the New Testament use of the shepherd metaphor.
Metaphors and Context:
Figures of speech deepen our ability to communicate. They can instantly tap collective experiences to communicate layers of meaning shared intuitively. Because they “work” due to shared experiences, they are contextually based and, thus, sometimes fail to transcend cultures, generations, or languages.
“If I have to explain it, you are missing something.”
We are separated from the Bible’s use of the shepherd metaphor by 2,000—3,500 years, not to mention being half a world away. Consequently, we must rely on careful explanation to unpack its meaning. This presents a problem. One author has compared the use of metaphors to tell a joke—if you have to explain it, something is missing. Original recipients of either Testament required no explanation of the shepherd metaphor. The got it. We, however, have to work harder. Fortunately, exegesis along with a careful study of historical context will help us understand, even if we cannot replicate the immediate impact of the form.
The “something” we tend to miss.
A survey of ancient cultures known by and associated with Abraham’s descendants reveals a key element that some discussions of the Great Shepherd overlook. The shepherd metaphor was used frequently in every ancient culture in that region. It appears in writings as far back as recorded history in Sumeria, Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria. It appears in the beginnings of ancient Greek literature, as well.
Each of these cultures employed the shepherd metaphor to describe the divine right of their kings to rule, or as Jefferey Niehaus describes it:
a god works through a monarch or a prophet to advance his kingdom. The god is a suzerain over the monarch and is viewed as the shepherd. But the monarch also can be styled a shepherd, and in this he is like his god.
The association between a divine shepherd and a divinely appointed shepherd-king proved to be an unshakable motif. Egypt applied it to pharaohs from Sen-Usert I (1991—1961 B.C.) to Seti I (1302—1290). The shepherd’s staff was the ubiquitous symbol of pharaoh’s authority. All of this is ironic given the fact that Egyptians in that era deplored shepherds.
Genesis 46:33, Genesis 46:34
33 “When Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”
This symbol of divinely bestowed authority was so powerful, intuitively understood and used in every surrounding culture, that it remained the symbol for pharaoh without attaching to him any of the low-caste stigmas that actual shepherds carried.
The imagery bore the weight of two ideas: rule over the sheep and care for the sheep. Sometimes nations enjoyed benevolent rulers. “Shepherd” provided a colourful picture to describe his care, guidance, and provision. But the primary point of the metaphor was the shepherd’s right to rule; the sheep belonged to his god (and thus to him) and existed for his purposes; they were his by divine right. Importantly, the good shepherd cared for the sheep that he owned, but this was secondary.
Foundations: The Shepherd metaphor in the Old Testament
The symbolism of the divine shepherd and divine shepherd-king entered biblical literature and stretched across the Old Testament, deeply woven into the story of God’s relationship with his people. In the following survey, we will exclusively examine passages that use the noun or verb forms of the shepherd (הער). For this presentation, a few samplings of the wealth of biblical data will have to suffice.
YHWH is Shepherd of Israel.
The first explicit reference to God as Shepherd appears in the blessing Israel pronounced on Joseph’s sons.
And he blessed Joseph and said,
“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day…
Even in this simple, unadorned first reference, we see a reflection of the theme of rule by divine right; Jacob’s blessing flowed from his God and bestowed rights of prominence (leadership) on Ephraim who was preferred over Manasseh.
The best known Old Testament use of the shepherd metaphor occurs in Psalm 23.
YHWH is my shepherd; I shall not want.
God’ people in 21st century America hear this with a preconception, something like this:
YHWH is my shepherd . . .
We focus on his role as shepherd, but it is likely that David placed emphasis in a different place when he sang this song:
YHWH is my shepherd . . .
The shepherd boy whom YHWH appointed shepherd of Israel identified the true ruler of God’s people. God undeniably is the source of all good but note especially the themes of rulership subtly woven into the song: YHWH’s comforting “rod” (v. 4, cf., Psalm 2:9), David’s special and privileged role (v. 5a), and his exaltation above his enemies (v. 5b).
Perhaps nowhere does the Old Testament paint a more striking portrait of Israel’s divine Shepherd than Isaiah 40. In a passage that reverberates with unmistakable messianic tones (vv. 1-5), the prophet sets the greatness of the God who rules in sharp contrast with human frailty (vv. 6-8).
Isaiah 40:9–11 (ESV)
“Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
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.
Note the juxtaposition of mighty ruler and caring, gentle Shepherd. His arm is mighty, yet tender. This complex image of God introduces a scathing challenge God issues to the rulers of nations and their false Gods. “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One?” (Isaiah 40:25). Compared to him, the nations are nothing; their gods are nothing, but by the greatness of his might, Israel’s Shepherd sustains the stars (v. 26).
YHWH appointed shepherd-kings to lead Israel.
YHWH always mediated his rule through human oversight. Moses clearly served as a prototypical shepherd figure, though God never called him by that label. Related themes of guiding, feeding, protecting run throughout the Pentateuch. At the end, Moses thinks of his successor as a shepherd, and so he prayed:
“Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation 17 who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.”
Leaders, both political and religious, served in shepherding roles, mediating divine oversight. However the image attached unmistakably and unshakably to David and his dynasty. From the beginning the tribes of Israel recognized YHWH’s divine appointment.
2nd Samuel 5:2, 2nd Samuel 5:3
In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you who led out and brought in Israel. And the LORD said to you, ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.’ ” 3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel.
David, like Moses before him, at best was an imperfect shepherd. But worse shepherds followed him. Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah record God’s denunciation of Israel’s evil shepherds.
Ezekiel 34:1, Ezekiel 34:2, Ezekiel 34:3, Ezekiel 34:10
The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep . . . 10 Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds
Slaughtering sheep to eat; wearing clothing made from their wool—shepherds did these things routinely. In that culture, readers would have understood the connection between those details and God’s indictment in a specific way that we sometimes overlook: the shepherds’ neglect and abuse of the sheep grew out of the assumption that the sheep belonged to them. Only the true shepherd can use the sheep for his own purposes; all others who try to do so are usurpers.
God promised Israel a solution to the neglect and abuse they suffered at the hands of wicked shepherds.
Ezekiel 34:15, Ezekiel 34:16;
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice…
YHWH promised to give Israel the ultimate Shepherd-King.
YHWH promised to overturn the failures of those who filled mediatorial roles on behalf of the divine Shepherd throughout Israel’s troubled history.
God himself promised to be their Shepherd, and yet he said,
Ezekiel 34:23, Ezekiel 34:24
And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken.
Israel’s hope rests on the word of YHWH. They could never imagine what he had designed in his great plan. At the time Ezekiel prophesied, David had been in his grave for nearly 400 years. “My servant David” referred to a son of David, yet to come. All the divinely appointed leadership functions (prophet, priest, and king) flowed into enthusiastic messianic expectation. The divine Shepherd-King will be David’s Son and David’s Lord! See Psalm 110:1, cf. Matthew 22:45.
Fulfillment: Jesus Christ, the divine Shepherd-King
All mediatorial roles (prophet, priest, and king) converge in Christ, the divine Shepherd-King. In the synoptic gospels the metaphor seems muted, appearing only occasionally, though related imagery surfaces frequently. But all of that changes in John 10.
The Good Shepherd
Jesus laid claim to the Old Testament messianic promises of a coming shepherd without qualification or equivocation. Significantly, he framed this claim as one of the seven famed “I am” sayings which seem to have “overtones of divinity.”
John 10:11, John 10:12, John 10:13, John 10:14, John 10:15
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep.
Christ is not “a” good Shepherd—one among many; he is “the” good Shepherd. The definite article marks him out as unique but also echoes the messianic expectation. He is good because he “lays down his life for the sheep,” a rare expression that may “reflect the Hebrew idiom ‘to hand over one’s life.’” In everyday life, a shepherd may be prepared to lay down his life for his sheep, but would never intend to do so. Jesus’ intentional death goes beyond the simple metaphor and connects him with Zechariah’s vision of the “shepherd who is put to death and whose death brings about a turning point (Zechariah 12:10, Zechariah 13:7, Zechariah 13:8, Zechariah 13:9).)”
In contrast to Israel’s “hired hands,” Christ assumed the permanent role of YHWH’s mediator; he is the divinely appointed Shepherd-King, perfectly representing the divine Shepherd, as the next pericope reveals.
John 10:27, John 10:28, John 10:29, John 10:30
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
Don Carson draws out the clear link between Jesus’ teaching here and Ezekiel’s prophecies of the divine Shepherd-King who establishes the new covenant.
“The mingling of the foci—the promised shepherd is the LORD, or the promised shepherd is the LORD’s servant David—is peculiarly appropriate in a book where the Word is God, and the Word is God’s emissary, distinguishable from him.”
Amazement over the benevolent act of the Good Shepherd, dying for his sheep, intensifies when we place this remarkable passage in the stream of biblical theology. The focus is not on the sheep, but the owner of the sheep. YHWH’s divinely appointed Shepherd-King—David’s son and David’s Lord—hands over his life. Amazing grace, indeed!
Another striking feature of this passage lies in Jesus’ declaration,
And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
All of the Old Testament messianic promises, the perfect Shepherd, and his new covenant all belonged to Israel. But Jesus, alluding to Ezekiel 34:23 and 37:24, expanded the import of the shepherd prophecies, applying them beyond Israel to embrace the Gentiles.
The Great and Chief Shepherd
The author of Hebrews speaks of Jesus as Shepherd only in his benediction (Hebrews 13:20). He uniquely qualifies him as “the great shepherd.”
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant . . .
The “great shepherd” seems to reflect Hebrews’ emphasis on the exaltation of Christ. The text lays stress on the term “great,” probably linking it with the statement that God (literally) “led him up” from the dead. We are also told that God raised Jesus “by the blood of the eternal covenant.” The resurrection proved God’s acceptance of the death of Christ. One commentator is probably correct when he says that the author carefully “linked the sacrificial death of Jesus to his being ‘led up,’ so that the death and exaltation appear as a single movement toward God.” Thus God approved of Jesus’ death by which he secured the new covenant and demonstrated his approval through resurrection and exaltation of the Shepherd-King (cf. Hebrews 1:3, Hebrews 1:4, Hebrews 1:5, Hebrews 1:6, Hebrews 1:7, Hebrews 1:8).
Another version of the shepherd metaphor is found in 1st Peter 5:4. It refers to Christ as the Chief Shepherd, implying the existence of other shepherds. Verse 2 begins with a verbal imperative (ποιμάνατε), commanding elders to perform the duties of a shepherd. The larger passage (vv. 1-5) reminds elders that the flock entrusted to their care belongs to God, that they are to shepherd the flock following the example of the Chief Shepherd, and that they are accountable to him.
Certainly Peter harkened back to the commission that the Chief Shepherd delivered to him personally on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, “Shepherd my sheep” (John 21:16). Today, the Chief Shepherd’s mediates care for his people through human agents prepared and appointed to the task.
The Eternal Shepherd
Old Testament promises of a divine Shepherd-King push relentlessly forward to final fulfilment in the eschaton. Shepherd imagery appears prominently in Revelation which tells us that Christ will rule (ποιμανεῖ) with a (shepherd’s) rod of iron (Revelation 2:27, Revelation 12:5, Revelation 19:5). The title “shepherd” makes its final appearance in Scripture in Revelation 7:17. In the context, John’s vision gives the reader a preview of the very end (a common device used throughout Revelation). At the brink of the kingdom, John beheld myriads of redeemed emerging from the Great Tribulation, joining the company of the rest of God’s people and innumerable angels before the divine throne.
“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple, and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Biblical writers never shied away from mixed metaphors. For them, the point was not metaphoric consistency, but the significance that each word picture conveyed. In Revelation, we find a startling mixture of metaphors that pull together the messianic promises, the sacrifice of Christ, and his eternal reign: Christ is Lion (Revelation Revelation 5:5), who is the Lamb (Revelation 5:6), who is the Shepherd (Revelation 7:17). Forever he is the eternal divine Shepherd-King.
Some important implications for the under-shepherd
This brief survey has traced the shepherd metaphor through the Scriptures from beginning to end. Most hearers or readers will agree that I introduced no novel ideas. But perhaps this exercise will help some see new connections between old ideas. Ultimately, I hope that it will help us think more deeply about the identity of Christ whenever we encounter the biblical shepherd metaphor. Deeper reflection on the identity of the divine Shepherd-King should affect every under-shepherd. Here are some implications for the under-shepherd that require deeper contemplation:
The identity of the divine Shepherd-King should humble every under-shepherd.
David’s shepherd is our shepherd: YHWH, fully revealed (John 1:18) in One who is both David’s Son and David’s Lord. He—he—handed over his life for us and commissions us to follow his example. Nothing could be more humbling than being called to serve the One who served us with immeasurable condescension. Perhaps this is why Peter began his instructions to fellow elders by calling himself, “a witness of the sufferings of Christ” (1st Peter 5:1). He saw the Shepherd stricken and never got over it—and neither should we. Nothing could be less appropriate among under-shepherds than an air of pastoral swagger.
The identity of the divine Shepherd-King should clarify each under-shepherd’s priorities.
Narcissism saturates churches today. Under-shepherds cater to the whims and passions of the sheep (and goats) to attract them to the “fold.” But YHWH, not the sheep is the subject of the biblical narrative; he acts in history for his own glory. To that end, he has revealed himself in Christ—our Chief Shepherd. Christ’s will should be our singular priority. Therefore, the faithful under-shepherd must say, “I serve the Chief Shepherd” and then ask, “What does he want for the sheep.” Peter’s admonition to exercise oversight “as God would have you” (1st Peter 5:2) echoes this priority. Sheep are prone to stray; sheep never know what is in their best interest. The Good Shepherd has revealed what the sheep really need.
Lest the reader think that I am setting up an elitist ministry model, read on.
The identity of the divine Shepherd-King should remind every under-shepherd that he is first a sheep.
Peter used vivid language to describe the under-shepherds’ responsibility: be “examples to the flock” (1st Peter 5:3). His language in the passage places the under-shepherd among the sheep. The Chief Shepherd calls men who are part the flock to serve as under-shepherds. They are men who live as Christians ought to live (1st Timothy 3:1, 1st Timothy 3:2, 1st Timothy 3:3, 1st Timothy 3:4, 1st Timothy 3:5, 1st Timothy 3:6, 1st Timothy 3:7) and their only distinguishing characteristic is the ability to teach (cf. v. 2). Christ gives them a role of leadership among peers. Under-shepherds have no intrinsic superiority and have no reason or right to look down on the sheep the Chief Shepherd entrusts to their care. Even the apostles called the humblest believer “brother.”
The identity of the divine Shepherd-King should strengthen the under-shepherd’s integrity.
Under-shepherds serve, eager to please the Chief Shepherd. Nothing could be more unseemly than a greedy under-shepherd. Remember that YHWH condemned the wicked shepherds of Israel because they treated the sheep as their own (Ezekiel 34). We must remind ourselves daily, “The sheep are his, not mine; they exist for his glory, not my gain.”
The identity of the divine Shepherd-King should encourage the undershepherd to faithful endurance in the darkest day.
Let’s be honest; shepherding isn’t easy. Christ’s enemies are our enemies. At times the valley of the shadow of death seems very real to us. But what will we face that the Chief Shepherd has not already endured? What can the enemy threaten that the Chief Shepherd has not promised to vanquish? His “rod and staff” are our comfort; we need to fear no evil. We know how this ends! Because YHWH is our Shepherd, we will dwell in his house forever.
Those who lay down life for him will stand again in Zion and bask in the glory of the Great Shepherd, risen and exalted (Revelation 14:1, Revelation 14:2, Revelation 14:3). Peter said, that we are partakers of the glory that will be revealed (1st Peter 5:1) and that we will receive a crown of glory (v. 4). Together with the saints of every age, we will behold David’s son and David’s Lord the standing in the midst of the divine throne. He will be our Shepherd—forever!
Noble And Wicked Shepherds
This issue of Diggings discusses the idea of rulers as shepherds in Israel. We will see that both kings and priests were to be “shepherds”. Prophets then arose to expose the bad shepherds of Israel. When considering the messianic idea, one sees a braid consisting of three strands:
1) a great prophet, a teacher, will come;
2) a great priest will come to purify the temple, religious practices and devotion, and
3) a great king would come, a descendant of David, who would bring freedom and justice to the land. Through its history, Israel had good shepherds and bad shepherds. In the New Testament Jesus is the “Good Shepherd”, THE prophet, priest and king.
Imagine the Creator of the Universe choosing to communicate with people. Who would God choose? Those sophisticated and advanced peoples living in cities and towns that are part of great empires; or a landless group of nomads whose lives were tied to the land and their flocks? It is remarkable in Scripture that God Most High, began an association with landless people. Perhaps it was easier for God’s Spirit to help the nomadic peoples understand a caring God, and work with them on justice issues rather than with the society living in city-states.
As you probably recall, the first seven books of the Bible reveal a shepherd culture as the background. The origin of the Hebrews is from Ur in the Tigris/ Euphrates area, migrating north to Haran. Later when Jacob has to flee from Esau, he went to Haran and worked for Laban, a family relative, and looked for a wife among his people. So the origin of the Hebrews was from Haran, which was a grazing area. Laban, remember, hired Jacob to take care of the goats.
So even back in Haran, we should probably understand they were semi-nomads within a society of city-states. Picture Hebrew origins as coming from a background of being shepherds. Abraham and his clan left Haran to go on a journey to a land “which I will show you”. That was a tricky journey, wasn’t it? What a person of faith Abraham must have been, to travel to a land “which I will show you”. Think of the self-sufficiency of the patriarchs and matriarchs. They were used to being on their own and moving around for grazing their flocks.
They knew how to care for their flocks, herds and children as they travelled because that was their lifestyle. So, who would be a good patriarch or matriarch? Those leaders who remembered the weak, ones that remembered the small, ones that remembered the injured, not only of the flock but of one’s clan. So a good qualification for a ruler would have been to have been a shepherd.
One of the two most intensive jobs in antiquity was being a shepherd; the other would have been a vinedresser. The shepherd needed to know each sheep and how they were doing, discipline them differently, keep an eye out for some that were more prone to wander, etc. So we should not be surprised in the Biblical narrative in the sayings of the prophets and the sayings of Jesus that there would have been so many sayings about shepherds. God was likened to a good shepherd, with the sensitivity required to note the variety of human differences which is very important in leadership. To be a good leader one doesn’t treat everyone the same. To be a good shepherd one had to have that sensitivity for the individual.
When we move onward in Scripture to the Exodus and Moses, we also find that a good qualification for leadership was to have been a shepherd. Even though Moses was raised in the palace of Pharaoh he fled from Egypt to Midian and lived with shepherds in Midian for 40 years. Good training to become a ruler, a leader, would be a shepherd-ruler.
In the book of II Samuel, David had good qualifications for a ruler. When Jesse was asked by Samuel to present his sons, he brought out the big hunk sons, not even getting David. David was just a scrawny little shepherd boy. Can you imagine what a sense of responsibility a shepherd boy would have had, because of the flock and dangerous predators? Samuel believed it was important for him to look at the shepherd boy in choosing a king.
Remember how Samuel summarized it? “People looked at the outside, but God looked on the inside.” This is the qualification for good leader-ship: look on the inside. Is this person sensitive to the entire flock? Most people looked on the outside. Do you remember Saul stood head and shoulders above the rest of the Israelites, and consequently was chosen king because of his stature?
The idea of a king as a servant-king, shepherd-king, is quite different than the notion of a power-king. This was a notion that we find in the prophets. Isaiah 53 is an important text. Let us fast forward for a moment here. Do you remember in the Ethiopian eunuch’s story in Acts 8, that the eunuch had an Isaiah scroll he was reading as he went from Jerusalem back to Ethiopia down the Gaza road? The place he was reading spoke about how a lamb was led innocently to the slaughter.
There are a great number of references in Isaiah, Jeremiah and Lamentations, as well as in the Psalms, about the suffering servant. In these texts someone is unjustly put into prison and suffers. It was very important for the prophets to stress that some rulers were not only images of power, but many people have suffered because of a stand that they took for what was right. They were willing to put themselves at risk for someone else’s well-being. That was what a shepherd did every day; he put himself at risk. One was to protect them with his rod and staff (Psalm 23).
At the time of the captivity, Ezekiel 34 was a diatribe against the bad shepherds (kings and priests) of Israel. The Lord turned against the bad shep-herds and said He would be the shepherd of His sheep and protect the flock
The year 586 B.C.E. saw an end to the last of the Davidic Kings, Zedekiah. From 586 to 40 B.C. E. Israel was ruled by priests, not kings. The High Priest of the Temple was believed by most people to be their ruler. This priest would have been from the family of Zadok. Now after the war of independence from the Greeks (167 to 164 B.C.E.) the priestly family of Hasmon was both king and high priest. This was dangerous because there was no separation of Temple and State.
The priests were supposed to be strong enough to tell the king when he was doing something wrong. But when one’s uncle was king and you are the High Priest there was a potential for corruption. So we have Priest-Kings in the same Hasmonean family. In 40 B.C.E. all this ended when a man who was neither a priest nor a king, Herod the Great, got the Romans to agree to give him the title of king. He was neither Davidic nor priestly.
He was very unpopular with the people. When Herod came to power he brought in priests from far-away Babylon and Alexandria. He did not use local priests. He brought in four families in particular from the Diaspora to become priests: the families of Boeathus, Kathros, Han-nan and Ishmael. Why? They would owe him big for their influence and wealth. One of those was the family of Annas and his son-in-law Caiaphas. They owed their wealth and influence to Herod and the Romans because they were political appointees. These priests could not control prices of sacrifices people purchased in the city.
However, any shop that touched the temple platform could belong to the priests. Thus they could control the prices within the temple. The people had to buy their sacrifices in one of the priests’ shops at ten times the price they would have spent in the city. Also, they would have had to exchange their secular money for “priest approved” temple shekels. You can imagine the exchange rate was not favourable to the people! So the priests were overcharging the people in order to build up their “Swiss bank accounts” so they could afford to pay Herod and the Romans under the table to keep their positions within the Chief Priestly families.
One can understand how the people living under the repressive Roman rule with its excessive taxes, coupled with a ruling priestly class that exhorted more money from them, would be looking for God to save them. They were awaiting a Messiah that would establish a kingdom based on justice. A story in Je-sus’ ministry that so vividly shows this situation occurs at Caesarea Philippi.
As noted in the last issue of “Diggings”, Peter’s great confession showed the stark differences between the Disciples’ idea of Messiah and Jesus’ self-understanding of Messiah. Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus responded, “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah. Flesh and blood have not revealed this to you.”
As a good teacher, Jesus wanted to check Simon’s answer. Was there any place for a Shepherd-King/Servant-King, or was he only thinking of a military commander? You and I would likely have also thought this if we were living under 90 years of Roman occupation. Jesus’ very next sentence was “I must now go to Jerusalem and suffer many things.” This was Jesus’ first passion prediction. It was said to someone who had just said He was the Messiah of God, the promised King. Simon Peter passed the exam but failed the course.
He had the right words, (Messiah of God), but the wrong understanding of the words. Remember the text says that Simon got physical with Jesus. Simon took Jesus aside, “Messiah doesn’t suffer!” Jesus responded, “Get behind me Satan”. (I faced that temptation in the wilderness.) Peter wanted a Power-King, who would do spectacular things, a coercive King who would jump from the pinnacle of the Temple and, everyone would be forced to believe in him. Jesus chose to be Servant-King, a Shepherd-King.
The Disciples weren’t the only ones who misunderstood that Jesus was a Shepherd-King. During Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem, the crowds were waving palm branches and laying them at Jesus’ feet. The palm branch was a symbol of Jewish nationalism and independence. What the crowds were in effect “saying” with the palm branches was that they wanted Jesus to overthrow the Romans and institute an independent Jewish nation. When Jesus entered the Temple and overthrew the money changers tables; the crowds probably felt that He was about to remove the corrupt priests and re-establish the proper Temple worship. Jesus understood as a shepherd he had to place himself in danger in order to protect the flock.
The shepherd as a picture of God’s promised leader had a strong history in Israel’s history. We have seen in Ezekiel 34 the examples of the bad shepherd, and that is juxtaposed with the Good Shepherd of Psalm 23. We see the Good Shepherd personified in Jesus ministry of sensitivity to the lost and weak. This is most evident during the last night with the disciples, his trial and crucifixion. We see:
1) His words of care at the Last Supper,
2) His servant role in washing their feet,
3) His concern that they would be scattered and assurance he would be with them, 4) His step forward to protect them when he was arrested in Gethsemane,
5) His dauntless courage when standing in judgment by bad shepherds, and
6) His not returning evil for evil while cries of hatred surrounded him at the cross. His life epitomized the suffering-servant, the servant-shepherd, the Good Shepherd par excel lance.
In-Depth Shepherd Imagery In Zechariah Summary
This study examines the metaphor of the shepherd in Zechariah 11:4, Zechariah 11:5, Zechariah 11:6, Zechariah 11:7, Zechariah 11:8, Zechariah 11:9, Zechariah 11:10, Zechariah 11:11, Zechariah 11:12, Zechariah 11:13, Zechariah 11:14, Zechariah 11:15, Zechariah 11:16, Zechariah 11:17, which is a prominent and significant one in the Hebrew Bible. It defines Yahweh’s relationship with the nation of Israel and those who have faith in him. But these Zechariah verses 11:4-17 present a shepherd image which contradicts to the basic metaphor in the Hebrew Bible.
The thesis of this study argues that the differing shepherd image in Zechariah 11:4-17 is the result of the rejection by the people of the responsible shepherd, which caused Yahweh to surrender his shepherd responsibility. It is a metaphor designed to punish an unrepentant Israel.
Zechariah 11:4-17 furnishes an example of a situation where Yahweh surrendered his shepherding responsibilities to those irresponsible shepherds. This example should be incorporated into the said metaphor, so as an objective and comprehensive meaning may be achieved, and one should consider this metaphorical meaning in the study of the subject.
The metaphor of the shepherd is a prominent and significant one in the Hebrew Bible. It defines Yahweh’s relationship with the nation of Israel and those who have faith in him. In the Hebrew Bible, this metaphor also defines the relationship between the rulers and the people. It has shifted from an agrarian context, of shepherd and sheep in the literal sense, to a socio-political context, of rulers and people in the political sense.
The said metaphor is depicted in many characters. These include Yahweh himself, Abraham, Moses, David, and many others. It is different from the shepherd image presented in the New Testament, which portrays the metaphor of a counsellor but which is beyond the scope and nature of this dissertation. The pastoral image which exists in the ecclesiastical context does not correspond with the shepherd metaphor in the Hebrew Bible. Perhaps the former focuses more on the functional role of the shepherd in the church while the latter concentrates on the literary meaning of the shepherd in the Biblical texts.
The Problem Encountered
Often the metaphor of the shepherd is presented as a benevolent attitude of the caregiver towards the recipients. But Zechariah 11:4–17 offers two different images of the shepherd in comparison with the basic metaphor in the Hebrew Bible. A good shepherd is one who provides, protects, and leads the flock, a mandate demonstrated by Yahweh himself.
The two shepherd images presented in Zechariah 11:4-17 are one who does not care for the flock and one who cares. And both images enacted under the instructions of Yahweh. How should this difference be explained? What is the intrinsic meaning of this metaphor in the Hebrew Bible? And how do the images of a shepherd in Zechariah 11 fit in with the rest of the said Bible?
The aim of this research is to examine the shepherd image in Zechariah 11:4–17 and the way it differs from the mainstream image of the shepherd in the rest of the Hebrew Bible. The objective is to explain the meaning of the negative image of the shepherd in comparison to the positive one, and the reason Yahweh instructed the prophets to enact both shepherd roles.
Ultimately, this research seeks to reconcile the two opposing shepherd images in Zechariah 11:4-17 given the reason behind this phenomenon. And this interpretation reads against the metaphor of the shepherd in the rest of the Hebrew Bible. As the focus of this study falls on the Hebrew Bible, references to ancient Near Eastern literature will be brief and for comparison only.
Traditional scholarship relies much on the historical-critical approach to biblical studies. This involves source, tradition and redactions criticism. Source criticism deals with the discovery of the literary sources that produced the biblical texts and seeks to understand the significance of the texts fostered by materials from earlier dates. Tradition criticism deals with the analysis of the underlying traditions that shaped the biblical texts and seeks to understand their meanings through the analysis of traditions transmitted.
Redaction criticism assumes that the biblical text is the work of the compilers and seeks to understand its meaning inserted by them. But these critical methods do not fit the study of the shepherd metaphor. Metaphor is a literary device utilizes by authors to present ideas through a figure of speech and must be interpreted in its literary contexts. To meet these criteria, the approach must employ literary criticism and interprets in light of its historical background, and that is historical-literary criticism.
The historical–literary method is employed in the study of the shepherd metaphor in Zechariah 11:4–17. This approach presupposes the literary nature of the Hebrew Bible in the perspective of historical progression. It requires literary competency in reading historical materials and relating them to their respective historical contexts. Choosing the term “literary” over “grammatical” is deliberate. “Literary” includes the broad spectrum of literary techniques while “grammatical” denotes language and linguistics.
The emphasis of the historical–literary method is placed on the literary-analytical exegesis and historical criticism. In other words, exegesis is based on the Hebrew text, the meaning of which is determined through literary criticism in the perspective of history. The historical–literary method presupposes that the meaning of the biblical text will be unveiled through historical progression. Historical activities and literary records that form this progression constitute the context in which the meaning of the text might be ascertained.
Exegesis encompasses three contexts. The first is the historical context which entails much more than a mere timeline. The broader aspects of such contexts should include social, political, economic, and religious aspects of the text. The second comprises the literary context that involves source criticism, literary criticism, tradition criticism and redaction criticism. The third considers the philological aspects of the text which encompass grammatical principles, syntax, semantics and semiotics. All these contexts provide a framework to guide the interpretive work which will pave the way for a comprehensive reading of the text.
Exegesis based on the historical–literary approach satisfies the requirements of a study of metaphor. Thus, the significance of the metaphor is derived by careful exegesis, as well as the interpretation of the text in its wider historical context.
The Metaphor of the Shepherd in the Literature of the Ancient Near-East
In the ancient Near Eastern literature, the metaphor of the shepherd is shaped by various images such as leading, feeding and protecting. The most common figure of speech in the ancient Near Eastern context is that of the king which resembles a shepherd or a leader. A king is not merely a national figure but is accorded statutory power by God. In the myth Etana, kingship is presented in this way:
- Scepter, crown, tiara, and (shepherd’s) crook
- Lay deposited before Anu in heaven
- There being no counseling for its people.
- (Then) kingship descended from heaven.
Etana was listed as a shepherd in the Kish dynasty and also described as one who rose to heaven. In the Old Akkadian times, the cylinder seals presented a shepherd ascending towards heaven on eagle’s wings. The name Etana is associated with certain deities, which is also appropriate to the kings in the Old Akkadian and subsequent dynasties, and he is the main character of a significant legend.
This legend is supported by sources from the library of Ashurbanipal that have been revised throughout three different historical eras, the Old Babylonian, the Middle Assyrian, and the Neo-Assyrian. The third revision in the Neo-Assyrian is the most comprehensive and reconstructs the legendary story that Etana is designated to undertake the providential care of the human race such as a king should provide.
Kings and princes were the rulers of all states in the ancient region of Western Asia and were perceived as the images of gods, or supreme gods. But among them, Babylonian and Assyrian kings were perceived as mortals like ordinary human beings, while Egyptian pharaohs were adored as gods. In some extreme cases, arrogant kings divinized themselves. The Akkadian kings Naram and Sharkalisharri inscribed themselves in several relics as a god when they were designated to govern the city.
Kings were divinized in different ways. One of these was cultic in nature. The cultic ritual was the union of the king and the high priestess: the former representing the god of fertility, Dumuzi, and the latter representing the goddess of love, Ishtar. The completion of the ritual would mean that the divination of the king was confirmed. But Wolfram von Soden states that there is no convincing evidence regarding a divinized ritual for kings in the era of the Akkadian kingdom.
Cylinder seals and pictorial evidence in the Early Sumerian period contained an image of the “man in the net robe,” which many regarded as a god or a king, but who was probably only perceived as the defender of the flock. It was in the later period that the image was regarded as a god who assumed the form of the defender of the “Holy flock.”
Furthermore, Soden states that the divine title assigned to dead Hittite kings, “he became God”, has no connection with the ideology of the monarchical divination. In other words, there is no concrete evidence in the ritual of the divinizing of the kings. However, inscriptions on the historical relics evidently proved the existence of certain forms of divinization.
The Metaphor of the Shepherd in the Literature of the Hebrew Bible
Psalm 23 is the key passage regarding the metaphor of the shepherd in the Hebrew Bible, especially because it refers to Yahweh as a shepherd. This ideology forms the theological foundation of the New Testament shepherd image. There is a two-fold dimension of Yahweh as the divine shepherd: He is both shepherds–king and shepherd– god.
In the literature of the Hebrew Bible Yahweh is depicted as shepherd and king in the formation of Israel. Like the ancient Near Eastern kings, Yahweh is perceived in both roles, and their relationship is intertwined. Prior to the era of the monarchy, many biblical characters exhibited the qualities of a shepherd. Abraham was privileged to have had Yahweh making a covenant with him (Genesis 12:1, Genesis 12:2, Genesis 12:3), and through him, blessings flowed to his entire household. This covenant was an everlasting one: therefore it would also benefit the descendants of Abraham (Genesis 17:13). The imputed authority vested in Abraham made him a channel of blessings to his people, his flock.
In the Hebrew Bible Yahweh is perceived as a shepherd. He led the Israelites like a flock through the wilderness (Psalm 77:21). Careful examination shows that the shepherding responsibility was passed on from Yahweh to his earthly shepherds such as David (2nd Samuel 5:2, 2nd Samuel 7:7, 2nd Samuel 7:8). Similar to the kings in the ancient Near East, David was a king as well as a shepherd. In the Hebrew Bible, the metaphor of the shepherd was applied both to Yahweh and the earthly king. However, Yahweh is the overseeing shepherd who ensures that a reliable shepherd is provided because an unreliable one will destroy and scatter his flock (Jeremiah 23:1) and will neglect to feed them (Ezekiel 34:7, Ezekiel 34:8, Ezekiel 34:9, Ezekiel 34:10).
The metaphorical figure of the shepherd that was applied to David as king of Israel, and to Yahweh the God of Israel, illustrates the two aspects of the shepherd metaphor as shepherd–king and shepherd–god in the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near Eastern literature. The shepherd-king metaphor needs further exploration: this will be provided in the following section.
The Shepherd-King Metaphor
The metaphorical reference to kings as shepherds is one of the oldest titles in the ancient Near East. Marc Zvi Brettler contends that the metaphor of the shepherd applied to God indicates that “he is the ideal king,” and in comparison, is better than all other royal shepherds. Brettler also argues that the crook of the shepherd is used for “comfort” rather than punishment.
The most common role of the shepherd–king metaphor is to lead. For example, in Number 27:17 Joshua is not simply a leader: he leads like a shepherd-king “who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in; that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep which have no shepherd.” Thus, he demonstrates the role of leadership.
The second role of the shepherd–king metaphor is to feed or provide. Yahweh promised that a day will come when there will be shepherds who will feed the flock with “knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15). This verse depicts the role of the king as a caring shepherd, feeding the people of Yahweh, not with physical food, but rather the precepts of Yahweh. David exemplified this role as he ruled by the power of Yahweh, which caused the surrounding nations to fear the nation of Israel. According to Mesopotamian kingship, symbolized by the sceptre, crown, tiara and shepherd’s crook, the king was considered the counsellor of the people in the kingdom (see Jeremiah 40).
The feeding on knowledge and prudence mentioned in Jeremiah 3:15 is probably the counselling of the people by the king in the proper ways of Yahweh and is, therefore, another way of saying that they will be led by the shepherd-king according to the way acceptable to Yahweh. Although David died many years before the Babylonian exile, it is reasonable to interpret Ezekiel’s reference to the shepherd who will feed God’s flock (Ezekiel 34:23) as a reference to the Davidic rule which will continue even after the exile, in the example of David as a shepherd-king.
The third role of the shepherd–king metaphor is to protect the afflicted sheep. When there is no shepherd, or the shepherd lacks understanding, the flock will be vulnerable (Isaiah 56:11; Zephaniah 10:2, Zephaniah 10:3). A foolish shepherd will abandon the flock and leave it to the mercy of a predator. The lost sheep will be neglected and scattered (Zephaniah 11:16, Zephaniah 11:17). It is the responsibility of the shepherd to shield the sheep from harm or danger.
The role of protection is also one of keeping the flock from scattering. For example, in Jeremiah 10:21 the foolish shepherds who do not consult Yahweh will fail to protect the flock and prevent it from scattering. As Yahweh is the overarching shepherd, the earthly shepherds should consult him for divine guidance concerning the journey ahead. The danger in the form of an ambush lies ahead and is hidden from the earthly shepherd, but not from the divine one. If the shepherds do not inquire of Yahweh, their foolishness will endanger themselves and the safety of the flock.
These three roles embodied in the shepherd–king metaphor, rely on two foundations. Firstly, the tender care of the shepherd–king. The metaphor of the shepherd is an illustration of love and care for the flock. Ezekiel 34:4 and Zechariah 11:16 present the unrighteous shepherds who fail to care for it. They did not strengthen the weak, heal the sick or take care of the injured. A righteous shepherd, on the other hand, will search for the straying sheep (cf. Ezekiel 34:4, Ezekiel 34:5, Ezekiel 34:6, Ezekiel 34:8; Zechariah 11:16).
Secondly, faithfulness will equip the shepherd–king to be responsible for his people. For example, in Isaiah 44:28, Cyrus, who was regarded as Yahweh’s shepherd, was vested with the responsibility of performing the task of rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple. This portrays his faithfulness in the appointed role of a shepherd–king over the people of Yahweh and their welfare. The flock completely depends on the faithful shepherd to lead them in the right way, protect them from harm, and feed them with understanding and knowledge. Without such a shepherd, the flock will be left to the mercy of the beasts of prey.
Thirdly, the shepherd–king metaphor also presupposes that righteousness brings about deliverance from distress. This foundational presupposition is evident in the Hebrew Bible. Without a righteous shepherd, the flock will be scattered, and without a righteous king, the nation will be dispersed: “I saw all Israel scattered upon the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd” (1st Kings 22:17; cf. 2nd Chronicles 18:16). Central to the idea of righteousness is the keeping of the law. Therefore, the king of Israel needs to observe the law of Yahweh and obey his commandments so that the kingdom may be prolonged from generation to generation (Deuteronomy 17:20).
As stated above, the shepherd–king image vividly portrays the idea of deliverance. The feeding and the protection of the flock are two responsibilities of the shepherd–king metaphor which are very closely related to one another. Irresponsible shepherds do not feed the flock but instead cause them to “become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep” (Ezekiel 34:3, Ezekiel 34:4, Ezekiel 34:5, Ezekiel 34:6, Ezekiel 34:7, Ezekiel 34:8).
On the other hand, a righteous shepherd, who is devoted to Yahweh, will feed the flock with “knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15; cf. Ezekiel 34:23). It is clear that in the shepherd metaphor, leading and protecting to deliver the flock from harm or danger, the objective is to enable the sheep (the people of Yahweh) to grow in knowledge and understanding.
In summary, of the three roles of the shepherd–king metaphor in the Hebrew Bible, leading is the most prominent. The roles of feeding and protecting are less so. This image has been downplayed in many studies, which more often than not have focused on caring, feeding, and protecting. It is argued that leading implies these three functions. But the direction that the shepherd provides, by this leadership, brings prosperity to his flock. And likewise, the king will bring prosperity to the nation.
The Shepherd-God Metaphor
The concept of territorial deity is prominent in the ancient world. The god was confined to a region and was regarded as the shepherd of the people of that locality. Any earthly king was understood to be a shepherd vested with authority from the divine shepherd. In the literature of the ancient Near East, the image of the shepherd–god is a rare appellation. The epithet mostly used is, rather, that of shepherd-king. However, the Hebrew Bible utilises the figure of the shepherd–god as the one who leads and guides the people.
The said metaphor in the ancient Near East and the Hebrew Bible literature often alludes to activities related to distress and deliverance. God, like a shepherd, delivers his people (his sheep) from suffering or troubles. After leading them away from danger he provides a place of peace and rest. He feeds them with wisdom and knowledge, so that the people may be strengthened. This image is both explicitly and implicitly evident in the literature of the Hebrew Bible.
In the metaphor of the shepherd–god Yahweh is explicitly depicted as a shepherd or acting as a shepherd, is the subject in the verb. The lexical meaning of the verb is given as “pasture,” “tend,” or “graze.” For example in Jonah 3:7 (pasture) is used together with (drink) while both are aspects of (eat) in the proclamation of the king that no person or beast is to taste any food or drink water.
Among the 60 uses in literary contexts, is employed only 16 times with regards to the feeding of sheep.17 The participial form of in literary contexts is usually a frozen nomen agentis for “shepherd.”
The first extensive explicit reference to the shepherd–god metaphor in the Hebrew Bible is found in Ezekiel 34. The verb is used five times with Yahweh as a shepherd “protecting” and “feeding” his flock (Ezekiel 34:12, Ezekiel 34:13, Ezekiel 34:14, Ezekiel 34:15, Ezekiel 34:16). Although these verses contain explicit references, they also include implicit indicators present in (pasture), (keep) and (sheep).
This latter highlight the metaphorical meaning of the usage of these words, which portray a shepherd at work, reveals a major theme in the chapter. They present a list of common shepherding activities in the Hebrew Bible. In Ezekiel 34 those kings are judged who had failed in leading, protecting and feeding the flock. Now, this responsibility reverts back to Yahweh in whom the two roles of god and shepherd are fused. Yahweh fulfils the role of a faithful shepherd in these three tasks.
Although there are many contexts where the shepherd-god figure is explicitly used of Yahweh, it is difficult to assign to it a single precise qualifying shepherding activity directly related to. For example, in Genesis 48:15, Genesis 48:16, the verb is placed between “the God that walked before my fathers” and “the angel who has redeemed me.” It refers to Yahweh safely leading Jacob through the trying situations in his life, especially in leaving and returning to the land of Canaan.
In the recollection of the event, it seems to be an explicit reference to Yahweh’s shepherding of him. At the point when the incident took place, however, it was not obvious that Yahweh was shepherding Jacob. After the event, Jacob realised that Yahweh was leading him through his life journey, although at the time he may not have fully apprehended this.
The second explicit reference of the shepherd–God metaphor is found in Isaiah 40:11. It primarily concerns leading the sheep. Yahweh sent the messenger to proclaim to the captives in Babylon that he will certainly assume rulership, over his people (Isaiah 40:10). He will pasture his flock, gather them in his arms, carry them and lead them (Isaiah 40:11). Owing to their sin Yahweh had scattered Israel, but his responsibility as their shepherd would lead him to gather them again and keep them as a shepherd keeps his flock (Jeremiah 31:10).
In Jeremiah 31:11, Jeremiah 31:12, the text describes Yahweh as the one who ransomed and redeemed Jacob and returned the people to Zion. The metaphor presented here may be that of leading, but its overriding significance is as a figure of speech to describe the deliverance of captives from distress. For example, the verb (lift) is used in Isaiah 40:11 where Yahweh proclaims comfort to the captured, weary sheep. The verb (lead) is employed in conjunction with (carry) to explicate the meaning of shepherding. “Leading” is used herein the sense of care, and may be perceived as protecting.
Consequently, Yahweh will carry the flock in his arms and lead them with care so that they will be delivered from distress or danger. To “lift” his people is indicative of Yahweh’s deliverance.
The appellation “shepherd of Israel” is used in parallel with “lead the flock of Joseph” (Psalm 80:2) to indicate the role of the shepherd. When in trouble, the community implores the divine shepherd of Israel to deliver them from danger or distress. For example, in Micah 7:14, Micah 7:15, Micah 7:16, Micah 7:17, Micah 7:18, Micah 7:19, Micah 7:20, the plea for Yahweh to “shepherd” and “let them [Israel] feed in the land of Bashan and Gilead”, as in the past, is indicative of the result that Yahweh will deliver Israel from their enemies in response to their plea. The shepherding activity of Yahweh in Micah 7:14–20 entails deliverance from captivity and the restoration of the people of Yahweh to their previous condition, as “in the days of old”.
The third explicit reference of the shepherd–God metaphor is the giving over of the sheep to distress. Jeremiah 13:17, Jeremiah 25:30, Psalms 44:12 and Psalms 74:1 indicated that Israel was disobedient to Yahweh so that he brought them into captivity. This image is in stark contrast to the images of safety and salvation used in various instances to portray the attitude of the shepherd-God towards his people (2nd Samuel 22:20; Psalms 18:20, Psalms 31:9; Psalms 118:5). This is now an altogether different picture of sheep that are left without protection when danger threatens their lives.
However, the irony is that although Yahweh was the one who led the sheep to the wilderness, it was he that saved them. This is indicative of the fact that giving the sheep over to distress is an act of disciplining the flock for their misbehaviour or disobedience. This too is the responsibility of the shepherd. Leading is not limited to directing the flock to a particular destination or taking charge of their lives. It also involves discipline should they disobey or misbehave. The intention is to make the flock realise their waywardness and to restore them to where they belong.
It is proper to conclude that Yahweh is explicitly known as a shepherd because the shepherding activities described in eight contexts are the delivering of the Israelites out of distress or danger. In one case, the shepherd placed the sheep in distress.
The shepherd-god figure is also implicit in those references in which the people are designated as sheep. The foremost implicit allusion to Yahweh as the shepherd is also found in the activity of leading the people of Israel. Two major events which are exemplary of Yahweh doing so, like a shepherd leading his flock, are the exodus out of Egypt and the return from the Babylonian exile. After crossing the Red Sea, Moses celebrated the overthrowing of the Egyptian army and described the mighty acts of Yahweh in leading his redeemed people, and guiding them to his holy abode (Exodus 15:13).
The action of leading in the shepherd metaphor is also described as restoration. For example, Jeremiah 23:1 describes the wicked shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of Yahweh. The flock is dispersed all over the place and driven away from their pasture with no one to “attend” to their needs (Jeremiah 23:2). Yahweh comes to their rescue. The sheep will be gathered and returned to their fold (Jeremiah 23:3).
This is an act of restoration and more, because “they shall be fruitful and multiply.” In the context of shepherding, this restoration of the sheep through leading them out of distress or danger is related to the gathering of the flock back to the land where they belong. In Micah 2:12, Yahweh “will gather the remnant of Israel” and “will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture.” This expresses the act of restoring the flock to their fold – – restoring their lives as in the days of old.
This restoration requires an intimate relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. The result is the confidence that Yahweh the shepherd will protect Israel the flock (Ps. 74:1, 2, 20). Yahweh is the maker of Israel; they are the people of his pasture and the flock of his hand. In Psalm 74:2, “Remember thy congregation, which thou hast got of old” indicates that the relationship between Yahweh and Israel began in the ancient past. The word “old” means “before, earlier” and “ancient times”: in Deuteronomy 33:27 it denotes “primaeval times” or “eternal” to describe Yahweh as the eternal God.
In Proverbs 8:22, 23, the word “old” is used to mean “beginning of his work” and “beginning of the earth,” and it is employed in the context of creation. Hence, in Psalm 74:2 the Psalmist reminded Yahweh that Israel had been gathered by him to be his people from the beginning of the existence of Israel and the existence of the Hebrew people. Thus, it depicts a picture of more than shepherd and sheep, but rather of a creator and creation, that which has been a binding relationship from the emergence of creation history (cf. Ezekiel 34:19, Ezekiel 34:20, Ezekiel 34:21, Ezekiel 34:22, Ezekiel 34:23, Ezekiel 34:24).
The other two shepherding activities, feeding and giving rest, complement the leading alluded to by the shepherd metaphor. For example, Zephaniah 2:6, Zephaniah 2:7 describes the provision of “pasture” and rest by Yahweh and indicates that he restores the fortunes of his people. As a protector, Yahweh provides food and rest to the remnant of Judah after deliverance from danger. Zephaniah 2:6, Zephaniah 2:7 presents the point of hypocatastasis when Yahweh gives strength to his people.
Ensuring procreation is another implicit reference of the shepherd metaphor. In Ezekiel 36:11, Yahweh has delivered his people so that they will again procreate. This reference is based on Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it”, which is the blessing Yahweh bestowed on Adam and Eve when they were created. Thus, it testifies that the Yahweh in Ezekiel 36:11 who ensures procreation amongst the people of Israel is the same as the God in Genesis 1:28 who is also the same Yahweh who declares, “I am who I am”, in Exodus 3:14.
The last implicit reference of the shepherd metaphor is that of protecting the sheep from danger. This relates to the saving acts of Yahweh towards the flock. According to Zechariah 9:16, Yahweh “will save them for they are the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land.” The word means “save” or “deliver” from captivity (Zechariah 9:16). Psalm 79:1 and 7 express the distress of the nation which was ruined by foreign rulers and by Jerusalem’s being “laid waste.” In Psalm 107:41, Yahweh “raises” the needy persons out of affliction, and makes their families like “flocks”. The term (raise) denotes the height of inaccessibility and indicates that one is out of reach of being captured. It refers to delivering Israel from her enemies and Yahweh saving his flock as a good shepherd would do.
In summary, the above brief study of the metaphor of the shepherd points to the fact that Yahweh is both the God and the shepherd of the people of Israel. This relationship encompasses leading, providing for, and protecting the well–being of the flock. It is established at the beginning of the history of Israel. And similar references can be found in the ancient Near Eastern literature. But what is the relationship of this shepherd image to the shepherd metaphor found in Zechariah 11:4, Zechariah 11:5, Zechariah 11:6, Zechariah 11:7? To answer this question one will have to research the historical and literary contexts of the prophecies in the book of Zechariah.
The Historical And Literary Contexts Of Zechariah
This section explores the book of Zechariah in general in order to pave the way to study the metaphor of the shepherd as it was used in the prophecies of Zechariah. The purpose is to understand the historical situation and theological message behind the literary fabric.
Historical Context of Zechariah
The vision of Zechariah occurred in the reign of Darius (Zechariah 1:1). This post-exilic history was characterized by the return of the diasporic Jews to Palestine; Darius enabled the returned Jews to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem in 515 B.C.E. (Ezra 4:5; Haggai 1:1; Zechariah. 1:1). It began with the succession of King Cyrus who reigned over the Persian Empire between 539 to 530 B.C.E. The decree of King Cyrus in 538 B.C.E. resulted in 50,000 Jews returning to Jerusalem from Babylon, having received his permission and assistance to rebuild the temple (2nd Chronicles 36:22, 2nd Chronicles 36:23). Upon returning, however, political turmoil was rampant.
Consequently, sixteen dreary years passed by in which no progress was made on the temple project, which was the heart of the theocratic system of the worship of YHWH. It was not until 523 B.C.E., when Darius gained the throne, that under his reign those obstacles were removed which had prevented the temple from being rebuilt. However, the people of Israel had become spiritually indifferent. They no longer evidenced enthusiasm for completing the rebuilding of the temple. Under such circumstances, the prophetic message of Zechariah emerged.
In such a context, God abundantly poured forth new revelations concerning his divine intentions. These intentions were focused on the Davidic king through whom God would bless the world (Zechariah 12:7, Zechariah 12:8, Zechariah 12:9; Zechariah 14:20, Zechariah 14:21). Zechariah 9–11 is the section of the prophets most quoted in the passion narratives of the gospels. Furthermore, the book strongly influenced the author of Revelation in presenting the eschatological future. The role of Israel in the plan of Yahweh is to demonstrate that the promise of Yahweh to David’s descendants will continue and bring glory to Yahweh himself (2nd Samuel. 7:26).
Otto Eissfeldt affirms that Zechariah 1-8 was written in the second year of Darius but argues that Zechariah 9-14 was written around 300 B.C.E. or later: chapters 12-14, in particular, have no resemblance to pre-exilic prophetic traditions. As in Haggai 1:1, Haggai 1:2, Haggai 1:3, Haggai 1:4, Haggai 1:5, Haggai 1:6, the Temple building project is the main theme; the prophetic narrative occurred in the sixth month of the second year of Darius which is two or three months earlier than Zechariah 1-8. Eissfeldt agrees with Kittel Elliger as regards dating 9:1-8 in the year 332 B.C.E. on the basis that this was the year in which Alexander was waging war against Tyre.
Yahweh’s promise in Zechariah 9:9, Zechariah 9:10, to deliver Zion, is perceived as the same event as that war. Zechariah 9:11-17 is interpreted as the destruction and conquering of Greece, “over your sons, O Greece” in Zechariah 9:13, which coincides with the earlier argument for dating the event in the fourth or third century B.C.E. The focus here is different from that in Zechariah 1-8, in that the Jews in the diaspora might have felt the threat of the Greeks. But the distinction between 1-8 and 9-14 lies in the teraphim mentioned in Zechariah 10:2 which belong to the pre-exilic folk religion. However, according to Eissfeldt the reason for incorporating teraphim in the context of Zechariah 10:2 is unknown, owing to its origin which belongs to an ancient source.
Elliger argues that Zechariah 10:1, Zechariah 10:2 should be understood in the metaphorical sense that Israel should seek salvation from Yahweh alone and not from the false gods or teraphim. But this argument does not advocate any date for Zechariah 9-14. Eissfeldt calculates that Zechariah 9:1, Zechariah10:2 was written in about 300 B.C.E., and may stem from more than one author. Other references such as Zechariah 9:1, 10, 13 and 13 points to the existence of Damascus and Ephraim while 9:5 refers to the king of Gaza; these are seen as unsubstantiated pieces of evidence for earlier dates.
To this end, Georg Fohrer states that at the end of the eighteenth century, the narrative in 9-11 was dated by scholars at 722 B.C.E., and 12-14 at 587 B.C.E. This proposition is based on the multiple prophecies compiled in Zechariah 9-14, “An oracle. The word of Yahweh” (Zechariah 9:1; 12:1; cf. Mark 1:1). This is caused by the problems created by the textual divisions, literary forms, and dates; these complexities are difficult to resolve. References to historical events are not concrete and lead to a later date in the fifth century for Zechariah 12-14. But Fohrer, like Eissfeldt, followed Kittel Elliger, ascribing Zechariah 9-11 to 332 B.C.E. during the reign of Alexander. This division of Zechariah is also known as Deutero-Zechariah. Fohrer, as with Eissfeldt, dates Trito-Zechariah (12-14) in the mid-third century.
Eissfeldt allocates the event in Zechariah 10:3-12 to a later date than that in 721 B.C.E. The “house of Joseph” and “Ephraim” referred to the Seleucid Syria and Ptolemaic Egypt which are different from those in pre-exilic origins, and Zechariah 10:3-12 is based on Isaiah 19:23-25 and 27:13, and the Qumran War Scroll. Zechariah 11:1-3 is a poem that is designed to insult the rulers of the world, on their fall. Its literary nature makes it difficult to determine the exact event in history.
Eissfeldt, however, juxtaposes the narrative in Zechariah 11:3 with the fall of the Seleucid and Ptolemaic regimes, referred to as the “shepherds and goats” threatened by the acts of Yahweh. This assumption is based on the argument that the narrative is original and deviates from Elliger‟s proposition that it is a later insertion. In terms of either view, Zechariah 11:1-3 refers to an event where the threat from Yahweh is directed against the kings of these two powers, and not the kings of Judah.
Eissfeldt read Zechariah 11:4-17 as a unit in view of the fact that Zechariah 13:7-9 cannot be ascertained to be the conclusion, as suggested by Ewald; it must be in a defined context of its own. But the ambiguity of the literary form causes difficulty in identifying specific events, and Eissfeldt believed that the work of a redactor was behind this intricate text. In this perspective, the three rejected shepherds could be Moses, Aaron and Miriam, or Galba, Otho and Vitellius. Ewald relates the three shepherds to Kings Zechariah, Shallum, and Menahem in 2 Kings 15:8[mine], 10, 14, 16-17, along with Marti and Sellin, and the high priests Lysimachus, Jason and Menelaus, or the Tobaids, Simon, Menelaus and Lysimachus.
The three rejected shepherds are in contrast to the image of the good and responsible shepherd, in that Zechariah 11:4-17 may refer to the rise of the Maccabeans. Since nothing transpired in the one hundred and fifty years between 450 to 300 B.C.E., it is assumed that 11:4-17 occurred in the fourth or third century B.C.E., the same period as 9:1-10:2. Eissfeldt agrees with Elliger that the historical context of Zechariah 11:4-17 was established in the settling of the Samaritan community and its religious practice away from the Temple at Jerusalem in the end of the fourth century B.C.E., but this perspective also cannot be conclusive.
To Eissfeldt, Zechariah 12-14 resembles nothing in the pre-exilic era, proved by many items of evidence advocating a later historical period. The eschatological tone in Zechariah 12:1-9 concerns the destruction of certain enemies while the presentation of Zechariah 13:1-6 deals with the persecution of the prophet and rendering the shepherd role undesirable. But Zechariah 12:10-14 seems to suppose a specific event about the judgment of wrongdoers. Even this cannot be certain. The shepherds referred to in Zechariah 11:4-17 appear to be earlier than the era of the Maccabeans.
Eissfeldt, however, states that nothing can be conclusive due to the lack of knowledge about the religious community and the nation of the Jews as a whole during the third century B.C.E. But the judgment in Zechariah 13:7-9 is incurred upon the rulers and the people, and along with it comes the cleansing of one-third of Yahweh’s people. Evidence for a later date from Zechariah 14 derived from the idea of the Day of Yahweh is not convincing to Eissfeldt, and he remarks that it is contradictory and may have been written by more than one author. Redactions of the text make it extremely difficult to determine its historical origin.
Eissfeldt concludes that it is futile to claim the same author for Zechariah 9-14 and 12-14. But whether Zechariah 9-14 needs to be subdivided is undecided. Eissfeldt could not discover a connection between Zechariah 9:1-11:3 and 11:4-17, and chapter 14, which involved various historical referents that complicate the identification of the origin of the text. Multiple authorships appear to be the case with Zechariah 9-11 and 12-14, but Eissfeldt finds it best to retain a single authorship of each section; 9-11 (Deutero-Zechariah) and 12-14 (Trito-Zechariah). Interpreters, he advocates, should read Zechariah with three authors in mind.
Brevard Childs, while holding to the canonical approach, agrees that the Zechariah 1-8 and Zechariah 9-14 display no similarity in literary expressions, form, and means of communication. Redaction has made the two works distinct. But Childs, who dates Zechariah 1-8 in 519 B.C.E., argued that the prophecy occurred in the second year of Darius which is twenty years after the re-occupation of Judah by the diaspora, which causes Babylon, as the threat, to be illogical. To regard Zerubbabel as the deliverer, as some have suggested, would underscore the eschatological purpose imprinted in the prophecy. Childs argued that the “Branch” in Zechariah 3:8, as the coming deliverer, not only provides deliverance from enemies, but also restores the life Judah once had.
Dividing Zechariah into three sections (Zechariah, Deutero-Zechariah, and Trito-Zechariah) would be unnecessary; but for interpretive purposes, it is best to keep to two divisions: 1-8 and 9-14. Multiple authorships may be logical but Zechariah 1-8 and 9-14 are not without connections. Though the literary form in each section is different, they are related in terms of the eschatological future of Judah. The prophecies in Zechariah 1-8 illustrate the judgment of Yahweh against Judah, while 9-14 emphasize the restoration of Judah through the Davidic king. If referents are required to justify the dating of Zechariah, only scanty references could be found to support such an argument, just as it is difficult to defend a single authorship.
In any case, the book of Zechariah concerns the glorious future of Israel which is in stark contrast to the situation of despair in the diaspora. Interestingly, Zechariah’s name means “the LORD remembers”, a reminder that Yahweh remembers his covenant promises to Israel and will fulfil them. This is very appropriate, since the book bearing his name will depict how God will work through history and ultimately restore the nation of Israel, defend its members and bless them through the coming Davidic king.
The whole episode of God’s disciplinary action of sending his people into exile has a purpose. If indeed it is that God would bring them back to the “promised land,” then this must be indicative of his compassionate intention to “further the program” that would result in his glory. Before examining the message, it is important to investigate the literary context of Zechariah, without which one will fail to understand the meaning of the text.
The Literary Context of Zechariah
Concerning the literary context, David Petersen infers that there are two types of literature in the book of Zechariah, namely visions and oracles. Petersen also remarks that the book can be divided into three sections, “an introduction (1:1-6), a block of reports of visions, replete with oracular responses (1:7-6:15), and a concluding block of prophetic speeches organised around Zechariah in the role of oracle giver” (7:1-8:23). The dates presented in Zechariah 1:1; 1:7; and 7:1 marked the divisions and influenced readers towards that direction. But some scholars would divide the book of Zechariah into only two sections, chapters 1-8 and 9-14. Others argue for a tripartite division, namely, Zechariah (1-8), Deutero-Zechariah (9-11), and Trito-Zechariah (12-14).
Traditionally, as mentioned, scholars divided the book of Zechariah into two sections, 1-8 and 9-14. Otto Eissfeldt points out that the author of Zechariah is presented in 1:1, “Zechariah the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo.” Eissfeldt has vividly identified the author as the same Zechariah in Ezra 5:1, 6:14, and Nehemiah 12:16, but maintained that chapters 9-14 were penned by someone else. One may conclude, with Eissfeldt, that in terms of authorship the latter chapters bear no relationship to chapters 1-8.
Zechariah 1-8 consists of visions and oracles, as indicated by Eissfeldt. In 1:2-6, the opening statements depict the grace of Yahweh which will return to Israel if they will respond with repentance. In 1:7-6:8, the eight visions that were given to Zechariah were related to either a promise to the post-exilic leaders of the returning diaspora, or one to remove the guilt of the people of Israel who will experience the grace of Yahweh.
Of the eight visions, 1:8-15 describes the “three … diversely coloured post-horses;” 2:1-4 the “four horns and the four smiths;” 2:5-9, “the man with the measuring line;” 3:1-7, “the cleansing of Joshua the high priest;” 4:1-6a, 10a-14, “the golden lampstand and the two olive trees which stand beside it;” 5:1-4, “the flying scroll;” 5:5-11, “the woman in the ephah carried away from the land by two women with stork’s wings;” and 6:1-8, “the setting out of four chariots with different coloured horses.” In 6:9-15, the oracle came to Zechariah, with a direct command from Yahweh, to bring the silver and gold and to crown the high priest: this was accompanied by the prophecy of the coming Davidic king.
In 7:1, a direct oracle from Yahweh was given to Zechariah in the month of Kislev which provides the answer to the inquiry of the men of Sharezer and Regemmelech regarding whether they should fast in the fifth month as in the past. But Eissfeldt doubts that fasting is carried out in the fifth month; rather the burning of the house of Yahweh occurs in this month (Zc. 7:1-3; cf. 2 Kgs. 25:8-9). In 7:4-14, the text concerns judgment to the enemies and justice to the needy. According to Eissfeldt the commands of Yahweh in 8:1-7 close with seven promises, depicting the blessing Jerusalem will receive, the return of the diaspora, and the renewal of Yahweh’s blessing bestowed upon the people with the beginning of the reconstruction of the temple.
J. Alberto Soggin provides a more detailed analysis of Zechariah 1-8. Zechariah 1:7-17, the first vision, concerns the appearance of the divine horsemen who will bring stability to the nation of Judah. But the vision consists of the anger of Yahweh which does not exclude grace from flowing to Judah. The second vision, Zechariah 2:1-14, concerns the judgment of Judah, Israel and Jerusalem, in the vision of the four ironsmiths.
The third vision, Zechariah 2:5-17, concerns the rebuilding of the holy city of Jerusalem but without a wall. In ancient times walls ensured protection, but this city does not need it because Yahweh will be her wall. The fourth vision, Zechariah 3, deals with the indictment of the high priest Joshua before the divine throne, wearing dirty clothes that represent his sin and the sins he bears for his people, with Satan accusing him.
Soggin asserts that the definite article preceding the term Satan implies a function, not a name. The vision ends with Yahweh showering down his grace to spare his people from judgment, and the filthy garment of the priest being changed to a clean garment as a symbol of forgiveness. The fifth vision, Zechariah 4, describes the lampstand which symbolizes the people of the world, the seven lamps which signify Yahweh’s eyes, and the olive trees which connote Joshua, the high priest and Zerubbabel, the last Davidic descendant.
The sixth vision, Zechariah 5:1-4, concerns the flying scroll containing the destruction of blasphemers. However, this judgment is executed by Yahweh himself and perceived as a “symbolic action.” Soggin explains that the content of a revelation is crucial in ancient Near Eastern writing, rather than the method of communication, because the “objective value” of blessings and curses is its centre.
The seventh vision, Zechariah 5:5-11, deals with the symbolic presentation of two women transporting the people’s sin to Babylon. This represents the cleansing of Judah’s sin and sending it far away. Soggin relates this vision to Revelation 14:8; 18:10, 21, which depict the greatness and the collapse of Babylon. The eighteenth vision, Zechariah 6:1-8, concerns the four chariots and the four winds of heaven representing Yahweh’s judgment against Babylon because of her sin. Babylon is the centre of the Persian Empire and the judgment symbolizes the destruction of the core of sin.
Following the visions, the crowning of the high priest, Joshua, occurs. Soggin has pointed out certain problems in the text. He avers that textual corruption is evident in the plural form of the word “crowns”, rather than the single form “crown”, and the omission of Zerubbabel from the edited work. The exclusion of Zerubbabel may be justifiable due to this individual’s identity being suspicious so that he has been removed from the scene of crowning.
Alternatively, the term “crowns” could mean the possession of two crowns; one for Joshua and one for Zerubbabel, but this reading is literally dysfunctional. Soggin rejects the proposition of two crowns for an individual. This would be applicable to the Pharaoh as king in Upper and Lower Egypt, but never in the case of an Israelite king. A third reading is that the allusion refers to one crown but to that of Zerubbabel who is the descendant of David. Soggin prefers to read the plural form “crowns” which is used to represent the dual roles of priest and prince, as in Ezekiel 45-48, of the future Davidic king.
Zechariah 1-8 ends with the issue of fasting: the audience was instructed to perform it in a pre-exilic manner, and this touched the unrepentant heart of Israel. Soggin argues that the answer to the issue of fasting presented in Zechariah 7 that was provided two years previously has the same value as in Micah 6:8, “Mercy is worth more than sacrifice.” However, this is unsatisfactory. Micah replied in the same fashion as Zechariah that justice must be exercised; kindness and mercy must be shown to the people of Israel. Perhaps, Soggin summarizes the idea by quoting a popular idiom. But the point of this last section of Zechariah 1-8 is that the unrepentant heart of Israel angered Yahweh, which led to their judgment; yet, by his grace, a promise was given to Zion.
This section can be further divided into two subsections: 9-11 and 12-14, which, as has been indicated, are also known as Deutero-Zechariah and Trito-Zechariah, respectively. However, such a division may be unnecessary, because the inscribed statement in 12:1 could be read as a continuation of 9-11. Without using the labels Deutero-Zechariah and Trito-Zechariah, Eissfeldt provides an analysis of this entire section.
The inscription in 9:1 indicates the threat against the surrounding nations along with the rescue of Judah. This rescue plan comprises a king of peace settling in Jerusalem (vv.9-10) while Ephraim and Judah will exercise power over their enemies (vv.11-17). Zechariah 10:1-2 illustrates the point that the power of Yahweh supersedes the power of the teraphim, so that Judah should seek Yahweh, and not other means of divination.
Zechariah 10:3-12 concerns the anger of Yahweh against the shepherds and the leaders, and the deliverance of Judah and Israel with the notion that they will return to their homeland. At the same time, the power of Egypt and Assyria will be humbled. Moving forward, 11:1-3 describes the collapse of the world power represented by the cedar of Lebanon and the oaks of Bashan. This is followed by 11:4-17 where Yahweh assigns the role of a shepherd to the prophet of a flock that is earmarked for slaughtering. According to 11:8a, Yahweh got rid of three shepherds in one month. The prophet-shepherd broke the two staffs, grace and union, when he resigned from the role.
The pericope ends with another command by Yahweh to assume the role of a worthless shepherd who will bring destruction to the flock (v.17). With the opening statement of the oracular inscription, 12:1-13:6 describes how the enemies of Judah are destroyed while the people of Israel and the house of David are purged of their sin, so that they are purified. But in 13:7-9, the purification process is extensive and the flock is faced with destruction. One third of the sheep survived and are purified to be Yahweh’s people. Finally, Zechariah 14 concludes with the destruction of Israel’s enemies, and the glorious restoration of Jerusalem is presented in “brilliant colours.”
Childs, however, argues that the oracles and sign-acts are literary devices which are related to the original vision through redaction. The literary techniques employed are similar to the prophetic message of Israel’s future. Zechariah 1-8 consists of various genres which are crafted by the redactor to proclaim the message of Yahweh. The message is a future deliverance beyond the return of the diaspora or a second exodus which Yahweh desires for Judah.
Regarding Zechariah 9-14, Childs contends consents that it cannot be perceived to have been written by the same redactor as Zechariah 1-8, which is evident from the inscribed statement in Zechariah 9:1 and 12:1, “An oracle. The word of Yahweh.” These inscriptions depict literary independence from Zechariah 1-8. But Zechariah 9-14 is a single unit and may be divided into two subdivisions: 9-11 and 12-14. The concept of the unity of Zechariah 9-14 can be perceived through the progression of the prophetic message, moving from strengthening the nation of Judah to promising a glorious future.
While some scholars have perceived Zechariah as a collection of multiple prophecies, Childs argues for the unity of the theological message in both sections. These works were juxtaposed alongside each other to complete the prophecies in 1-8 to 9-14. Childs states that Zechariah 9-14 was linked to Zechariah 1-8 by the redactors with the purpose of completing the prophecy. But such a juxtaposition creates a theological connection between Zechariah and Deutero-Zechariah.
The book of Zechariah deals with the restoration of the nation of Israel; this includes the rebuilding of the Temple. Zechariah is perceived to fulfil Ezekiel’s prophecy of the new Temple and the creation of a new people, which deviated from the old prophetic tradition that Yahweh’s grace depends on the sustainability of the Temple. The night visions in Zechariah are similar to those in Ezekiel; the experiences are real but detached from the mundane life of the prophet and they are unable to reconcile the visions with the real world. In Eissfeldt’s view the visionary narrative is the result of Zechariah’s effort in reconstructing the visionary experiences and presenting them in written form.
Visions and oracles constitute two types of prophetic literature found in Zechariah. Such literature is the written form of prophecy received from Yahweh regarding judgment on and blessings of Israel and other nations. As Boda puts it, prophecy deals with divine words conveyed from God to humans, by means of a human who acts as mediator. Prophecy is not limited to oral transmission, but also appears in written form; as noted, this became prophetic literature.
The common understanding of prophecy is that it offers a prediction of the future, but this is not accurate. Prophecy involves both present and future occurrences. Grant Osborne comments that the majority of the prophecies concern the present state of Israel [Israel and Judah], with only a few that concern the future, and more often reiterate the point that Yahweh is sovereign after all. In Zechariah, poetry is employed along with visions and oracles. Osborne writes, “The difference is that the vision is a supernatural manifestation that corresponds to external reality while the hallucinatory, or “trance possessions, is subjective and irrational.”
Most visions occurred as “night visions” but some took place in the daylight. The imagery was mostly apocalyptical and requires explication. For example, Ezekiel 37 depicts the dramatic scene of the dry bones coming alive, which calls for interpretation pertinent to the present and future of Israel. The most common formula to identify a vision is the phrase, “And the word of Yahweh came to me”. Historical origin is often the backbone of interpretation of visions, but this is not the case in Zechariah.
The oracle is one type of prophetic literature that exists in Zechariah. This form of prophecy mainly contains judgment and these passages were commonly known as “woe” oracles. Some perceived the presence of such oracles to be negative, while others understood them as instructional visions. But the former conclusion is widely accepted. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart add that “woe” oracles connote the tone of mourning over mishaps or death.
Such oracles consist of “announcement of distress,” “reason for the distress,” and “prediction of doom.” At times, promises of deliverance follow after the “woe” oracles, of which Zechariah 9-14 is an example. Accompanying the oracles come poetry which exists in Zechariah 9-14. This style of writing makes memorization easy, especially where it concerns the message of Yahweh. Poetry is regarded as a method of instruction which is common in the ancient world. In relation to Zechariah 9-14, all three forms of prophetic literature are present.
According to Petersen the genre of visions existed in pre-exilic and classical prophetic literature. For example, as regards Micah in 1 Kings 22 and Amos in Amos 1:1, the typical indication of a vision is the inscription: “The visions . . .” or “The words . . .” along with the word “saw”. Therefore Zechariah is grouped with the pre-exilic and classical prophetic writings owing to the inscription of “. . . the word” in Zechariah 1:1 and “. . . saw”, which denotes to see something visually: this fits the category of the vision.
A significant point regarding Zechariah’s visions from 1:1-7:8 is that these visions are received by the prophet in one night. If a vision is similar to a dream, some scholars believe that an individual in a normal state can experience multiple dreams in one night with various themes. Furthermore, the ancient Greeks‟ “waking [hypar] and dream [onar] visions” would be similar to Zechariah’s visionary experiences.
This verifies the possibility of the prophet seeing the visual prophecy while being awake. But biblical scholars rejected such an understanding of the visions which occurred in different contexts which in turn therefore weakened the proposed coherence within them. One argument, as presented by K. Galling, would be that each historical event identified in each visionary experience is not identical, despite appearing to be similar.
For example, some visions depict a situation in the diaspora before the return as in Zechariah 1:8-15, 2:1-4, 2:5-9, and 6:1-8. Others could depict the situation of the diaspora after the return as in Zechariah 4:1-6a, 10b-14, 5:1-4, and 5:5-11. Petersen remarks that this interpretive approach was rejected because one would encounter similar problems when interpreting the Psalms by relying on their historical origin. Like the visions of Zechariah, this approach is subject to criticism.
A challenge posed to the unity of Zechariah’s visions is the setting of the fourth vision, in Zechariah 3, which differs from the rest of the vision reports, and which may lead one to think differently regarding their coherence. But Petersen argues that the fourth vision, intended to depict the people of Judah who need cleansing, is the centre of all the visions. In this perspective, Zechariah 3 coheres with the other visions to form a unity. Furthermore, there is a progression evident in these visions, according to Galling and Seybold. But Petersen comments that the process of Judah’s restoration involves theological idealism depicted through the visions, and that the historical origin is not of primary importance.
The characteristic of Zechariah’s visions is that they comprise a mixture of national reformation and religious duties, and are not concerned with prosperity and building a perfect society (cf. Hg. 2:6-7; Ezk. 43:7). In the view of Petersen this middle position vividly expressed the visions of Zechariah and their relationship with other contemporary literature. For example, the geographical context of the first vision is not only worldly or heavenly, which expresses the nature of Zechariah’s visionary experiences.
The visions are “motion” and “movement”, and are evident in every vision. Although the imagery of visions is enigmatic, they depict the new order for Judah and the world. Such an order is the result of catastrophic activities, especially of the divine ruler: these occurred not within an earthly Judahite boundary or visionary platform. Petersen adds that the continuous theme of Yahweh’s actions is found in the activities of the middle sphere, movements of activities, and the idea of “all the earth”. These visions are summed up by Yahweh being seated in Jerusalem, not in the temple as in the past, but the city is his dwelling and is without a wall. Yahweh becomes a wall of fire for the city. In so doing, the new future order will be operating with righteousness as a result of the cleansing of Joshua the high priest.
The reports of Zechariah’s visions reflect the emerging restoration of the coming future. Divine activities in the restored world of Judah will be followed by human involvement in the process of restoration. Petersen writes, “In so doing, he is providing the theological rationale that will make concrete forms of restoration possible. He is not, in these visions, directly proposing or engaging in the actual work of restoration.” Rather, the vision entails the outline of the temple construction, similar to the details indicated in other prophetic literature. However, the visionary experiences of Zechariah are realistic enough to include unrepentant violators which are released without judgment.
To summarize, Petersen considers that the visions of Zechariah provide a theological framework for the restoration process of Judah and the world in the religious context of Judahite society, and the revelatory communication between Yahweh and the prophet. Some contend that the visions encompass the deliverance of the returned diaspora community and the process of their ritualistic purification. In any case, these symbolic visions are subject to contention and criticism, even as they concern the political, economic, and social rebuilding of the community of Yahweh. The visions display the process of how Yahweh returns to his position as the God of Judah and to the centre of its religious society.
Oracles are utterances stemming from a deity through the prophets. These utterances, as discussed earlier, may or may not have been given to Zechariah, owing to the diversity of writing style. Oracles contained in Proto-Zechariah may be regarded as in two blocks; some interspersed in the visions, and others concentrated in Zechariah 7-8. But such a setting may be intended for a different objective. Oracles contained in Deutero-Zechariah occurred not in a visionary manner, which demonstrates a similarity to Amos as a prophet with a diverse style of writing.
Two oracles interspersed in the literary fabric of Zechariah 9-14, which have been discussed, were not written by Zechariah. Utilizing the historical-critical approach, Mede and Duhm argue that since Matthew 27:9 contains a reference to Jeremiah when citing Zechariah 9-11, the author is obviously the said prophet, and that the writing style especially is different from that of Zechariah 1-8. Some scholars argued that Zechariah belonged to pre-exilic prophetic literature, while Eissfeldt and others determined that Deutero-Zechariah had been written around 300 B.C.E.
In Petersen’s view Zechariah 9-14 is prophetic literature, similar to Isaiah, which contains judgment language and promises, the phrase “On that day”, and the introductory formula of an “oracle”. The visions of Zechariah 9-14 reflect the work of a prophet mediating between heaven and earth. These sayings are written in poetic form. Zechariah 9:1-8 contains judgment of Judah and the surrounding nations, while Zechariah 9:8-17 express promises of Judah’s restoration which will bring peace and stability to the nation. The people of Jerusalem will become the weapon of Yahweh against Judah and the other nations.
Yahweh desires that Jerusalem be filled with people beyond the wall of the city and that those who have been scattered can return to their homeland. The indictment oracle to Judah in Zechariah 10:1-12 proclaimed, in battle imagery, Judah’s returning home from this terrible environment for the purpose of rest. Zechariah 11:1-3 shows a glimpse of the disaster waiting to happen which will soon dawn on Israel. What follows are the disappointing events when Yahweh hands Syria-Palestine over to irresponsible shepherds who are rejected and judged, and thus the three oracles conclude.
Zechariah 12-14 which belong to the second “oracle” contain two lengthy discourses and a short one. These oracles are different from the previous series. This utterance is divided into two sections: 12:1-13:6 and 14:1-21, with an introductory “behold”, which separates the two sections. Petersen notes that the short discourse is juxtaposed between the two lengthy discourses in order to bridge the transition. The two oracles differ in nature: the first, Zechariah 12:1-13:6, contains direct speeches from Yahweh, whereas the second, Zechariah 14:1-21, contains prose.
The rhetoric of the text demonstrates two distinct literary materials integrated into a wider context that provides a vivid image of Israel’s future, highlighted by “On that day”. Such a phrase causes the flow of the oracles to form a more integrated whole than the oracles in Zechariah 9-11. For Petersen, “Although Zechariah 9–11 expresses the hope that the deity will act with and on behalf of Israel (e.g., 9:11), Zechariah 12–14 affirms that the critical moment, „on that day, ‟ lies in the future.” The focus is on the future of Judah.
To reiterate, the significance of prophetic literature is the perception of that literature as God’s divine message, even though the author may not be the prophet who received the words from God. The literary purpose is theological, and the relationship between Yahweh and Israel is described in the theology of the prophetic literature and in diverse literary forms. The role of the prophets is related to national and social welfare. They lived during eras which included both monarchical and exilic periods. Generally, prophetic messages target the kings and the people, since the prophets are guardians of religious traditions and the covenant relationship. It is this deep historical heritage that caused prophets to be significant people, other than kings, priests and political leaders. Their words which are oracles, including visions, became literature so that understanding them requires literary competency.
Metaphor is a literary art form, rather than a methodology. It employs literary competencies to interpret the literary text by analyzing its literary structure and style. John Gibson comments that passages such as Jeremiah 4:2 and Isaiah 30:7 described human conflicts in the history of the human race to symbolize the impact of the evil power on the Israelites or the entire human race. A metaphor is a literary figure of speech employing a direct identification to convey the meaning of the text.
The first image is that of Yahweh as king. As mentioned in chapters 2 and 3, the literature of the ancient Near Eastern and the Hebrew Bible portrayed him in this role. This image has dominated throughout the biblical text: that Yahweh is the creator of the heaven and earth, and the Israelites. Gibson adds that such an image is generally mythological and can be found in the Psalms, but occasionally also in historical narratives (e.g. Jdg. 8:23; Ps. 5:2, 4; 29:3, 10; 74:12, 14, 17; 95:3–5; 96:10; 103:19–22; Is. 6:5; Zc. 14:6–9).
There are other images related to Yahweh as king in the said metaphor. As Gibson comments, titles such as “the LORD”, “God Most High”, and “God Almighty”, present the image of Yahweh as king. This term is the common name for a Canaanite god, but was used by Israelites to address Yahweh. Gibson remarks that this is unlike (Baal), which means “lord,” “owner,” and “husband” and is not used to address Yahweh. Gibson utilizes Hosea 2:16 to vividly contrast the terms through a play on words to distinguish the allegiance of Israel which was once directed to Baal but is now intended for Yahweh. This signifies the return of the unfaithful wife to her faithful husband, Yahweh. But the image of king is closely related to images such as “Warrior, Judge, and the Living God.”
The second image is that of Yahweh as shepherd. Gibson is right to point out that the representation of Yahweh as shepherd and the people of Israel as sheep popularized by Psalm 23 is the most prominent one throughout the Hebrew Bible. Other biblical texts that refer to Yahweh as shepherd include Psalm 80:1 and Jeremiah 31:10. Gibson states that Ezekiel 34 is an allegorized description of the shepherd metaphor among many biblical references. The image of the shepherd describes Yahweh’s relationship with Israel and Ezekiel 34 extensively describes the activities of Yahweh involved in the life of the Israelites.
In summary, these images are vividly outlined in the language of the biblical texts which readers should examine carefully to interpret the meaning of the metaphor. There is no hard and fast method of interpreting metaphor other than to read within the literary context and to be sensitive to genre. With this in mind, the next Chapter will examine the meaning of the metaphor of the shepherd in the text of Zechariah 11:4–17.
The Metaphor of the Shepherd in Zechariah 11:4–17
This title aims to explain the meaning of the shepherd metaphor in Zechariah 11:4–17 in relation to the same metaphor in the rest of the Hebrew Bible. Special emphasis will be placed on the two conflicting shepherd images. Zechariah 11:4-17 is a distinct unit, but for exegetical purposes, this text is divided into two sections (vv.4–14; 15–17), while vv.4–14 are further subdivided into two parts: vv.4–6 and vv.7–14. However, the context of Zechariah 11:4-17 cannot be properly understood without first discussing 11:1-3.
Zechariah 11 is a continuation of the description of the victorious glory of Yahweh defeating the enemies, and restoring the glory, of Israel in chapter 10. One might have expected to hear blessings, but Yahweh is set on cleansing the nation of Israel and reminding them of their sins. Words of condemnation emerge from the assignment to reflect the devastation of Israel. As H.C. Leupold observes, the security of Israel has failed them.
It is true that Yahweh will bless Israel, but it is also the case that wickedness flourishes in the nation. This refers to the foreign rulers who were judged by Yahweh in Zechariah 10. Petersen states that the Israelite leadership is represented by foreign rulers in the context of Zechariah. The lamentation in Zechariah 11:1-3 explicates the scenario. Though the typical threefold lament structure in vv. 1-2 appears to be regular, it differs from laments in Isaiah 14:31, 23:1-14, Jeremiah 25:34 and 49:3.
Petersen explains that the final clause of v. 1 indicates the result of the lament, and that v.2 states the reason for the lament. Moreover, the imperative verb “open” refers to the call to “surrender and destruction,” rather than a call to defeat and capture.
In v. 1, “Lebanon” is utilized to symbolize a region, rather than a specific locality. Petersen states that the Lebanon is famous for its timber produce but also represents pride as in Jeremiah 22:6, “the summit of Lebanon”. Although one may read this as an allegory, it is best to interpret it as a personification. The point is that the entire region [Lebanon] will be burned down and be destroyed like a city. The word “open” speaks about the only option for the people in the city, which is to surrender and to die. Thus, the notion of decimating the foreign rulers is evident.
In v. 2, the lament continues, except that this time its subject is the commodity produced by Lebanon. Although it is difficult to determine the meaning of as a cypress, the following clause suggests such a denotation. For Boda the burning of the cedars of the Lebanon indicates the collapse of power in Assyria and Egypt, as in Ezekiel 31. As in Isaiah 2:12-17, the cedars of the Lebanon and the oaks of Bashan represent the pride of the human race. Boda translates the Hebrew word in v. 2 as “stately trees” to present the reader with a “double entendre,” because it is used in Psalm 8:9 and Isaiah 33:21 to describe the destructive acts of Yahweh, while this figure of speech is usually conferred on human leaders as shown in Jeremiah 14:3 and 30:21, and in the reference to the cedars of the Lebanon in Ezekiel 17:23.
Boda remarks that it alludes to the Lebanon cedar to portray leadership, while the word (stately trees) in Nah. 3:18, is used along with “shepherd” to indicate the affiliation of royal officials and the Assyrian court. But Petersen argues that though the word can mean human leaders, in Ezekiel 17:23 it is an adjective which denotes a cedar. According to Petersen, cypress and cedars could grow parallel to each other. If this is true, the cypress is lamenting the fall of the cedars; the cedar is perceived as a “glorious” tree, compared to the cypress.
The lament denotes a sense of judgment. Boda regards the message in chapter 10:1–3a as a judgment of the political leaders and the people who had rejected the appointed rulers. Verse 2 repeats the “call to lament”, which is a pronouncement of judgment on the nations. The preposition “for” denotes a “negative characteristic” which is judgmental in nature. The concept here is that the commodity which makes the region [Lebanon] famous is destroyed completely, and the forest that grows it. On the same note, Bashan, which is famous for her oaks, suffers the same fate as Lebanon and will be lamenting after the destruction of the cedars. Following the previous scenario, the situation in the first half of v. 2 continues here, which entails the destruction of the forest.
The word “thick forest” refers to a vast area of trees: this symbolises not a city, but an entire region which is affected by the destruction. Yahweh’s judgment of the foreign rulers continues in v. 3. According to Petersen, v. 3 offers the response to the situation in vv. 1-2. The reference to “shepherds” and “lions” indicates that the scope of destruction includes both animals and humans. Some perceive the lions and the shepherds as allegorical figures pointing to political leaders.
For example, Hinckly Mitchell suggests that the shepherds in v. 3 are the foreign rulers, referred to in v. 1. Julia O’Brien describes the illustration in vv. 1–3 as “animal imagery.” This correlates with the image of shepherds in chapters 10 and 11. Linguistically, the description of the shepherds and lions depicts the devastation of the pastures and the trees, as indicated in other prophetic literature. The atmosphere is altered by the introduction of judgment. Though the prophecy continues with the image of the shepherd and sheep, the usage differs from that of protecting the people, to an unusual and confusing use of this imagery.
Boda considers that the insertion of the shepherd and lion imagery is unclear, especially in the context of destroying the nations. The closest connection would be the reputation of Lebanon for producing cedars (e.g. Is. 14:8). 1 Kings 5 and 7 indicate that Solomon used cedars in the building of the temple and the palace. Boda infers that the notion connotes judgment against the king.
For Joyce Baldwin the metaphor of a roaring lion is an image of “victory.” In Jeremiah 49:19, the prophetic message pictures a lion coming from Jordan to grasp whatever it chooses, as a symbol of judgment on nations that are enemies of Israel. Boda adds that it is an allegorical expression of the fact that the security of Judah against external political powers is failing. The ambiguous term “laid waste” in v. 3 is probably best understood as referring to the pastures in ruin because the shepherds are indicted.
But these leaders may or may not be the Israelite ones. Agreed with Petersen, the context does not support the mention of these leaders as alluding to the Israelite leaders. Verses 1-3 do not refer to Judah, but to Syria-Palestine. If the lions in an allegorical fashion refer to Judah, and to the Israelite leaders, and the shepherds likewise refer to the political leaders, this would signify that in the use of these two metaphors lions and shepherds have become one and the same. The word “jungle” in v. 3 denotes “a dense forest,” and is combined with “thick forest” in v. 2b, to illustrate the extent of the destruction. Petersen states that the lost glory of the shepherds could refer to tress and livestock. There is also the possibility of an ecological lament.
While some scholars argue that vv. 1-3 took their reference from Jeremiah 25:34- 38, Petersen contends that these verses are not transposed from another prophetic book. His reading holds that although both texts are similar in syntax, trees and destruction are not present in the text of Jeremiah 25:34–38 where Yahweh is the enemy, whereas in Zechariah 11:1-3, Yahweh is not mentioned, and lions and shepherds are victims of the destruction. Although both texts seem similar, they are different in literary terms.
According to Boda chapter 11 deals with the problem of leadership, as a continuation of chapters 9 and 10, so that the judgment now turns to the political leaders and the shepherds, as in Zechariah 10:1–3. Boda adds that the judgment in Zechariah 11:4–17 is developed through “prophetic sign–acts,” which are also shepherding activities. The chapter concludes with the return of an oracular message directed at the leaders.
In summary, the destruction is regional and the impact is devastating because animals and humans suffer the same fate. The phrase the “glory” of the enemies is “despoiled” signifies that the destination of those who are judged is total destruction. Relating to the image of the shepherd, the description refers to the destruction of the shepherd’s pasture that feeds the sheep. The words “wail” and “roar” express the devastation of these foreign rulers. What they have been proud of is now destroyed, yet they are powerless to restore their glory. The shepherd image in leading and protecting is diminished because they themselves are the targets of judgment.
This section continues the judgment of Yahweh from chapter 10–11:3, except that now it is directed to the leaders of Israel and the people. The text is subdivided into chapter 11:4–6 and 11:7–14. Before we proceed to the exegesis, a textual issue must be addressed.
Some scholars argue that Zechariah 11:4-17 coheres with 13:7-9 because both texts concern judgment against the role of shepherds and the flock, and furthermore, it is Yahweh who judges. The lack of a conclusion in Zechariah 11:4-17 favours this proposition. Petersen notes that the arguments revolve around the coherence of Zechariah 11:4-17 with the rest of Zechariah 9-14, the meaning of Zechariah 13:7-9 in its literary context, and the identity of the shepherd in Zechariah 13:7-9 and 11:15-17.
The hope of using form criticism to resolve the problem is a tenuous one. For Petersen the answer to the incoherence of Zechariah 11:4-17 and 13:7-9 lies in the literary form of Zechariah 11:4-17; he considers that Zechariah 13:7-9 is an independent literary unit. He also asserts that it is unnecessary to define 11:15-17 as an independent unit, since 11:4-17 is a whole. Scholars have assigned many different genres to Zechariah 11:4-17 but some are inappropriate. Often, the focus falls on the literary and structural characteristics of 11:4-17 and the reports in prosaic style.
Such an approach leads to the identification of two genres: allegory and action reports. Baldwin treats v. 4 as allegory, rather than an actual event. But Petersen argues that since allegory is in form a figure of speech, then 11:4-17 should be an action report. He asserts that the literary origin of 11:4-17 as an action report is immaterial to criticism. According to Georg Fohrer, a proponent of the action report, this genre is interspersed in the Hebrew Bible, and includes “a command to perform a task, a report of the performance, and a statement about the meaning of the task.”
Saebo observes that the “command to perform a task” can be found in Zechariah 11:4b and 15, while “one performance report” may be found in vv. 7-12, and the interpretations in vv. 6 and 16. Petersen notes that these action reports are not always present as Fohrer proposed, and therefore, may lead one to reading vv. 15-17 as a second report. But Saebo perceives vv. 13–14 as the second command and report, instead, and v. 5 as a later addition. For Petersen the commands are divine while the speeches belong to humans, and thus resolves the question regarding the literary genre of 11:4-17.
He argues that 13:7-9 belongs to chapters 12-14 and is distinct from chapters 9-11, and adds that making the action reports the focal point of the text will disregard the meaning of vv. 13-14 in relation to the judgment against Judah. The focus should be placed on vv. 6 and 16 where the mystery of the shepherd’s judgment is unlocked. The reports of the performance indicate that Yahweh has surrendered his power to rule over Judah and vested such power in the wicked shepherds who do not provide for their flock according to the responsibility of a shepherd in the biblical sense.
The opening of this section begins with the popular prophetic affirmation, “Thus said the LORD my God” (v. 4). As Petersen points out, it is not surprising to see prophets address Yahweh as “my God.” Such an address is perceived as personalizing the formality between one who commands a prophet and the latter. Mason, however, argues that the address is the prophets” way of staging a performance before their listeners. Petersen observes that the commands depict a bleak future for the flock and are unusual. Normally, shepherds will keep some sheep for slaughter, some for other means of livelihood. To slaughter all the sheep is not normal practice. The command to be a shepherd of this flock in this manner is therefore highly unusual. This image of shepherding offers a stark contrast to the shepherding exhibited in Zechariah 9:15, “The LORD of hosts will protect them, and they shall devour and tread down the slingers”.
The atmosphere of judgment in 11:1–3 is extended to v. 4. This shepherding role is futile because the judgment is certain. The Hebrew term, generally translated as “shepherd,” means “to feed or shepherd,” or “to tend or shepherd” (1 Sa. 16:11; 17:15; 25:16; Je. 23:2). In the context of Zechariah 11:1-3, which concerns the judgment of the foreign rulers, the term clearly means feeding the flock: which is the responsibility the foreign rulers have neglected. In Thomas McComiskey’s opinion the leaders here are the rulers of Israel. But Mitchell argues that the historical context points to Ptolemy III, the King of Egypt who ruled from 247 to 222 B.C.E.
However, a twist occurs when Yahweh appoints Zechariah, who was among the Israelites, as shepherd to tend the “flock doomed to slaughter.” Perhaps the context concerns judgment on Israelite and foreign leaders. Reading from vv. 1–3, it seems clear that the rulers are foreign rulers who abuse and mistreat the Israelites. But if one continues reading from vv.4–6, “and their own shepherds have no pity on them” (v. 5), this seems to imply that the rulers are Israelite leaders. The phrase in v.6, “Lo, I will cause men to fall each into the hand of his shepherd; and each into the hand of his king”, affirms that the author is thinking both of Israelites and foreign rulers.
But Petersen states that the shepherd figure cannot be identified with any political leaders in history without understanding the meaning of that image. To achieve the latter, it is important to observe two points. First, v. 8 indicates that more than one shepherd is involved in the context, and to link them with political leaders in history would be difficult. Secondly, the shepherd in v. 4 and v. 15 is the same person, but he acts in totally contradictory ways.
The word “slaughter” depicts the responsibility of the shepherd to destroy the flock. For Eugene Merrill such an expression fits the circumstances of the people of Israel who enjoy no protection because they were sold to foreigners for slaughter (v.5). The slaughter benefits those who buy and sell the sheep, but ironically, this serves Yahweh’s purposes. McComiskey argues that the slaughter is nationwide because vv.5 and 6 indicate that the rulers spare not a soul (cf. Zc. 11:9).
According to Boda, though the trading of sheep for meat is common, this is a negative side of the shepherd metaphor. In contrast to 10:6, “I will strengthen the house of Judah, and will save the house of Joseph,”, the shepherding responsibility of protecting the flock is defied in the trading of the sheep.
Verse 5 explains the slaughter of the flock in greater detail. According to Boda the economic situation drives the shepherds to neglect their roles of protecting and providing for the flock. Baldwin highlights the fact that the word “them” indicates that the sheep are ewes, which are normally reared for breeding, and not for slaughter. This reflects negatively on the character of the owners of the sheep.
McComiskey states that these shepherds have no pity on the sheep and allow them to be destroyed by the merchants who are the “influential or wealthy members of the community.” In other words, the oppression stems from the leaders of Israel, the upper class of the society and the masters of the common people. The irony is that Yahweh as the shepherd of Israel does not protect Israel, but rather permits such destruction to come upon them. As Petersen points out, the shepherds portrayed in v. 5 are not the owners of the sheep.
The sheep owners [multiple shepherds] do not respect the newly appointed shepherd, and act as they wish. Given the scheming of the sheep owners, the newly assigned shepherd cannot perform the task of shepherding.
In v. 6, the change in pronoun to first person indicates an alteration in mood. The attention now turns to Yahweh himself. The “I” highlights the consequence of the acts of the shepherds. Yahweh declares that “I will no longer have pity”: this speaks of abandonment of responsibility, but for a reason unknown to readers. The shepherds and kings are specifically mentioned in Yahweh’s declaration as regards punishing the people, and in so doing, interpret the action report of vv. 4-5 regarding the slaughtering of the flock. Petersen adds that the response of Yahweh in the first person provides the cause of the symbolic acts in vv. 4-5.
In his view, Yahweh’s acts increase the strength of the foreign rulers. Perhaps the word “for” in v. 6 identifies the reason for the action of buying and selling sheep. Indeed, v. 6 is not a primary or secondary report, but the centre of 11:4-17 which explains the action of the shepherds and the consequence of these. According to Petersen the environment is pessimistic, and the judgment is not only against Judah and Israel, but also against the other nations.
Boda avers that the judgment is directed against the shepherds and the people for a distinct reason. The shepherds had failed to fulfil their role of leading, protecting, and providing, and the people therefore rejected them. Boda points out that this is the reason why Yahweh shows no pity towards his sheep. The context of Zechariah 11:4-6 concerns the irresponsibility of the shepherds, which has resulted in the people detesting their leadership. But it is for a different reason from that in v. 8, which is opposite to that of Buda’s suggestion: the people detest the responsible shepherd who deposed three shepherds in a month.
Merrill elaborates that Yahweh subjugates his people under the tyranny of the irresponsible shepherds and does “nothing to interfere” with the situation. The imagery of a “hand” represents power and connotes that the people are under the “power” of the oppressors. Here, the shepherds abandon their role of protection due to the rejection of the people in not acknowledging their leadership, which may rightly justify the actions of the former. This shepherding role is in direct conflict with the shepherd image of Yahweh exhibited in Zechariah 9:16, “the LORD their God will save them for they are the flock of his people”. To reiterate, v. 6 indicates not only a conflicting image but the reason for the image of the irresponsible shepherd.
Verse 7 introduces another first person pronoun: this time its referent is not Yahweh, but rather the prophet.148 Petersen adds that this is a switch from divine speech to human speech. For him, v. 7 is similar to v. 4 in transferring divine command to human command, to be shepherd of the flock and to bear the responsibility of shepherding. The difference is that in v. 4 the main characters are the sheep owners while in v. 7 it is the prophet. What is fascinating in v. 7 is the responsibility of the new shepherd which conforms to the shepherd image of Yahweh in 9:14-16 and 10:6 by leading, protecting, and strengthening.
This new person shepherds the flock with grace and union, symbolized by the two staffs. Petersen comments that these are usual shepherding activities. The labelling of the staffs signifies that the prophet has the right tools to shepherd the flock, but the full meaning is explicated by their destruction in vv. 10 and 14.Boda considers that this is an autobiographical message. In v. 7, the antidote tothe dire socio–political situation is the replacement of the leader or shepherd. Thereason is obvious in that the culture of trading sheep has turned into a ruthlessbusiness.
The assigned shepherd will conduct the duties of a shepherd in grace, so as toprovide protection to the people of Israel from the sheep traders. His intention is to take the two staffs, “Grace” and “Union”, to affirm his role, “And I tended the sheep” (v. 7). The term (lit. “favour”) describes Yahweh as beautiful or pleasant in Psalm 27:4. Other usages are found in Psalm 90:17 which implores Yahweh’s blessing, while in Proverbs 3:17 it describes wisdom. The term (lit. “bind”) has the same root as “pledge” which means “to hold in” as in Exodus 22:26 (RSV) and an obligation to deliver the poor in Ezekiel 33:15. It is also used in the distribution of the land among the Israelites (Ezk. 47:13).
Boda comments that, given the context of Zechariah 12–14, “all the peoples of the earth” in 12:6 and 14:12 provides the meaning of the breaking of the staffs since this action symbolizes that the favour of Yahweh towards all nations is broken but will be restored in the future.154 No textual evidence exists of such a covenant between Yahweh and all the nations [peoples], though. The judgment falls upon the nations in chapters 9–10 and the restoration of Israel in chapters 12–14. Zechariah 11 functions as a transition between these two blocks and acts as the explanation of the judgment which befell Judah and Israel.
The two staffs represent the basic model of shepherding which the assigned shepherd employed in his task. Boda suggests that the two staffs are indicative of the shepherd’s “rod and staff” which are used to lead and protect the flock. The two staffs entail the responsibility of a shepherd. The first staff denotes the shepherd treating the sheep with grace.
The second staff denotes that apart from providing for and leading the sheep, the shepherd is to disperse disharmony and bind the flock in unity. For Mitchell these meanings of the staffs may have been behind the thoughts of the prophet when naming them. Petersen co-relates the naming of the staffs to the naming in Hosea 1.
Verse 8 embodies the progression of the message which indicated that the assigned shepherd is suffering under the dire situation of Israel’s socio–political problems.
In the opinion of Mitchell the three shepherds are perhaps Antiochus III, Seleucus IV, and Heliodorus. The destruction of the three shepherds is not the work of Yahweh, but rather the work of a fallible human, the assigned shepherd. According to Baldwin the scenario of the prophet being impatient with the flock is allegorical, and expresses the hatred of the people towards the shepherd assigned. Boda argues that no evidence is presented regarding the literal act of killing the shepherds because the genre is a “sign–act.”
Possibly the destruction of the three shepherds creates tension between the shepherd and the flock. For Merrill such destruction is the reenactment of Israel’s conquest of the land of Canaan by eliminating the three kings. Petersen avers that the reason for the prophet being impatient with the flock is unknown, but the reason the prophet is disrespected by the other shepherds may be their dismissal or loss of status.
Probably, the judgment on the other shepherds represents Yahweh’s plan to relinquish his shepherding responsibility over Judah and Israel. According to Petersen v. 8 indicates the involvement of multiple shepherds. The destruction of the three shepherds may be commanded by Yahweh but does not denote the abandonment of their duties. Rather, the destruction constitutes a shepherding responsibility in that Yahweh exercises discipline over his people to lead them back to himself as a shepherd leading his flock to his fold.
Verse 9 speaks about the devastation of the shepherd. The two staffs represent the way Yahweh shepherds his sheep. Mitchell calls these requirements “ideals” or “obligations.”164 From v. 9 onwards, Yahweh refuses to be the shepherd of Israel. The breaking of the two staffs is also the breaking of the favour and the bond between the shepherd and the flock, and between Yahweh and Israel, though not entirely.
The reason is indicated in v. 8, that the assigned shepherd has destroyed three shepherds in a month, which indicates that the relationship is extremely difficult. The assigned shepherd is rejected by the people. Baldwin comments that the prophet allows the flock to suffer the consequences of their inappreciative attitude by simply letting nature take its course. Given the context of the extremely difficult relationship between the shepherd and the flock, the assigned shepherd may not be responsible for the development of such a dire state of affairs.
Petersen adds that the removal of the shepherds signifies that Yahweh is the one who allows the flock to be exposed to a human executioner. This response of the prophet results in the flock reciprocating it: “and they also detested me”. The word, which speaks of “breath” or “soul,” implies that the souls of the flock are tired, and “detested” the prophet, being their shepherd. Petersen states that a remnant is involved in the process of the destruction. But it is not until chapter 12 that the remnant emerges through the restoration of Judah and Israel. In the context of vv. 4-17, the judgment befalls all the sheep.
If a remnant is involved, it may be the prophet himself, but even this is not possible, because v. 17 declares “woe” to the worthless shepherd who is represented by the prophet, who himself is instructed by Yahweh. The writer perceives these series of reactions between the prophet, shepherds, and flock as reciprocal ones; the shepherd is impatient with the flock and the flock detest their shepherd, just as with the situation in v. 6, “to fall each into the hand of his shepherd”. And the report in v. 8 sets the stage for the ceding of Yahweh’s shepherding responsibility over Judah.
The action of the assigned shepherd is harsh but not without reason (v. 9). The phrase “what is to die, let it die; what is to be destroyed, let it be destroyed” sends a strong message to the flock that judgment is inevitable. It indicates the severity of the shepherd’s anger and frustration regarding the situation in the sheepfold. According to Mitchell the shepherd is indifferent, probably because he is not Yahweh. But Merrill argues that Yahweh is the one who has no compassion upon the flock. While the assigned shepherd is a human being, the directive issues from Yahweh. The latter appears to be responsible for the destruction of the sheep.
Verse 10 continues from the abandoning of the shepherding responsibility. The affirmation of the shepherd’s departure is evident in the breaking of the staffs. In the view of Boda the relationship of Yahweh and all the people as well as the relationship between Israel and Judah are signified by the two staffs. The staff “favour”, which provides protection to the people, when broken symbolizes that disaster shall dawn on the people.
The staff “union”, which unites Israel and Judah, when broken signifies that disunity shall emerge between Israel and Judah. And in this situation, the prophet thereafter severed his relationship with the people, requesting his wages; however they possess the right to refuse payment as he has resigned from his shepherd role. The highlight of this destruction is in v. 10, where the blessing is removed from Israel, as is their protection from harm. The two staffs represent the covenant relationship between the shepherd and the flock. The term (“cut off”) is used in the making of a covenant, and it applies here.
The breaking of the staffs signifies the breaking of the covenant, and therefore, Yahweh endorsed the annulling of the latter: “So it was annulled on that day” (v. 11). For Petersen, v. 10 emphasizes the pronouncement of slaughtering the sheep. The prophet takes the staff “grace” and breaks it, which symbolizes the breaking of a covenant or an agreement. This covenant or agreement is with “all peoples”. Some suggest this covenant is the Noahic covenant, but the context of vv. 4-17 does not specify which covenant.
According to Baldwin the breaking of the staff “grace” signifies the “end of a gracious rule.” She adds that the covenant is a covenant between nations, including Gentile nations. Petersen suggests that the “covenant of brotherhood” is similar to that in Amos 1:9 because the spectrum of the “covenant” includes not just Israel and Yahweh, but other nations. Hence, the breaking of the staff “grace” is the removal of protection over humanity.
In v. 11, Petersen notes that Yahweh abandoned his sovereign rule over humanity. He explains that the destruction is not the work of Yahweh, but rather of the “inhuman rulers,” and may assume that the deity transfers his power to those who rule over other nations. Moreover, it conveys an “eschatological connotation” which is related to Zechariah 14.
Petersen notes that the sheep owners were watching the contention between the prophet, the shepherds, and the flock, and they concluded that it was the directive of Yahweh. He reiterates that Yahweh is ceding his shepherding role to human kings. The affirmation, “knew that it was the word of the LORD”, indicates the authority of the order for destruction, and shows that the traders understand that the judgment is from Yahweh, and not from the assigned shepherd. Baldwin notes that Yahweh’s directive favours the other shepherds‟ desire. This act of judgment is intended to guide the spiritually lost community, Judah, to the sheepfold; thus the shepherding role of leading is being enacted.
Verse 12 speaks about the response of the prophet to the situation. In this series of actions, Yahweh is regarded as the director of the resignation of the prophet. According to Boda the word “them” in v. 12 refers to the buyers in v. 5. But Petersen argues that the “them” refers to the shepherds and the traders who own and sell the sheep for profit.
The breaking of the covenant of shepherding the flock provides a reason for the traders to bargain for a lower payment. But it also emphasizes the brutality of the traders, in that the wages paid to the assigned shepherd is thirty shekels of silver, which is equal to the price of a Hebrew slave (Ex. 21:32). Baldwin comments that this amount is only a fraction of the two hundred shekels of silver used in the making of the molten image in Judges 17:4. This may also indicate that the traders disapproved of the work done by the assigned shepherd.
Petersen notes that the episodes in vv. 12-14 indicate the closing of the deal between the prophet and the shepherds, and Yahweh instructing the prophet to return the wages to the house of the Lord. The assignment of shepherding the flock to be slaughtered is completed in vv. 9-10, while in v. 12, the prophet collects his wage despite the fact that his work is not acceptable to the traders. In Petersen’s view the interpretation of vv. 12-14 depends on the evaluation of the significance of the thirty shekels of silver. Exodus 21:32 indicates that the thirty shekels of silver represents the price of a slave; while Nehemiah 5:15 identifies forty shekels as the payment received by Judean governors. Petersen notes that in these two instances, the noun “shekels” is used to indicate the denomination, but not in Zechariah 11:12.
From the ancient Near Eastern perspective, the term “thirty shekels” denotes a minimum payment. This implies that such payment is an “insulting low wage,” as well as that the prophet’s performance as a shepherd did not achieve an acceptable level and ends in his resignation, despite the fact that the prophet performed the duty of a responsible shepherd.
Verse 13 reports the immediate response of the prophet upon receiving these wages, as instructed by Yahweh. For Boda this act of returning the wages to the house of the Lord should be perceived as a second act of report. He states that although the word is used in the context where a blacksmith shapes coins and precious metals out of molten iron for the temple, it does not imply that the action of throwing coins back to the treasury of the temple is the same as the idea of the pot returning to its potter. Instead, it signifies the temple workers‟ wages. However Boda considers that the reaction of the prophet implies the rejection of the wages and signifies the termination of the relationship between Judah and the other nations.
This sour relationship between the shepherd and the flock reflects the relationship between Yahweh and Israel. Baldwin explains that the treasury of the temple not only held the tithes of the people and the “precious things dedicated to the LORD (Jos. 6:24; Ezr. 2:69; Ne. 7:70), but also served as a „bank‟ for the private individual (2 Mc. 3:10ff.).” She is right that the irony falls on the phrase “the lordly price at which I was paid off by them” (Zc. 11:13). The instruction to return the wages to the temple is a proclamation of the prophet’s displeasure with the ungratefulness of the flock, and even more so with the other shepherds. All of these point to the shepherding role of leading the flock to restoration – not destruction – through judgment.
Petersen notes that it is uncertain how the prophet perceived the wages. But it was Yahweh who reacted by instructing the prophet to fling these back to the temple. Following the divine directive is the prophet’s sarcastic remark about the wages as a “lordly price”. This wage is not valued because if the wage is only the minimum payment, this implies that the work of the prophet (as shepherd) will not be honoured by the other shepherds. Otherwise, the prophet should receive a higher wage. Therefore, the prophet concurred with Yahweh in tossing the wages back into the treasury of the temple.
Verse 14 recounts the breaking of the second staff which signifies the breaking of the unity among the flock. The phrase “annulling the brotherhood between Judah and Israel” conveys the implications of the action in v. 14. The term (“cut off”) expresses the severity of destroying the brotherhood. This implies that there will be enmity among the flock. Yahweh disciplines the flock by disrupting the bonds within it, and shatters the strength of the rebellious people. The shepherding role is again one of leading the flock to correct their defiant attitude towards each other.
Boda states that the breaking of the second staff, “union”, is the opposite of Ezekiel 37 where the prophet is uniting the two sticks, that is Israel and Judah, whereas in Zechariah 11:14 the action concerns the severing of the blood relationship between Israel and Judah. Baldwin rejected Alleger’s conjecture that the Samaritans are involved in this termination of the covenant. According to Petersen, this action is twofold. Firstly, the specific identity of Judah and Israel, and secondly the breaking of a covenant between the brothers. He argues that the word “brotherhood” describes not the covenant relationship between Judah and Israel, but the brotherhood within the Israelites as a nation. Consequently the gravity of the problem in this relationship is to be found in the severing of the national unity. This explicit expression is the ceding of the shepherding role by Yahweh portrayed throughout chapters 9-10.
Yahweh is the shepherd who oversees his sheep and decides on the appropriate action in response to the situation. The shepherds in vv. 4–5 refer to the foreign rulers. The first person pronoun indicates that it is Yahweh himself who sends the flock to destruction because of their religious infidelity. They violate the covenant between the shepherd and the flock.
Yahweh as shepherd should show grace and foster unity, but instead, he imposes discipline on the flock for the purpose of correction. The shepherding role of leading the wayward flock to a righteous path is evident here, which involves the disciplining of the lower shepherds and the flock. Fostering unity and protecting the flock by means of grace is the role of the shepherd depicted in 9:15 and 10:6b; however, all of this becomes futile in the annulment of the brotherhood between Judah and Israel (Zc. 11:14).
Verse 15 speaks of the appointment of the worthless shepherd. According to Boda the assuming of the task of such a shepherd concerns acquiring the “equipment of a foolish shepherd.” But this equipment is not the staff of the shepherd that provides care to the flock. The term “once more” does not alter the imperative “take” and functions as an “introductory statement” for the next act.
Boda infers that the word “implements” implies “rod and staff.” He adds that the difference between the assignments of the first and second shepherds is that the first is set to care for the flock, but the second is given to destroy them. This second shepherd feels no compassion with the dying, does not seek the lost, heal the sick, feed the needy, but instead feeds on their flesh and destroys the flock completely.
The new shepherd is described as “worthless”, which implies that he displays no morality, is disobedient to Yahweh and unrepentant. Petersen agrees that the instruction to again assume the shepherding role is intended for the destruction of the flock. The negativity of this role is aggravated by the inadequate and inefficient equipment described.
As Petersen suggests, the inadequate and inefficient equipment may be the “broken crooks” in vv. 10 and 14. He comments that v. 15 does not report the performance of the worthless shepherd, but rather the shocking appointment of a shepherd who will perform poorly. Whether the prophet willingly accepts the task is untold, but the command of Yahweh serves as an “open-ended” conclusion.
The Hebrew word, which literally means “foolish,” implies that the shepherd is unwise. The Hebrew word (“implements”) denotes that the assigned shepherd is to fully assume the role of the unwise shepherd who will defy the precepts of Yahweh, which include the proper responsibilities of a shepherd. Baldwin may be right in contending that when the flock rejected Yahweh as shepherd, the next shepherd will be a “shepherd of doom.” In the Hebrew Bible, the foolish shepherd is one who fails to understand the purposes of Yahweh and performs his duties without the assistance of the latter. In wisdom literature, the Hebrew term (“worthless”) denotes a moral construction which implies the lack of divine wisdom.
Similarly in the prophetic literature, a foolish shepherd represents one who cannot comprehend the will of Yahweh and responds in foolishness. Consequently the foolish shepherd often brings disaster to the flock. Verse 16 speaks about the works of the worthless shepherd. According to Boda this verse spells out the foolishness of the new shepherding role.
Many types of sheep have been listed here, such as: the perishing, the wandering or lost, the maimed, and the exhausted. Boda implies that the worthless shepherd does not provide protection to these needy sheep. Baldwin supports the notion that the worthless shepherd is one who lacks concern for the flock.
Petersen comments that the work of the worthless shepherd is also due to the work of Yahweh. Although the manner of carrying out the shepherding role is unacceptable, it signifies the ceding of the power to protect the flock. This second command is localized, as indicated by the phrase “in the land a shepherd”.
For Petersen v. 6 presents an “intentional context” while v. 16 describes the result. A single shepherd is mentioned in verse 16 and therefore it is unlikely that the allusion refers back to the shepherds mentioned in verse 5. Here the negative depiction of the Mitchell, p. 315. The “tearing off even their hoofs” indicates the severity of the destruction to be carried out by the foolish shepherd who has been appointed. As mentioned in v. 15, the assigned shepherd fulfils a responsibility that is marked by cruelty to the flock.
According to McComiskey the lack of the Hebrew (“and”), followed by the negative Hebrew (“not”) that appears three times in the verse, functions to signify the shirking of responsibilities on the part of the shepherd. The negative particle word “not” serves to strengthen the negative depiction of this foolish shepherd. This second assignment does not embrace attending to any needs of the flock, which implies an absolute relinquishing of the shepherding responsibilities. Petersen notes that the syntax indicates a disjunctive clause that is used in the reports to represent the inefficiency of the shepherd. Petersen writes, “He will devour the flock.”
Based on the Hebrew word order, the object of the verbs implies that the shepherd will destroy the flock completely. Petersen remarks that the destruction is not simply an act of tearing off their hoofs, but the devouring of the flesh of the fat sheep. A difference between the first and second reports is that one concerns slaughter, whereas the second implies the sheep are “consumed totally.” In the first report, the sheep owners gain by the selling of the sheep, while in the second, no one benefits. Petersen states that in this second report, the flock suffers from the inadequate providential care of the shepherd, but the shepherd did not profit from it.
Boda comments that while in verse 5 the shepherd did not protect the flock by selling it, in v. 17 the shepherd totally consumed the flock, which is reminiscent of the exile as described in Ezekiel 34:3-4 by the prophet. He adds that Ezekiel 34:22-26 speaks of Yahweh’s providential care of the flock, altering a negative situation into something positive. But in vv. 15-16 the declaration of Yahweh in v. 6 is fulfilled, which will “cause men to fall into the hand of his shepherd, and each into the hand of his king.” Boda perceives this as the first warning of the judgment.
To recapitulate, vv. 4-16 speaks about the first shepherding role assigned to protect the flock, but the dispute between the other shepherds, the sheep, and the prophet causes their dispersion and the resignation of the prophet as shepherd. This separation between the prophet and the flock is also a separation between the prophet and other nations, as well as between Israel and Judah, which destroys the union of the brothers.
Through the second shepherding role, the sheep will be devoured without protection because the shepherd is foolish and irresponsible. Ezekiel 34 is related to chapter 37 in that it concerns the prophecy regarding a future saviour, namely a Davidic king. In relationship to Zechariah 11:4-16, the vision report simulates the rejection of the Davidic king by his people and kingdom, so that another ruler is seated on the throne.208 According to Boda Zechariah 3 and 6:9-15 contain the prophecy of a Davidic king and the hope of rebuilding the Judean community. Indeed, the context of Zechariah 1-8 seems to support the idea of Zerubbabel as the Davidic king, being the last male in the Davidic line to be involved in political leadership.
Verse 17 speaks about the consequences brought about by the worthless shepherd because of his irresponsibility. Boda comments that v. 17 breaks away from the format of v.4-16, in that it completes the first oracle (Zc. 9-11). Verse 17 not only speaks about the judging of the worthless shepherd, but also exhibits the coherence of chapters 9-11 as formed by the redactor of Deutero-Zechariah. Boda observes that the word “worthless” may convey the same meaning as in Ezekiel 34:2 to refer to idols, and as in Jeremiah 14:14 to refer to false prophets.
Similarly, Ezekiel 34 spells out the reason why Yahweh became a shepherd for Israel: because the existing shepherds were not performing according to their role, and allowed the flock to be devoured by the wild animals. The hope, indicated in Ezekiel 34:23, is to be found in the Davidic king who will gather and shepherd the people of Israel. The judgment as in v. 17 is severe: Boda notes that such punishment is imposed in Jeremiah 50:35-38, where Jeremiah used it on Babylonians and the idolaters, an action which is reported in Zechariah 10:1-3a. Such a verdict is similar to the judgment of the wicked shepherds in Ezekiel 34 and the idolaters in Jeremiah 50.
For Petersen the meaning of the opening statement regarding “woe” in v. 17 and the identity of the speaker are uncertain.212 The prophet may be the speaker himself, who is unreceptive towards the role he was assigned. This image of the shepherd is a negative one compared to that in v. 4 which the prophet is unwilling to perform. Petersen notes, “the word “worthless,”’elîl, is linked by assonance, if not by triconsonantal root (a complicated question), to the word “ineffective,” ’ewilî (v. 15).”
This implies that the oracular “woe” addresses the shepherd as one neglecting his duties, rather than destroying the flock. According to Petersen the prophetic voice in v. 17 is the human response to the actions of the worthless shepherd, and the mangling of the ineffective shepherd’s body is intended to stop his malicious acts, while for Baldwin the removal of the arms signifies the inability to defend oneself against enemies. The woe followed by the curse is designed to strengthen the power of judgment exercised by the shepherd.
But in the context of vv. 15-16, the speaker is Yahweh himself, “The LORD said to me”, and the declaration continues in v. 16 with “I” which refers to Yahweh as the one who will raise a shepherd in the land, a role assumed by the prophet, who neglects his shepherding role. Hence the “woe” in v. 17 is Yahweh’s pronouncement aimed at the worthless shepherd. Though it is agreed that the “woe” in v. 17 is typological in meaning, the judgment is literal in significance.
Yahweh’s response is based on the inefficient shepherding performance and the response of the flock towards the entire situation. In other words, Yahweh punishes the shepherds, including the worthless shepherd, for being irresponsible and the flock for rejecting his taking care of their shepherding needs, except that the worthless shepherd is judged despite the fact that he was instructed by Yahweh to perform the task.
Verses 15–17 describe an extensive destruction which is in total opposition to every aspect of the shepherd metaphor. This affords a vivid example of a foolish or bad shepherd. But in the context of Zechariah 11:4–17, and given the context of Yahweh’s judgment and the mandate of the shepherd metaphor, the foolish shepherd is assigned the task to destroy the flock that rejected Yahweh himself as their shepherd. The sentence of Yahweh against Israel for their rebellion and rejection was due to the irresponsibility of the shepherds and their brutality towards the flock, as is evident in the context of Zechariah 11. Since the worthless shepherd is a representative of these shepherds, the judgment on him is judgment on them.
In sum, the negative image of shepherd in Zechariah 11:4-17 is the result of Yahweh’s ceding his shepherding responsibility to negligent shepherds who do not provide adequate leadership to the flock. Particularly in the case of Zechariah 11:4-17, Yahweh is the one who is ceding his shepherding responsibility to the irresponsible shepherds, who exploited the flock to their own benefit.
In the Hebrew Bible, a good shepherd is one who lives by the word of Yahweh. In providing, protecting and leading, the former exercises the judicial role with his righteousness and wisdom stemming from Yahweh. Thus, Yahweh is the overseeing shepherd over all subordinate ones.
The metaphor of the shepherd provides a mandate for the shepherds in the Hebrew Bible. Their role in Zechariah 11 must be read against the backdrop of the positive shepherd metaphor in other parts of the Hebrew Bible. Zechariah 11:4-17 presented an image of a shepherd which contradicts this metaphor. It does not convey a benevolent attitude in caring for the sheep.
This image in Zechariah 11:4-17 is the result of the rejection by the people of the responsible shepherd, which caused Yahweh to surrender his shepherd responsibility. It is a metaphor designed to punish an unrepentant Israel. Therefore, the negative image must be interpreted in terms of the positive responsibility of the shepherd in the rest of the Hebrew Bible.
The metaphor of the shepherd consists of two figures; the shepherd–king and the shepherd–god. The Hebrew Bible embraces the meaning of the former role in leading, followed by providing or feeding, and protecting the flock. Similarly, the shepherd–king figure in ancient Near Eastern literature has been used as an epithet for good rulers carrying out such functions as were described earlier. But the shepherd-king image presented in Zechariah 11:4-17 is unusual compared to the shepherd-king metaphor in the rest of the Hebrew Bible, as has been discussed.
The Hebrew Bible provides a fuller inventory of shepherding activity in the shepherd–god figure than the literature of the ancient Near East. In the Hebrew Bible, the figure encompasses such roles of leading, and others considered earlier. The overriding presupposition of these activities involves deliverance from distressing situations. There are many passages which indicate the presence of the divine shepherd metaphor.
When the people are referred to as sheep or a flock, they are presented as in distress, and it is indicated that the shepherd will deliver them from their predicament. The negative shepherd image in Zechariah 11:4-17 constitutes an example. But Yahweh, who is the divine shepherd, will deliver and restore the house of David as promised in Zechariah 12-14.
The use of the shepherd metaphor begins with its application to Yahweh in the early history of Israel. Throughout the formation of the nation of Israel, Yahweh appointed priests, prophets, and kings to be responsible for shepherding its people. These appointments were made to protect the last mentioned spiritually and politically, and to provide for their spiritual and physical needs.
Zechariah 11:4-17 furnishes an example of a situation where Yahweh surrendered his shepherding responsibilities to those irresponsible shepherds as discussed earlier. This example which differs from the mainstream image of the shepherd metaphor should be incorporated into the said metaphor, so as an objective and comprehensive meaning may be achieved, and one should consider this metaphorical meaning in the study of the subject.
Good Shepherd with Special Reference to Ezekiel 34.
The Shepherd Motif and Pastoral Care
The metaphor of shepherd is often used to provide a biblical understanding of the functions and role of the pastor. The image of the shepherd is a powerful metaphor for God’s care for His people, and can be quite useful in pastoral care as an example of the character and nature of the compassionate and just God who intimately cares for His people. Psalm 23 and Ezekiel 34 contribute significantly to this motif.
However, caution must be taken as to not simply correlate the work of God described in these passages to the role and function of the pastor in the twenty-first century. The primary concern of the shepherd metaphor is not a prescription of pastoral functions, but description of God Himself as revealed in the incarnation of Christ as the ‘Good Shepherd’ (Jn. 10:11); the ‘one Shepherd’ (Jn. 10:16; Ezek. 34:23; 37:24); the ‘great Shepherd’ (Heb. 13:20). The metaphor of shepherd in the Old Testament is generally an anthropomorphic representation of Yahweh.
Seward Hiltner, who was influential in constructing a theology of pastoral care, explains his own method in terms of observing the actions of pastoral practitioners. Hiltner placed significance on the empirical description of a ‘pastoral event’ (Patton 1986, 129) or the ‘data of ministry’ (Lapsley 1969, 44). He saw the process of pastoral theology being utilised when the ‘practice or functions or events are examined reflectively and thus lead to theory’ (Hiltner 1958, 22).
With a functional hermeneutic method such as this, the passages employing the shepherd motif can be used for the purpose of validating the current functions of ministry rather than providing the theological foundation for such ministry. YHWH’s description of His own care for His people through the anthropomorphic use of the term shepherd in passages such as Psalm 23 and Ezekiel 34 has often been used to shape an understanding of pastoral care.
When we consider these passages as formative for the role of a pastor, one will soon find that the ‘word ‘shepherd’ is problematic’ (Tidball 1997, 22) and that ‘the image of Shepherd can be pushed so far as to be downright misleading’ (Liftin 1982, 58-59). Jay Adams (1986, 5-7), for example, draws nine characteristics from the twenty-third Psalm which he claims for ‘the Christian minister defines his work as pastor’, concluding that the pastor as a shepherd, ‘must meet their [THE FLOCK’S] every need’.
The Shepherd in Ezekiel 34
Approaching the motif of the shepherd from an interpretive perspective of biblical theology will give a more accurate presentation of meaning of the text within its context in scripture, and thus a more sound biblical foundation for pastoral theology. With biblical theology being a broad understanding incorporating diverse approaches, it is acknowledged that this discussion of the shepherd in Ezekiel 34 will not use a specific ‘biblical theology’ but will incorporate some aspects of a canonical, covenantal, gospel centered, and salvation history perspectives common to biblical theology in providing exegetical notes on Ezekiel 34.
From Old to New
Chapter 34 of Ezekiel sees in the beginning of a new phase of Ezekiel’s prophecy represented by the release of Ezekiel’s tongue in the previous chapter (Zimmerli 2003, 91). Ezekiel is no longer restricted to speak of the judgment facing Jerusalem (C. Wright 2001, 223) and the news of the fall of Jerusalem has vindicated the prophet with the fulfillment of his predictions (C. Wright 2001, 223).
Von Rad (1968101) observes that ‘three factors bring the prophet’s kerygma into being. These are: the new eschatological word with which Yahweh addresses Israel, the old election tradition, and the personal situation’. In this chapter the tradition of Yahweh’s election of, and covenant(s) with, Israel are clearly present in the text, but the prominent theme is the new word of restoration. Chapter 34, then, begins the section of the book that Block (1998268) entitles in his commentary ‘The Gospel according to Ezekiel’. With the restoration of Israel and Judah foretold and Yahweh’s purpose of deliverance to bring about a covenant of peace (Ezek. 33:25) is revealed.
The Old (34:1-10)
Though this chapter reveals the character and purposes of God in deliverance and restoration, it begins with ‘the final climax of the protest against the political leaders’ (Eichrodt 1970, 471). This is a negative assessment of the leaders of Judah in which a metaphor of shepherds is used. It is a metaphor that is commonly used in Ancient Near Eastern literature as a representation of leadership, royalty, or deity. In the Old Testament the term shepherd is generally an anthropomorphic representation of Yahweh, as we see later in this chapter. However, in the opening ten verses of this chapter, Allen (1990161-164)sees Ezekiel’s metaphor as borrowed from Jeremiah 23:1-2 which ‘in referring to shepherds, appears to relate to the last major kings of Judah, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah’. In the assessment of the previous situation in Ezekiel 34, the ‘blame is laid firmly on the policies of the last kings of Judah.’
The covenantal relationship depicted by the phrase ‘I will be their God and they will be my people’, is clearly broken. Ezekiel is describing a prior event which has already occurred (Craige 1983, 242), and is a breakdown in relationship that is testified to by the departure of God’s presence from their midst (Ezek. 10:1-22), when Yahweh also pronounced judgment on leaders of Jerusalem (Ezek. 11:1-15).
The “scattering” of the flock (Ezek. 34:5-6) can be related to the preceding exile and injustice of the political and religious leaders in Jerusalem (Blenkinsopp 1990, 157), who neglected their responsibility and abused their authority in seeking their own gain (Ezek. 34:1-4) and will be held accountable (Ezek. 34:10). Through this concept of scattered sheep also finds a further dimension to its understanding in the person of Jesus who has compassion on a people who are ‘like sheep without a shepherd’ (Mt. 9:36; Mk 6:34) still awaiting the eschatological reality of the covenant of peace (Ezek. 34:25) under the shepherd promised in Ezekiel 34 (Lane 1974, 226). Likewise God would have compassion on the people of Israel as expressed in the remainder of Ezekiel’s oracle concerning restoration.
The scattering of the sheep in the exile is an expression of the result of the broken covenant as ‘possession of the land and disobedience towards God’s commandment are mutually exclusive’ (Zimmerli 2003, 54). The covenant has clearly been broken, as Israel was told ‘you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices’ (Lev 18:4). This decree is understood to be incorporated as part the covenant relationship (Lev 26:46 cf. (Sprinkle 2007, 280)), which was clearly broken by the leaders who have turned from Yahweh’s decrees and ‘conformed to the standards neighbouring nations (Ezek. 11:12) profaning the holiness of Yahweh who’s name they represented to the nations.
Due to the holiness of Yahweh and the casuistic nature of certain elements of the covenant, a break in the covenant relationship required a judgment that would have ‘either a punitive or a purging impact’ (House 1998, 339). Through this judgment Yahweh’s ‘lordship over all creation’ is attested to, in his use of the surrounding nations, the scattering of the flock, the punishment of the leaders, and his sovereign ability to gather his flock from ‘other the whole earth’ (Ezek. 34:6), ‘nations’ and ‘countries (Ezek. 34:13), in order to bring them into a new relationship that he will establish. Thus, in addition to judgement, ‘the holiness of God is also a constructive force making new life possible’ (Brueggemann 1986, 72) in Ezekiel’s theology.
New Leadership (34:11-16)
In this new phase of Ezekiel’s ministry, the themes that Ezekiel has previously used are still present (House 1998, 340), yet ‘all the emphasis falls on the promise of salvation’ (Eichrodt 1970, 471) rather than judgment. Here is a new beginning that is separate from, but related to the old (Brueggemann 1986, 2). The judgment against Judah’s leaders find’s its ultimate purpose, as restoration ‘begins with an exchange of leadership’ and establishment of a remnant (House 1998, 341) from the scattered sheep (Ezek. 34:11-15).
This not the description of the function of the Christian leader or pastor, as suggested by some defining works in the field of pastoral theology, though it does present an invaluable example of pastoral care. Rather this is a description of a theocracy, where God is not only transcendent in leadership, but also as leader is active in restoration, that all will know that this was truly a miraculous work of Yahweh (Von Rad 1968, 205) cf. Ch. 36), who is now again present is a real and positive way.
New Relationship and Community (34:17-22)
The return of God’s presence after he had departed from the temple is of great significance to Ezekiel. ‘In Exodus 32-34 it is the threat of the loss of this presence that drives Moses to restore the relationship between Yahweh and Israel. Moses knows that if God is not “with them” for good they have no hope. Virtually every biblical lament… makes the same case’ (House 1998, 339).
The presence of Yahweh though again brings a judgment between ‘fat sheep and the lean sheep’ within the flock (Ezek. 34:17). The explicit goal of this judgment is declared by Yahweh; ‘I will save my flock and they will no longer be plundered’ (Ezek. 34:22). This distinction between sheep is echoed in Matthew 25:41-46 which depicts the eschatological fate of those do and do not show concern for their fellow men (Morris 1992, 635), specifically to the ‘least of these’ (Mt. 25:45), in which Jesus is referring to those in need; ‘ hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison’.
This clearly stands in opposition to ‘butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away’ (Ezek. 34:21). With salvation of his flock at the fore, Ezekiel speaks of ‘the saving event which Yahweh is to bring about is the heart of man [SIC]’ (Von Rad 1968, 203) (cf. Ezek. 36:24-28), and of the promise of Yahweh to bring a new shepherd and ultimately a new covenant of peace.
Hope of a New Covenant (34:23-31)
Though the judgment that is spoken of here in this portion of Ezekiel is not as a call for repentance, but as a historical description, the hope of restoration was never out of out the question. ‘Even before the destruction of Jerusalem he [Ezekiel] spoke of the possibilities of deliverance’ (Von Rad 1968, 202). In the darkest moment during the oracle of the glory of Yahweh departing the Jerusalem, Ezekiel reveals the heart of Yahweh was already set on restoration, and does so in language that reflects the covenantal relationship that would be made new.
‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.’
“They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.’ (Ezekiel 11:17-20)
The promise of covenant is directly preceded by the promise of a new shepherd. God’s shepherding nature, revealed here in Ezekiel is given a broader perspective in the incarnation of God’s Son, the good shepherd (Jn. 10), and ‘the fulfiller of this prophecy’ (Eichrodt 1970, 472). Previously in the chapter, it is declared that Yahweh himself would tend to his sheep (Ezek. 34:15), yet here Yahweh promise his servant David ‘will tend to them and be their shepherd.’ There are two implications that can be interpreted here from an approach of biblical theology. Firstly looking back to previous covenants, and the second finding a greater understanding in light of the gospels where the ‘discernment and presentation of the new depend profoundly on knowledge about the old’. (Brueggemann 1986, 2).
The ‘servant’ in the passage is the agent Yahweh will use to lead, guide, and govern his people as he did with his ‘servants’ Moses & Joshua (Num. 27:17-18) following the Sinai covenant. The identification of the servant with David brings to mind the eternal Covenant made with King David (Block 1998, 298), promising to David’s offspring the throne forever (2 Sam. 7). Ezekiel doesn’t use the term king in this chapter to describe the rule of this new servant David, highlighting the role of Yahweh as king (Gowan 1998, 136). In this new covenant there will be ‘no human agent or mediator’ (Brueggemann 1986, 74).
The tension created by Yahweh himself tending the flock, then the promise of this Davidic servant tending the flock suggests a great level of intimacy between Yahweh and his servant David. Eichrodt (1970 498) even goes as far as to say that ‘what Ezekiel chiefly means by this servant David is that he is to be regarded as the fully reconstituted image of God.’ Who we understand in light of the New Testament to be Jesus who is the ‘exact representation’ of God and who himself said ‘I and the Father are one’ (Jn. 10:30) when speaking of the sheep entrusted to his care. Thus, ‘Jesus is the new Moses promulgating a new Torah’ (Dempster 2006, 311) who mediates on our behalf in order to establish a new covenant and restored relationship in an even fuller understanding than Moses who mediated for Israel after the first breach of the Sinai covenant.
The one in the line of David who would establish a new eternal covenant. Reading the gospels with this background one can observe with N. T. Wright (200543) that Jesus ‘does, climatically and decisively, what scripture has in a sense been trying to do: bring God’s fresh Kingdom-order to God’s people and thence to the world.’ So through Jesus, the Davidic servant prince, ‘the new covenant of peace becomes the fulfilment of the older covenants of promise’ (House 1998, 341).
This new covenant offers blessings associated with previous covenants such as blessing (Ezek. 34:26), security (Ezek. 34:27), land (Ezek. 34:27), protection (Ezek. 34:28) and prosperity (Ezek. 34:29). However this new covenant is further reaching than the old. According to Goldsworthy (200680), ‘Ezekiel… sees renewal of the human spirit as the restoration of the covenant relationship that in turn provides the key to understanding reality (Ezek. 36:22-28)’. The new covenant, then, is not merely a historical or political restoration, but a restoration of the heart and a promise of peace in order that ‘they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them’ (Ezek. 34:30).
Interpreting this passage from the approach of biblical theology brings to this passage, which is already theological rich in description of God’s loving character and redemptive purpose, a further dimension in the affirmation this representation of the character and purpose of God consentient with the whole book of Ezekiel, God’s relationship through history with Israel, and the promise of further fulfilment in the messiah and eschatologically. This has greater implications for pastoral care than merely supporting the functions of healing, nurturing, and sustaining that are observed in the practice of pastoral ministry.
Implications for Pastoral Care
When the metaphor of shepherd is used in Ezekiel 34 (and Ps. 23), it is not referring to functions to be enacted by the pastor or pastoral carer, but it is used to represent God Himself, or His anointed one, indicating His nature and what He will do for His people. These passages indicated what the people needed, what God intended to provide, and in the first 16 verses of Ezekiel 34, God’s critique of the political leaders of Judah.
However, these passages do not directly contribute to an understanding of the role or functions of the pastor. In the metaphor of shepherd, a picture is painted of God Himself (Taylor J. 1976, 220; Ezek. 34:11; Ps. 23:1) as the one who cares for His people; who declares ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them’ (Ezek. 34:11). The shepherd is used in some of the Old Testament and other writings from the Ancient Near East to represent a monarchy or deity which affirms this understanding (Taylor J. 1976, 219) cf. (Allen 1990, 161). The view of God as the shepherd in scripture is an ontological pillar of pastoral theology, in that pastoral care in its very nature is ultimately God’s work, not the work or function of the Pastor.
God’s character and His promises reveal that He is about the task of pastoral care. We must understand that ‘Pastoral ministry is God’s ministry.’ Beasley-Murray (1989, 54) continues, ‘pastors are called to be ministers of Christ, and not ministers of his Church’.
God’s shepherding nature, revealed here in Ezekiel is given a broader perspective in the incarnation of God’s Son, the Good Shepherd13, and the Son of David. As foretold, ‘He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD… And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth’ (Mic. 5:4). When establishing a theology for pastoral care in light of the shepherd motif in scripture, including passages such as Ezekiel 34, it is not only the promises of God which emerge, but also the work that He is continuing to do in the person of Jesus.
There is also an image presented of Christ being central to God’s purposes of reconciliation and redemption (Col. 1:20 & Tit. 2:14); and to the kingdom of God breaking into this world and the lives of individuals and communities. For Jesus was sent to ‘bring good news to the poor… to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free’ (Lk. 4:18-19). This ‘in-breaking’ of the kingdom is characterised by Jesus preaching the gospel, healing the sick and casting out demons as well as the ultimate act of reconciliation and restoration on the cross. All these things can be seen as a restoration from the effects of sin as represented in the definitions of pastoral care presented by Pattison (2000a, 13) amongst others.
God invites His people to partner with Him in accomplishing His work of pastoral care (Peterson 1993, 61). Through the motif of the shepherd, there are insights into the role and character of pastors as Shepherds under the ‘Chief Shepherd’ (1 Pet. 5:1-4). When the image of Shepherd is understood to reveal the nature and character of God, those who would choose to join with God in His ministry may gain insight into pastoral ministry by observing and imitating the work of their God. However, there must be an underlying understanding that this metaphor describes the work of God rather than defining the work of humankind.
The pastoral carer must draw upon on the character and nature of God, the ‘one Shepherd’ (Ezek. 34:23; 37:24) of the Old Testament, revealed in the person of Jesus, the ‘one Shepherd’ (Jn. 10:16) of the Gospels, yet being aware of the risk of superficiality in an uncritical correlation between the description of the Good Shepherd and contemporary Christian pastors without acknowledging dependence on God and His promises to lead His sheep.
As the under-shepherd seeks to imitate God, he does not assume the same role as the chief shepherd, but acknowledges that God has gone before him in this ministry. Pastoral care then, is not based on the functions of the shepherd conveyed in the Old Testament, but rather on the understanding that God is ultimately the pastoral carer, who has promised to care for His people, is continuing to care for His people, and invites us, as under-shepherds, to join with Him in His ministry. A ministry which may or may not fall within the functions derived from the motif of shepherd.
So we can see that the foundations of pastoral care need to be ‘centred within a framework that is spiritual… biblical… transformational’ (Everett 2003, 5) and defined by the revolutionary reality of the cross, not the functions that the discipline entails. The functions outlined by Hiltner and others would be more authoritative if they were founded in a pastoral theology that saw those functions as the work of God, empowered by the reality of the cross, and directed by the kingdom of God.
Our ministry of pastoral care is shaped not by functions, traditions or the sciences of this world but by the gospel and the God of the gospel. Pastoral care is not grounded in a functional hermeneutic, a biblicist hermeneutic, a descriptive hermeneutic, or a professional understanding (which are so dominant in the field), but in the person and work of Jesus in partnership with the Father and the Holy Spirit as well as those Christians called to serve Him.
Christological Pastoral Care
At the centre of pastoral theology ‘is God as revealed and self-declared , rather than we ourselves’ (Purves 2004, xxxiv). If one is to seek a biblical foundation for pastoral care, with an understanding of Jesus as the promised ‘Good Shepherd’ (Jn. 10:11; 14) with whom God would enact His care, as the ‘Chief Shepherd’ (1 Peter 5:4), we need look no further than Jesus Himself. Pastoral work originates in and is shaped by the revelation of God in Jesus Christ’ (Peterson 2000, 5).
If we do not find a theology of pastoral care in the person and work of Christ, then we do not find a truly pastoral or Christian care. All that is taught by the Apostle Paul, ‘like spokes of a wheel, radiates from Jesus Christ’ (Moo 2005, 169). Soteriology, eschatology, pneumatology, and ecclesiology, all of which are significant to pastoral care, cannot, for the evangelical, exist independent of Christ. Salvation, healing, and new life are found in Christ (Moltmann 1990, 41); He is the embodiment of the kingdom of God (Hooker, 2005, 85), which finds its fulfilment in Him; He was empowered and lead by the Spirit, and graces the church by sending to her the same Holy Spirit; and he is the head of the church. No area of Christian life or service, including pastoral care and its theological understanding can be anthropocentric. Although each individual is called to personal faith in response to God, the Christian life and mission ‘is really christocentric’ (Moltmann 1990, 276).
Any approach to the interpretation of the Bible in pastoral care, or for that matter, the interpretation of a pastoral situation, should occur through an epistemological framework that not only considers, but is shaped by the person and work of Christ.
The person and work of Christ thus play a key role in interpreting the Old Testament, and the New Testament which contains the account of His life, death, resurrection, and the early life of His church.
At a superficial level, a Christological approach might appear to place a focus on revelation, or the person of Jesus at expense of engaging with experience, or the context of the pastoral issue at hand. However, the relevancy of Christ is universal. There is to be no lack of contextual relevance or purpose within the cultural situations that the Apostle Paul addressed in his ministry (Purves 2004, 206), yet references to Christology are abundant in his writings (Witherington 2005, 25). The epistle to the Hebrews for example is addressing a specific situation, most likely a threat of persecution of the church under Nero (Guthrie 1998, 23). Though, the supremacy of Christ is a central contention and the situation being faced is barely mentioned. Hebrews highlights the universal relevancy of Christ that is powerful to both the original recipients and readers today.
Though experience in ministry is vital to the development of a pastoral carer, a prior theology of pastoral care centred in Christ is essential as a frame of reference with which to view pastoral situations. A dynamic Christological hermeneutic assesses a pastoral situation in light of the person and work of Christ. A Christological understanding of the human condition and considering God’s purposes for salvation and healing, will induce questions such as: How is Jesus already present and active in this situation? Once the key issues are established in the situation, scripture is used as the norm for both assessment of the situation, where possible, and for the prescription of the action. Suitable exegetical methods, including contextual insight, are essential in understanding both the pastoral situation and the text of scripture.
The church and all that it does, including the ministry of pastoral care then ought to come under the authority and direction of head of the Church. The ‘ontological connection between Christ and the church’ then is the preface to ecclesiology or work of pastoral care undertaken by the church, as the church has no existence apart from Christ (Purves 2004, 97) for ‘in him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28). It is by the Holy spirit that we are united with Christ (Purves 2004, 78). He ‘is the bond by which Christ effectually binds us’ (Calvin [N.D.], 279), without whom we would ‘not belong to Christ’ (Rom. 8:9).
We are intimately and effectively united with Him, grafted to Him (Rom. 11:17), as branches of His vine who can produce no fruit apart from Him (Jn. 15:5-6).
It is therefore concerning to read statistics, such as those collated by Murphy (2002), assessing pastor’s relationships with the Lord20. The conclusions drawn from Murphy’s sample indicated that only 20 percent of pastors spend more than 15 minutes a day in prayer and only 30 percent read the Bible apart from sermon preparation. Stott (2002, 116) correctly asserts that ‘Fundamental to all Christian leadership and ministry is a humble, personal relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ’. Our life of faith is determined by our relationship with Jesus, it logically follows that any of His ministry that we participate in, including that of pastoral care should also be directed by Christ through our intimate union with Him. Without union with Christ, ‘all things are cast back upon us, and every issue depends on the pastor’s ability to work his or her skills successfully’ (Purves, 2004, 6)
The Pastoral Work of Christ
Christ Himself ‘feeds and cares for’ (NIV), or ‘nourishes and cherishes’ (trans. Bruce 1984, 383; 392) His church in a loving manner like that of a husband ought to care for his wife (Eph. 5:29-30). This care is ultimately manifest in His sacrificial death upon the cross. However, in addition to the anointment provided and righteousness imputed for believers in His death, there are expressions of His care manifest in our daily life.
These include, but are not limited to, hope in things to come, comfort and exhortation in hardships, and a renewing of life, joy, and peace. The care of Christ brings about an ‘epistemological redemption’ (Goldsworthy 2006, 60), as the believer’s mind is renewed (Rom. 12:2) and sanctified in union with Christ (Murray 1968, 109). Not only the mind of the believer is renewed, but the whole person, is redeemed as a ‘new creation’ (2 Cor. 5:17) in Christ for by the power of God, ‘life is at work in you’ (2 Cor. 4:12b). The Apostle Paul declares, For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. (Rom. 5:17)
In reference to the aforementioned scripture Purves (2004, 196) comments, ‘Clearly this is the stuff of pastoral work.’ Hence we can see the pastoral ministry of Christ, whose care goes beyond that of any human concern (Stott 2001, 65).
Christ is actively present in the church as the ‘healer of their ailments’ (Baker 2002, 56), and the provider of comfort. The Apostle Paul exhorts that ‘through Christ our comfort overflows’ (2 Cor. 1:5). In addition to this, the hope found in Christ is another way in which the church is cared for by Christ. In Christ our high priest, ‘We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure’ (Heb. 6:18-20). The expected coming of the Lord, and the hope which it brings, ‘is one of the most central and powerful motifs of Paul’s preaching’ (Ridderbos 1975, 487). This hope goes beyond any human affirmation of things to come, as it is sealed by Christ Himself and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22).
All pastoral care ultimately finds its fulfilment in Christ, for ‘His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness’ (2 Pet. 1:3).
The Lord Jesus As Our Shepherd
Few people today know much at all about shepherds and sheep or how they worked together in the ancient world. There isn’t any figure equivalent to the shepherd idea in our society. But shepherds are mentioned in the scriptures over 2000 times.
“In Bible times, the shepherds were as common and familiar to most Middle Easterners as are telephones and supermarkets to modern-day Americans. Almost anywhere in the Bible world, eyes that lifted to gaze across the landscape would fall upon at least one flock of sheep….the family often depended upon sheep for survival. A large part of their diet was milk and cheese. Occasionally, they ate the meat. Their clothing and tents were made of wool and skins. Their social position often depended upon the well-being of the flock, just as we depend upon jobs and businesses, cars and houses. Family honor…depend[ed] upon defending the flock (Anderson 12).”
Qualities of shepherd
“…it is [helpful to know something about] the ancient shepherd[s] who roamed Judea. The shepherd was a peaceful person who avoided strife as much as possible; [for] his life was often fraught with danger (Anderson 106).”
“Though many consider shepherding a masculine profession, it must be noted that female shepherds were also common in the biblical period (Anderson 106).”
“The shepherd [needed to] have a soothing personality and [to] know how to help his flock relax. In ancient days, the shepherd used to play his flute to help calm the nervous flock. Of all the ancient professions available to men, shepherding best enabled men to develop their maternal persona (Anderson 106).”
“The good shepherd could not look after the health of the sheep while standing afar. He had to be close at hand (Anderson 107).”
“His life experiences as a shepherd inspired him to see God as the Shepherd of all creation (Anderson 106).”
“While some may not feel comfortable thinking of certain people as sheep and others as shepherds, our discomfort will likely disappear when we realize that the shepherding model revolves around the relationship between the shepherd and his flock. It is not a figure of strong over weak or “lords” over servants. Quite the contrary. The shepherd figure is one of love, service, and openness (Anderson 19).”
I Shall Not Want
When I was a child we repeated the 23rd Psalm in school every morning after the Pledge of Allegiance. Unfortunately, its meaning was never explained to the class. I understood much of it, but I thought the phrase, “I shall not want” meant that He was my shepherd whether I wanted him to be or not.
One wiser individual better understood the true intent of David’s words when he wrote of the Shepherd:
I shall not want or lack…
…rest ‹ for He maketh me to lie down.
…refreshment ‹ for He leadeth me beside the still waters.
…restoration ‹ for He restoreth my soul.
…guidance ‹ for He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness.
…confidence ‹ for I will fear no evil.
…companionship ‹ for Thou art with me.
…comfort ‹ for Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
…provision ‹ for Thou preparest a table.
…joy ‹ for my cup runneth over.
…anything in this life ‹ for goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
…anything in eternity ‹ for I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (George 42-43).'”
When we have a good shepherd, there is no need that goes unfilled.
Lie Down in Green Pastures
“‘He maketh me to lie down’ gives us a picture of repose. It is a picture of fullness and satisfaction. Sheep will not lie down when they are hungry. If you see a sheep lying down in green pastures, you may be sure the sheep is satisfied. Sheep do not eat lying down. If you put a tuft of sweet, tender grass under the nose of a lying sheep it will not eat it unless it first rises to its feet.
The rest of the sheep is not an idle rest. Sheep do not lie down to feed, but they do chew the cud. They bring up from the first stomach the grass they have eaten and chew it over and over and over again…[The] word ‘mediate’ is really ‘ruminate,’ and merely means chewing the cud…The shepherd is satisfied to have the sheep lying down chewing the cud, for he knows they are [healthy, content,] and growing wool. (Moyer 20-21).”
When we meditate upon the words of the prophets and the scriptures, pondering repeatedly the truths found there, we are likewise sheep who know that the nourishment gained from their food will not obtained by one quick chewing.
“Green pastures are literally ‘pastures of tender grass.’ …The green pastures are the young, tender, tasty, and nutritious grass upon which the sheep feed. For us…the green pastures are the… Scriptures (Moyer 18-20).”
Joseph Smith taught that the truth is delicious. He said, “This is good doctrine. It tastes good. I can taste the principles of eternal life, and so can you (TPJS 355).
“…The trouble with too many sheep of God today is that they wander in fields where there is no pasture. They are like Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, who lived in Lodebar, which means ‘no pasture.’ The world is nothing but a howling wilderness in which a child of God can never find nourishment….Too many times the sheep wander in fields where noxious weeds grow. They become poisoned with the false doctrines of the day. There is no nourishment in error, only deadly danger (Moyer 18-20).”
Leadeth Me Beside Still Waters
“It is the daily duty of the shepherd to see that his sheep have plenty to eat and to drink…The shepherd must lead his flock to pastures of tender grass. He must also have in mind during the wanderings of the day a drinking place to which he will lead his flock. They must have a fresh drink every day (Psalms of Psalms 17).”
“The Hebrew word for ‘still waters,’ menuchot, means motionless waters in contrast to running waters. Sheep are afraid of fast-running waters, and for good reason. Sheep know they cannot swim in a swift current because of their heavy fleece. It would be like a man attempting to swim with his heavy overcoat on. If the waters are moving rapidly, there exists a danger that the sheep may fall in and drown. If there are no still waters available, then the good shepherd will gather stones and make a temporary dam so that even the smallest lamb might be able to drink from the stream (Anderson 106-107).”
Restoreth My Soul
“According to Hebrew scholars, the restoration of the ‘soul’ in Psalm 23:3 means the rekindling, [strengthening and]…quickening of the exhausted spirit (George 196).”
“It is interesting to note that in a flock each sheep has a time of quietness and aloneness with his shepherd every day. Early in the morning the sheep would form a grazing line and keep the same position throughout the day. At some time along the way each sheep left the grazing line and went to the shepherd. The shepherd received the sheep with outstretched arms speaking kindly to it. The sheep would rub against the shepherd’s leg, or if the shepherd were seated, rub its cheek against his face. Meanwhile the shepherd would gently pat the sheep, rubbing its nose and ears and scratching its chin. After a brief period of this intimate fellowship together, the sheep returned to its place in the grazing line.
What a blessing to be able to leave the cares of life for a brief period and spend time in the outstretched arms of the Shepherd, rubbing, as it were, our cheek against His face in intimate fellowship through prayer!…He restores [us] when [we’re] cast down (George 91-92).”
We read in 3rd Nephi where Christ modeled this action:
“…and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them (3 Nephi 17:21).”
In addition, there is another insight to be gained from the phrase, “He restoreth my soul.”
“The original meaning of the word ‘restoreth’ is ‘to bring back.’ …Bringing back implies wandering, or what we would call backsliding. Christ is the home-bringer of the wandering sheep (Moyer 28-29).”
We share in the work of Christ when we seek out the wandering and bring them back to the paths of righteousness.
He Leadeth Me in the Paths of Righteousness
One traveler to Israel told of watching a living example of this phrase.
“A single trail meandered down the length of the gorge floor, then branched out into dozens of trails when it reached the grassland. A group of shepherds strolled down the gorge trail, chatting with one another, followed by a long, winding river of sheep. At the forks of the trail, the shepherds shook hands and separated, each taking a different path as they headed out into the grasslands.
…As the shepherds headed their separate ways, the mass of sheep streaming behind them automatically divided into smaller flocks, each flock stringing down the branch trail behind its appropriate shepherd. When the various shepherds and their flocks were distanced from each other by a few hundred yards, each shepherd turned to scan his own sheep, noting that some strays had been left behind and were wandering in confusion among the rocks and brush.
Then one of the shepherds cupped his hands around his mouth and called in a strange, piercing cry, ‘Ky-yia-yia-yia-yia.’ At his shout, a couple of stray lambs perked up their ears and bounded toward his voice. Then a second shepherd tilted back his head calling with a distinctly different sound, ‘Yip-yip-yip-yipoo-yip.’ A few more strays hurried straight toward him. Then another called his strays with a shrill, ‘Hoot-hoot-hoot!’ Each shepherd, in turn, called. Each of the strays, hearing a familiar voice, knew exactly which shepherd he should run to. ‘In fact,’ [the man] marveled, ‘none of the wandering sheep seemed to notice any voice but the voice of his own shepherd.’
This is what Jesus meant when he said, ‘My sheep listen to my voice,’ but ‘do not recognize a stranger’s voice.’ The sheep pick his voice out of a [crowd] of voices and follow it. The shepherd ‘calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice (Anderson 16-17).'”
A verse from one of the hymns that we sing in Primary expresses this concept beautifully:
Let the Holy Spirit guard;
Let his whisper govern choice.
He will lead us safely home
If we listen to his voice. (Hymns 143)
There are many paths in Israel and also in life. It is difficult and bewildering to choose the path of peace and safety without guidance. The Lord has supplied that guidance to those who work in the Primary through the Priesthood leadership of the Bishopric Advisors and the High Council Representative.
An authoress from the 1800’s, who grew up in the Holy Land, shows how this principle was exemplified in the lives the shepherds. She writes that:
“‘When I was a child we spent our summer months in the country districts, and that is how I became imbued with the life of the shepherds in Palestine. Often, in company with my brother, we used to go out with the shepherds or shepherdesses over the hills, and we wanted to take their place. And, speaking the Arabic language, we could imitate their voices and calls. But the sheep were never taken in by our voices, and occasionally a great big long-horned he-goat would resent the imposition by a few well-directed butts, which would soon scatter us. At the head of the flock is this great long-horned he-goat. First [came] the shepherd, then the he-goat, then the flock. It seem[ed] as if the whole flock had unanimously elected this long-horned he-goat to lead them… If they [saw] the he-goat shaking his head, a frightened look [would] pass over them. If the he-goat start[ed] butting a pretender, the majority of the flock [would] butt him, too.
If you turn to Proverbs 30:31, you will find him mentioned as one of the four things that are beautiful in going before the Lord; and still more prominently so in Jeremiah 50:8, where the prophet breaks forth and says: ‘Remove out of the midst of Babylon and go forth out the land of the Chaldeans, and be as the he-goats before the flocks.’
Now, why does the prophet draw the picture of this noble animal? Because there have been instances known where the shepherd has fallen down some precipice and been killed. Then it has become the duty of the he-goat to gather the flock together and bring them back in safety…Be as the he-goats before the flocks (Mtford 41-45).”
Our priesthood “he-goats” have a weighty responsibility to lead in love and to model the care of the Good Shepherd. The rewards for their faithful service will surely be great.
There will be many seeking to lead us on dangerous paths.
“[Frequently], human beings are in a condition of spiritual lostness. It is so very easy for sheep to be led astray. It is a principle which has been taken advantage of by those who would lead sheep to the slaughter. In New Zealand, where 40 million sheep are sent to market, the sheep are led to the slaughter in the many freezing works by the ‘Judas Sheep.’ The ‘Judas Sheep’ is a big pet ‘wether’ (a castrated male) who leads the sheep from the bottom pen area, up the ramp to the top ‘killing floor.’ The poor sheep are totally unaware of what awaits them as they blindly follow on. Once up the top, the trap door is opened for the ‘Judas Sheep,’ and he trots away, and back down to the bottom pen area to lead another group of sheep to their destiny.
Let us learn this spiritual lesson: be careful who you follow. Follow the right lead, and be ‘led by the Spirit,’ in the right path, in the way that the Shepherd directs. The Good Shepherd will never lead us astray. He will never lead us into harm or hurt. Rather, through His Holy Spirit, He leads us in the paths of righteousness, into ‘green pastures and beside still water’ where He restores our soul (Bowen 19).”
Job compared the wicked to sheep who refused to stay on the path.
“Wicked people rebel against the light. They refuse to acknowledge its ways. They will not stay in its paths (Job 24:13 NLT).”
“Palestine is a land of paths. Some of them are winding and lead to green fields and brooks of waters. Others lead to narrow lanes of hedges of thorns and of briers; others to serpent’s nests; others to dens of wolves. So the shepherd has to know all these paths and where they lead to; for if he did not know that they led to pleasant places he could not turn the flock back, but his flock would be dispersed and destroyed; so he leaves his flock resting at noon and goes and finds out where the paths lead to. Often he gets very tired and footsore in going quite a distance and coming back. He has also encountered many dangers, pitfalls, serpents, etc., but ‘for His name’s sake,’ as a good shepherd he will suffer any trouble and weariness as long as his sheep have been saved from the paths of unrighteousness.
With the hireling it is different. He never troubles to find out where the safe and good places are, but takes his chances of leading them through any path that seems easy for himself. But should he come to where the wolves are, ‘he leaveth the sheep and fleeth and the wolf catcheth them and scattereth the sheep (John 10:12).’ A hireling is never to be depended upon, but the good shepherd suffers all things to secure the comfort of his sheep. Hence the Psalmist so beautifully describes this phrase: ‘He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake (Psalms
23:3).'” (Mtford 139-140, 142, 146)
For His Name’s Sake
“But, besides His great love for us, there’s a greater reason for God’s guidance in our lives‹He leads us in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake, to bring glory to Himself! You see, in Hebrew thought, a name was normally connected to the character and personality of the bearer’s name, and this beautiful phrase ‹’for His name’s sake’‹ means maintaining one’s reputation. God’s name points not only to a title for Him, but to His very nature (George 102).”
There is an additional association to the term “name sake.” When we give a child the name of a loved one, that child becomes their name sake. The Book of Mormon shows us how Heavenly Father modeled this pattern to a group of faithful saints when He called them after the name of His beloved Son.
“And moreover, I shall give this people a name, that thereby they may be distinguished above all the people which the Lord God hath brought out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I do because they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord (Mosiah 1:11).”
“And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ (Mosiah 5:9).”
Yea, Though I Walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
“As we continue our walk through Psalm 23 alongside the Shepherd, suddenly the path turns downward here in verse 4. It begins to wind around unannounced corners. There’s a precipice, perhaps. Or a steep riverbank. The water here in the valley of shadows and darkness foams and roars, laced by jagged rocks. Passing through a deep and narrow gorge, we perhaps press ourselves hard against battlements of rock and sheer walls of stone.
These are words that describe the valleys or wadis so familiar to Palestine, the Holy Land, …it’s wilderness, …it’s desert…where there are pits, ravines, and caves, the dryness of drought and the shadow of death. It’s truly a no-man’s land, a terrain that signals both danger and death.
A search through the Scriptures will reveal 23 uses of the term ‘shadow of death.’ It means darkness, deep darkness, very deep darkness, thick darkness, and a darkness as dark as death. (Are you getting the picture?!) Its meaning includes the ‘death shadow’ and the extreme dangers of the desert where death is dominant because the desert is a place where predatory animals live (George 110-111 adapted).”
This is an apt description of a telestial kind of existence our world today. In the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith recorded this insight:
“…provide for my saints, that my gospel may be preached unto those who sit in darkness and in the region and shadow of death (D&C 57:10).”
Each of us must press forward (2 Nephi 31:20) and continue our journey to gain the desired blessing, but in this extreme darkness, we can learn much from the examples of ancient shepherds.
“Those shepherds carried a lamp made out of parchment folded much like a Chinese lantern. After lighting the little oil lamp inside the lantern, the shepherd would hold it up high so that it would give light to his feet one step at a time as he led his sheep through the darkness one step at a time (George 114).”
Christ is the light by which we see (Psalms 36:9 NLT). As he said in 3rd Nephi:
“Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up that which ye have seen me do (3 Nephi 18:24).”
When we live by His light, our hearts are freed from the bondage of fear.
I Will Fear No Evil: For Thou Art With Me
“In ancient Judea, the good shepherd would take the sheep on long journeys through the ravines and the wadis where the steep and narrow slopes keep out the light. Sometimes, the shepherd had no choice but to lead his flock through the wadis. Avalanches, flash-floodings, poor weather conditions, rock-slides, poisonous plants, and predators were perennial dangers the shepherd faced with his flock. Overexposure to the sun could be very dangerous to the well-being of the flock. The shepherd had to be prepared so that none of these things would deter him. He had to know the paths so that the flock would not be swept away in a flood.
…The shepherd [had to] be [ever] mindful…where he was leading the flock.
[Frequently] thick fog would settle in, [so] the sheep would follow the shepherd by the sound of his voice and shepherd song. The shepherd’s voice and presence gave comfort and confidence to the sheep…The well-being and safety of the flock [was] up to the shepherd. The shepherd’s arms, body, and feet were often scarred with the wounds he suffered for his flock while fighting predators who attempted to destroy them (Jewish 23rd/Samuel 111-112).”
Like the fog that sometimes obscured the path for the sheep, we too have mists of darkness that can cause us to lose our way (1 Nephi 8:23).
“And it came to pass that I saw a mist of darkness on the face of the land of promise; …And the mists of darkness are the temptations of the devil, which blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men, and leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost (1 Nephi 12:4, 17).”
Just as the faithful shepherd received scars in his arms, feet, and body while defending his flock, our Savior bears witness of his faithful protection through these same tokens. He tells us:
“Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail.
Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.
Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. Amen (D&C 6:34, 36, 37).”
Thy Rod & Thy Staff They Comfort Me
Rods and staffs were tools used by both good and bad shepherds.
‘On a tour bus through Israel’s countryside, [a] tour guide [was] explain[ing] the scenery, the history, and the lifestyle [of the area]. In his description, he included a heart-warming portrayal of the ancient shepherd/sheep relationship. He expounded on how the shepherd builds a relationship with his sheep’ how he feeds them and gently cares for them. He pointed out that the shepherd doesn’t drive the sheep but leads them, and that the shepherd does not need to be harsh with them, because they hear his voice and follow. And so on . . .
He then explained how on a previous tour things had backfired for him as he was giving this same speech about sheep and shepherds. In the midst of [telling his story], he suddenly realized he had lost his audience. They were all staring out the bus window at a guy chasing a ‘[flock]’ of sheep. He was throwing rocks at them, whacking them with sticks, and siccing the sheep dog on them. The sheep-driving man in the field had torpedoed the guide’s enchanting narrative.
The guide [related] that he had been so agitated that he jumped off the bus, ran into the field, and [confronted] the man, ‘Do you understand what you have just done to me?’ he asked. ‘I was [telling] a charming story about the gentle ways of shepherds, and here you are mistreating, hazing, and assaulting these sheep! What is going on?’
For a moment, a bewildered look froze on the face of the poor sheep-chaser, then the light dawned and he blurted out, ‘Man. You’ve got me all wrong. I’m not a shepherd. I’m a butcher!’
This poor, unwitting fellow…provided the tour guide and [everyone on the bus] with a perfect example of what a ‘good shepherd’ is not (Anderson 29-30).”
“The word ‘staff’ means ‘stay’ or ‘support.’ The staff was used after the flock was led out of the fold. It guided them over right paths to a safe and sure pasture…Sometimes in directing his sheep the shepherd merely pointed or signalled with his staff, that he did not need to speak. Thus the staff becomes a symbol of direction and guidance. Oftentimes the staff was used to help the sheep through the brush, drawing aside the thorn bushes and making plain the path to be followed…[It] was used to pull sheep out of thickets, or bogs, or crevices in the rocks, or waters where they might be caught or fall.
…Oftentimes, in going through the narrow dark [places], the shepherd would rap with the staff on the rocks, and the sound would echo and re-echo in the ears of the sheep, thus assuring them of the shepherd’s presence with them. [The sheep] were comforted [by it] in the darkness.
…Both the rod and the staff might be used in the case of a wandering sheep. The crook around the horn or leg of a sheep would arrest and check it from going astray or in places of danger. Straying and separation from the flock might mean terrible danger. Sheep may wander into strange pastures, not [realizing] the dangers there. A rod might be used in discipline on a sheep that persisted in going astray.
…Sometimes a sheep may fall over a precipice. You have [probably] seen the picture of a shepherd leaning over the precipice extending his staff toward the sheep on the rocks below. With the crook the shepherd will encircle the neck of the sheep, or the chest of a small sheep, and so lift it to safety. It is said that the process at the moment is very painful, and the sheep, with grunts and baa’s, will inform the shepherd that it hurts, but think of the comfort when [it is] lifted to safety and out of the region and danger of death…The process is painful, but what a joy to be restored to the flock and to the Shepherd (Moyer 54-58), 62-63)!”
“Let me describe the rod of a shepherd…Most generally, it’s made of oak and is about two feet long, coming from a carefully chosen straight young tree. After tearing up the oak tree, the bulb at the beginning of the root, which is about the size of a man’s fist, is trimmed to make the head of a club. Next a hole is carved through the rod so it can be tied to the shepherd’s belt or hang from his wrist like a riding whip. Sometimes two-inch metal spikes are driven into the club so that one blow with it can kill an attacking animal or snake.
Most of us know that sheep have no defences. God didn’t make sheep with claws, nor horns, nor speed, nor tusks, nor spines, nor shells, nor fangs. No, all that the poor sheep has for defence is the shepherd and his rod. Armed with this instrument of protection and death, the shepherd can lead his sheep through tall grass, swinging the club back and forth to frighten any enemies, and prepare the way for his sheep. And with his tool of defence, the shepherd can beat off the enemies of the flock, eagles, snakes, wild animals, mountain lions, bears, wolves, coyotes, even robbers (George 129-130).”
“Since the rod and the staff are reminders of the shepherd, they might typify the things that remind us of our Savior. Thus the rod of authority becomes the Word of God; the staff of support becomes the Spirit of God. (Moyer 54-58, 62-63).'”
The comfort we receive from the Savior generally comes through the Spirit. This comfort is often compared to that of a downy quilt. In one sense this is true, but it is a rather limited and sentimental definition.
“[One writer] shares a helpful insight which enriches our understanding about the role of the Comforter:
…In Greek the word is full of power and of the promise of the God-given ability to face and to master any situation in life…. The word comfort is derived from the
Latin word fortis, which means brave, and originally the word meant someone who puts courage into you… The word in the Greek is endunamoun, whose root word is dunamis, power, from which the word dynamite comes. In [the days when the King James Version was translated], to comfort a person [meant] to fill that person with a power like spiritual dynamite. The Holy Spirit does not simply come and wipe our tears away; he gives us a dynamic power to cope with life (Introducing the Bible 117).” (Beloved Bridegroom 123-124)
Thou Preparest a Table Before Me in the Presence of Mine Enemies
In Hebrew, the word “table” means “to spread out.” The pasture of the sheep is something “spread out.”
“Mesas [is] the Spanish word for ‘tables.’…The Middle Eastern shepherd looked hard for these mesas, since they were not always obvious to the eye. Finding them required high energy and diligence. Before the sheep embarked on their quest for grazing, the shepherd had to decide which lands would be best suited to the flock’s needs. The shepherd had to have a discerning eye (Samuel 113).”
“…There are many poisonous plants in Palestine which endanger the life of the sheep. I read of one shepherd who lost three hundred sheep because of the little poisonous plants that grew in the pastures into which he led the flock. The shepherd must survey the pasture very carefully. He would use his staff to dig out or grub out the poisonous plants (Moyer 66).”
If there was a stream full of twigs and debris, the shepherd had to see to it that it was cleaned out.
“There are snake holes in some kinds of grounds, or holes that moles have made just beneath the surface, in which snakes lie with their heads sticking out. As the sheep feed, the snakes, many of which are poisonous, bite the noses of the sheep. Death may result to a sheep within thirty minutes.
The land of Palestine is very mountainous and rocky. In the dens and caves lurk lions, and bears, and jackals, and hyenas, and panthers, and other wild beasts ready to spring upon the sheep. You can see from this that when a shepherd led his flock into a safe pasture, he literally prepared the table before them in the presence of their enemies (Ps of Ps 66).”
Even though the table was spread out, shepherds still had to be “feeders” who knew the age characteristics and personalities of their flock. One writer told us how to feed the sheep as shepherds do.
“Jesus said [Peter], ‘Feed My sheep.’ …He didn’t say, ‘Pasture My sheep,’ but ‘Feed My sheep.’ You can be a splendid pastor, but a mighty poor feeder.
[The sheep need to be fed when] the pasture [is limited], and we feed them with what is called koosbie, a pulpy substance, which…look[s] something like putty, [and] is very nutritious. We mix it with a little green grass, and we feed the sheep, and they do not like it, and we have to teach them to eat it. You have to be very careful in feeding it, not to give them too much, because they are likely to get sick and die, and you must be careful not to give them too little, or they will starve.
The shepherds always begins with the lambs, and that is why our Lord Christ said, ‘Feed My lambs.’ So here the shepherd gathers all the lambs about him, and he has a whole dozen or two lambs…He has them in his bosom and under his cloak, and the sick lambs come around him. I wish the Sunday school teachers would dwell especially on the mother love of the shepherd. His whole heart is with those poor lambs and kids and sheep. And O, how he kisses them and loves them! […He] would put any mother to shame by the way he loves them and takes care of them.
…Then he says to the [rest of the] sheep: ‘Come along, eat of this. You are well and hearty. Now, what is the matter with you? O, now, you want to be loved.’ And he has to pet and love him. Some sheep are like some people; you can’t do anything with them unless you are loving and kissing them all the time. ‘You know I love you. Now I will feed the [rest of the] sheep.
‘…Now, come here, you poor old sheep, there is a piece for you. Just eat a piece for my sake. And now, you toothless one, come here, open your mouth, and I will help you.’ And O, what patience and endurance is required of a feeder. If you take the word ‘endurance’ in the Bible you will get a better idea of what it means to endure to the end. A shepherd has to have the greatest endurance, especially at this time, when he has to feed his sheep. If he scolds them they get frightened and won’t eat, and then they die. Some of them are so stubborn that you want to hit them with a club, but you have to be patient with them. He comes to a sheep and touches him on the head, and some sheep don’t like to have anybody pat them on the head. So he runs his hand down its back until he finds a place where the sheep likes it, and you will see the sheep put his head down to be patted. So he finds out the peculiarities and characteristics of each, and in that way he wins them all to him…, and [he learns]…how to feed the sheep, …and has a word of comfort for them (Mtford 170-181).”
Thou Anointest My Head With Oil; My Cup Runneth Over
“There were several reasons a shepherd would administer oil on the sheeps’ heads. The oil served as a medicine. If a sheep bruised itself on a briar patch, the good shepherd would apply healing oil to ward off infection…to keep parasites away from the sheep.
…The good shepherd had to anticipate a solution to the problem of parasites. According to [one writer], the shepherd would take homemade oil made out of sulfur mixed with linseed or olive oil, spices, and tar, and then smear the ointment over the sheep’s nose to keep the flies away. The sheep were less fidgety and restless. To rid a sheep of scabs, the shepherd would smear the sheep’s entire body in oil. This kept the animal blemish-free.
Although the sheep may be resting beside still waters or grazing in green pastures, their contentment could be threatened by a host of different parasites that [would] harm and irritate them.
For relief from this agonizing annoyance sheep will deliberately beat their heads against the trees, rocks, posts, or brush. They will rub them in the soil and thrash around against woody growth. In extreme cases of intense cases of infestation a sheep may even kill itself in a frenzied endeavor to gain respite from the aggravation. Often advanced stages of infection from these flies will lead to blindness.
Because of this, when the nose flies hover around the neck, some of the sheep become frantic with fear and panic in their attempt to escape their tormentors. They will stamp their feet erratically and race from place to place in the passage trying desperately to elude the flies.
…Flies often created havoc for the whole herd. When one sheep would run amok, the other sheep would do the same… [And] if [a] mother [was] disturbed by these pests, she [would] leave her young languishing for milk while she [was] off trying to get rid of the parasites (Jewish 23rd/Samuel 115-116).”
Perhaps the parasites that so afflict the sheep could be likened to the cares of the world which rob us of our peace. If we seek every morning for the protection and guidance of the Spirit, the Lord will apply the protective oil that soothes our anxieties and afflictions.
“When the shepherd [led] the flock back in the evening, they [were] not rushed into the fold, but the shepherd [stood] in the opening, holding the sheep back with his rod while he inspect[ed] them one by one as they [went] into the fold. After his inspection of each sheep he turn[ed] his body to let the sheep go through and [was] literally the door. John 19:9 says, ‘I am the Door.’ This explains how [the] Lord could be the Door and the Shepherd at the same time.
The shepherd examine[d] the sheep for briars in the ears, snags on the cheek, thorn wounds in the side, stone bruises on the knees, eyes inflamed by dust or sunshine, weariness and sickness. After his inspection he lift[ed] the rod and the sheep [passed] under the rod.’
When the shepherd [found] cuts or bruises he anoints the sheep with cedar tar. A good shepherd [was] a good doctor.
…Sheep are susceptible to sicknesses of many kinds, especially fevers. The shepherd [had] a pail, or a [large goat-skin bag], filled with fresh water… When he [found] one of his flock that [was] fevered, he [would] take the [feverish] sheep and plunge his head down into the cup, making the cup to run over.
Thus we have a picture of God’s care for His weary, worn, wounded, sick, and suffering sheep (Moyer 73-74, 76-77).”
Surely Goodness & Mercy Shall Follow Me all the Days of My Life
There are 42 references to goodness in Standard Works. Most are associated with the mercy of the atonement, repentance, & humility.
“And what is God’s goodness? It is the sum total of all His attributes. When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God answered, ‘I will make all My goodness pass before you (Exodus 33:19, emphasis added).’ As another favorite Psalm simply remarks, ‘For the LORD is good (Psalms 100:5).’
God’s goodness will follow and accompany us for the rest of our life.
…Mercy (or the wonderful, quaint old word lovingkindness) is David’s word for God’s tender affection. And its use in the ancient world meant love that flows, not out of a sense of duty, but from deep emotion. Mercy expressed God’s steadfast love, even toward those who were unworthy and undeserving (George 166-167).”
The mercy and goodness of the Lord insures that he will find every lost sheep. Lydia Mountford tells an example she witnessed in Israel in 1865.
“So it was with that kind of shepherd that our Lord saw counting his flock. He was going on something like this: ‘No. 97, Apple Blossom…98, Myrtle Blossom…99, Olive Branch…No. 100, Zambaka…(You know sometimes the sheep like to hide themselves behind a tree, so he keeps calling), Zambaka‹where is Zambaka gone to? Hey! R-rrrrrrrrrrrrr, where is Zambaka gone to? Zambaka must have been lost. O dear, dear, dear, we must go back and look for it. You are all right. You are with the dog. The shepherd boys will be coming along. I will go back and call Zambaka.’
So he goes back and he calls, ‘Hey, Zambaka, hey! R-rrrrrrrrrrrrr! Hey, Zambaka. I know what has happened to Zambaka. I know it has fallen down some precipice, and it can’t ear my voice until I call it with the still small voice.’
What do you suppose the still small voice is? He turns his staff upside down and makes a receiver of his hand, and he coos through it, and the voice runs down the stick and reaches the lamb at the foot of the precipice. He could stand here and call all night, and the sheep wouldn’t hear him if it had fallen down the precipice. The only way that it can hear is to call it by the ‘still small voice.’ And he has trained his sheep so that when they are in any trouble they listen for the still small voice. So he strikes on the ground with his club three times and calls with the still small voice: He hears, ‘Baa, baa.’
“Oh, Zambaka, so you are down there! Do not be afraid; I am coming, coming, coming! And so you are down there? Ho, Oh, Oh, Oh, did you think we had lost you? Do not be afraid, now; I am coming, I am coming, right down to you. Oh, Oh, did you think I had forgotten all about you? Oh, Oh, no, no!’
He doesn’t say, ‘I have a mind to wring your neck off.’ No, no; never will a Palestine shepherd say, ‘I have a mind to wring your neck off,’ but he kisses it and says, ‘Praise to the Lord, we have found the lost sheep; rejoice, rejoice.’ And one of the most beautiful sight in Palestine is to see the ninety-nine come running to rejoice at this sheep that was lost and is found. It is the ninety-nine that love the lost sheep.
Why, those ninety-nine love each other so much that when one of them dies the shepherd has the greatest trouble to console them. They mourn, they won’t eat anything, and when he tells them he is going to look for the lost one, and leaves them and comes back, how they come running around the shepherd.
And he says: ‘…We have found him, we have found him,’ and they are all so happy, and the shepherd dog comes barking and is happy, and the shepherd boys come running, and say, ‘Praise unto the Lord, we have found the lost one.’ And so Jesus looked upon a sight like that, and He saw them all rejoicing, and He said, ‘Even so will the angels rejoice over a sinner that repenteth.’ And so we find that Jesus always took the illustration from everyday life in order to teach them a lesson (Mtford 130-138).”
President Harold B. Lee frequently remarked that we could not lift someone else unless we were standing on higher ground ourselves. A wise shepherd always seeks for higher ground.
“The good shepherd is [also] careful to look for a sheep that may have been left behind. If he discovers a left sheep in distress, he will drive a few sheep back to the area or fold, open the gate, and retrieve the lone sheep. The distressed loner literally bolts to join the few, and is immediately relaxed, happy and overjoyed.
You cannot drive one sheep alone on its own. It becomes so cranky and upset that it will not co-operate. It is essential that the shepherd take some sheep with him in order to form a tiny flock, include the loner, and move on to join the main mob. In the Scriptures, you will recall that the lost sheep was neither driven back nor led back to the fold ‹ as this would have been impossible but had to be carried back on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd (Bowen 64).”
And I will dwell in the House of the Lord Forever
Note the future tense of “will dwell”. There was no temple built when David wrote this psalm, but he had a “hope in Christ.”
The word “house” in Hebrew has several meanings. Three that have importance in this context are:
1. “Temple” – A place where the presence of the Lord dwells.
“…I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD (Psalms 122:1).”
2. “Household or Family” –
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19);”
3. Additionally we have a “Ward House” housing places of safety for our little flocks.
As workers among children, we are all in the business of being shepherds who are helping to turn lambs and sheep into shepherds also. It is not very hard when you think of it this way. It means we love them and teach them and keep loving them until they are ready to share the love also until they can’t help sharing it because it is filling their lives and running over and has to go somewhere. They learn to have a good time loving other people too. Eventually, they will also become shepherds. That’s the way it works. We will all be shepherds to one another sharing His love the love of Christ, which is charity.
This does not always come naturally, however. Left to our own devices, we are virtually incapable of sustaining this kind of love. This love is a fruit of the Spirit and a gift we must seek. Moroni tells us that:
“…that charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ (Moroni 7:47-48);”
That is the key to gaining a “Shepherd Heart.” If we wish to teach and touch others, nothing can substitute for a heart that feels another’s heart. That is the meaning of compassion; that’s the feeling that entitles us to be true leaders.
The oral traditions of the ancient Jews relates that:
God chose Moses to be the leader of His people because one day while Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, in the desert, a little lamb ran away. Moses, concerned for his charge, went in search of it. After a while, he found the [lamb] drinking at a brook.
“My poor little lamb,” Moses said, reaching out to it. “I didn’t know that you were thirsty. Forgive me, you must be weary.” And with that, he picked up the lamb, placed it on his shoulder, and carried it back to the flock.
Then a Heavenly voice was heard: “This is the man who is worthy of shepherding my people.”
Moses was brilliant, strong, handsome, and powerful. The Bible testifies that [few men] ever lived who even came close to his greatness. Yet that which rendered him worthy of leadership was neither his brilliance nor his strength, but the tenderness with which he carried that little lamb on his shoulder. (Jungreis 149)
This is our task also. Our reward shall be great. I close with the words of Peter: “Feed the flock of God entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly, not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God.
Don’t Lord over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your good example.
And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away (1 Peter 5:2-4 KJV & NLT).”
Like Sheep Devoid Of A Shepherd: The Shepherd Metaphor & Its Importance For Biblical Leadership
God likes sheep.
He also likes shepherds. One can hardly turn a page of the Old Testament without running into one of the wooly creatures. I have a special appreciation and understanding of the work of shepherds because I was one for a time, albeit on a very small scale. When my wife and I first moved to northern Nevada from the sprawling Silicon Valley in northern California’s bustling Bay Area, we bought a small ranch property. Wanting to fully experience country life, I acquired a small herd of goats and sheep, which quickly grew to be (for a first time herdsman) a very large herd of over 150 head of livestock. I know what the Old Testament calls “small cattle” pretty well, and as a consequence of this have a heightened sensitivity to the pervasive presence of sheep and shepherds throughout Scripture.
Most of the patriarchs were herdsmen. The early Israelites referred to Yahweh as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, shepherds all. Interestingly, although Moses was highly placed in Egyptian society for most of his early life, it wasn’t until he had spent time as a shepherd that God called him to shepherd God’s people. Similarly, out of all the people God might have chosen to anoint as Saul’s successor, he passed over warriors and wise men in favor of a brave, young shepherd named David.
The prominence of shepherds in the Old Testament is not surprising. Shepherding is one of the oldest of human occupations, and sheep and goats were by far the dominant herd animals in the ancient near east. Shepherds and sheep were so fundamentally a part of ANE cultures that those cultures often referred to their kings as shepherds of the people.
God himself is pictured as a shepherd (e.g. Gen 49:24; Ps 23; Isa 40:11; Ezk 34:11-24). Jesus declares himself the shepherd of God’s people (Mt 9:6; John 10:1-18).
God’s people are consistently referred to as his sheep (Ps 95:7; Ps 100:3; Isa 53:6; 1 Peter 2:25, to cite but a few).
It is the last part, wherein we are pictured in Scripture as sheep, which sticks in the craw a little. Sheep, after all, are often dirty, smelly, (reputedly) stupid animals unable to care for themselves and prone to wandering into the most awful situations, from which they cannot extricate themselves. Although shepherds and sheep are personally unknown to most of us, we are generally convinced that being a sheep is a bad thing. Sheep have become a metaphor for a group of people who will blindly follow anyone, who do not think for themselves, who are waiting to be fleeced or slaughtered, and who are easy prey.
Shepherds do not fare nearly as badly as a modern metaphor, perhaps because it is a metaphor so rarely used these days. We tend to think of shepherds as quaint, solitary folk, spending their time with, well, sheep, and all that implies about those that follow the one doing the shepherding. Instead of calling leaders shepherds, we describe them by other metaphors having more punch and sizzle.
Therein lies the problem for the modern church. We do not much care to apply the sheep metaphor to ourselves, and few Christian leaders these days seem to want to apply the shepherd metaphor to themselves. But if I read the Scriptures rightly I’m left with the inescapable conclusion that God does really like to call his people sheep and does expect those who lead his people to be shepherds. Indeed, I am convinced that the shepherd metaphor is the unifying metaphor for all ministry leadership. In other words, whatever other metaphor a ministry leader might wish to use to describe his or her ministry style, he or she is first and foremost to be a shepherd.
I have known many pastors in my life, but regrettably few shepherds. Most of the pastors I have known liked to think of themselves as skilled teachers or eloquent communicators, as powerful leaders, innovative entrepreneurs, or as winning coaches. I have known but a spare few who eschewed loftier-sounding titles and appellations and instead thought of themselves as shepherds of God’s flock. From my perspective the seeming lack of pastoral folk in the churches I have had occasion to know leaves me feeling a bit melancholy, for however nice it might sound to call oneself other things, God wants those who oversee his Church and care for his people to be shepherds.
Allegories And Why They Matter
Do the metaphors we use for ministry leadership really matter? Does it really make a difference what we call our leaders or what they call themselves? In a word, yes. Metaphors are extremely important; they reveal something of our thought processes while at the same time conditioning the way we think. The metaphors we use are in actuality reference points with which we access a deep body of data and experience, that includes both the concrete and the abstract.
When we use a metaphor to access such information, an incredibly complex process of cognition, or thinking, occurs. So, one might say that metaphor reveals complex thought, and what and how we think directs our actions (Prov 3:27). Because of the linkage between metaphor, cognition, and action, metaphor usage has even been utilized in the analysis of organizational behavior in order to determine how the metaphors chosen by an organization influence the behavior of the organization and its workers.
Metaphor & Cognition
Simply put, a metaphor is a figure of speech wherein one thing is described in relation to a second thing that is often quite dissimilar to the first on a literal level. A metaphor is most commonly employed by saying the one thing is the second thing, such as in Shakespeare’s “My love is a red, red rose.” We understand that Shakespeare’s love interest isn’t really a flower, but that he is using a metaphor to evoke a whole host of comparisons that will illumine the beauty of his lover in the minds of his readers.
The similarity between the two things being compared through use of a metaphor forms a linkage that conveys a large amount of information under a single, symbolic identifier. For example, to say that a man is a total hawk on the subject of Iraq is not to say he is an actual bird flying somewhere in the sky. To call someone a hawk in the context of war or foreign policy, however, is to in a single metaphor convey a complex descriptive impression of that person, namely that the man is believed to be assertive in his inclination for the U.S. to use military force in a given situation, and optimistic that said exercise of military power is the most prudent and efficient solution to the perceived international problem.
Metaphor usage is fundamental to thinking. It’s powerful utility lies in its descriptive power and tendency to grow richer and deeper in evocative power over time. An early developmental psychologist and educational theorist, Jean Piaget, found that we think by forming schemata, mental structures which we build by experience and then use to organize and link later knowledge. Educational and cognitive theorists believe schemata begin with concrete experiences that provide a framework upon which to form the basis for abstract reasoning. In other words, “Cognition is a function of organizing information into modules within a larger mental structure.”
Cognitive theorists have found in their research that the human mind organizes the world it experiences into categories; “the mind thinks analogously; it sees something in terms of something else.” Having formed these categories, the mind applies metaphors as a kind of placeholder or retrieval cue that allows quick access to an ever-growing mental database of information associated with that metaphor, which promotes swifter recognition, understanding, and synthesis of new, related data. Thus, the use of metaphor is not an arbitrary choice of language. Metaphor is central to cognitive processes: “The locus of metaphor is not in language at all but in the way we conceptualize one mental domain in terms of another.”
Metaphor is especially powerful where interdisciplinary learning or other cognitive processes are attempted. When one needs to assess needs or systems across diverse disciplines or specialties of study or performance, metaphors become an important means of categorizing, simplifying, and routinizing. Under a single metaphor, the mind organizes and forms linkages between otherwise seemingly divergent pieces of data.
The organizing and categorizing function of metaphors, which is fundamental to all cognition, illuminates the importance of the metaphors we apply to ministry. Metaphors allow pastors and other ministry leaders to assimilate and synthesize the diverse bodies of knowledge and skills necessary for successful ministry. The need to acquire skills across a variety of disciplines (e.g. teaching, administration, nurture, strategic planning, etc.) is especially true in large-church contexts, where a ministry leader is often confronted with relational, personal, and institutional needs which are not easily encompassed by one skill-set. In cases such as these, the leader needs to organize, synthesize, and interconnect the various requirements of the ministry under a single category. The ministry leader then must call that category by a name which describes and reflects the demands of his or her ministry. This identifier, as we have seen, is almost always a metaphor drawn from some other field, like business or sports, or from the ANE in the case of the Biblical metaphor of Shepherd.
Metaphors are reflective of our thought processes, namely the universe of attributes and data which coalesce around a given metaphor, and in turn also shape and modify the way we view and act on that about which we speak metaphorically. The result of this process is that the metaphor we choose to describe ministry leadership both illumines the way we see ministry, while also shaping the praxis of ministry. One who views ministry leadership as being a shepherd will shepherd. One who sees himself as a CEO will lead as a CEO. One who see herself as a coach will lead as a coach. The problem is that only one metaphor for ministry leadership is supported by the Scriptural text, and that is the metaphor of the shepherd.
Allegories in Modern Ministry
We call most of our church leaders “pastors.” The English word “pastor” is derived from the Latin word for “shepherd.” Today the term is not usually descriptive of what the pastor does, other than signifying that the pastor is employed by a church. This was not always the case though.
This original meaning of the Latin-derived word “pastor” finds its roots in the Old Testament word ra’ah and the New Testament word poimen, both of which mean “shepherd.” When used in the NT, the word pastor, “designates both an endowment for ministry and the one who fills that ministry, but it implies no fixed office… Rather than an office, it suggests a moral or spiritual relationship.”
Today, unlike in the NT period, we more often than not use the word pastor as the title of an official, ecclesiastical position in the church. The word has become unmoored from its root meaning of being a shepherd. As a result, modern ministry leaders are constantly in search of a new metaphor for ministry that will inform and shape the work of the Pastor.
If we are to accept the prevailing metaphor at one time or another, these pastors are really Leaders, Coaches, CEOs, Teachers, Entrepreneurs, even Therapists. All these styles or nuances in leadership are acceptable and good, of course. We arguably have need of all these talents and skill-sets within the church.
Notwithstanding the value of leaders, coaches, CEOs, entrepreneurs, and all the rest, when one of these descriptors becomes the dominant metaphor for church or ministry leadership a significant problem arises. All these leadership attributes and skills are valuable to people, but God really appears to like shepherds. In fact, God likes shepherds so much he made shepherding the controlling Biblical metaphor for ministry leadership.
To be sure, that is a strong claim. It is an argument nonetheless supported by the Biblical evidence, and fully consistent with sound ecclesiology. Indeed, shepherding encompasses all those desirable qualities evoked by more common modern metaphors for ministry leadership, while any one of those other metaphors fails to convey the richness and fullness of the shepherding metaphor. A cursory examination of a few of these leading metaphors quickly demonstrates their flaws. Let us begin with one of the most common, that of Leader.
John Maxwell is a former pastor, leadership guru, and New York Times bestselling author. His conferences attract thousands of pastors and business people each year. “Everything,” says Maxwell, “rises and falls on leadership.” Whatever success one aspires to, argues Maxwell, will be either restricted or supported by one’s leadership skills. Few would wish to suggest that leadership is not essential to organizational success. For an organization to be deemed successful it must set and achieve its desired goals. Organizations, being made up of people, are by their very nature messy things not given to efficiency. Efficiency is found in effective leadership. That begs the question though, what is truly effective leadership?
Unfortunately for would-be leaders (although not for publishers), there is no easy answer to the question of what does or does not constitute effective leadership, which is evidenced by the truly staggering number of books on leadership published each year. Leadership is a remarkably flexible term. Leadership theorists broadly distribute leadership styles across a continuum with mechanistic models falling toward one end and organic models falling toward the opposite end. Mechanistic models are typified by top-down hierarchal control. Organic models are typified by authority distributed horizontally and relationally through a web of interconnected teams.
Leadership theorists also describe leadership styles in terms of whether they are transactional or transformational. Transactional leaders achieve compliance from workers, and pursue institutional goals by rewarding or punishing worker performance. Transformational leaders seek to motivate workers by enlisting them in the leader’s vision, motivating them to feel a sense of ownership, and encouraging them to find fulfilment by sublimating their self-interest in service to the organization or team.
Clearly the possibilities for nuance and variety between mechanistic/organic and transactional/transformational styles of leadership are immeasurable. For this reason, because leadership is so difficult to quantify, the metaphor of “Leader” is too nebulous to usefully serve as an organizing or controlling metaphor for ministry. Furthermore, as a metaphor it is insufficient. At its most basic, a Leader is one who leads. Surely there is more to ministry than simply leading, however well one achieves that aim.
In recent years, leadership theorists have begun to assert a modest consensus that organic/transformational leadership is more effective than mechanistic/transactional styles of leadership. In fact, productivity of organizations using organic/transformational styles of leadership where work is accomplished by self-managed teams is on average 35% higher than in traditionally managed organizations. Where individuals are allowed the freedom to exercise their creativity, ingenuity, and strengths in synergistic relationship with others, guided by an overarching strategy and vision, the probability of organizational success is significantly enhanced.
Teams can, of course, be a metaphor too. When applied to organizations, it’s common to hear of “winning teams,” a clear indication that Team is being used as a sports metaphor. Of course, in order for a team to win a team needs a good coach.
John Maxwell (along with many others) recognized this a few years ago and, in keeping with the prevailing winds of organizational thought, wrote a book entitled The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork. The book was bought and read, and presumably implemented, by the many pastors who follow Maxwell’s work and attended his conferences on coaching winning teams.
Coaching is a perfectly acceptable metaphor to describe certain aspects of a ministry leader. Ministry leaders can coach teams of people to achieve a desired result, to attain levels of personal excellence of which they had not dreamed themselves capable. But coaches are primarily concerned with winning, and weak team members, players who are not an asset to the team, may be sidelined, traded, or fired. True, these kinds of choices do need to be made sometimes in a ministry context, but usually only as a last resort. Ministry is more than just winning a desired goal. Ministry is about growing people in Christ.
In recent years the metaphor of pastor as CEO has achieved some prominence. Andy Stanley is pastor of Northpoint Community Church, a phenomenally successful megachurch located in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. He is an accomplished writer and speaker whose contributions are regularly solicited by Christianity Today, Leadership Journal, and Ministries Today. He is also the cohost (along with John Maxwell, his mentor) of Catalyst, a major, annual conference for pastors and ministry leaders.
When interviewed by Leadership Journal in 2005 about how he views his own leadership, Stanley said he was quite comfortable with being viewed as a CEO. The interviewer asked Stanley if the church ought to stop talking about pastors as Shepherds.
“Absolutely. That word needs to go away. Jesus talked about shepherds because there was one over there in a pasture he could point to. … It was culturally relevant in the time of Jesus but it’s not culturally relevant any more. Nothing works in our culture with that model except this sense of the gentle, pastoral care. Obviously that is a facet of church ministry, but that’s not leadership.”
The interviewer then pressed Stanley asking “Isn’t shepherd the Biblical word for pastor?”
“It’s the first century word. If Jesus were here today, would he talk about shepherds? No. … By the time of the book of Acts the shepherd model is gone. It’s about establishing elders and deacons and their qualifications. Shepherding doesn’t seem to be the emphasis. Even when it was, it was cultural, an illustration of something. What we have to do is identify the principle, which is that the leader is responsible for the care of the people he’s been given. That I am to care for and equip the people in the organization to follow Jesus. But when we take the literal illustration and bring it into our culture, then people can make it anything they want because nobody knows much about it.”
It is completely understandable why Stanley and other pastors of large churches, would find the metaphor of CEO attractive. The organizational complexity and budgetary income and expenses of many churches and par-a-church ministries make them, among other things, major businesses. With staffs in the double or triple digits, budgets in the millions of dollars, and physical plants the equal of major local businesses, it ought not to be surprising that pastors of these churches view themselves in much the same light as their business counterparts, and naturally turn to business leadership texts to learn and grow in their leadership abilities. Stanley himself says in the interview that the bulk of his reading consists of books on business and history. My personal experience with a number of pastors of my acquaintance suggests Stanley is not alone in his reading preferences.
From an ecclesiological perspective pastors giving business experts precedence over the Biblical text when seeking direction for their own ministry leadership is regrettable; it suggests that the Bible itself is culturally irrelevant when addressing leadership concerns. Moreover, when these same pastors then mantle themselves with titles or leadership metaphors drawn from corporates it ought to be troubling to the Christian conscience.
Why are good pastors so quick to cast aside rich, Biblical metaphors for ministry? Generally speaking, in conservative Christian circles, a strain of Christianity in which Stanley locates himself, we do not go about second-guessing Jesus’ choice of words. To the contrary, we treat Jesus’ words with great care, exegeting them as best we can so as to appreciate their fullest meaning. Why then, when it comes to leadership issues, are we willing to treat Jesus’ words in so cavalier a fashion?
Stanley undoubtedly cares deeply about the word of God, so it is regretful that he is quick to dismiss Jesus’ choice of leadership metaphors as culturally irrelevant. What is also troubling is that Stanley is simply wrong on the meaning of his metaphors when he says the CEO metaphor is preferred because pastoring/shepherding is not leadership. Stanley asserts that in place of the shepherd we should envision modern ministry in terms of leadership, specifically the leadership of a CEO operating within a corporate structure. True, a leader is one who leads someone or something from one point (metaphorical or literal) to another, but a leader does not necessarily engage in pastoral care. In contrast to this, a shepherd always leads, while also always engaging in pastoral care.
Furthermore, Stanley’s chosen metaphor of CEO is clearly fraught with problems. A CEO always leads. Only in the most idiosyncratic of understandings, however, does a CEO engage in pastoral care. A CEO is concerned first and foremost with productivity, profit, market share, and share price appreciation. If Stanley is concerned that modern Christians do not get anything of benefit from the shepherd metaphor, one wonders how he resolves the difficulties the CEO metaphor must present to a culture confronted with corporate scandals like those of Enron, Worldcom, and Goldman Sachs, wherein CEOs lined their own pockets to the financial ruination of shareholders and employees. Ironically, while pastors like Andy Stanley are rushing to adopt the metaphor of CEO, the secular CEOs they wish to emulate are rushing to divest themselves of their secular monikers and in their place adopt the Biblical metaphor of “evangelists.”
One of the newest metaphors being explored in ministry leadership circles is Entrepreneur. An entrepreneur is one who undertakes and assumes the risks and management of a new business venture. Usually an entrepreneur is an innovator who identifies a market opportunity and personally raises or supplies the capital necessary to provide the good or service for which there is a perceived need.
Using business language to describe ministry causes many to cringe. But if we say that an entrepreneurial ministry leader is a innovative person who identifies a ministry need and furthermore undertakes and assumes the risks of a new ministry venture meant to address that need, then we have always had entrepreneurs in the church. We used to call them apostles, evangelists, missionaries, and church-planters.
The entrepreneurial spirit and innovation go hand in hand. Consider some of the ministries entrepreneurial leaders and their churches have launched in recent years: restaurants, coffee shops, record labels, schools, affordable housing developments intended to improve the community’s economic and physical condition. These types of ministry-run, non-traditional outreach operations are intended to move the ministry outside the walls of the church and into the community. The hope for these outreach efforts is that they will be expressions of Christian love and a desire to incarnate the gospel through praxis in addition to proclamation.
These types of outreach efforts are also reflective of the growing number of business people who are making the mid-career transition into vocational ministry. These former business leaders bring with them financial acumen and a focus on methods which produce, which bring returns. Efficiency and productivity are as welcome within ministry as they are in business. To the extent that these can be implemented in such a way as to improve the ministries of the church they should be applauded.
Sometimes, however, an inappropriate focus on purely business concerns can result in ministry weaknesses. Tom Harper, author of the book Career Crossover: Leaving the Marketplace for Ministry, found in his study of the issue that the new breed of entrepreneurs in the church are often weak in “evangelism, ministry to church members, fellowship” and struggle to balance faith in God with budgetary concerns.
John Jackson is pastor of one of America’s fastest growing churches, and a strong promoter of the entrepreneurial model and metaphor for ministry. In his writing and conferences he calls for ministry leaders to adopt an “entrepreneurial strategy” for their churches which “combines the aggressive goals of business with God’s heart for people.” It is actually my pleasure to know Dr. Jackson, and his ministry is pervasively evangelistic in its efforts. The vast majority of his church’s efforts and resources are directed towards reaching the lost. Pastor Jackson’s concern for reaching those not already in Christ is commendable.
Jackson welcomes an entrepreneurial outlook which defines “success in terms of making disciples,” and which devises “ways to reach the lost instead of falling into a pattern of only communicating with the already convinced.” One wonders though, how does one go about making disciples when one doesn’t see much need to communicate with the already convinced? Put differently, to be a disciple one must already be saved, to have become convinced of Jesus’ saving work and to be in a saving relationship with him. If the church doesn’t put much effort into pastoring the “already convinced,” how will they grow as disciples of Christ?
This goes to Harper’s concern that entrepreneurial ministers often neglect those aspects of ministry that are traditionally considered pastoral. Shepherding the flock of God, Harper seems to suggest, is not a priority for many Pastorpreneurs. Jackson himself gives some evidence of this when he writes, “Many of us who preach find it far easier to simply explain the text and apply it to the individual lives of our hearers from a pastoral perspective. While this is noble, it is insufficient. When a pastor stands before his people, there is an opportunity to fulfill the Old Testament roles of prophet, priest, and king. The leadership role is a prophetic and kingly assignment… (emphasis mine).”
Many might question whether a sound reading of the New Testament supports applying the OT roles of prophet, priest, and king, to the modern office of pastor. Setting those concerns aside for the moment, it is interesting to note that the adoption of the Entrepreneur metaphor for ministry, with its strong emphasis on innovation, productivity, and the exploration of new market niches, often results in at worst a dismissal, and at best a diminution, of the Biblical metaphor and function of a shepherd.
Indeed, in the worst of cases the people of God are not valued or ministered to but are instead primarily viewed as a workforce which may be plumbed for the utility in advancing the ministry leader’s entrepreneurial cause. Moreover, innovation can have negative results as easily as its garners positive outcomes. As C. S. Lewis wrote in exasperation over pastors constantly trying out new ways of doing church on their parishioners, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.”
A Pastorpreneur may not shepherd, but a Biblical shepherd always fulfills the core functions of a entrepreneur. A shepherd identifies new fields and pastures for his flock. He innovates ways to make his efforts at husbandry efficient. He is concerned with productivity, recognizing that herding is at least in part a business. A good shepherd searches for lost sheep, and for new stock which might be incorporated within the herd.
If shepherd is such a good and useful metaphor for ministry, why then is it so infrequently promoted in modern church circles? Clearly the answer, at least in part, is because the work of the shepherd is so foreign to our modern, technological society. Perhaps if we knew more about shepherds (especially Biblical shepherds) and their work, we could have a greater appreciation for the richness of the metaphor God has given us.
Biblical Shepherds (Real & Figurative)
Having surveyed some of the leading but insufficient modern metaphors for ministry leadership, we are now ready to examine the Biblical metaphor of shepherd, and discover why it is to be preferred over any another. To understand the Biblical metaphor of shepherd we will look first at shepherds in the ancient near east, then proceed to a survey of the Biblical use of the shepherd metaphor.
Shepherds in the Ancient Near East
Shepherding is one of the earliest of human occupations, and was the economic foundation for most early societies. In the ancient near east specifically, shepherd and flock imagery are among the earliest used pictorial and literary symbols, and is used repeatedly in the Bible to picture God and national leaders. The ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, and Greeks, were all similar to the ancient Israelites in applying the shepherd metaphor to their rulers.
Any number of people within ancient near eastern societies might be shepherds. Although there are many references in the Bible to men, young or otherwise, engaged in herding, not all shepherds were men. Among the Bedouin, a young girl of eight to ten years old might begin herding as a trainee, and continue to herd until fifteen or sixteen by which time she would usually be married and begin housekeeping and childrearing. We also see evidence of this in Biblical stories about Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, and Jethro’s daughters.
In many cases those shepherding a flock were not themselves owners of the flock. Large herds often required multiple herders who would be hired by the herd owner under a contract which provided a salary, some clothing, food, and sometimes a grant of livestock from the herd’s increase each year. Jacob’s relationship with Laban is an example of the fluidity and practicality of these types of contracts (Gen 29-30). In timeless human fashion, shepherds hired to care for herds did not always care for them as well as an owner would, leading shepherds in the ANE to earn something of a negative reputation. Shepherding could be a dangerous occupation.
Predators in the form of both wild animals and human thieves were abundant in the ANE; against these predators a shepherd had to be constantly vigilant (Gen 31:39; Amos 3:12; Isa 11:6; Jer 5:6; John 10:12). Faced with one of these threats to the herd, hired shepherds sometimes chose to save their own skins rather than risk themselves in protection of their flocks (John 10:11-13). Because predation was a constant problem, as was the loss of herd animals to sickness, a herd owner expected to lose numbers of their flocks each year, but expected an honest accounting from their hired herders.
Unfortunately, although hired shepherds were allowed to use some of the product of the herd for their own immediate sustenance, they were often tempted to cull from the herd without authorization, and sell the meat, skins, bones, milk, fiber, and sometimes, young stock. This was a significant problem, so pervasive that the dishonesty of hired shepherds was accepted as established fact. Laws were created forbidding people to buy wool, milk, lambs or kids, from a hired shepherd.
In the modern church, one sometimes hears complaints of “sheep-stealing” when one church grows primarily through a transfer of people from other, less successful churches. Pastors sometimes complain because there seem to be too many churches in a given locale, making competition for new members fierce. This is not a new problem. Shepherds have often fought over territory and pasturage, as is seen in the Biblical stories of Lot’s dispute with Abraham over pasturage, the shepherds of Abraham and Isaac’s dispute with the shepherds of Abimelek, and the shepherds Moses drove away after finding them accosting the daughters of Jethro.
The primary duties of a shepherd are to guide, provide food and water, protect and deliver, gather back to the herd those that were lost, and to nurture and provide security. One of the clearest and best-known expositions of these duties is found in the first five verses of Psalm 23. In an arid environment such as that of the early Israelites, good pasturage was sparse. A shepherd needed to lead the herds to food, or bring the food to the herd, on a daily basis. Water also needed to be found or ported. Herds left to provide for themselves would, of course, struggle on and might indeed have managed to maintain some sort of herd structure in spite of living a feral existence. Such a herd was nonetheless at extreme risk of loss to predation, illness, and starvation.
Sheep are grazers. This means that their primary means of sustenance is found in low-lying ground vegetation. This in contrast to goats, which are browsers and which prefer to eat leaves and high-lying vegetation, although they will graze (and thrive doing so) if that is the only food available. A grazing herd of sheep can quickly become quite dispersed, each sheep with its nose to the ground moving from one plant to the next.
Both sheep and goats depend on their excellent eyesight to identify predators. Their sense of smell is essentially useless for this task, especially since successful predators will usually attack from downwind. When in a herd, at any given time there will be several sheep watching intently for signs of predators. Often goats are herded with sheep because the goats are extremely good at this task. When the herd becomes widely dispersed during grazing, however, this natural alertness becomes less effective. Young sheep and lambs are especially liable to move some distance from the main herd, becoming lost when the herd can no longer be seen or heard. These lone animals become extremely vulnerable and panic when they become aware that the protection of the herd is no longer present.
Shepherds provide a crucial added element of protection. Most predators of sheep recognize humans as predators themselves. Here in the western United States, I have often seen coyotes intent upon a herd only to slink away the minute a human comes in sight. Often only the presence of a human with a herd is enough to frighten predators away.
When predators were persistent, the ANE shepherd was not without implements of protection. An ANE shepherd always had a rod and staff at hand (e.g. Psalm 23:4), a sling with which to hunt and scare small predators, and a pouch for food and other small items (1 Samuel 17:12). The shepherd’s staff was an aid in traversing rocky terrain, while the rod was primarily used as a defense against threats.
Sheep and goats are both surprisingly expressive of affection and trust. They will readily recognize a trusted caretaker as opposed to a stranger. In my experience it is common to see a herd clustered about their herder seeking food and physical touch only to back away and become wary if another, unknown individual approaches. Jesus refers to this herd dynamic when he speaks of sheep knowing, recognizing, and following their shepherd’s voice (John 10:3-5).
Jesus notes the trustful affection of the sheep toward their shepherd in the context of sheep in a fold. Often multiple ANE shepherds would gather their herds into a single enclosure at night for the sake of security and protection against threats. In the fold, the herds would mingle (Num 32:16; Judg 5:16; Jer 33:12-13; Ezekial 20:37). In the morning, each shepherd would call or signal to his sheep. The sheep recognizing their herder’s voice would follow and leave the fold, while refusing to follow any other (John 10:4-5).
This relationship of trust is often not seen in the modern, large-scale western European tradition of herding. In that tradition, sheep are driven where the shepherd wants them to go, often with use of herd dogs. Driving the herd, by use of dogs or otherwise, was foreign to the ANE shepherd. Herds were always led. Dogs were not typically used because they were considered unclean, for one reason. Also, herding behavior in dogs is a relatively recent development in the history of pastoralism; the only use of dogs known to the ANE was for guarding, not herding, the flocks. Only two Scripture references speak of dogs used in conjunction with the care of flocks, Job 30:1 and Isaiah 56:10. Given what is known about herding in the ANE, the function of the dogs mentioned in Job is probably to guard, not herd. In any event, no clear description is given of their actual function in the herd. In the Isaiah passage, dogs are not spoken of as herders but as inefficient guards.
Shepherds are also responsible for guarding against illness and treating and assisting in the convalescence of sick animals (needless to say, veterinarians were not available to the ANE shepherd). One common cause of ailments was inappropriate or harmful food, or distress. Sheep and goats are ruminants; they process their food through a long cycle of digestion and mastication. Any distress to the digestive system can result in lassitude, weakness, increased chance of infection, and sometimes sudden death.
Distress to the ruminant digestive system can come in the form of poisonous plants, lack of dry fiber combined with easy access to wet grass, and even severe stress brought on by fear or danger. For this reason, a number of Scriptures emphasize the peace and tranquility God’s flock can find in him (e.g. Isa 11:6-9, 65:25; Ps 23 ). This can also be seen in ANE documents describing one of the kingly shepherds’ most important functions as providing justice, peace, and well being for the people.
How (Not) to Shepherd
Proverbs, ever practical and pragmatic, points out that taking good care of one’s flock makes good economic sense:
“Pay careful attention to the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever, nor does a crown last from generation to generation. When the hay is removed and new grass appears and the grass from these hills is gathered in, the lambs will be for your clothing and the goats will be for the price of a field. And there will be enough goat’s milk for your food, for the food of your household, and for the sustenance of your servant girls (Prov 27:23-27 NET-Bible).”
Good husbandry paid substantial dividends and the income both in goods and money derived
from careful herd maintenance was evidently remarkably persistent in spite of the normal fluctuation of other economic conditions.
Nevertheless, despite the obvious benefits that inured to good shepherds, many shepherds chose to shirk their duties. The bad or lazy shepherd became in the prophetic literature a metaphor for selfish, lazy or predatory leaders of God’s people. Some of the prophets use blistering rhetoric when describing leaders who have proved unworthy of their sacred trust, denouncing them with the most condemnatory of language.
Zechariah distinguishes between the kind of shepherd God wants for his people as opposed to what they currently had, a “worthless shepherd” who did not care about lost, scattered or injured sheep, did not feed those that were healthy but instead preyed on them (Zech 11:16-17). Zechariah here pictures a shepherd caught up with self-importance and the perks of his job. The bad shepherd pictured has forgotten, or has chosen to ignore, that it is not his flock but God’s, and that God will demand an accounting.
Ezekiel (chapter 34) rails against these same kinds of bad shepherds, unleashing “a searing attack” on their greed and selfishness, especially for having “exploited the people as if the flock belonged to them, the shepherds.” These shepherds feed themselves, and benefit from the meat, wool, and other products of the flock, but do not feed the sheep (34:2-3). Nor do they engage in the most basic of husbandry practices. They do not treat the ill, bring back strays, or protect the herd from predation (34:4-5). The herd is scattered, having lost its cohesion, a clear sign that the shepherd is not fulfilling his most basic duty to lead and provide a locus of herd coherence (34:10).
It also interesting to note that in Ezekiel 34 there is a metaphor shift. First the leaders of God’s people are called shepherds, but later they are called fat and strong sheep. Some are entrusted with the leadership of God’s flock. Those leaders are called and gifted for leadership, but are still sheep. Shepherds, in this sense, have no cause for pride or an understanding that they have a higher station than those they lead.
Both Zechariah and Ezekiel condemn bad shepherds as ones who, among other things, do not seek out the lost, do not feed the healthy and allow the herd to scatter. We find a similar situation in many churches today where one finds either an overemphasis on evangelism or an overemphasis on inward-directed ministries. The prophet literature decries either extreme. A good shepherd is one who both seeks the lost and, also, through proper care and provision, protects the healthy from harm, feeds them, and ensures they do not wander in want of care or nurture. Nowhere in the prophetic literature is there any suggestion that the healthy sheep of God’s flock should be left to care, feed, or otherwise shepherd themselves.
Shepherd Metaphors in the New Testament
Despite the poor reputation ANE shepherds had often earned themselves, the metaphor proved persistent in the New Testament period. If one accepts that God inspires Scripture, then the choice of that metaphor over other possible choices lends the shepherd motif added authority. If Scripture is inspired, then the metaphor is chosen not just through human literary artistry but also through God, who guides the human author to that metaphor. Viewed holistically, God could have chosen any society or culture on earth through which to make himself known in history. Out of all the times, epochs, and cultures at his disposal and choosing, he manifested himself through an agrarian society made up in large part by shepherds. A careful student of Scripture ought to recognize that God’s choices in this regard carry meaning.
According to Mark, Jesus is compassionate toward the crowds because they are like sheep without a shepherd (Mk 6:34). Later Mark relates that Jesus applies the shepherd metaphor to himself when he says the people’s shepherd will be struck down causing them to be scattered (Mk 14:27). Throughout his gospel, Mark makes use of the wilderness theme as a means of highlighting the role of Jesus as a shepherd to God’s people.
Luke’s most memorable use of shepherds is probably his recounting of the shepherds to whom the angels announce Jesus’ birth. Luke also takes great care to emphasize the linkage between Jesus and David, perhaps to associate Jesus with the dual themes of kingship and shepherding. In the birth story Luke emphasizes that it occurred in Bethlehem, the city from which Micah prophesized the messiah would come (Micah 5:1-5), a town associated with David, and the town from which shepherds were hired to herd flocks in anticipation of the Passover slaughter.
Luke relates Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep (15:3-4), and then later says he himself came to seek and save the lost (19:10). Luke (and Jesus) is clearly in the second instance referring back to the first. Jesus is the shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep.
Matthew calls Jesus the shepherd of Israel (Mt 2:6), a clear reference to 2 Samuel 5:2. Like Mark, Matthew says Jesus has compassion on the people because they are like sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:36). Like a shepherd, we see Jesus in Matthew’s gospel consistently feeding the people, protecting the people, and healing the people.
John’s gospel is replete with shepherd imagery, a few examples of which will suffice. He links Jesus with Moses (ch. 6), who was also a shepherd of God’s people. In the good shepherd discourse of chapter 10, Jesus proclaims himself the model, the ideal, of all shepherds. In the final chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus directs Peter to follow his master’s example and become a shepherd of God’s people. Indeed, repeating himself three times for emphasis, Jesus commands Peter to feed/shepherd Jesus’ sheep (Jn 21:15-17).
Luke, in the book of Acts, demonstrates that the shepherd metaphor was understood and valued by the apostles. Paul affirms and continues the use of the shepherd metaphor when speaking to the Ephesian elders. He charges them to be shepherds of the flock of God (Acts 20:28-30). He warns the Ephesian elders that “wolves” will attempt to attack the flock. They are to guard the flock by virtue of the teaching they have received from Paul, and are urged to assist the weak among them.
In Ephesians, Paul explicitly links shepherding with teaching, and makes it an essential to the equipping and building up of God’s people (Eph 4:11). Most modern translations render verse 11 as or similar to, “It was he (Christ) who gave some to as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,” (Eph 4:11 NET-Bible). The word which most translators translate as “pastors” is actually the word poimen, which literally means “shepherds.” This causes confusion because in the modern church we identify the leader of a church by the official title of “Pastor,” whereas Paul is referring not to an office of the church but to a spiritual gift of service (one who shepherds).
The phrase is also problematic from a linguistic perspective. Paul links “pastors (shepherds) and teachers.” Scholars have for centuries debated whether the phrase poimen kai didaskalos ought to be translated as “pastors and teachers” to denote two different gifted groups of people, or in a way which would show Paul to be speaking of one group of “teaching pastors.” Some find any distinction between those who teach and those who shepherd without merit of any kind. They argue that the construction of the verse in Greek clearly points to poimen kai didaskalos being treated as a single group, and cannot reasonably mean anything else. Others disagree. Whichever side of the debate one prefers, this much is clear, the two are being treated by Paul as acting more or less in concert. One scholar suggests the best way to view the verse is as asserting that all pastors (shepherds) are to be teachers, though not all teachers will be pastors (shepherds).
In the midst of this discussion, the point should not be lost that Paul is not speaking here of church offices, but of people in the operation of their spiritual gifting. As we observed earlier, Paul had already urged all (not just those who were gifted as shepherds or shepherd-teachers) of the Ephesian elders to shepherd God’s people (Acts 20:28-30). This reading of the Ephesians text is further buttressed by Peter’s exhortation that elders (official leaders of the church) ought to shepherd the flock of God given to their charge (1 Peter 5:1b-2).
Towards the end of Peter’s first epistle, he exhorts the elders of the churches being established throughout the Gentile (outside of Palestine) world:
“So as your fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings and as one who shares in the glory that will be revealed, I urge the elders among you: Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly. And do not lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock. Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away (1 Peter 5:1-4 NET-Bible).”
Probably very few of these elders had ever done the literal work of a shepherd, but Peter applies the metaphor to their leadership anyway. Peter appeals to them as a “fellow elder” when he urges them to shepherd God’s flock, thus suggesting he too considers himself a shepherd. Peter’s metaphorical use of “shepherd” (poimaino) conveys to the elders that shepherding includes leading or governing, caring, protecting, feeding, and nurturing, and directing or administrating. Those they are to shepherd are called “God’s flock.” The elders are stewards of a sacred truth; the flock is not their own, but is God’s.
Peter is undoubtedly passing along the charge, given him by Jesus, wherein he was commanded to feed and shepherd Jesus’ people (Jn 21:15-17). Peter’s command for the elders to “shepherd,” carries a special emphasis in the original Greek. Its grammatical construction conveys the meaning that this command is not given for a specified period of time but instead “establishes a pattern of behavior to be maintained until the end of the age.”
Peter describes a shepherd’s oversight as not “lording it over” the flock of God. This is undoubtedly a reference to Jesus’ admonition that “those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. But it is not this way among you. Instead, “whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all,” (Mk 10:42-44 NET-Bible).
Unbelievers tend to construe and exercise authority and leadership in ways contrary to God’s intent for the leadership of his people. Peter here suggests that the churches’ leaders are “to be servants, not bosses; ministers, not executives.” Peter’s reaffirmation of the distinction Jesus drew between secular leaders and the leaders of God’s flock and his warning to not make secular leadership an exemplar to follow should cause us to reconsider the thoughtless ease with which we modern Christians import business leadership models to our churches.
As shepherds of God’s flock, the elders are to be examples to those under their care and oversight, as Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, was an example to them. Of course the exemplars of how to shepherd well and how to shepherd poorly extended beyond Christ and back throughout the entirety of Scripture. The behavior Peter warns against here, i.e. the use of the flock for personal gain and the abuse of authority, are echoes of the Prophets’ indictment of the bad shepherds in their day.
Although this whirlwind tour through the Old Testament and New Testament uses of the shepherd metaphor has been necessarily brief, it should nonetheless demonstrate the pervasive and persistent nature of the shepherd metaphor within the Bible. Many models or structures of leadership change from one era of God’s working through and in his people to the next. Kings may come and go. Judges and Prophets rise and then pass from the scene. The priestly class has been fulfilled in Christ and replaced by the priesthood of all believers. One thing remains constant. God names his people as his flock and commands those who lead his people to do so as shepherds. This is why the shepherd metaphor is the unifying metaphor for all Biblical leadership.
Shepherds, Ecclesiology & Leadership
The shepherd metaphor, as the unifying metaphor for all ministry leadership, is thoroughly supported by the Biblical text. It is consonant with sound ecclesiology, and is not surprisingly consistent with what is currently being propounded in Leadership theory.
Adopting the shepherd metaphor as the unifying or primary metaphor for all ministry leadership does not necessitate a change in the structure of the institutional church. It may very well necessitate substantial changes for those holding official positions in the church in regard to how they exercise their ministries. The metaphor properly applied reorients the minister or church official to a Biblical perspective and assists the minister in bringing his or her ministry into alignment with Biblical priorities.
As we noted earlier, our modern tendency is to hire or appoint a single individual as the chief director of ministries and operations of a church and call that person a pastor. This practice was not given in Scripture but instead evolved in the church over its history (which is not to say that practice runs athwart Scripture, only that it is not explicitly taught there). The common use of the Latin term Pastor as a title for a church official was substantially formalized in the Geneva Bible as a result of Calvin drawing a hard distinction between Pastors and Teachers in his commentary on Ephesians. Prior to that time, Biblical translations typically used the term Shepherd instead of Pastor.
The Bible itself allows for some fluidity of interpreting the basic leadership structure of a church. Indeed, it is reasonable to conclude from the absence of any mention of formalized leadership offices in the earlier of Paul’s letters that formal structure was slow to develop in the early Gentile churches. Within the early house churches formed under Paul’s ministry, leadership arose primarily from spiritual gifting as opposed to a formalized office. Indeed, in the earliest stages of the church, leadership was probably formed ad hoc to meet needs as they arose.
That is not to say that formalized offices were not found in some churches during the earliest church period. Certainly deacons are appointed very early on in Jerusalem (Acts 6) and Paul speaks to Elders of the Ephesian church in Acts 20. It is likely that the early Jewish Christians borrowed models of leadership from the synagogue. The Gentile churches, as they began to move from homes to larger meeting places, borrowed from civil forms of leadership.
Much of the origins of early church structure is speculative. Leadership structures varied to some degree from one church to another. It is without question, however, that by the time of the Pastoral Epistles some formalized positions of leadership were common to most churches, namely those called Elders, Deacons, and Overseers. Generally speaking, every Christian church from the end of the early church period to the modern day utilizes some form of Elders (presbuteroi or episkopoi) exercising oversight, Deacons (diakonoi) providing works of service, and probably also Teachers (didaskalia), who may or may not have also been overseers, explicating the Scriptures and transmitting the core of the Christian faith and history. By the time Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles, it seems likely that teaching was considered a gifting and a skill, but not a distinct office.
Most modern churches organize their institutional structure around these Biblically designated offices of leadership, although those fulfilling these roles and functions may not be specifically called by the Biblical titles of Elder or Deacon. We generally have Pastors who assume the function of Elders and Teachers, and most churches have some board or advisory group that could be equated with Deacons.
The shepherd metaphor precedes all of these church offices. Long before there was an early church (except in its most nascent stage among Jesus and the disciples), Jesus commanded Peter to be shepherd to the flock of God. When the church was just beginning, Paul commanded all the Elders of the Ephesian churches to shepherd God’s flock. Peter instructs the elders of the Gentile churches to shepherd God’s people at all times. The metaphor does not replace or negate any of the Biblical offices of church leadership, but it does inform them.
Leadership theory is finally beginning to recognize what the Bible has always identified as the most productive form of leadership in tumultuous and dangerous times, times where missteps can quickly render an organization obsolete and find its customers seeking greener pastures. Organizations are best viewed as organic entities, the success of which is largely determined by how well the individual parts interact. The most consistently successful forms of leadership, it is now being found, are those which focus on healthy relational interactions between leaders and followers instead of imposing rigid command and control hierarchies.
Long before modern leadership theorists discovered this way of thinking, Paul knew the power of treating churches as the organic entities they are. Consider for a moment three of Paul’s preferred metaphors for the church, its nature, and its operation – all three of which are organic and explicitly relational in nature. Paul calls the church a body, a family, and a building.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul describes the church as a body, one that depends on its parts working in health and harmony for success. Paul’s grammatical construction suggests that the very nature of the church is “body” giving corporeal presence to the risen Christ. In Paul’s estimation, all parts of the body of Christ are necessary and important, as necessary and important as every member of a human body is to its health and function.
This teaching (even if imperfectly practiced) of the inherent equality of all the church’s members was virtually unparalleled in the ancient Greco-Roman world. When parts of the body are not used, or are diseased, damaged, or left unused, the vigour of the body is diminished and the work of Christ in the world is robbed of its full impact. Part of a leader’s oversight and direction of the body, therefore, is caring for the body’s needs and ensuring its health. Such work is clearly part of the work of a shepherd.
Often even with the best of care, parts of the body are in tension with one another, lending comparison with the dynamics found in a family, another of Paul’s favourite metaphors. Paul refers to the church as the “family of faith” (Gal 6:10), and “God’s household”, (Eph 2:19). Believers enter this family by being adopted as God’s children (Gal 4:4-5), and therein become co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:16-17). Paul so frequently likens the church to a family that one author asserts, “More than any of the other images utilized by Paul, it reveals the essence of his thinking about community.”
The metaphor of church as family is not in tension but in harmony with the metaphor of church as flock. Just as a household leader must work to maintain family unity and resolve tensions, a shepherd must understand herd dynamics and work to resolve inevitable conflicts. In both cases, the dynamic undergirding the metaphor is fluid and organic rather than static and fixed within defined, organizational parameters.
While Paul’s use of a building as a metaphor for the church may seem at first glance to suggest something fixed and unchangeable, the metaphor is actually one which further stresses the relational nature of the church. The household of God in Ephesians 2:19 becomes in 2:20 a building founded upon the apostles and prophets with Jesus being the chief cornerstone. The building is strong and inhabitable because the people of God have been joined together, each part fitting together in Christ (2:21-22). This household, this building, having been joined together becomes a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (2:22). The “dwelling place” Paul describes carries the connotation of being firmly rooted; although the people once looked to a building made of stone as the dwelling place of God, now he dwells and is settled in his people.
I suspect there is an arc here in Paul’s rhetorical flourish that can be drawn into a full circle. Once God dwelt in a tabernacle among his people while forming them into a kingdom in the midst of a wilderness. Later he dwelt in a temple, a building of stone. Now he dwells in his people, and once again they are sent forth into the wilderness of the world to take part in establishing the Kingdom of God through the power of his son, Jesus. There in the wilderness we are drawn inexorably to the metaphor of God’s flock, being shepherded by him and by those he raises up to assist him in the task.
Despite the organic nature of the church, too many pastors seek to draw wisdom and insight from business organizational theory. This is regrettable because most business theory still follows a traditional bureaucratic framework that imposes a hierarchal, top-down pyramid of control. The rigidity of the model is antithetical to the organic nature of the church.
Although modern business and leadership theorists are beginning to move toward more relational models of leadership, even these models are too beholden to a business perspective. As Donelson trenchantly observes, “With the purpose of perpetuating the institution, a maxim of the task-oriented CEO-model could be: getting things done through people.” Contrast this purpose from God’s design for his flock, where, Donelson continues, “the Church’s function flows from a different source with a purpose of getting things done in people and through relationships and personal transformation.”
The purpose of the church ought to be to assist people in the transformation of their lives in the image of Christ. The church is about soul-care. And for that we need shepherds, not CEOs.
Bringing Life Into A Dead Metaphor
CEOs, Entrepreneurs, Coaches, and Leaders, are all decent attempts toward envisioning ministry leadership. Nevertheless, they are fatally flawed. CEOs and Entrepreneurs are fundamentally engaged in utilizing people to accomplish something. The people themselves are valued primarily for their utility in achieving institutional goals. From a Christian perspective it matters not that in the church their utility might be realized in achieving noble ends, such as evangelism. The point is that the people are being treated primarily as a means, and are not being valued as an end in themselves, people who are God’s own.
Granted, we all need and benefit from a good coach who comes along side us and inspires us to give our all and helps us find out that we are capable of reaching goals we had hitherto thought beyond our grasp. Can we also not see that the Christian life is not about winning the game of life or choosing the best team members to help us achieve our organizational goals? Life in Christ is about glorifying God in the totality of our beings and persevering in walking the path Christ has set before us.
No one walks those paths alone. We, all of God’s people, walk together and help each other along the way. We also need guides, shepherds who, although they may be fellow sheep themselves, have the experience, training, and insight to guide us through the wilderness of life. These men and women are called and gifted by God to lead us, while also caring for us. They know and anticipate the needs of those entrusted by God to their care, and with clear-eyed vision seek out safe passages through dangerous territory.
They search for us when we are lost and when we are found restore us to health. They protect us from various dangers, those which we inflict upon ourselves as well as the dangers which come from others. They feed us and nurture us on God’s word. Healthy flocks are almost by definition growing flocks for healthy sheep reproduce rapidly and regularly. The fast growth of the flock can bring tensions and problems, but the skilled shepherd anticipates this and plans accordingly.
Name a modern metaphor for ministry and upon a moment’s reflection it is proven insufficient. The ministry metaphors of CEO, entrepreneur, coach, and others evoke some aspects, but not all, of the shepherd metaphor, while simultaneously being hobbled by the negative aspects of secular business practices that cannot be squared with the Biblical text. The metaphor of shepherd is not so encumbered. The shepherd metaphor encompasses every desirable quality of competing metaphors. Ironically, just when modern pastors and ministry leaders are driving relentlessly toward the use of business and sports metaphors for ministry, current leadership theory suggests that CEOs, entrepreneurs and the like adopt a transformational/organic/relational mode of exercising leadership. This emerging model is, in effect, an attempt to become more like shepherds.
The duties of the Biblical shepherd can be summarized as leading, feeding, healing, nurturing, protecting, sheltering, and managing herd dynamics and growth. The modern minister who emulates the Biblical shepherd invests his or her time in these same tasks, albeit on an allegorical level. One who shepherds God’s flock sees that they are provided with regular sustenance by which they grow in Christ. This sustenance may be given through the proclamation and explication of God’s word and through the administration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Table.
When appropriate, the shepherd leads the flock to new pastures and new shelters. In the ANE, moving a herd from one place to another entailed many risks. The land was often dangerous and a moving herd is prone to wandering, bringing increased risk from predation or accident. Similarly, the modern flock of God needs to be about its mission of living out the Great Commission. A wise shepherd carefully plots out the paths his people will take in accomplishing God’s purposes. Gifted by God and guided by Scripture and God’s Spirit, the shepherd leads God’s people according to God’s purposes.
However noble a ministry’s organizational goals for expansion may be, a wise shepherd recognizes first and foremost that the people he or she leads is are not a means to an end. They are the flock of God, and are precious to him. They are God’s and have been given into the shepherd’s care as a sacred trust. Their health and welfare ought to be paramount. Indeed the people are the focus of shepherding; leadership is but one function of their care.
A good shepherd will protect the flock by guiding them through the pitfalls of our postmodern, hedonistic culture. He or she will equip God’s people to read the Scriptures and therein discern God’s will and purpose for their lives. Care must be taken that God’s people are equipped with a sound understanding of God’s word and a comprehensive Christian worldview with which to navigate life. He will alert them to those who would prey on God’s people through manipulation or by the dissemination of false doctrine. There are many who would infiltrate the community of faith, desiring to prey upon the gracious, kind, and trusting people who comprise the church. The shepherd of the church ought to be vigilant against such as these.
A good shepherd shelters the flock by providing a sacred space in which to worship. To be sure, worship is also expressed through daily life, but just as a flock of sheep benefits from regularly being gathered together in a place of peace and safety, the flock of God similarly benefits from gathering together in a place strategically designed to enhance worship. Shelter is also found intangibly through the formation of a community of believers who can share each other’s needs in prayer, provide comfort to the hurting, and engage in acts of service. The love that permeates a community of believers can act as a fire that warms, but also holds back the dark nights of the soul.
Shepherds provide healing for their flocks. Sheep can become injured by predators, through accidents, and by other sheep within the herd. Whatever the cause of the wound, an effective shepherd is ready and equipped to address the need. Wounds must be bound-up, sicknesses treated, and preventative care must be exercised diligently to guard against an epidemic that might decimate the herd.
There will always be wounded among the flock of God. Effective shepherding recognizes these needs and seeks to meet them. Every community of believers has members whose lives are touched by loss, relational pathologies, addiction, and physical illness. Ministries of visitation, reconciliation, recovery and step-ministries (Biblically informed 12-step types of programs), and assistance with medical bills are all valid and appropriate expressions of the modern shepherd’s work.
A healthy herd is by nature a growing herd. Sheep that are content and sound of body will reproduce with regularity. Young must be cared for. Sometimes, for one reason or another, a caretaker must be found for a lamb who has been orphaned or whose mother cannot provide for it. In these instances the young may be partnered with an older, more experienced animal that will raise it to maturity.
Similarly, a healthy community of believers will be a growing community where the members reproduce themselves, leading their family and friends to a relationship with Christ. The new believers need special care to ensure they too are healthy and growing in Christian faithfulness and maturity. Young believers may be partnered with more mature believers who can mentor them, and guide them in their spiritual formation.
A growing flock, be it literal or metaphorical, must be carefully managed. A good shepherd watches, identifies, and encourages “lead sheep,” those sheep that the others naturally follow. Where the herd is too large for a single shepherd, under-shepherds should be trained in one of more of the shepherd’s duties, and employed in the care of the flock. By reproducing him or herself, the shepherd refines his or her craft, ensures that all the needs of the flock are being met, and thus guarantees the health and longevity of those entrusted to the shepherd’s care.
By accomplishing his or her job well, the shepherd proves himself or herself a skilled and competent leader. Because those that follow trust the shepherd, he or she need not drive the people through the raw exercise of ecclesial authority, nor by the more subtle arts of manipulation, but instead will simply lead the people to places appropriate and beneficial to God’s purposes and the people’s health. The people’s trust is based upon their shared history with the shepherd, a history that has demonstrated the shepherd’s character, competence, and credibility.
Shepherding is distinctively organic, transformational work. It recognizes that those who are being led are living creatures, each with his or her own desires, needs, weaknesses, and strengths. The most successful and productive of churches are those wherein the shepherd’s feeding, care, and nurture makes it possible for the people to individually and corporately reach their highest level of health and usefulness in service to Christ.
Given that shepherding as the unifying metaphor for ministry leadership is supported by Scripture and is consistent with current leadership theory and its findings regarding the efficacy of transformational, organic leadership, why is it so common to see the shepherd metaphor cast aside in modern ministry circles? I can think of two main reasons for rejecting the shepherd metaphor for ministry leadership today. One is pragmatic, the other psychological. In the first instance, there are those who wonder whether the rural, agrarian shepherd metaphor is worth using in our very modern society. They rightly observe that knowledge of shepherds and their work is almost completely foreign to most ministry leaders. Because so little is known about shepherds, the metaphor may have lost its usefulness.
It is true that the shepherd metaphor may be, or soon will be, a dead metaphor. A dead metaphor is one where the image evoked by the metaphor is so far removed from the experience of the user that it has lost its power to evoke a useful response. Cognitively, it is so foreign that it does not easily lend itself as a meaningful symbol or organizing image. That may well be true of the shepherd metaphor.
For the sake of argument, let us grant that “shepherd” may be a dead metaphor for ministry leadership. Should we then abandon it? If one takes a high view of Scripture the only possible answer is “No.” We must deal with the metaphor given. It was God, after all, who gave it to us. Ministry leaders regularly invest significant time and effort educating themselves regarding the original meaning and intent of Scripture in order to better apply it within modern contexts. Applying the shepherd metaphor within modern ministry will prove worth the effort.
Lynn Anderson, a skilled, veteran pastor and author, was asked once by a parishioner why he didn’t find a better metaphor for ministry leadership since shepherds, his preferred metaphor, were entirely absent from most people’s experience. “I can’t find any figure equivalent to the shepherd idea in our modern, urban world,” Lynn explained, “Besides, if I drop the shepherd and flock idea, I would have to tear about five hundred pages out of my Bible, plus leave the modern church with a distorted—if not neutered—view of spiritual leadership.”
If we can’t get rid of the metaphor in favor of another, then we must breathe new life into it, study it, reflect on it, teach it and live it, so that it becomes meaningful and useful again. The obstacles to doing so are far from insurmountable.
The first step to breathing new life into the shepherd metaphor is to identify and experience it at its literal level. Ministry leaders need to learn what a Biblical shepherd was like, the tasks shepherding entailed, the manner and means by which a good shepherd accomplished his work, and (importantly) the kinds of deficiencies for which God excoriated the bad shepherds of his flock.
The second step is to reflect on the literal level of the metaphor, investing one’s imagination in the world the metaphor evokes. C. S. Lewis, who was a highly skilled interpreter and critic of literature long before he was an acclaimed author, taught that only by allowing ourselves to be caught-up and overtaken by the power of the poetic image, holding in abeyance for the moment our interpretative critique, do we fully apprehend the fullness the poetic image is meant to awaken in us.
When we understand the shepherd metaphor at a literal level, and then turn to the Scriptural text and invest our imagination in the ancient pastoral world of the Bible, we cannot help but be astonished at the degree to which the shepherd metaphor pervades the text. The pastoral theme in the Bible begins in Genesis with Abel and winds its way through the Bible to the book of John’s Revelation.
The third step is to do what we always do when studying a Biblical text. We interpret it, using sound hermeneutics to bridge the gap between the ancient text and our modern world. We ask ourselves how the metaphor God has given us can be applied within our own ministry contexts.
For example, the pastor of the large church might consider how the role of under-shepherds in the Bible informs how he hires and administrates staff to assist him in his duties. A departmental coordinator may wish to consider whether the goals she sets for herself include making sure those who work under her direction are not overextended, and that she is ensuring that they are being equipped for their ministry efforts and that due diligence is given to their spiritual health so that they may grow in Christ and thus be examples to those whom they serve in turn.
The visionary pastor might want to reflect on whether or not he is putting as much effort into feeding and nurturing the healthy as he is into developing plans for expansion and event-driven evangelistic enterprises. The scholarly pastor, skilled in the history and language of the church and its sacred texts should also turn his eyes to the world outside his study, and ensure those wandering lost in the wilds are brought home in Christ. Whatever one’s ministry, a shepherd recognizes that future growth and security depends on current herd health. A good shepherd always shepherds his or her flock.
Some pastors and ministry leaders dismiss the shepherd metaphor because they do not understand its prominent place in the Biblical text. For others, the use of the metaphor is psychologically or emotionally uncomfortable. And, it must be admitted that the shepherd metaphor is decidedly unattractive when compared to other metaphors of leadership.
To invoke the metaphor of CEO is to hear the hum of industry, see the gleam of hardwoods and sunlight on vistas glimpsed from high-rise corner offices, to feel the invisible surging buzz of technology working its marvels, and to hear the accolades of colleagues when the company exceeds its quarterly projections. To envision the entrepreneur is to mine a market niche unexplored before now, beating the competition to market, and feeling that delicious thrill of putting one’s assets and reputation on the line to finance an incredible risk with no promise of return. Ah, but to win the wager is to win big. The coach in ministry can dream of a veritable stadium-full of heavenly witnesses thundering their approval as the ministry team makes the winning touchdown, while angelic commentators marvel at the coach’s winning strategy.
The imagery conjured by the shepherd metaphor has none of the allure of these more lofty metaphors. The imagery it evokes is prosaic at best, repugnant at worst. As Lynn Anderson comments in the title of his book, one can always tell who the shepherds are; “they smell like sheep.”
I know something about shepherding. Many are the times I have come in from the fields reeking of sweat, spattered with mud, boots caked with manure. Sometimes overlaying the stench of the manure is the coppery smell of blood from a wound that needed tending, or from having had to reach into a lambing sheep or kidding goat to extract a breach birth before both mother and young are lost in childbirth. I know what it is to walk the fields looking for the lost one that has been ill lately and didn’t make it back to the fold that evening. I have lost count of the times of rising before dawn, staying up late, or making midnight visits to the barn to make sure an ailing but treasured creature receives the care it needs to pull through its sickness.
All these tasks are actually the highlights of a shepherd’s existence. Most of a shepherd’s world consists of putting out the morning feed and water, then putting out the evening food and water, checking eyes, checking hooves, counting noses, day-in and day-out, day after day after day. Few things I have ever done in life entailed so much drudgery; and few things I have ever done in life brought such a feeling of satisfaction and of being intimately involved in God’s creation.
So I salute and applaud the shepherds of God’s church, the pastors, teachers, and workers who care diligently for the people of God. They are people after God’s own heart, treasuring the people God gave them yesterday as much as they love and care for the people God may send them tomorrow. They are few, but they are faithful, and they are helping to keep the church alive and truly relevant in our lives.
When I was an undergraduate student I was privileged to study under a Christian theologian named Frederick Parrella. He was a gifted, charming teacher, a bon vivant full of whimsical humor, and a scholar with the heart of a shepherd. He was paid to be our teacher, and he took great care to instruct us in the fundamentals of his field. Even so, what I appreciated more than his care in teaching the theology was the care he demonstrated for our growth and maturation in Christ, something he was not paid to do.
In his mind, theology is always better done from within the faith than from without, and the best theology of all is that done by living it out. Long before any “Emergent” authors were talking about “missional” or “incarnational” teaching, Dr. Parrella was doing “theology with skin on.” He demonstrated a shepherd’s understanding of ministry when, in addition to teaching, he inquired as to the courses we were charting for our lives. He would invite us to his well-appointed office and offer us a cup of tea. There he listened to our struggles and was always willing to lend a helping hand as we traversed the difficulties of college life.
Although he was hired to teach, he was clearly called to shepherd, and that is what he did. He had a profound influence on my life, as true shepherds always do in the lives of those their ministries touch. His ministry of teaching awoke in me a passion for studying and learning from Scripture, and for helping others to do the same. His shepherding impressed on me that the best of Christian teaching concerns itself with soul-care more than the mere transmission of knowledge. Would that there were more like him in the church today.
The shepherd imagery in Zechariah 9-14
The shepherd image emphasises the shepherd’s role as leader, provider and protector. In Zechariah 1-8 one finds references to specific leaders, for example, king Darius, the high priest Joshua and the governor Zerubbabel. Zechariah 9-14 has no reference to a specific leader. On the contrary, one finds 14 occurrences of the shepherd image as a reference to God or earthly leaders (civil and religious).
The question posed by this article is: Which different perspectives are portrayed by this image? The use of the shepherd image in Zechariah 9-14 cannot be restricted to one perspective or meaning like in some Biblical passages (cf. Ps 23). The following perspectives are discussed: God as the good shepherd (Zech 9:16; 10:3b, 8); the prophet as shepherd (11:4- 14); the three bad shepherds (11:8); the worthless shepherd, who deserts his flock (11:15-17); God’s shepherd, his associate (13:7-9) and even a viewpoint that God is indirectly portrayed as an “uncaring shepherd” (cf. 11:4-17).
In Zechariah 1-8 one finds references to specific leaders like king Darius, the high priest Joshua and the governor Zerubbabel. However, Zechariah 9-14 has no reference to a specific leader. On the contrary, one finds 14 occurrences of the shepherd image as a reference to God or earthly leaders (civil and religious). The question posed by this article is: Which different perspectives are portrayed by this image? I shall make a few brief remarks on the use of the shepherd image in the Hebrew Bible and the composition of the shepherd pas-sages in Zechariah 9-14. Thereafter I shall focus on the different passages in Deutero-Zechariah where the stem h[r occurs.
The Shepherd Image In The Hebrew Bible
There are nearly 400 references to sheep and flocks of sheep in the Bible making it the most frequently mentioned animal in the Bible. The prominence of the sheep and shepherd imagery may be attributed to/caused by two factors: (1) the importance of sheep to the nomadic and agricultural life of the people in the Ancient Near East; and (2) the qualities of sheep and shepherds that made them good sources of metaphor for spiritual realities. Shepherds are depicted as providers, guides, protectors and constant companions of sheep. They were also figures of authority and leadership to the animals under their care (Ryken et al. 1998:782).
Biblical writings often picture civil and religious leaders as shepherds and the people as sheep. The first biblical example is Moses who is portrayed as a shepherd who led his people like a flock (Exod 2:15-3:1; Ps 77:20). Moses’ successor Joshua was designated to lead the people “so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd” (Num 27:17). Foreign kings were also called shepherds (cf. Isa 44:28), but biblical writers were reserved in using the image for their own kings.
David is the only Israelite king who is explicitly called a shepherd (2 Sam 5:2). No king after the collapse of the kingdom was referred to as shepherd. The reason may be that several biblical passages criticise the kings for not acting as true shepherds or leaders (cf. 1 Kgs 22:17 = 2 Chr 18:16; Isa 56:11; Jer 10:21; etc.). Prophets, judges and other biblical leaders were also called shepherds (cf. 2 Sam 7:7; Am 7:15; Cornelius 1997:1144; Ryken et al. 1998:783).
Ecclesiastical satire (i.e. an attack on unworthy religious leaders) has been a common subgenre throughout the pastoral tradition. Ezekiel 34 may be labelled as a classical passage in this regard. This is an extended passage of satiric rebuke to selfish and unreliable leaders who did not care for the people of Israel. Prophets like Jeremiah and Zechariah also use religious satire referring to false shepherds (cf. Jer 3:15; 10:21; 23:1-3; 25:34-36; 50:6; Zech 10:2-3; 11:15-17; Smith 1984:264; Ryken et al. 1998:783).
One of the most well known images in the Bible is that of God as the good shepherd of his people. Besides Psalm 23 several other passages refer to God as the guiding, protecting, saving and caring shepherd (Gen 49:24; Ps 74:1; 77:20; 78:52; 79:13; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3; Isa 40:11; Jer 23:10; 31:10; 50:19; Ezek 34:22; Mi 2:12 -13). The tradition of God as Israel’s shepherd originated in the desert. God is often depicted with animals in his hand that cannot keep up (Gen 33:13; Isa 40:11; Ps 28:9; Smith 1984:264; Jonker 1997:1141; Ryken et al. 1998:784). Beyreuther (1981:565) says the following: “The acknowledgment that Yahweh as the shepherd of Israel grew out of the living religious experience of the people and is thus to be distinguished from the cold courtly style of the ancient East.”
There are at least two prominent Hebrew terms portraying the shepherd image, the stem h[r with its derivatives and the term ÷ax (flock, sheep). The stem h[r occurs 175 times in the Hebrew Bible, 106 times in the classical prophetic books and 8 times in the Psalms. The term ÷ax (flock, sheep) appears 275 times in the Hebrew Bible, 64 times in Genesis, 16 times in the Psalms and 74 times in the classical prophetic books. The term ÷ax frequently signifies the multitude of Israel. With Israel so frequently depicted as God’s flock, it is no wonder that God is frequently known as the “shepherd” or “the one who shepherds the flock” (cf. Gen 48:15; Ps 79:13; 95:7; Isa 40:11; Ezek 34:14-15; Hos 4:16; Mi 7:14; Meyers & Meyers 1993:157).
Regarding the occurrence of shepherd imagery in Zechariah 9-14, the Hebrew stem h[r occurs fourteen times in Zechariah 9-14 and none in Zechariah 1-8. In ten instances the noun h[r is used, four times in the plural form (10:3; 11:3, 5, 8) and six times in the singular form (10:2; 11:15, 16, 17; 13:7 [2x]). The verb h[r occurs four times in Zechariah, once in the Qal imperative (11:4) and three times in the Qal imperfectum (11:7 [2x]; 11:9). The Hebrew word ÷ax (sheep, flock) appears nine times in Zechariah. Most of these references are used together with the root h[r in the same literary context (10:2; 11:4; 11:7 [3x]; 11:11; 11:17; 13:7). There is only one occurrence where the noun is used without h[r. Zechariah 9:16 refers to God who will save them for they are the flock (÷ax) of his people.
In the next section I shall focus more on the shepherd passages in Deutero-Zechariah, but it is necessary to make a few remarks on the origin and composition of these passages.
The Origin And Composition Of The Shepherd Passages In Deutero Zechariah
Most scholars agree that the prophet Zechariah was not responsible for the writing of chapters 9-14; therefore the author is unknown. Modern scholars distinguish between chapters 9-11 and 12-14 and refer to the authors as Deutero-Zechariah and Trito-Zechariah. The number of authors/redactors can even be more. Rudolph (1976:161-164) refers to three separate collections (9:1-11:3; 11:4-13:9; 14:1-21) and Saebo (1969:313) believes there were four separate collections (9-10; 11; 12-13; 14) before the final composition of Zechariah 9-14. The dating of Zechariah 9-14 remains a challenge to researchers. Some scholars reckon it is impossible to date these chapters. Zechariah 9-14 offers no historical headings like Proto-Zechariah and theories range from the eighth century B.C.E. until the second century B.C.E.
Before 1980 the general consensus was that Zechariah 9-14 originated during the Hellenistic times. More and more modern scholars agree that Zechariah 9-14 originated during the time of the Persian Empire with its long history of conflict between the Persians and Greeks – from the time of Darius’ initial campaigns against Thrace and Macedonia in 516 B.C.E. until Alexander’s campaigns beginning in 334 B.C.E. (Petersen 1995:4-5; Sweeney 2000:565).
The question still remains: Who was responsible for the shepherd material? Redditt (1989:638-640) argues that the redactor wrote the shepherd materials (10:1-3a; 11:4- 17; 13:7-9) as well as 12:6-7; 12:10-13:6 which supplement the first account of an attack on Jerusalem (12:1-5, 8-9). This author/redactor and his community lived in Judah/Yehud outside of Jerusalem. His task was to reshape his inherited traditions in such a way as to keep them viable. Redditt’s hypothesis is possible, but we have no real evidence to prove it.
Zechariah 11:17 and 13:7-9
There are at least two shepherd passages that received special attention from scholars during the years. Zechariah 13:7-9 constitutes the last of the shepherd passages and the New English Bible and several scholars argue that these verses would fit nicely at the conclusion of 11:17. The following reasons are given:
(a) Zechariah 13:7-9 and 11:17 are written as poetry while the rest of chapters 12-14 are written in prose;
(b) The pericope seems misplaced. Its imagery and motifs are not integrally related to Zechariah 13;
(c) There are direct similarities in content between 11:17 and 13:7-9 (e.g. the references to “sword” and “strike”; see Mitchell, Smith & Bewer 1912:316-317; Rudolph 1976:213; Ma-son 1977:110; Hanson 1979:368-369; Willi-Plein 1974:59). Those who trans-pose 13:7-9 and attach it to 11:4-17 understand the smitten shepherd in 13:7 to be the worthless shepherd of 11:17.
One must accept the fact that there are certain similarities between Zechariah 11:17 and 13:7-9. We can even agree with Cook (1993:456) that these chapters may have been originated together. But, there is no compelling reason to rearrange the text. The following reasons support this viewpoint:
- Both passages can be typified as poetry, but there is an unevenness of the poetry in these verses. For example 11:17 consists of three bicola and 13:7-9a consists of two tricola (Cook 1993:456).
- The redactor/s shaping the final form of Zechariah 9-14 saw chapter 13:7-9 as the final instalment of a series of short redactional seams that reminded the people of the leadership crisis (Boda 2004:511-512).
- The distinction between the fate of the shepherd in 13:7 and 11:17 sug-gests a different identity (Meyers & Meyers 1993:384).
- Zechariah 13:7-9 fits nicely into its immediate literary context. There are several examples to support this: False prophets will be dealt with (vv 1- as well as false shepherds (vv 7-9); the mentioning of the house of David in 12:1-13:1 indicates that leadership is a key concern for the author/redactor; 13:7-9 foreshadows the remnant theme which will be taken up in 14:2 (Craigie 1985:217; Boda 2004:511-512). One good example is the comparison of the detail content of verse 5 with that of verse 7.
Zechariah 13:5 draws upon the traditions of Amos and Cain. The phrase “I am no prophet, I am a tiller of the soil” is a shortened ver-sion of Amos’s denial to Amaziah that he was a professional prophet (Amos 7:14). Whereas Amos had claimed to be shepherd and a dresser of sycamore trees, the prophet in future would say that he was only a “tiller of the soil” that possessed the land since his youth. It is ironic that the statement in Amos 7:14 is intended to emphasise the credibility of Amos’ prophetic message while the statement in Zechariah 13:5 uses the tradition to focus on the false prophet’s lack of credibility.
The phrase “tiller of the soil/ground” (hmda db) also appears in Genesis 4:2 to de-scribe Cain in contrast to his brother Abel who is described as “a keeper/shepherd of sheep”. The comparison of the false prophets with Cain the “tiller of the soil” who killed his shepherd brother Abel pre-pares the reader for verses 7-9 which calls for the killing of God’s shep-herd (Redditt 1995:135-136; Sweeney 2000:694-695).
- No major ancient textual witness supports the rearrangement of the He-brew text (Clark & Hatton 2002:335). Major textual traditions like the Septuagint, Syriac translation and the Qumran manuscripts support the arrangement of the Masoretic text.
The above-mentioned evidence illustrates that there is a connection be-tween Zechariah 13:7-9 and 11:17 (and the rest of chapters 9-11). The different shepherd references cannot be studied in isolation, but are interrelated.
Zechariah 10:3a is another focus point in the shepherd material. Some scholars and the text-critical apparatus of BHS suggest that this may be a later addition. There are a few differences between verse 3a and the previous verses:
(a) In verses 1-2a the people had sinned by seeking help from unproductive forms of intermediation (teraphim, diviners and dreamers), but in verse 3a God promises judgment on the shepherds;
(b) The object is singular in verse 2b (shepherd) as opposed to the plural object (shepherds and he-goats) in verse 3a;
(c) The earlier simile focused on the plight of the people whereas God promises judgment in verse 3;
(d) Verses 1- 2 offers a retrospective view on the effects of improper intermediation, verse 3a is concerned with the future.
One may argue that verse 3a originated from a different author than verses 1-2. However, it concludes this section by linking past and future and by making known God’s view of both people and leaders (Petersen 1995:73).
Different Perspectives On The Shepherd Image
Deutero-Zechariah may be a single literary unit with a specific focus, but there are different perspectives on the shepherd image. It ranges from God as the individual divine shepherd to a group of three corrupt human shepherds. The following discussion will be ordered thematically.
God as the good shepherd (Zech 9:16; 10:3b, 8)
There are at least three verses in Zechariah 9-14 that refer to God or tiwabx hwhy as the good shepherd (Zech 9:16; 10:3b and 8). The translation of Zechariah 9:16 has an effect on the understanding of the shepherd image. The NRSV of the Bible translates, “On that day the Lord their God will save them for they are the flock (÷ax) of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land.” This NRSV translation emphasises the reason why God will save them (“for they are the flock of his people”). The Masoretic text does not use the particle yk (for), but the particle k (as). According to 9:16 the main reason for God’s saving act is not because they are his flock, but because he wants them to shine on the land like the jewels of a crown.
Zechariah 10:3b illustrates the contrast between the human shepherds mentioned in verse 3a and God as shepherd: “For the LORD of hosts (tiwabx hwhy) cares for his flock (rd), the house of Judah, and will make them like his proud war-horse.” There is an interesting word play in Hebrew between verse 3a and 3b. The same Hebrew word dqp is used in both these sentences. Many English translations and commentators translate the verb dqp in verse 3a as “punish/judge” and “cares for” in verse 3b (cf. CEV; NIV; NRSV; Smith 1984:262). There is a slight difference between 9:16 and 10:3 in the use of different words as subject and object. In Zechariah 9:16 God as subject is typified as µhyhla hwhy (YHWH their God) while Zechariah 10:3 uses the epithet tiwabx hwhy (“Lord of hosts or YHWH of all powers”). The flock is also de-scribed with different Hebrew words, namely the more commonly used term ÷ax (9:16) and the lesser used term rd[ in Zechariah10:3.
The third example is an indirect reference to God as shepherd, because the words “shepherd” or “flock” are not used. Zechariah 10:8 refers to God who will gather the people of Ephraim/Israel: “I will signal (qrv) for them and gather (Åbq) them in, for I have redeemed them, and they shall be as numerous as they were before.” The verb qrv can also be translated as “whistle”. It may describe the sharp clear signal the shepherd used in calling his sheep (cf. Judg 5:16), but is not commonly used in the prophetic books. God had scattered Ephraim by means of the Assyrian Empire. Zechariah 10:8 portrays God as a shepherd whose sheep know him (even in exile) and will answer his call (Redditt 1995:121; Klein 2008:299).
It is interesting to note that all the above verses do not use the Hebrew root h[r, but rather describe what God is doing as shepherd: save (vy) his flock in 9:16; cares (dqp) for his flock in 10:3b; and gather them in (Åbq) and redeemed them (hdp) in 10:8. Four different Hebrew verbs are used to describe the actions of God as shepherd.
Lack of a shepherd (10:2b)
In the previous discussion I focused on the divine shepherd. The first reference to a human shepherd in Deutero-Zechariah occurs in 10:2b. Unfortunately this verse does not mention a specific shepherd, but refers to a total lack of a shepherd: “Therefore the people wander like sheep (÷ax); they suffer for lack of a shepherd.” It was not the case that the people had no leaders at all, but that they were not real leaders of God that could be labelled as shepherds. It is surprising that in 10:2b the author/redactor does not even want to use the term “shepherd”, but in the very next verse the bad leaders are called shepherds.
This may indicate a difference in the use of the singular and plural term. Per-haps the singular noun refers to a true prophet who as in Jeremiah 23:4 would be a legitimate leader and protector of his flock (cf. Meyers & Meyers 1993:194).
The shepherds who do not care for their flock (10:3a)
I have already discussed the second part of Zechariah 10:3 (cf. section D sub-section 1). Verse 3a does not focus on God as shepherd, but says the following: “My anger is hot against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders/he-goats (µydwt[ ).” The Hebrew phrase ypa hrj are intense words describing the burning or hot anger of God against the shepherds that led to their punishment. The divine anger expressed by this idiom, is with only two exceptions directed at Israelites. The shepherds mentioned in Zechariah 10:3a are clearly leaders of some description and scholars offer the following hypotheses:
- The Davidic governor and his officials in the late sixth century (Hanson 1979:329-331).
- Israelite leaders who falsely claim to speak for God (Meyers & Meyers 1993:196).
- Leaders within the community itself (Petersen 1995:73).
- Persian overlords of the province Yehud (Sweeney 2000:669).
- Local leaders of Yehud (O’Brein 2004:245).
The text provides no specific detail about the shepherds, but the use of the words ypa hrj may provide us with a clue. If God’s burning anger is almost always kindled against Israelites, it is unlikely that “shepherds” in this context should be understood as representing foreign leaders (Meyers & Meyers 1993:194).
The use of “shepherds” in Zechariah corresponds with other prophetic passages. In Jeremiah 23 the promise of future faithful shepherds is followed by the promise of a Davidic heir called Branch, a name that features prominently in Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12. Ezekiel also refers to the leaders of the com-munity as “shepherds” and promises the return of the scattered sheep to their land (O’Brein 2004:245). Isaiah places “he-goats” (µydwt[) in parallel with kings (14:9) while Zechariah 10:3a employs µydwt[ as a synonym for shepherd (Merril 2003:238).
Wail of the shepherds (11:3)
In this discussion I focus on the shepherd image or metaphor referring to divine and earthly leaders. The question in Zechariah 11:1-3 is whether these verses refer literally to the different trees (cedar, cypress, oak), the shepherds and lions, or whether these verses must be understood symbolically. Verse 1 may refer to the demographic expansion into the wooded uplands of Lebanon and Gilead. That condition would involve the deforestation of those areas. The idea of cedars being burned (“Open your doors, O Lebanon, so that fire may devour your cedars!”) refers to the destruction of Israel by its enemies (cf. also 9:4). The portrayal of shepherds losing their pasturage fits nicely into this literal understanding (Meyers & Meyers 1993:238-248).
Verses 1-3 may also be understood symbolically. Then the cedars represent the supreme political power/s of the world, often as they are about to fall (cf. Isa 2:6-21; 10:5-34; 14:2-23; Jer 21:11-14; Ezek 31:3-18; etc.) In this con-text the shepherds and lions may refer to the lowest tier of leadership, the bureaucrats whose livelihood is cut off by the fall of imperial power. The Hebrew noun hnav (roar) indicates the cry of an animal, but it is commonly used in a figurative sense to describe the noise of invaders (Isa 5:29; Jer 2:15) or wicked rulers (Ezek 19:7; 22:25) (Meyers & Meyers 1993:246; Sweeney 2000:676; Boda 2004:460).
Most scholars accept the figurative reading of Zechariah 11:1-3, but both readings (literal and figurative) make sense. In the light of the immediate literary context one must accept the fact that “shepherds” in 11:3a refer to leaders. According to Meyers & Meyers (1993:247) the word “shepherd” is frequently used as a metaphor for leaders in prophetic language, but the word “lion” (11:3b) is not the usual term of reference. The word “shepherd” usually occurs as an explicit reference to leaders, but there are at least two instances where rypk (young lion) refers to rulers: Ezekiel 19:5-6 and Nahum 2:12 (Merril 2003:252).
The prophet as shepherd (11:4-14)
Zechariah 11:4-14 constitutes a prophetic sign-act or enacted prophecy akin to cases we find in the Book of Ezekiel. Zechariah 11:4 and 7 clearly state that the prophet functioned as a shepherd. The prophet was commissioned to be a shepherd, because their previous shepherds had no pity on their flock (v 5). Their only interest in the sheep was to enrich themselves. Zechariah 11:4 introduces the Lord’s command to Zechariah to pasture God’s flock, the nation of Judah (“Thus said the Lord my God: Be a shepherd (h[r) of the flock (÷ax) doomed to slaughter.”).
The prophet’s task seems from the beginning to be a dismal one since the flock entrusted to him is described as “doomed to slaughter”. Verse 4 does not clearly state why the flock has been assigned to slaughter although the literary context suggests the reason. The symbolism of the chapter portrays the judgment God intends to send against Judah for the sin against the Lord. The identification of the prophet as shepherd reflects a departure from the significance of the shepherd image in earlier biblical texts. In previous texts the shepherd image was used as metaphor for the king or some primary ruler (Craigie 1985:208-209; Sweeney 2000:678; Klein 2008:322-323).
The two names of the staffs (“Favour” and “Unity”) mentioned in verse 7 are significant. There is some debate over the precise meaning of these two implements, but everyone agrees that the names suggest a positive role for this shepherd. The staff called µ[n (Favour/Grace) which is linked to verse 10, is most likely a reference to God’s use of nations to bring blessing and favour upon Israel. The staff called µylbj (Unity/Union) which is linked to verse 14 is most likely representative of the peaceful redistribution of the land in the restoration phase (Ezek 47:13).
Unfortunately the positive picture of verse 7 is soon spoiled. He got rid of the three bad shepherds (v 8) and announces his intention to resign and de-scribes the impact of this decision on the community as a whole (v 9). The prophet’s verbal notice in verse 9 is followed by two symbolic gestures, the breaking of the first (v 10) and second staff (v 14). The breaking of the staff called “Favour” indicates that his (and God’s) commitment to µym[h-lk (all the people/nations) has ended and the covenant has been annulled. In verse 14 the shepherd proceeds to break the second staff called “Unity”, annulling the family ties between Judah and Israel. The hopes of a united kingdom are shattered (Graigie 1985:209; Boda 2003:282-283).
The three bad shepherds (11:8)
Baldwin (1972:181) describes verse 8 as “the most enigmatic in the whole Old Testament”. Zechariah 11:8 is, at first glance, surprising. The reader expects the shepherd to care for his flock. Instead, the text portrays that the shepherd has been active with other shepherds, but not with sheep (Petersen 1995:940). Zechariah 11:8 refers to the three “bad” shepherds (“In one month I disposed of the three shepherds, for I had become impatient with them, and they also detested me.”) It is uncertain whether the three shepherds of verse 8 are the same as the selfish shepherds mentioned in verse 5, but it is a strong possibility. Scholars have several divergent hypotheses concerning the identity of these three shepherds:
- Saul, David and Solomon (Otzen 1964:156).
- Zechariah, Shallum and Menahem (Maurer 1840; Hitzig 1881).
- The final three kings in Judah’s history, namely Jehoiakim, Jehoiakin and Zedekiah (Merril 2003:258).
- Second century Tobiads Simon, Menelaus and Lysimachus (Sellin 1930:562).
- Seleucus IV (187-175 B.C.E.), Heliodorus (175 B.C.E.) and Demetrius (175 B.C.E.) (Mitchell, Smith & Bewer 1912:307).
- Antiochus III, Seleuchus IV and Heliodorus (Mitchell, Smith & Bewer 1912:307).
- Seleucid kings such as Antiochus IV (175-164 B.C.E.), Antiochus V (164-161 B.C.E.) and Demetrius (cf. Klein 2008:330).
- The three Persian monarchs Cyrus, Cambysus and Darius (Sweeney 2000:677-678).
- Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes.
- Three categories of kings, prophets and priests (cf. Redditt 1993:677).
- The priests Jason (174-171 B.C.E.), Menelaus (171-161 B.C.E.) and Al-cimus (161-159 B.C.E.) (Oesterley 1932:258-259).
- The priests Jason (174-171 B.C.E.), Menelaus (171-161 B.C.E.) and Lysimachus (161 B.C.E.) (Baldwin 1972:182).
- Apostate priests in the time of Judas Maccabaeus (Treves 1963:196-207).
- False prophets with whom the true prophet of the chapter is struggling (Meyers & Meyers 1993:265).
It is very difficult to evaluate all these different hypotheses. There are prominent scholars who ignore any speculation about the three shepherds and/or consider that it is a “futile search” (cf. Petersen 1995:94; Redditt 1995:125). Several commentators believe that 11:8a may be an interpretive gloss by someone in the Maccabean period relating the events of chapter 11 to the happenings of his own time (Baldwin 1972:183; Mason 1977:107; Smith 1984:270).
Scholars who try to “solve” this issue start with the reference to the du-ration of one month and the number of three shepherds. If one thinks of a literal period of one month there are not many options for the identification of the three shepherds. One thinks for example of Elah, Zimri, Tibni and Omri of Israel (1 Kgs 16:8-20) or Zechariah, Shallum and Menahem (2 Kgs 15:8-16) (Merril 2003:257). Most scholars agree that the reference to “one month” can-not be taken literally, but as a code for a short period of time. They also argue that the “three shepherds” must be taken symbolically, perhaps representing all of the shepherds collectively (cf. Baldwin 1972:183; Smith 1984:467; Meyers & Meyers 1993:265; Boda 2004:464; Klein 2008:333; et al.).
I have mentioned earlier that more and more modern scholars accept the fact that Zechariah 9-14 originated during the time of the Persian Empire (cf. section C). The literary context may point to the understanding of the shepherds as the foreign rulers of Judah and Jerusalem who will be punished for their threats against the city and its people.
A reference to the destruction of the three shepherds probably refers to the demise of the first three Persian kings namely Cyrus, Cambysus and Darius. There is not much textual evidence to support this hypothesis, but the reference in Isaiah 44:28 may provide some evidence. This is the only verse in the Hebrew Bible where a specific foreign king (i.e. the Persian king Cyrus) is described as a “shepherd” (Sweeney 2000:677-678).
There will still be uncertainty for the years to come, but everyone agrees that these three shepherds refer to leaders who detested God or became unfaithful to him. Klein’s viewpoint (2008:333) summarises the opinion of many modern exegetes: “Consequently, it is best to treat v. 8 as a symbolic action in which the three shepherds metaphorically represent the host of faithless shepherds who exploit the Lord’s flock for their personal advantage.”
The worthless shepherd, who deserts his flock (11:15-17)
I have already focused on three possible perspectives in Zechariah 11: the shepherds with spoiled glory (v 3); the prophet as shepherd (vv 4 and 7); three bad shepherds (v 8). Zechariah 11:15-17 sends the shepherd metaphor in a new direction. These verses describe the rise of a new leader who will not care for the sheep and portray the complete fulfilment of the word of God in 11:6. The removal of the good shepherd in 11:9 represented the first instalment of the fulfilment (Boda 2003:283).
The character and deeds of the new shepherd is explained in detail: “For I am now raising up in the land a shepherd who does not care for the perishing, or seek the wandering, or heal the maimed, or nourish the healthy, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs” (11: 16). The qualities of the new shepherd are exactly those denounced in Ezekiel 34:1-10.
Many Jewish scholars identify the shepherd of verse 16 as Herod the Great, the wicked king who ruled Judah from 37-34 B.C.E.. Other possible figures like Ptolemy IV (222 B.C.E.), Peka, Alcimus the high priest (164 B.C.E.) or any other high priest were also suggested (cf. Mitchell, Smith & Bewer 1912:315; Mason 1977:109; Meyers & Meyers 1993:284). We can only speculate about the identity of the worthless shepherd, because the text provides us with little persuasive evidence. Zechariah 11:17 concludes with a woe oracle written in poetry:
Oh, my worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! Let his arm be completely withered, his right eye utterly blinded!
The adjective “worthless” (lyla) differs from the ylwa of verse 15, but correspond to the term used in Isaiah, Habakkuk and Ezekiel to refer to worthless gods (cf. Isa 2:8, 18, 20; 10:10, 11; 19:1, 3; etc.). According to Sweeney (2000:682) the oracle clearly refers to the present ruler who is to be deposed, not to the coming ruler who will show mercy. Verse 17 states that a sword will strike his right arm and that his right eye will be blinded. This statement probably takes up the prophecy concerning Cyrus in which God mentions the intention to hold Cyrus’s right arm so that he will subdue nations (Isa 41:13). It may also relate to Isaiah 41:2 in which God describes the victor (i.e. Cyrus) who “makes them like dust with his sword” (Sweeney 2000:682-683).
The question still remains: Is the worthless shepherd (v 17) the same as the shepherd who does not care for his flock (v 16)? There is no direct evidence in the text that forces us to believe otherwise. The text refers to the worthless shepherd and immediately describes what makes him worthless. One slight problem is the different Hebrew words used to describe “worthless”. This should not to be a problem if one accepts the fact that the author/redactor could have used different words to explain the intensity of his worthlessness or foolishness. Perhaps the author/redactor deliberately wanted to create assonance by using the words ylwa (v 15) and lyla (v 17) (cf. Petersen 1995:100).
God as “uncaring shepherd” (11:4-17)
I have mentioned (cf. section E subsection 5) that Zechariah 11:4 and 7 refer to the prophet as the shepherd, but according to O’Brein (2004:250-251) several clues suggest that the shepherd also represents God. Zechariah 11:10 blends the prophetic and divine persona. While the prophet speaks in the first person in 11:7-9, in chapter 11:10b the “I” must be understood in different ways (“an-nulling the covenant which I had made with all the peoples”).
On the level of the narrative, the annulled covenant refers to the promise that the prophet had made to watch the sheep, but was broken. On the symbolic level the covenant refers to the Mosaic promises; therefore the “I” signifies God. The verb rrp used in verse 10 for “breaking” the covenant is used in the Bible both in the context of breaking the covenant between humans and the divine (Lev 26:15, 44; Deut 31:16; Jer 14:21) and also in the context of the breaking of agreements made by humans (Num 30:9, 13; 1 Kgs 15:19). The commitment of the prophet-shepherd and of God to the sheep have ended. These clues suggest that the actions of the prophet symbolise God’s intentions toward the people (Craigie 1985:209; O’Brein 2004:251).
There is a lack of information about the specific identity of the shepherds; therefore one must rather shift away from determining the identity of the shepherds to the message of the larger unit. Petersen (1995:100) argues that Zechariah 11 refers to God’s abandonment of his people, because he avoids direct control and raises up a shepherd who does not care for his sheep. According to this understanding one can say that in 11:4-17 God is indirectly portrayed as an “uncaring” shepherd. However, one must acknowledge that this viewpoint is not the main focus of Zechariah 11.
God’s shepherd, his associate (13:7-9)
In verse 7 one finds the last references to the shepherd imagery in Zechariah 9-14: “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is my associate, says the Lord of hosts. Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones.” Both phrases use the possessive pronoun (my shepherd and my associate), emphasising the close relationship between God and the one who is struck by the sword (Boda 2004:512).
The Hebrew word tym[ (associate, fellow, relation, neighbour) is relatively rare in the Hebrew Bible, appearing elsewhere only in the book of Leviticus. In Leviticus it is used with second- or third person possessive suffixes, in several legal contexts concerning relationships between two parties. It sometimes con-vey the meaning “relative” (18:20), but more often it conveys the meaning of another member of the community and is translated into “neighbour”. This word supposes a close relationship between God and the shepherd (Meyers & Meyers 1993:386; Clark & Hatton 2002:336).
The phrase “my shepherd” is used to indicate leadership on two other occasions in the Hebrew Bible. Isaiah 44:28 refers to the Persian king Cyrus whom God raised to carry out all his purposes. Ezekiel 34:8 contains a reference to “my shepherds” as the prophet attacks the leadership of the day who do not search for God’s flock and do not feed them (Boda 2004:512-513). It is interesting to note that this terminology is never used for “prophets” (Meyers & Meyers 1993:385). The designation “my associate” draws upon the notion that God’s chosen king is to be designated as God’s son (Ps 2:7; 89:26-27; 2 Sam 7:14) (Sweeney 2000:696).
I have discussed the close relationship between God and his shepherd, but the question remains: Can one identify this shepherd? Scholars have the following viewpoints concerning the identity of “my shepherd”:
- Priestly leader (Hanson 1979:338-358).
- Divinely ordained monarch (Klein 2008:386).
- A Davidic leader (Curtis 2006:217).
- Royal ruler (Meyers & Meyers 1993:386).
- Some scholars believe there is a close relationship between “my shepherd” and the “pierced one” in 12:10. Both figures serve God faithfully and the death of both evokes mourning (Curtis 2006:217; Klein 2008:387).
- Close relationship between the shepherd in Zech 13 and the servant in Isaiah 53 (cf. Klein 2008:389).
It is very difficult to identify the shepherd of 13:7, but there is a possibility that this shepherd figure is placed within the context of a more positive messianic expectation (as in Zech 3:8; 6:12-14; 9:9-10; 10:4) (Cook 1993:461).
Scholars must also acknowledge the fact that verses 7-9 do not merely focus on the shepherd. It begins with the sword’s attack on the shepherd (v 7), but the attention is turning away from the shepherd. Zechariah 13:8-9 focuses on the outcome for the sheep (Klein 2008:388).
Summary and Concluding Remarks
The above discussion has led the author to arrive at the following preliminary conclusions:
- Deutero-Zechariah has one of the most frequent occurrences of “shepherd” passages in the whole Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew stem h[r (shepherd) occurs fourteen times in Zechariah 9-14 and the noun ÷ax (sheep, flock) nine times.
- The use of “shepherds” in Zechariah corresponds with other prophetic passages (cf. Ezek 34; Jer 23).
- It is very difficult (perhaps impossible) to identify the different human shepherds, but all the scholars agree that the shepherd passages refer to leaders of the community. This fact indicates that there was an emphasis on leadership during the time of Deutero-Zechariah.
- Some passages in the Bible focus on one aspect of the shepherd imagery (cf. Ps 23). Zechariah 9-14 portrays a rich variety of perspectives on the shepherd imagery:
- God as the good shepherd (Zech 9:16; 10:3b, 8)
- The shepherds who do not care for their flock (10:3a)
- The prophet as shepherd (11:4-14)
- The three bad shepherds (11:8)
- The worthless shepherd, who deserts his flock (11:15-17)
- God as “uncaring shepherd” (11:4-17)
- The “good” shepherd, God’s associate (13:7-9)
The Shepherd Model: Leading God’s People
The word shepherd is used numerous times in the New Testament by Jesus and the apostles to describe the leaders or elders of God’s people (John 10:1-18). This word was chosen because the people of the Holy Land were familiar with how a good shepherd attended his flock.
Old Testament Model (Psalm 23; Ezekiel 34)
Key ideas from Psalm 23: The Old Testament Model of the Good Shepherd (a parallel to John 10:1-18??). From this passage the attributes and functions of a shepherd include the following:
- keeps the lamb from being in “want” (vs 1);
- Shall provide high quality food and drink (vs 2);
- Restores the soul and leads into a righteous way of life, for the sake of the Lord’s name (not for the shepherd’s glory!) (vs 3)
- Will keep the lamb from fear, even in fearful circumstances (vs 4a). The shepherd does this by being present with the lamb, providing comfort and protecting the lamb with his tools (the staff = direction and correction, the rod = protection and discipline (prod the sheep in the direction they need to go)) (vs 4b)
- The shepherd doesn’t let the presence of enemies of the lamb cause a halt or interruption in the lamb’s nourishment (vs 5a)
- The shepherd provides honor and abundance for the lamb (vs 5b)
- The shepherd provides assurance of God’s goodness and love and welcome in the very presence of God – not just for a Sunday meeting, but forever (vs 6)
Key ideas from Ezekiel 34: How God does NOT want his people to be shepherded is spelled out here – also included are some critical attributes and functions of a good shepherd
- A bad shepherd takes care of himself instead of the flock. He nurtures himself on the sheep he is supposed to be nurturing (curds, wool, meat – vs 3). He fails in the key tasks of a shepherd – strengthening the weak, healing the sick, binding up the injured, bringing back the strays, searching for the scattered (vss4-6), protecting from wild animals (vs 8).
- A bad shepherd rules the flock harshly and brutally (vs 5)
- A good shepherd does all the things the bad shepherd failed to do (vss 10-16). Notice the extent of the good shepherd’s care:
- “I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered” (vs 12);
- “I will pasture them on the mountains, … in the ravines and in all the settlements of the land. I will tend them in a good pasture” (vs 13-14);
- “they will lie down in good grazing land, and they will feed in a rich pasture” (vs 14); “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down” (vs 15);
- “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays” (vs 16) “I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak” (vs 16) “I will shepherd the flock with justice” (vs 16)
- “I will judge between one sheep and another” (vs 17)
- A good shepherd will oppose the bad shepherd(s) and hold them accountable for their actions (vs 10)
- A good shepherd will remove the bad shepherd from his position so that the flock will no longer suffer (vs 10)
Notice the similarity between the terrible things the bad shepherds do here in Ezekiel 34 and Paul’s warnings about bad shepherds in the New Testament (Acts 20:29-30).
Finally, notice that God promises to place over His people one shepherd, David. Remember that Ezekiel was written hundreds of years after David died, so this is obviously a prophecy about Jesus – No wonder Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd in John 10.11 and 14! He obviously had studied Ezekiel 34 and knew what a good shepherd does!
The Shepherd Model in the Bible for Leaders of God’s People
The New Testament Model (John 10:1-18; 1Pet 5:1-4)
Key ideas from John 10:1-18: Every shepherd of God’s people should surely try to emulate Jesus, the Good Shepherd!
Here is are differences between the false shepherd and the Good Shepherd:
The Thief and Robber
- Enters the sheep pen some other way besides the gate (vs 1) – (popularity, intimidation, politics, ???)
- Has no other purpose with the sheep but to steal and kill and destroy (vs 10)
- Deserts the sheep when the wolf attacks (vs 12-13)
- Works as a shepherd only for what he can get out of it – He doesn’t care about the sheep themselves (vs 13)
The Good Shepherd
- Enters the sheep pen by the gate (vs 2) – (made a shepherd by God (Ezek 34:23; Acts 20:28; cf Heb 5:4-6) and recognized as such by the flock)
- Goes ahead of the sheep (vs 4) = he leads, he doesn’t drive!
- Has a close personal relationship with the sheep – they know his voice and he calls them by name (vss 3-4, 14). The sheep will not listen to or follow a stranger (vss 5, 8) – they will run from him (vs 5) – (no wonder a bad shepherd devastates and splits churches today – when the sheep leave, they are only doing what is natural for sheep to do when a false shepherd has come into the pen!)
- Provides a way for the sheep to enter and leave and find pasture when needed – that the sheep might have abundant life (vss 9-10) – a good shepherd’s desire is to lead and feed his sheep!
- Lays down his life for his sheep and does it by his own choice – not because someone else makes him do it (vss 11, 15, 18)!
- Protects the sheep against enemies and never deserts them (vs 12)
- Works to keep the sheep together (one flock) (vs 16)
Key ideas from 1Peter 5:1-4: A high calling for the sincere servant of God’s people!
- An elder is a shepherd (vss 1-2)!
- Shepherd ( = feed, lead, guard, protect) God’s flock that is among you ( = the shepherds mingle and mix with the flock!) (vs 2).
- A shepherd must oversee (watch over carefully, be responsible for) the flock because that’s what is right and that is what they want to do (“eagerly” or “willingly”), not because of any kind or reward, benefit or compensation (vs 2).
- A shepherd must be an example, not a ruler (vs 3) – compare Matt 20:25-28.
- A good shepherd will receive an eternal, unfading crown of glory for the Good Shepherd when He returns (vs 4)
Jesus the Good Shepherd
John 10:11-18; cf. Ezekiel 34:11-16
I. Introductory remarks
1. The word shepherd has three referents:
- Actual shepherds (Genesis 4:2, 13:7)
- Political leaders and kings
- YHWH the LORD God Almighty (by using this metaphor, the LORD explains His relationship with His People)
2. Jesus the Shepherd
Jesus says, “I am the Good [authentic, true] Shepherd” (John 10:11) Is He comparing himself with the leaders of Israel in Ezekiel 34? [HOW?]
Jesus laid down His life for His sheep (v. 11 & 15b)—helplessness of the sheep and redemption is in focus
- He protects the sheep from the attacks of the enemy (verse 12)
- He is concerned about the sheep (verse 13)
- Jesus knows every single sheep intimately (v.14) and His sheep know Him (v. 16)— intimacy between the Shepherd and sheep is patterned after the Father and Son
- Jesus went after the weak, helpless, and ignored (Luke 19:10 vs. Isaiah 40:11 and Ezekiel 34:16)
- Jesus establishes that He is the fulfillment of Ezekiel 34—Shepherd after YHWH, Davidic leadership
3. Implication for us today from this metaphor
- Jesus delegates the ministry of shepherding to human agents: under shepherds
- The under shepherds must imitate the Good Shepherd (this includes sacrifices)
- The under shepherds and congregation members must develop Trinitarian relationships
4. Take Away
- Is there anyone burnt out, abused, feeling weak, and tired? Come to your “Shepherd” for rest (Matthew 11:28)
How to be a great Shepherd (Leader)
Having investigated the biblical material, and the context in which it would have been understood in its original setting, we turn now to principles for Christian leadership today. It is all too easy to read too much into biblical metaphors, but the following ten points stand up to careful testing against the biblical evidence.
People need guidance
We live in an age when authority is questioned and when there are few leaders who command instant and lasting respect. In the Church people are confused about what leadership means, whether at local or national level.
Without any reference to other Bible teaching on being a leader, the picture of shepherd and sheep is sufficient to justify a basic need for leadership. Through an impressive body of evidence comes the clear message that, whether we like it or not, the Bible sees sheep as being an apt metaphor to describe human beings. Sheep wander aimlessly when left to themselves, need pasture but have to be led to it, and are in danger from predators and need protection. That, says the Bible, is a fair description of us.
In biblical times the idea of a flock of sheep without a shepherd would have been a vivid picture of a hopeless situation. This loses its force today with the UK’s modern farming methods and a rural landscape covered in lush grass and frequent field boundaries. The shepherd/sheep picture makes a strong case for the need for humans to be led. Examples of bad leadership (with which the Bible abounds) only strengthen the argument. Today’s church must not scorn leadership.
Being a good shepherd must be God-inspired
In any organisation the person at the top of the tree has ultimate responsibility for the people he or she leads. There may well be a structure with people who decide on overall policy, or who can question the leader and even remove them from office (eg. the shareholders of a company, the voters of a nation), but the buck of day-to-day office stops at the leader.
This is not the picture that the Bible uses. It is clear that the sheep that Christian leaders shepherd do not belong to them. All the sins of the shepherds who failed in their job can be focused back to a lack of any sense of accountability to a higher shepherd or owner.
Through all the passages investigated, there are frequent references to the fact that the human shepherd looks after sheep who are the Lord’s people (e.g. Numbers 27:17), or ‘my’ people (e.g. Ezekiel 34:6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15 etc., John 21:15-17), or the sheep of his (my) pasture (e.g. Psalm 100:3, Jeremiah 23:1 and many others), or God’s flock (e.g. Zechariah 10:3, 1 Peter 5:2), or the people he has ‘bought with his blood’ (Acts 20:28).
To add weight to this Jesus himself is often described as a shepherd, not only in the parable of the Good Shepherd but also in verses such as Micah 5:4 and Hebrews 13:20. We have already seen that God is described as Shepherd in three Old Testament verses.
So it is no surprise to read in the first verses of 1 Peter 5 a natural progression of thought from being shepherds of God’s flock (v2) to Christ being the Chief Shepherd (v4). Jesus’ command to Peter immediately after telling him to feed his sheep had been to ‘follow me’ (John 21:19), a command all leaders do well to keep in view. A Christian leader is still directly accountable to a higher leader, to God himself. Not only this, but the sheep under the leader’s care belong to God and so does the pasture.
There is more, for those who are leaders are themselves sheep too. It is not as if there are two types of Christian: sheep and shepherds. It all depends on the context. Christian leaders are simply entrusted with this responsibility by God himself, the ultimate Leader. All are accountable. All need to accept such leadership humbly.
This picture can be applied more widely. People who are not yet Christ’s need his leadership. Jesus came to the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 15:24) and sent out his disciples likewise (Matthew 10:6). In Matthew 9:36-38 Jesus saw the crowds and ‘had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’. He immediately goes on to talk in terms of the harvest being plentiful but the workers few (an interesting mixture of farming metaphors!). So Christians are not only to recognise that their ultimate leader is Christ, but that they are to bring others to this leader too.
Be responsible as a shepherd
Sheep were such helpless creatures that their very life depended on the shepherd for both food and protection. A shepherd who failed in his job sacrificed the sheep to starvation or destruction by wild animals. It is therefore hardly surprising that this picture is used to drive home stinging attacks on human leaders who failed in their job.
The Old Testament passages on this theme (especially Jeremiah 22, 23, 25, Ezekiel 34, Zechariah 10,11) paint a picture of human leaders more interested in their own needs than those of the sheep. The shepherd’s job was often hard, cold, dirty and dangerous. Even Jeremiah might have been tempted to run away from the responsibility (Jeremiah 17:16). Yet the task of the shepherds was to care for the sheep not for themselves.
God’s condemnation is severe, summed up in the three Ws of Woe, Weep and Wail (eg. Jeremiah 23:1, 2; 25:34-36). God’s anger is described as burning (Zechariah 10:2,3). This is very much an Old Testament message, the hired hand of John 10 being the only point of condemnation in the New Testament references, although Paul warns the Ephesian elders to take care of themselves before the flock (Acts 20:28).
The picture, as already explained, is to secular rulers not to priests. But the picture is then taken on to apply to Christian leaders, so have they any reason to suppose that God’s condemnation of them will be any lighter? Leadership has far less to do with privilege and much more to do with a heavy load of responsibility. ‘From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded’ (Luke 12:48). Jesus, as the good shepherd, contrasts himself with the hired hand who runs away when the wolf appears (John 10:11-13). Here is an example for all leaders to heed.
Christian leadership should never be entered into lightly, should never be seen as a reward or promotion, but as a privilege and received only through God’s call. Churches may need to revise their selection processes in the light of this. All Christians need to pray for their leaders who are as prone to temptation as they are.
Identify with the sheep
The shepherd picture is in direct contrast to the traditional image of the secular ruler, and especially the selfish ruler. The ruler lived in a palace or special house; the shepherd slept across the door of the sheep-pen. The ruler was sheltered from hardship and poverty; the shepherd had to endure the elements and wild animals with his sheep. The ruler was protected from day to day contact with his people; the shepherd had the job of leading his wayward, frustrating animals at every moment.
The picture is a vivid one for absolute identity with the flock. The opposite is seen In Ezekiel 34:8 where the leaders care only for themselves. Leaders are to be examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:3). In John 10:11, 15-18 Jesus takes the picture on to the further extreme of the shepherd giving up his life for the flock. Here is sacrifice for the sake of those being led.
So the church leader needs to identify with his or her church. This must have implications for pastors in terms of housing, salary and job security, whilst recognising that these are complex issues. Leaders who have had to suffer special hardship can more easily empathise with others going though similar trials. In addition, no Minister should expect an easy ride. People, like sheep, can be immensely frustrating and liable to wander in all kinds of unexpected directions. The same principle would apply for small group and youth leaders.
The shepherd must relate with the sheep
We have already noted that the Eastern shepherd would know each sheep in his flock by name and that the sheep would recognise their own shepherd’s call and follow him. So the idea of personal recognition both ways would be a widely known feature of the sheep-shepherd relationship. Two questions then follow. Is this a principle that should be applied to Christian leaders today and, if so, in what way should it be applied?
Certainly this aspect of the shepherd picture applies to God. The references to God as shepherd, or we as his sheep, frequently carry this feel of personal relationship (for example, see Psalm 23:1-4; 95:7, Isaiah 40:11, Ezekiel 34:11, 12, Matthew 18:12-14, the parable of the lost sheep and, above all, in John 10:3-5 where the sheep listen to and know the shepherd’s voice and he knows the sheep). They will not follow a stranger. In John 10:14 Jesus says ‘I know my sheep and my sheep know me’.
The leader’s relationship with the flock is centred on all Christians’ relationship with Christ through his death and resurrection. In John 21 Jesus’ command to Peter to ‘feed my lambs/sheep’ is only given after a searching examination of whether Peter loves him. In Acts 20 the Ephesian elders are warned by Paul to shepherd a flock bought by Christ’s own blood (v28). Christ himself is described as ‘Shepherd of our souls’ in the context of his death and resurrection (see 1 Peter 2:25 and Hebrews 13:20) and in John 10 Jesus talks of himself as the good shepherd giving up his life so that we may have life and have it to the full (v10).
Each of these references on their own cannot be said to be conclusive, but taken together it seems that we would be correct to include this particular aspect of the shepherd image when we apply the picture to Christian leadership.
The picture would seem to mean that Christian leaders need to know each member of their flock and be known by them. The shepherd picture implies no distant, aloof leadership. It certainly does not rule out respect for leaders, but it does imply a different kind of leadership relationship from what the world around may assume to be normal.
Seek to serve
Some of the fiercest criticisms in the passages relating to human shepherds who failed are on the point of using privileged positions for their own ends. Ezekiel 34 pours condemnation onto the shepherds of Israel who only took care of themselves and who exploited the people, taking the best of everything that was on offer and ruling harshly and brutally (vv2-4). In Zechariah the woes are for the worthless shepherds who oppress the sheep and desert the flock (eg. 10:2 and 11:17).
In the New Testament Christ’s command to Peter is to take care of and feed the flock (John 21:15-17). Coming so soon after Our Lord’s demonstration of service through washing Peter’s feet and then going on to die for him, this must have been a powerful lesson for him to learn. Certainly he comes back to it later in his own letters when he urges his church leaders not to be greedy for money but eager to serve, not to lord it over the flock but to be examples to them (see 1 Peter 5:2-4), and goes on to urge them to clothe themselves with humility (vv5,6).
But the very picture of a shepherd makes the point too: the shepherd not only identified with the flock (see above) but served them in the dirty and demanding work he had to do, especially in the way he cared for the sick and lame and brought the flock to pasture. This is a picture far removed from that of a tyrant leader.
Christian leaders need to learn this lesson today. Sadly, status affects Christian leadership at every point through the names and titles given to leadership positions and jobs, through salary structures for paid Ministers that are taken straight from the world’s models, and through an innate belief that leadership in any form is all about status rather than a gift and a privilege.
For the final four points we turn to key roles of the Christian leader as pictured in the shepherd metaphor.
A shepherd must teaching
It is clear that the issue of pasture is an important aspect of the Old Testament sheep/shepherd picture. In the semi-desert of the Middle East the sheep could not survive without food. The shepherd’s main task was to lead the flock to pasture and then on to more pasture as they exhausted each sparse area of grass. The idea of pasture is central to many of the Psalms that use the sheep image (eg. Psalm 79:13; 95:7; 100:3) and also comes through the prophets (Jeremiah 23:1, 3, 4; Ezekiel 34:31; Micah 2:12). A powerful passage is Ezekiel 34:11-16 ‘I will pasture them …I will tend them in a good pasture …they will lie down in good grazing land …they will feed in a rich pasture’.
Pasture of course means food. The image of the shepherd is one of care for the flock, but that is only a means to the end of ensuring that the flock are fed and watered so that the sheep can eventually be slaughtered for food or sacrifice or wool.
Moreover, the pasture is often mentioned as God’s (‘the sheep of my pasture’). It would therefore seem quite reasonable to relate the picture to the Christian leader providing food for the flock in terms of spiritual nourishment. In Ephesians 4:11 the thought is of one gift, the pastor/teacher, rather than two distinct gifts and the purpose, along with the other ‘word’ gifts mentioned there, is to build up the body of Christ.
In John 21:15-17 Peter is told to feed God’s flock as well as to take care of them. Christ himself was sent to the lost sheep of Israel with the primary mission of a teacher (Matthew 10:6, 15:24). One of the activities of the wolves preying on the flock will be to ‘distort the truth’ (Acts 20:30). Above all, Christ’s leadership was shown by his teaching (Mark 6:34 ‘he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things’).
Even from this one picture of leadership alone, the church leader is to be a teacher of the flock, and this is supported by other parts of Scripture too. So teaching should be one of the main gifts sought in any selection process. It should be one of the leader’s top priorities. He or she should be given adequate time to prepare. Finding spiritual pasture should play a key part on any church’s agenda. This is not to say that teaching has to be carried out just in traditional ways: what matters more is the sheep feeding or learning. Teaching is simply the means towards the flock being fed from God’s pasture so they can grow and become strong. Any leader needs to ask whether he or she is leading the flock to the best pasture there is, God’s pasture.
A shepherd must protect
If the picture of the shepherd speaks of leading to pasture it includes the protection of the flock too. In the Old Testament it was the lion and the bear that were the main predators, and in the New Testament the wolf. If the sheep were not looked after properly they would soon become prey to these wild animals. Their life was in constant danger. Ezekiel 34:8 sums it up: ‘My flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals.’ The picture is the same in John 10 when the hired hand abandons the sheep. ‘The wolf then attacks the flock and scatters it’ (v12).
To Ezekiel’s hearers these wild animals would have been understood as foreign powers but, if we are justified in taking pasture in a spiritual sense, we can do so here too, especially in the light of Acts 20. And in 1 Peter 5 the picture of leaders shepherding the flock (v2) moves on to the warning of the devil prowling around ‘like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour’ (v8).
Any church is in danger of being eaten up by the forces of spiritual evil around it and one of the roles of the Christian leader must be to protect the flock. Teaching is of course part of this: a well-nourished church will be better able to stand against doctrinal and moral error. But there are other means of protection too against both the spiritual dangers of the society in which we live and the demonic forces that would, sometimes very subtly, move the Christian off the path to righteousness. Prayer must be the chief of these, the setting of a good example, and constant study of the Word of God so that the leader’s own teaching remains true to Scripture.
This can best be summed up in Paul’s advice to the Ephesian elders. ‘Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.’ (Acts 20:28-31)
Christian leaders are to protect the flock from outside powers bent on destroying it – and to guard their own lives so they can guard others.
A shepherd must unite the sheep
Those for whom the Bible books were first written would have problems understanding Western individualism. In the Eastern culture of Bible times, people were dependent on each other, extended families lived all together (very much on top of each other) and the village community would have been a strong unit.
So it is natural to take the parable of the lost sheep and make this the primary image of the shepherd-sheep relationship. But this is selective and unfair. The parable is the only example of the shepherd caring for the lone sheep, whereas we make it the norm. The shepherd may well have known each sheep individually, but his responsibility was towards the whole flock.
One picture that comes in many of the biblical references is that of a flock that becomes scattered (e.g. Jeremiah 23:1, 2 as opposed to Micah 2:12). One of the chief jobs of the shepherd was to keep the flock together, not only when grazing but when moving on to find new pastures. The sheep that became separated were immediately vulnerable to wild animals. A flock is, by definition, together.
Christian leaders may find their flock very frustrating and the temptation is to discover those who are prepared to move forward fastest and take them on, to shepherd those who want to be led on ahead. A different situation arises when a small number demand almost all the leader’s time for counselling. But both these cases are contrary to the shepherd picture where keeping the whole flock together is so vital and giving attention to all the sheep must be kept in mind. Ultimately there is but one flock and one shepherd (John 10:16).
This picture has lessons for all Pastors. They need to ensure they are caring for everyone in the church (all the flock – Acts 20:28), even if they are themselves delegating part of this to others. But if cell group leaders care for those in their groups, is the Pastor caring for the group leaders adequately? The aim must be ‘to prepare God’s people for works of service ….until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God’ (Ephesians 4:12, 13).
A shepherd must tending the needs of the sheep
We have noted that the leader has a responsibility to all the flock, not just those with more obvious needs. But at the same time he or she has a special responsibility to ensure that the walking wounded of this world can find tender loving care within the Church.
The Old Testament picture of the good shepherd is of someone who cared deeply for those in need, healing the sick, binding up the broken, gathering the lost. See Isaiah 40:11, Ezekiel 34:15, 16 – and for the picture against the contrasting background, Ezekiel 34:4, 5 and Zechariah 11:16. This is expressed most beautifully in Psalm 23, see for example the idea of lying down in safety (also Ezekiel 34:15). This is a picture that is fully in accord with what the prophets foretold of Christ’s ministry.
Families no longer care for their own needy in the way they once had to do. It is in this environment that the Church should be showing the way.
Leaders should not devote all their time to this, but they can ensure that it takes place. On the wider front the Church should be in the forefront of medical care, of citizens’ advice, of social action. For her own members there should be special love and attention given to those who need it: the elderly, the lonely, the sick, the sad. This is the outworking of Ezekiel 34:4: the strengthening of the weak, the healing of the sick, the binding up of the injured and the bringing back of the strays.
The leader needs not only to display gifts of teaching and the concern for truth, but also the genuine pastor’s heart for all who suffer. It is in Jesus Christ himself that we see this combination perfectly expressed, and he is our leadership example as the ultimate Good Shepherd.
The Only Good Shepherd: Jesus
Jesus said, “I am the good Shepherd. I know My sheep and My sheep know Me.”(John 10:14)Jesus is a Shepherd to allwho believe in Him. Helovingly cares for us – notbecause we deserve it,but because He is sogood.
Sheep are famous for wandering off and getting lost. Any shepherd might get frustrated or angry with a sheep that mindlessly walks away from him. But Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is good because He came to find lost people and bring them home to God.
The Son of Man (Jesus) came to look for the lost and save them. – Luke 19:10
We strayed away from God when we chose to sin. Our sin separates us from the safety of God’s presence (Psalm 5:4). Not only is Jesus not angry with us for our wilful behaviour, but Heeven took on our sin in order to win us back.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him, on him. – Isaiah 53:6 The Message
What a good and loving shepherd Jesus is! He never sinned; His relationship with His heavenly Father was perfect. He did not deserve punishment, yet He willingly suffered to take away our sin. What word could describe this better than “good”?
Find a stuffed animal and place it across your shoulders. This is a picture of a shepherd carrying a lost sheep back to safety.
Do you know a “sheep” who is lost? Pray for him or her to repent and believe the truth of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Bread and Water
Parent: Pour a nice cool glass of water and give itto your child.
One way that a shepherd takes care of his sheep is by finding good clean water for them. Like any creature, sheep need fresh water everyday. But left to themselves, they might drink dirty or polluted water. The shepherd leads them to fresh water or digs a well for them.
A shepherd also leads his sheep to good food. He leads them past the dry rocky ground, away from poisonous plants, to fields of green grass. He wants their bodies to be healthy and strong.
In the same way, Jesus wants our souls to be healthy and strong. He gives us everything we need to be satisfied in our heart and mind.
Then Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. No one who comes to Me will ever go hungry. And no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty. – John 6:35
Jesus feeds our minds with truth; He fills our hearts with joy; He pours His Spirit into all who believe in Him (John 7:39). Your Shepherd wants you to live the most exciting, adventuresome life possible.
Jesus said, “I have come so they can have life. I want them to have it in the fullest possible way.” (John 10:10)
Do you want the full life that Jesus offers? Ask Him daily to lead you on the path that He has laid out for you.
What is your favorite meal? Every animal has a favorite meal. What does a monkey eat? What does a Panda bear eat? Do you know what a coyote likes to eat? Sheep! A tender sheep is a coyote’s favorite meal.
Sheep are defenseless. They have no way to protect themselves. They don’t have sharp teeth or razor-like claws. Out in the open fields, surrounded by wilderness, a sheep might be attacked by a wolf, a mountain lion, or a bear at any moment. That’s why one of the shepherd’s jobs is to protect his sheep. A shepherd in Bible days would risk his own life to fight off a wild animal.
Likewise, Jesus, our good Shepherd, protects us.
We are not threatened by mountain lions or wolves.
Our enemy is the devil.
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. – 1 Peter 5:8 NLT
The devil wants to deceive us. He wants to lure us into sin, which separates us from God (Psalm 5:4). He searches for those people who have wandered away from the care of the Shepherd.
On our own, just like the sheep, we are too weak for our enemy. But our Shepherd is much stronger than our enemy! Jesus is immeasurably more powerful than the devil! When we trust Jesus, follow Him, and obey His voice, our enemy cannot harm us.
Imagine that you are a sheep. (Young kids, act like a sheep!) Is there anywhere you would try to wander without your shepherd to protect you? Abide in Jesus, the protector of your heart and mind.
Listen to His Voice
When you hear the voice of a close friend or family member on the telephone, do you have to ask who it is? Or do you recognize the sound of their voice?
Sheep know the voice of their own shepherd. Sometimes several shepherds must share a sheep pen. All the sheep from different flocks spend the night together in one pen. You might imagine that the shepherds could never figure out which sheep belong to which shepherd. But in the morning, each sheep follows the voice of its own shepherd out to the hillside.
My sheep listen to My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. – John 10:27
We are the sheep that Jesus is speaking about; we should know His voice. We should recognize when Jesus is speaking to us, because His voice is different than any other. We should be familiar with what He says and how He says it.
It may be rare to hear Jesus’ voice out loud, but His voice is often like a whisper into our spirit. By His Holy Spirit, He lets us know what’s right and what’s wrong; He speaks only truth (John 16:8-13). He encourages us – and never discourages us (Acts 9:31). Often, He reminds us of Bible verses (John 14:26). When Jesus speaks to you, He will never speak against Scripture.
God spoke to Moses through a burning bush (Exodus 3), to Elijah in the wind (1 Kings 19:12), and to Paul in visions (Acts 16:9). He whispered to young Samuel in the middle of the night (1 Samuel 3:4,6). If your trust is in Him, He will speak to you also.
The next time you are at the park, listen to how many children shout for their mom. Yet every mom knows the voice of her own child, because she has heard it so often and she cares so much about her child. Ask God to make you this familiar with Jesus’ voice.
You have certainly heard the saying, “Never talk to strangers.” Why is this such good advice? Strangers don’t love you or care about you. They don’t want what’s best for you. They may even try to harm you. Sheep have a natural instinct that keeps them away from strangers.
His sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger. In fact, they will run away from him. They don’t recognize a stranger’s voice. – John 10:4b-5
Sheep naturally fear a stranger’s voice while they trust the shepherd. The shepherd has gained their trust by his caring actions. The shepherd wants only what’s best for them.
Our Shepherd, Jesus, wants what is best for us. Unlike an ordinary shepherd, Jesus is all-knowing and all-powerful. We can trust Him even more than a sheep trusts its shepherd. Our Shepherd never makes a mistake. Nothing can happen to us outside of His will. We can trust Him completely, and we should flee from anyone who is against Him.
What “voices” do you hear in your daily life? (TV, radio, friends, teachers, parents, classmates, team members)
Do you realize when a voice is trying to lead you away from God? That voice should sound like an alarm in your ears. Run away from that voice and cling to the Shepherd who is completely trustworthy (James 4:7).