Who are the Shepherds in the Bible
As Christians, we are familiar with the role of the shepherd in both Scripture and a traditional Nativity Scene. Shepherds bring along with them layers of symbolism that tie us not only to Jesus but also to others before Him. We can look to Abraham, Moses, David, and many more as examples of how God uses shepherding imagery throughout scripture.
Throughout this blog post, we will seek to understand why the title ‘shepherd’ is so symbolic when it comes to our spiritual journeys while looking at specific bible passages which explore being a Shepherd. Finally, we will discuss what meaning shepherds have within a Nativity Scene as well as touch on their role in other cultures around Bethlehem during the time of Christ’s birth. Join us now on an exploration into God’s use of Shepherding Imagery!
Table of Contents
In the Old Testament, shepherding was not just a profession but a way of life that was deeply intertwined with the culture and economy of the ancient Near East. Many biblical figures were shepherds, each embodying unique aspects of this ancient profession and its spiritual implications.
Abel, the second son of Adam and Eve, was one of the earliest shepherds mentioned in the Bible. His offering of the firstlings of his flock to God demonstrated his devotion and willingness to present the best of his labor to the Lord. Tragically, his brother Cain, who was a farmer, grew jealous of Abel’s favor with God and murdered him, making Abel also a symbol of innocent suffering.
Before he became the father of many nations, Abraham was a shepherd in the land of Canaan. The nomadic lifestyle of a shepherd suited Abraham’s journey through various lands, following God’s call. His relationship with his flock paralleled the covenant relationship God established with him—God promised to care for and protect Abraham’s descendants just as a shepherd cares for his sheep.
Isaac, Abraham’s son, continued the family tradition of shepherding. Despite being the son of a wealthy father, Isaac’s role as a shepherd kept him grounded and connected to the earth. His experiences with livestock would have prepared him for the challenges he later faced, including famine and conflict with neighboring tribes.
Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, was a shepherd for many years. He worked for his uncle Laban, tending to Laban’s flocks in return for the hand of Rachel, whom he loved. Jacob’s time as a shepherd was marked by hardship and deceit, but also by divine encounters and personal transformation.
Rachel and Leah
Rachel and Leah, the daughters of Laban and wives of Jacob, were also shepherds. Women in the ancient Near East often tended to small livestock, and Rachel is introduced in the Bible as someone who cared for her father’s sheep. These women’s experiences as shepherds would have shaped their characters and their roles in the biblical narrative.
Before he became the deliverer of the Israelites, Moses spent 40 years as a shepherd in the land of Midian. This period of his life was a time of preparation, during which he learned the patience, humility, and leadership skills that would later help him lead a nation.
David, the shepherd boy who became king, is perhaps the most famous shepherd in the Bible. His experience tending sheep in the fields prepared him for his future role as the shepherd of God’s people. As a shepherd, David learned about responsibility, bravery, and reliance on God, which equipped him to be a king after God’s own heart.
Amos was a shepherd from the town of Tekoa in Judah. He lived in the 8th century BC, a turbulent time in Israel’s history. Despite his humble occupation, Amos was chosen by God to deliver messages of warning and judgment to the northern kingdom of Israel.
Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob, worked as a shepherd alongside his brothers. However, his life took a dramatic turn when his brothers sold him into slavery out of jealousy. Despite this, Joseph’s early experiences as a shepherd laid the foundation for his character, enabling him to rise to prominence in Egypt and ultimately save his family from famine.
Jethro was a priest of Midian and Moses’ father-in-law. He was also a shepherd, and it was while Moses was tending Jethro’s flock that he had his life-changing encounter with God at the burning bush.
Laban, the brother of Jacob’s mother Rebecca, was a wealthy shepherd in Haran. He was known for his cunning and deceitful ways, which were evident in his dealings with Jacob. However, despite Laban’s trickery, God blessed Jacob during his time as a shepherd for Laban.
Each of these individuals adds a unique dimension to our understanding of shepherds in the Old Testament. Their stories illustrate the importance of shepherding in ancient Israelite society and highlight the spiritual lessons that can be drawn from this humble yet essential occupation.
The New Testament continues the theme of shepherds, culminating in the depiction of Jesus Christ as the ultimate Good Shepherd. This symbolism represents Jesus’ loving care, guidance, and sacrificial commitment to humanity.
The Good Shepherd – The Lord Jesus Christ
Jesus is often referred to as the Good Shepherd, a title that embodies His role as a caring and guiding leader for His followers. In John 10:11, Jesus states, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” This statement underscores Jesus’ willingness to sacrifice Himself for humanity’s salvation. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus knows His sheep intimately, cares for them, seeks those who are lost, and leads them into abundant life.
Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, also plays a notable role in the New Testament. Although primarily known as a priest serving in the temple, Zechariah’s background and character embody elements of a shepherd’s responsibilities. As a priest, he was tasked with guiding the people in their relationship with God, mirroring a shepherd’s role in leading and protecting his flock. Zechariah’s story, especially his encounter with the angel Gabriel and his subsequent role as the father of the forerunner of Christ, reflects the ongoing presence and significance of the shepherd motif in the biblical narrative.
The Shepherds in the Birth Narrative of Jesus
The New Testament also highlights the role of literal shepherds at the birth of Jesus. As recorded in Luke 2, they were the first to receive the angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth and were the first to visit and worship the newborn Savior. Their inclusion in this crucial event underscores the broader biblical message that God’s salvation is accessible to all, regardless of social status or occupation.
Through these figures and narratives, the New Testament expands and deepens the shepherd motif from the Old Testament, presenting Jesus as the Good Shepherd who embodies God’s love, care, and sacrificial commitment to His people.
The Role of Shepherds in the Nativity Scene
In the story of Jesus’ birth, shepherds hold a unique and significant place. Their presence in the nativity scene is not just a picturesque detail but carries symbolic weight and theological implications, reinforcing the themes of humility, joy, and divine revelation that permeate the Christmas narrative.
The Annunciation to the Shepherds
As detailed in the Gospel of Luke, an angel of the Lord appeared to a group of shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks at night. The angel brought them the joyous news of Jesus’ birth, proclaiming, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). This divine annunciation to the shepherds underscores the theme of God revealing Himself to the humble and lowly.
The Shepherds as First Witnesses
Following the angel’s announcement, the shepherds hurried off to Bethlehem to see the newborn Savior. Thus, these humble shepherds became the first human witnesses of the incarnate Christ. Their immediate response to the angelic message reflects their faith and eagerness to encounter the divine.
The Shepherds’ Adoration and Proclamation
Upon finding Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus lying in the manger, the shepherds worshipped the infant King. They also shared the angel’s message with others, becoming the first to spread the good news of Jesus’ birth. Their actions highlight the role of every believer in adoring Christ and proclaiming His gospel.
The Return of the Shepherds
After visiting the holy family, the shepherds returned to their fields, glorifying and praising God for what they had heard and seen (Luke 2:20). Their joyous return signifies the transformation that encountering Christ brings, prompting a response of worship and praise.
Through their humble presence, immediate response, joyful proclamation, and transformed return, the shepherds in the nativity scene illustrate the profound impact of Christ’s birth on humanity. Their role serves as a timeless reminder of the joy and hope brought forth by the arrival of the Savior.
The Pastoral Role in the Church
In today’s church, the shepherd’s role is embodied in the pastoral office. Drawing from the biblical imagery of shepherds, pastors are entrusted with the spiritual care and guidance of their congregations. As spiritual shepherds, they play a crucial role in leading, teaching, and nurturing the flock — the church members.
Pastors as Spiritual Shepherds
Pastors, deriving their title from the Latin word for shepherd, serve as spiritual shepherds to their congregations. Their role involves providing spiritual direction, offering comfort in times of distress, and leading their congregation in the ways of faith. Just as a shepherd guides his sheep to green pastures, a pastor guides the congregation toward spiritual growth and maturity.
The Origin of Pastorship
The term “pastor” comes from the Greek word “poimen”, which translates to shepherd. This term was used in Ephesians 4:11 as one of the gifts given by Christ to the church. The use of this term underscores the pastoral responsibility to feed, protect, and care for the congregation, much like a shepherd does for his flock.
Qualities of a Good Pastor
A good pastor, like a good shepherd, possesses certain qualities. These include humility, compassion, wisdom, and a deep commitment to God’s Word. A pastor should also have a heart for service, demonstrating love and care for the congregation and a passion for sharing the gospel.
Responsibilities of Pastors
The responsibilities of pastors extend beyond delivering Sunday sermons. They are tasked with teaching and interpreting the Bible, offering pastoral care and counseling, overseeing church operations, and fostering a sense of community among church members. In essence, pastors guide their congregations in understanding and living out their faith.
The Pastor’s Role in Discipleship
Pastors also play a key role in discipleship, helping believers grow in their relationship with Christ. Through teaching, mentoring, and personal example, they help foster spiritual growth and maturity among church members. By doing so, they fulfill the biblical mandate of shepherding God’s flock.
Through these various roles and responsibilities, pastors embody the biblical image of the shepherd, serving as spiritual leaders who guide, nurture, and protect their flocks.
Conclusion Shepherds in the Bible
The image of the shepherd is a profound symbol woven throughout the tapestry of the Bible, reflecting God’s enduring love, guidance, and protection for His people. From the humble beginnings with Abel in the Old Testament, through figures like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Leah, Moses, and David, the role of the shepherd has been integral to the spiritual narrative. Each shepherd’s story provides unique insights into God’s character and His interactions with humanity.
In the New Testament, this symbolism reaches its zenith with Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. His selfless sacrifice, intimate care for His followers, and transformative power beautifully encapsulate the shepherd’s role. The shepherds present at Jesus’ birth further underscore the theme of divine revelation to the humble and the joyous proclamation of the Savior’s arrival.
In today’s church, pastors continue this shepherd legacy, guiding, nurturing, and protecting their spiritual flocks. They embody the qualities of a good shepherd — humility, compassion, wisdom, and commitment — and help believers grow in their faith.
From the pastures of the Old Testament to the bustling churches of today, the journey of the shepherd in the Bible provides us with a deeper understanding of God’s heart. It illustrates His desire to guide and protect His flock and His unwavering commitment to each one of us. The shepherd’s story is a testament to God’s enduring presence in our lives, reminding us of His constant care and His sacrificial love.