God’s Shepherds

1 Peter 5:2-4

The Gospel narrative records that “When [Jesus] saw the crowds He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).

The picture of the shepherd with his sheep is woven into the Bible’s language and imagery. Flocks of sheep blanket Judea’s central plateau that stretches 35 miles from Bethel to Hebron. In biblical times, as today, the most familiar figure of the Judean uplands was the shepherd.

The shepherd’s life was hard. He was never off duty. No flock ever grazed without a shepherd. The shepherd’s lonely task was constant and dangerous. Besides protecting his sheep from physical danger, the shepherd had to guard against wild animals. And there were always thieves ready to steal the sheep. The shepherd maintained constant vigilance, fearless courage and patient love so his flock would survive and prosper.

God entrusts church leaders, whether lay or clergy, as shepherds of His people. The Greek word for shepherd, poimain, reveals that the shepherd is one who feeds and nurtures the flock. Peter admonishes Christian leaders to be shepherds and examples to the flock.

First century shepherds had four indispensable pieces of equipment. Essential to the shepherd was his script—a bag made of animal skin in which he carried his food, typically bread, dried fruit, olives and cheese, all needed to remain physically strong.

Each shepherd treasured his custom-made sling. In the hands of a competent shepherd, a sling became a lethal weapon. This versatile device served as an instrument of offense and defense.

The third essential tool was the shepherd’s rod, a short, wooden club often studded with nails. The rod aided the shepherd in defending himself and his flock against beasts and robbers.

The shepherd’s final requisite equipment has become symbolic of his vocationthe staff. With his staff he could retrieve any sheep that had strayed from the flock.

The biblical picture of the shepherd illustrates the Christian leader’s responsibility to love, nurture and guide those under his or her care. The trustworthy leader of God’s children follows his Lord’s example, the One who for each of us became the Good Shepherd.

William Francis, The War Cry

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