A Shepherd For The Sheep.
Numbers 27-28, John 5
Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation 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. – Numbers 27:16-17 ESV
I always find it fascinating how many times God chooses to use the metaphor of sheep when referring to His people. While that idea may conjure up an idyllic image of lush pastures filled with fluffy white sheep peacefully eating their fill of green grass, the real message behind the metaphor seems a bit less flattering. Sheep are not the brightest of animals. In fact, they are quite dumb, requiring someone to lead them and protect them. Sheep are herd animals with no built-in protection mechanism, other than flight. They are driven by their appetites. There are stories about flocks of sheep so intent on grazing that they literally walked off the side of a cliff one by one, so focused on feeding that they were oblivious to the danger. Sheep are easily led astray. Sheep are easy prey to predators. They spook easily and are prone to both disease and injury. And even a cursory reading of the Scriptures will reveal that so many of the characteristics of sheep really do apply to the people of God, including those in Moses’ day all the way to the Christians living during the days of Paul’s ministry. When Moses was informed by God that he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land because of his actions at Meribah, he asked God to appoint a successor. “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation 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” (Numbers 27:16-17 ESV). HIs concern was that the people not be “as sheep that have no shepherd.” Moses knew from personal experience that the people of Israel would be helpless and hopeless without someone to lead them. They had proven themselves to be driven by their passions, prone to wander, easily spooked, and susceptible to a herd mentality. They needed a strong leader who could help guide them and, when necessary, discipline them.
What does this passage reveal about God?
God’s people have always needed strong leadership, and all along the way, God had provided men like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, David, Samuel, and Paul. Left to our own devices, and without strong godly leadership, we are always prone to trouble. Even Jesus saw the plight of the people of God in His day. “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:35-36 ESV). God’s people, His sheep, were in a sorry state. They were shepherdless and helpless. They needed someone to lead them. They needed a shepherd. And while they had no shortage of religious leaders, Jesus saw them as harassed and helpless. The Pharisees, priests, Scribes, and other so-called leaders of Jesus’ day were guilty of the same sin as the “shepherds” in Ezekiel’s day. Read what God had to say about those who were responsible for the care and leadership of the people of God during the prophetic ministry of Ezekiel. “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them” (Ezekiel 34:4-6 ESV).
God was not happy. His sheep were being neglected and even abused. He expected those men who had been given the responsibility of leading His people to take their role seriously and to lead according to His terms, not their own. God cared for His sheep and He expected those whom He had appointed as shepherds to act as His undershepherds, providing the same level of care and concern as He would.
What does this passage reveal about man?
Just as sheep are prone to wander, shepherds are prone to walk away from their God-given responsibilities. It is so easy for a shepherd of God’s people to allow selfishness and self-centeredness to distract him from what God has called him to do. Far too often, the leaders appointed by God to shepherd His flock, ended up abusing their roles and neglecting those under their care. God puts a high value on good shepherding. It was written of David, “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds;from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance.With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand” (Psalm 78:70-72 ESV). David was the kind of shepherd God was looking for. He had a heart like God’s. He cared for God’s people with the same passion that God had. He was far from perfect, but he was “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14 ESV). When it came to the people under his care, he was ready to do the will of Go. He understood that God’s people needed to follow God’s will regarding their lives. They needed strong direction and steady leadership. Without it, they would find themselves in trouble. And in time, after the death of David and the demise of the kingdom of his son, Solomon, the people would suffer under a long line of insufferably poor shepherds. So that by the time Jesus showed up on the scene, He would encounter a people who were shepherdless, helpless and hopeless. Even Peter would say of those who had come to Christ in his day, “Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25 ESV). Ultimately, God was going to have to send His Son, as the one true Shepherd, to rescue His sheep. Jesus said of Himself, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11, 14 ESV). Mankind has always been in need of a shepherd and God eventually sent the only one who could rescue them. Isaiah reminds us, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV).
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
Jesus was the true Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who laid down His own life for the sake of His sheep. He sacrificed Himself so that His sheep might be safe and sound. There was a selflessness and humility about Jesus that should be reflected in my own life. His life is the ultimate model of what it means to be a shepherd. Paul tells us, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8 NLT). Humility. Sacrifice. Submission. Obedience. Those are the characteristics of a shepherd of God. May I learn to shepherd as He did. May I be willing to lead by following His example.
Father, make a shepherd like Your Son. Give me the heart of David and the passion to feed and care for Your sheep, even if it requires the ultimate sacrifice of my life. Don’t let me become selfish and driven by my own desires. Constantly remind me that I am Your shepherd and have been given the responsibility of caring for Your sheep. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men