Sheepfold by Abidan Shah, PhD

SHEEPFOLD by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  As we drive from site to site in Israel, it is not unusual to see a shepherd leading a flock of sheep. I’ve taken people to Israel for several years, and it never gets old for me to see people immediately reach for their cameras or try to get on the side of the bus closest to the window! Jacky, my friend and guide, will usually pull over so we can get some pictures. There’s something about the imagery of a shepherd with his sheep that immediately transports us back into biblical times. We cannot help but think of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” or John 10, where Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.” In the first message in this series on reaching the lost, we learned how Jesus used the analogy of fishing to call his disciples to reach a multitude of souls. In the second message last week, we learned how Jesus used the analogy of the harvest to motivate his disciples to have a sense of urgency in reaching souls. In today’s message, we will learn how Jesus used the analogy of the shepherd and his sheep to remind us of the commitment and compassion necessary to win lost souls. Main point: Since ancient times, God has used the imagery of a Shepherd to show us how much he loves us and cares for us. Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and we are helpless and clueless without him. What’s more, he has called us to join him in bringing other lost sheep into his fold, with commitment and compassion.

John 10      14 “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.”

Context: The passage we just read is quite familiar to many of us. Unfortunately, it’s familiarity keeps us from taking the time to dig into its deeper meaning and significance. To start with, sheep are the most mentioned animals in the Bible, as many as 400 times. In the Old Testament, there are several words in Hebrew for sheep – tson, kebes, keseb, rakhel, etc. In the Greek, the word for sheep is probaton. It is found in the LXX about 295 times and, in the NT, about 40 times. Then, shepherd, a related concept, is found as many as 100 times in the Bible. There are several Hebrew words for shepherd, but the main one is “raah.” In Greek, the word is “poimein,” found in the LXX 80 times, and in the NT about 18 times. All that to say is that the concepts of sheep and shepherd are very prominent in the Bible, both Old and New Testament, both in Hebrew and Greek. There are 2 reasons for the prolific use of the sheep/shepherd reference: first, the raising of sheep was very integral to the life setting of God’s people in the Ancient Near East; second, the attributes of sheep and shepherd are very applicable to the behavior of God’s people and the nature of God and his leaders towards the people. Let’s back up in look at the significance of the sheep/shepherd analogy:

1. God has chosen to relate with his people as a shepherd to his sheep.

  • Genesis 48:15 “And he blessed Joseph, and said: ‘God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has fed me (Heb. – raah) all my life long to this day.’”
  • Genesis 49:24 “…By the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd [Heb. – raah], the Stone of Israel)”
  • Psalm 80:1 “Give ear, O Shepherd (Heb. – raah; Greek – pomainon) of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock…”
  • Isaiah 40:11 He will feed His flock like a shepherd (Heb. – raah; Greek – poimanei); He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.”
  • Micah 7:14 “Shepherd Your people with Your staff, the flock of Your heritage…”
  • In many places, the words for sheep and shepherd are not used, but the concepts are there: Exodus 15:17 “You will bring them in and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, in the place, O LORD, which You have made for Your own dwelling…”Psalm 31:4 “Pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me, for You are my strength.”

Psalm 23 is the most comprehensive picture of God as our shepherd. It is built around a typical day, the worst day, and the best day. Psalm 23       1 “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. (typical day) He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. 4 (worst day) Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; (best day) You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.”

Lest you think that God is just some weak spinless shepherd, think again – Psalm 44:11 “You have given us up like sheep intended for food, and have scattered us among the nations.” Psalm 74:1 “O God, why have You cast us off forever? Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?” Don’t think that God tolerates sin and disobedience.

Application: How do you see God in your life? Many times, we create some caricature that is far from the truth. Can you see him as a shepherd?

2. God called the leaders to be shepherds to his flock, but they failed.

In ancient times, kings (Mesopotamians, the Egyptians – crook-staff, and the Greeks,) were called the shepherds of their people, but this was only an imagery. God’s leaders from the earliest times were not only called to be shepherds, but many of them were even shepherds by occupation. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were shepherds. I believe that they were shepherds not just for their own people but for all people. Genesis 12:3 “…And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Moses was a shepherd when God called him. Even Exodus was described in Psalm 77:20 as “You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” When time came to pass on the baton to Joshua, listen to Moses in Numbers 27      16 “Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, 17 who may go out before them and go in before them, who may lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be like sheep which have no shepherd.” Judges were also referred to as shepherds by God in 2 Samuel 7:7Then came David, the most prominent shepherd king of Israel. 2 Samuel 7:8 “Now therefore, thus shall you say to My servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘I took you from the sheepfold, from following the sheep, to be ruler over My people, over Israel.’” Similarly, Amos 7     14 Then Amos answered, and said to Amaziah: “I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet, But I was a sheepbreeder and a tender of sycamore fruit. 15 Then the LORD took me as I followed the flock, And the LORD said to me, “Go, prophesy to My people Israel.’

Unfortunately, the leaders of Israel (prophets, priests, and kings) failed to shepherd the flock of God, leave alone shepherd the nations. They failed to be committed and compassionate towards them. When God’s people were defeated by their enemies, they were described as follows in 1 Kings 22:17 Then he said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the LORD said, ‘These have no master. Let each return to his house in peace.’” In time, this only became worse and worse. Isaiah 56        9 “All you beasts of the field, come to devour, all you beasts in the forest. 10 His watchmen are blind, they are all ignorant; they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. 11 Yes, they are greedy dogs which never have enough. And they are shepherds who cannot understand; they all look to their own way, every one for his own gain, from his own territory.” Jeremiah 10:21 “For the shepherds have become dull-hearted, and have not sought the LORD; therefore they shall not prosper,” and all their flocks shall be scattered.” The most extensive indictment comes in Ezekiel and Zechariah. Ezekiel 34      1 And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD to the shepherds: ‘Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? 3 You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. 6 My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them….9 therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD! 10Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hand…” As a pastor, this is my ultimate accountability. “…I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more; for I will deliver My flock from their mouths, that they may no longer be food for them.” 11 “For thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country.” So also, Zechariah 11:17 “Woe to the worthless shepherd, who leaves the flock! A sword shall be against his arm and against his right eye; His arm shall completely wither, and his right eye shall be totally blinded.”

The leaders of Israel failed to be committed and compassionate towards God’s people. The failure here was on 2 levels: God’s leaders were to be shepherds to his people, but they failed; God’s people were to be shepherds to the lost world, but they also failed.

Application: How are we doing? Are we strengthening the weak? Are we healing the sick? Are we binding up the broken? Are we bringing back what was driven away?

3. Jesus is the true Good Shepherd.

John 10:1 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. Jesus was indicting the Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees, and the corrupt priests. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Gospel began with Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth. That’s why with the Syrophoenician woman, Jesus said in Matthew 15:24 “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Back to John 10      5 Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers…7 Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12 But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. 13 The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. Where the shepherds of Ezekiel and Zechariah failed, so also the Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees, and priests, Jesus was triumphant.

Now, there is a shift – 16 “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” This was no afterthought. First, the promise was to Israel; then, it was to the world. The world was part of God’s plan from the very beginning.

Invitation: Are you joining the Great Shepherd in reaching the sheep who are not of this fold, our church? Are you committed and compassionate? Are you in the sheepfold? Are you saved? Have you received the Lamb of God? Referring to those who came out of the Great Tribulation, Revelation 7:17 says, “for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” What a powerful imagery!

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