“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubim, shine forth” Psalm 80:1

The theme of the shepherd in the care of his sheep looms large in the Divine record, fea-turing as it does many examples of faithful shepherds of Divine appointment, from Abel through to the Patriarchs, Joseph, Moses, David and others. Without doubt the greatest of all examples of a keeper of the sheep must be Yahweh, who is entitled in the Scripture, “The Shepherd of Israel”.

This title we first find in the significant context of the blessings of Joseph, himself a keeper of his father’s sheep (Gen 49:24). From here it is carried forward to Psalm 80:1,2: “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock”. Shining out from the Cherubic glory, the Shepherd of Israel goes in the easterly direction before his flock, who are identified in the Psalm as “Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh”. Right behind him then, on the western side of the camp (Num 2:18–24) are the two sons of Joseph who were “born in Egypt”, and between them Joseph’s only full-blooded brother. Here then is “the flock of Joseph”, but with a significant difference, inasmuch that the order of the four-square encampment was “Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin”!

From this arrangement two significant factors arise. Firstly that “the Shepherd of Israel” leads among his flock two sons born in Egypt, whom the patriarch Jacob adopted into the family of Israel (Gen 48:5). Truly as “the Good Shepherd” was to point out many years later, “other sheep I have which are not of this fold” (John 10:16).

Secondly, the fact that Benjamin is moved to the centre, right behind the Shepherd of Israel, is indicative of the fact that “the Son of His Right Hand” (the meaning of Benjamin’s name) was destined to be “the Good Shepherd”, following in the footsteps of his Father who led him through life. Hence the expression later in the Psalm, “Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand” (Psa 80:17).

There were significant prophecies, going before, concerning the coming of the appointed shepherd, who was to lead and shepherd the sheep (Isa 40:11; Micah 5:2–4). However, as Yahweh is the everlasting shepherd to whom the sheep of all ages can look, for He is deathless, even so it necessitated that the Son also be installed in that everlasting capacity.

This was achieved in the laying down of his perfect life in sacrifice, thus assuring that he would take it again in the resurrection to everlasting life. Consider his own words in the very chapter concerning the Good Shepherd, “I lay down my life for the sheep … I lay down my life that I might take it again” (John 10:15,17).

It makes no sense that a shepherd allow himself to be killed by the wild beast, then to leave the flock defenceless before the predator; but in order to ensure that he would always be with them, he gives his life at that time, to ensure that he takes it again forever. Hence, on account of his dedicated life, even unto the death of the cross, the Father “brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the everlasting covenant” (Heb 13:20).

Even as he lay dead in the tomb for those three short days, his disciples were not left without their shepherd, for Father and Son shared that responsibility. Jesus had spoken to his “little ones”, pointing out to them that every straying sheep would be sought out by his Father (Matt 18:6,12–14). Just before he endured the agony of Gethsemane, he again warned them of his impending departure and that, in accordance with the prophecy of Zechariah 13:6,7, they like sheep would be scattered abroad (Matt 26:31). However, they had little to fear if they had understood that prophecy, for Yahweh, in the absence of the Good Shepherd stated, “Howbeit I will turn back my hand upon the little ones” (Zech 13:7 Roth).

“I Will Both Search My Sheep, and Seek Them Out” Ezekiel 34:11

Shepherding in Biblical times involved a close relationship between shepherd and sheep. Their flocks were much smaller and compact, not spread over vast tracts of land, so that the shepherd was cognisant of each individual member of the flock. In this relationship the sheep would clearly recog­nise the voice of the shepherd, even being able to discern his tone from that of every other counterfeit shepherd (John 10:4,5).

This is marvellously illustrated in Psalm 95, where the context clearly indicates that the time of which the Psalm speaks is that of the forty years of wandering in the wilderness (v10). Israel strayed from their shepherd because they knew not the voice of Him who led them (Isa 63:10–12). But they should have recognised His voice, for even though His ways are past finding out He took great care so that they might hear Him.

The illimitable, unfathomable God of creation, who is “a great God and a great king above all the Elohim”, whose hand encompasses the deepest recesses of the earth, whose greatness reaches higher than the hills, who made, and owns the vast seas and whose hands fashioned all the land (Psa 95:3–5), is the same God who declares that “He is OUR God” (v7).

Not only so, but our experience of Him, through His Word, is one where He is nigh unto each of us because “we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand” ( v7).

This latter expression is an anomaly, for surely it would be better to understand that “we are the SHEEP of his pasture”? Why then “people”? The point being made is that which is plainly stated in another chapter about the shepherd: “And ye my flock, the flock of my pasture are MEN, and I am your God, saith the Lord Yahweh” (Ezek 34:31). Now this same illimitable and unfathomable God has picked us up, and holding us in the hollow of His hand speaks into our ears! “Today if you will hear his voice” (Psalm 95:7; Heb 4:7).

If then He endeavoured to draw Israel close to Him by their experiences in the wilderness, even so now He has drawn us even closer through the work of His Son, the Good Shepherd.

As his sheep we understand him, for he said “my sheep hear my voice”, and we hear clearly, being brought close to him; for he also said, “neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10: 27,28)—unmistakable echoes from Psalm 95. Furthermore we have not two shepherds with opposing voices, but see the Son following in the footsteps of his Father, representing “the shepherd of Israel”; so that if none can pluck them out of his hand, it is equally true, as he said, “none can pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:29).

Yahweh, the great shepherd of Israel led Israel out of Egypt like a flock of sheep under the supervision of Moses and Aaron (Psa 77: 20). His leadership was the pattern followed by all the faithful shepherds who emulated Him, and by the same method will He redeem those who are of His fold: “For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for Yahweh will go before you; and the God of Israel will gather you up” (Isa 52:12 margin).

Shepherding the flock calls for sympathetic understanding of the needs of the sheep. In this respect it does not just involve walking in front to show the way, and certainly not driving the flock with ruthless disregard for their inability to keep up. David was chosen “from following the ewes great with young…So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands. This “skilfulness” sometimes involved bringing up carefully and gently those in the rear, who found difficulty in keeping in touch with the rest of the flock (Psa 78:70–72). Note that the context infers that he learnt this from his forbear Jacob, who practised this same gentle care of his sheep (Gen 33:13,14)

The supreme example of the good shepherd was no different. “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” (Isa 40:11).

Therefore whoever would serve under the “Chief Shepherd”, must learn the lesson that Peter had to learn, that being a shepherd demands that they be found as much in the rear, helping the “poor of the flock” to keep up, as they do in front guiding stronger members to the greener pastures of the Kingdom (1 Peter 5:1–6).

“The Flock of Thine Heritage” Micah 7:14

This is the theme that runs throughout the prophecy of the country prophet Micah. It is the title given to his people Israel, who have been ravaged and torn by the “evening wolves” of the Gentiles, who have scattered them upon the hills as sheep having no shepherd, but now seen in vision by the prophet, regathered into their own pasture lands.

While we endeavour to follow our Good Shepherd into the Kingdom, Yahweh has never ceased to be “the Shepherd of Israel”, and the thrilling picture painted by Micah of Israel’s regathering is another incentive to be among the one flock, in the one fold of the Kingdom of God.
Jacob’s flock are assembled as “the sheep of Bozrah” (Heb ‘the fold’), amidst great jubilation (2:12).
Yahweh as their great shepherd smashes all the barriers that have fenced them in, preventing their return to their own land (2:13).
He assembles the sheep of Israel around “the tower of Edar” (‘the flock’ 4:8).
They learn of the one born in Bethlehem who will “rule [Heb ‘Shepherd’] in the strength of Yahweh (5:3,4).
The sheep of Jacob’s flock fight their way back to the land, but this time the roles are reversed, for Israel like a lion tears the Gentile sheep apart, just as those Gentiles as predators have preyed upon God’s heritage (5:5).
Finally, the flock now washed and clean spill into the land, spreading out over all the green pastures of Carmel, of Bashan and of Gilead (7:14).
Well might we pray unto “the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep” to help us to fulfil His will so that we may be among the immortal “flock of his heritage” in that day.