Sunday, November 8, 2015

Our Great Shepherd: His care and love are everlasting

‎In biblical times, a shepherd’s main concern was the welfare of the flock. Providing the sheep with food and waters as well as guarding them from predators and thieves were primary responsibilities. Highlighting this relationship, Jesus says in the scripture, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11). [from Logos Bible Software]

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But he brought his people out like a flock; he led them like sheep through the wilderness. (Psalm 78:52).

Since moving to this county nearly ten years ago, I have never ceased to enjoy the sight of numerous animals dotting the landscape. Here is a quick-facts graphic showing the importance of agriculture in our county-



There are many pastures. I regularly see cows, horses, donkeys, sheep, chickens, and sometimes emus, buffalo, hawks, foxes, and even coyotes.

Reading about the animals in the Bible is wonderful and interesting. However, being among the animals mentioned in the Bible and observing them is another layer of understanding entirely. The neighbor on the other side of the house (I'm in the in-law apartment adjacent) is a shepherdess. I love watching the pastured sheep next door. Their life cycle, cavorting lambs, the nursing, the hay, grass, and stubble that they eat, the wool, their grazing, their recent escapes from the field lol, all interesting.

The Bible refers to the body of Christ as sheep. Am I a sheep? Yes, says Jesus, metaphorically. He is my Shepherd. What a glorious metaphor. I love to think of The Perfect herding me, caring for me, leading me, protecting me. Everything He does is perfect so His care of the sheep will also be perfect, and I can and do rest in that knowledge.

It's a good metaphor. He could have likened us to badgers, angry and contentious. He could have called us after the evil one who is god of the earth- a lion, a prowling predator seeking after sin and devouring others. He could have called us a spider, an insect nobody likes. I mean, really. A sheep is good.

In my Logos 6 software one can research by topic. I found these biblical facts about sheep:
The sheep is the first animal specified by name in the sacred writings. Abel, himself a shepherd, offered the firstlings of his flock to the Lord (Gen. 4:4). Abraham was very rich in sheep, and Job at one time had 14,000 amongst his herds. In 2 Kings 3:4 we read of a Moabitish shepherd-king who gave a tribute of a hundred thousand lambs and a hundred thousand rams; and this country is still inhabited by owners of vast herds of sheep, the Beni Sakkr sheikhs. Solomon celebrated the dedication of the temple by the sacrifice of 120,000 sheep. 
The Sheep is perhaps the most important of all the animals in the Scriptures. It formed the chief portion of the wealth of the patriarchs, and it is not merely as an article of food that its value is to be estimated. The clothing of those days was almost entirely made of wool; cotton, silk and flax being hardly known or quite out of reach until a later period. The number of flocks was the chief measure of property. Tillage was, comparatively speaking, but little resorted to in Palestine, and there was only very local or in most places no possession in land. Hence sheep were of primary value; and from its nature the country was, and is still, better adapted to the rearing and feeding of sheep than other domestic animals.
Source- Hart, H. C. (1888). The Animals Mentioned in the Bible (pp. 193–194). London: The Religious Tract Society.

Interesting! How about the beloved 23rd Psalm-

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

4Even 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.

5You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.

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Here is Matthew Henry Commentary on the famous first line of the Psalm, 'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.'
Confidence in God's grace and care. - "The Lord is my shepherd." In these words, the believer is taught to express his satisfaction in the care of the great Pastor of the universe, the Redeemer and Preserver of men. With joy he reflects that he has a shepherd, and that shepherd is Jehovah.  
A flock of sheep, gentle and harmless, feeding in verdant pastures, under the care of a skilful, watchful, and tender shepherd, forms an emblem of believers brought back to the Shepherd of their souls. The greatest abundance is but a dry pasture to a wicked man, who relishes in it only what pleases the senses; but to a godly man, who by faith tastes the goodness of God in all his enjoyments, though he has but little of the world, it is a green pasture.  
The Lord gives quiet and contentment in the mind, whatever the lot is. Are we blessed with the green pastures of the ordinances, let us not think it enough to pass through them, but let us abide in them. The consolations of the Holy Spirit are the still waters by which the saints are led; the streams which flow from the Fountain of living waters. Those only are led by the still waters of comfort, who walk in the paths of righteousness.
Do you have confidence in God's grace and care? Do you have quiet contentment of the mind, knowing the Great Shepherd would not only lay down His life for the sheep, but He has done it? Are you consoled by the knowledge that His protection is mighty and everlasting? That His pastures remain green? That the waters are always living and fresh?

We are blessed with good care. Though we stray, the Good Shepherd brings the lost sheep home. This is the ultimate blessing, forgiveness of our many sins, and promise of eternal joy.

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)

Thank You Lord. Thank You.

To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (John 10:3)

As Jonathan Edwards said in his "Farewell Sermon",
Whoever may hereafter stand related to you as your spiritual guide, my desire and prayer is that the great Shepherd of the sheep would have a special respect to you, and be your guide (for there is none teacheth like him), and that he who is the infinite fountain of light, would “open your eyes, and turn you from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God; that you may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them that are sanctified, through faith that is in Christ;” that so in that great day, when I shall meet you again before your Judge and mine, we may meet in joyful and glorious circumstances, never to be separated any more.

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Further Reading

Exposition of The Lord is My Shepherd


1 comment :

  1. Here is a list of 10 facts about sheep and goats I put together a couple of years ago that reveal what truly fitting symbols for believers and unbelievers they are:

    1. Sheep have 54 chromosomes; goats have 60. That is, goats have an additional *six* chromosomes—six, the number identified with man and his fallen state.

    2. The tails of sheep hang down demurely, while the tails of goats stick up proudly. The Spirit leads believers to live lives characterized by purity and modesty, while the flesh wants to flaunt itself and attract attention.

    3. Sheep will not normally try to jump a fence. Goats are curious and are constantly jumping fences and wandering off into areas they shouldn't be. Believers are content with the bounds set by their Heavenly Father, but unbelievers stubbornly follow their own fleshly desires.

    4. Sheep are relatively indifferent to their environment. Cold, rain, whatever—they do not seem to be focused on the environment in which they live. Goats, however, are much more sensitive to their environment, and will invariably seek shelter from adverse weather conditions. As believers, we know this world is not our home, and we should be focused on spiritual things and the world to come. For unbelievers, this fallen world is as good as it gets—this is their 'best life now.'

    5. Sheep graze on grass and clover, while goats will eat just about anything—including garbage. Believers are admonished to guard their minds, and think on things that are true, pure, and of good report—and to keep out the trash. Unbelievers gorge themselves on a daily diet of things that are unholy, impure, and that drag them ever further from a loving God that seeks their repentance.

    6. Sheep have a flocking instinct, and tend to stay together. A sheep will become quite agitated and distressed if separated from the other sheep. Goats, on the other hand, are curious and independent, and will go off on their own. Believers are part of the body of Christ, and will naturally seek the company of God's people. Jesus commanded us to comfort, strengthen and edify one another, and build each other up in our faith. Unbelievers naturally seek their own way.

    7. Sheep have little discernible social structure within the herd, and tend to look to the shepherd as being in control. Goats often butt heads in an effort to secure a more dominant position over other goats. Believers look to Jesus, not thinking more highly of themselves than they ought. Unbelievers are all about self—I'm number one.

    8. Sheep will stay with their young, always keeping them at their side. Goats routinely wander off and leave their young unattended for extended periods of time. Believers will lovingly foster and mentor new believers as spiritual babes. Unbelievers have no such concern for the spiritual welfare or development of others.

    9. Sheep recognize and will follow the voice of the shepherd, and his voice alone. Goats will not. Believers know and will follow only the voice of the Lord, and ignore the voices coming from the world with their seductive promises of "spiritual enlightenment." On the other hand, unbelievers chase after whatever tickles their ears, and end up mired in deception.

    10. Copper is toxic to sheep, whereas goats *require* copper in their diet. In the Bible, what we know as copper is also referred to as bronze and brass (both are alloys containing copper), and these metals are symbolic of sin: insensitivity to it, persistence in it, and the judgment of it. As believers, sin is toxic to our spiritual growth and our walk with the Lord; however, the Holy Spirit will convict us and lead us to repent and turn from sin on an ongoing basis to keep our fellowship with God strong and vibrant. Conversely, the flesh knows nothing but sin. Without the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, trying to convince an unbeliever he is sinful is a bit like trying to convince a fish it is wet.

    I had known some of these for years, but this last one about copper blew me away when I found out about it. We serve an awesome God!

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