I saw an amazing picture today. It was of a hillside and a valley, which a shepherd was walking through with his flock. The artwork was good, but that wasn’t what got my attention.
In the picture, the shepherd was following the sheep. The sheep weren’t in a line behind the shepherd. They weren’t clustered tightly around him. He was behind them as they went up the hill!
As I stood there I realized that if the shepherd is to protect his sheep, he must stay in the rear, in the background. If he doesn’t, a lion or bear will rush up behind the flock and take a straggler or a sheep might wander off. With the sheep in front, he can make sure they are safe. He can defend them if anything jumps out, and he can watch to make sure all are safe and well.
I’m not a big sheep person. I don’t know much about sheep or shepherding. But I do know pastors who want to compare themselves to the shepherd and their people to the sheep. And I know enough to know that the picture I saw today is probably a much more accurate depiction of how sheep should be “led” most of the time than any I’ve heard preached.
Sheep know where to go. The path is familiar to them. The shepherd is there to defend them and help them, but not to drag them along. A true shepherd won’t be in front where he gets their attention and just expects them to follow. He isn’t to the side beating them with his staff. He’s behind them, calling them if they wander, watching for dangers, and making sure they stay together. Their focus isn’t him. It’s the journey, the mountain top, the grass, the water. And he’s OK with that, because sheep focused on those things are healthy sheep.
Hmmm… a real shepherd is there to serve the sheep. They’re his focus, though he’s not theirs. Shepherding was lowly work in Bible times. Shepherds weren’t looked up to or thought of as great. Shepherding went to the youngest son. It was a lowly, lonely task.
I just found something interesting:
[Sheep] are very clever. Very sociable as well. If a dog finds something nice to eat it’ll scoff it before its mates arrive. If a sheep finds something to eat it’ll bleat to let the rest of the group know. http://www.bbc.co.uk/nottingham/content/articles/2007/12/18/agnes_kiemel_shepherd_feature.shtml
If anyone is troubled by descriptions of shepherd and sheep in former sermons, this site might be helpful: http://web.archive.org/web/20120705125740/http://shepherdshillfarm.home.mindspring.com/id6.html
It’s really really good.
Fascinating fact of the night for me: Sheep have very soft skin. When a sheep is being sheared, it’s difficult to tell the wool from the skin, the skin is so soft! (haha so much for my former pastor rebuking me for being “thin-skinned”! Without meaning to, he may just have been describing a sheep and being mad that I wasn’t thicker skinned like the goats!! )
Ps 23 The Lord is my shepherd…
Mt 11:28-30 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.