One of the more familiar and beautiful pastoral scenes is that of the shepherd with his sheep. At all times this has caught the imaginative eye of artists and poets, whether such be believing or unbelieving. Apart from the deeper meaning of the shepherd and his sheep there is a natural beauty about it that even the man with natural light can see. This makes the Scriptural usage of this relationship of the shepherd and his, sheep such an effective means to teach the truth of the Gospel-story of God’s covenant relationship to His people!
It is indeed very striking that so many of the better known saints of the Old Testament Scriptures were humble shepherds caring for their flock! In the early dawn of history we meet with righteous Abel, who was a shepherd and who brought the firstlings of his flock to the Lord for a sacrifice. After the Flood the Bible pictures to us the pastoral scenes of Abraham and Lot grazing their flocks in the land, as pilgrims and strangers. And who does not think of the flocks of a Jacob, both in the land of Mesopotamia and later in the land of Canaan, when mention is made of sheep and shepherds. And, to mention but one more, can anyone think of the David, the ruddy youth, and not think of the shepherd boy with his sheep, protecting them by killing a lion and a bear? The beautiful imagery of Psalm 23 seems to reflect very strongly the life of David, a shepherd of sheep!
It is well to remember that when God created the world, the heavens and the earth, and all things contained in the same, that he made all the earth to be a picture of the things heavenly and eternal. Wherefore when God in the flesh, Immanuel, walked upon earth for thirty three years, he uttered many parables. Says Christ, the chief prophet “The kingdom of heaven happens (comes to pass) in parables,” Wherefore there is a symbolism in the animal world which often reoccurs in Scripture. Thus the ox is the symbol of strength; the lion is the fearless king of the beasts; the eagle is the symbol of royal, serene majesty, descending swiftly upon its prey. And the serpent is the symbol of what is wise and subtle. However, the sheep is the symbol of all that is helpless, defenseless and in dire need of protection, help and guidance. The lost sheep cannot find his way back to the sheep-fold, but will surely be slain by the wolves.
There is no figure which more graphically and touchingly portrays the loving and tender relationship of our heavenly Father to His people than that of the relationship of a good shepherd to his sheep! And we hasten to add that in the Old Testament Scriptures already this figure of the shepherd and the sheep often occurs. And it is employed by the Lord to illustrate the loving care of the Lord, who is Jehovah, toward his people whom he loves and foreknows with an everlasting love.
For let it be stated most emphatically that the Scriptures teach on nearly every page that Jehovah is the SHEPHERD of Israel. He is such as He tabernacles with His people in the place of gathering, the Old Testamental tabernacle. He dwells between the Cherubim of the mercy-seat. And as such he is the Shepherd of Israel in the blood of atonement and the ministry of reconciliation. The festive throngs which wend their way up to Jerusalem from the far ends of the promised land lift up the prayerful song as recorded in Psalm 80:1-3 “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between cherubims shine forth. Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up thy strength, and come and save us. Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.” And in Psalm 100 Israel is enjoined to worship the Lord and to “come before His presence with singing.” Why? The answer is so wonderfully given in the following “Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture . . . .” And what child has not learned the incomparably beautiful 23rd Psalm “The LORD is my shepherd I shall not want. . . . ?”
We may safely assert that when Jesus came on earth the waiting saints, who looked for the consolation of Israel, knew all about the Scriptural teaching that Jehovah, who dwells in the most holy place, is the Shepherd of Israel. And when Jesus lifts up his voice, and cries, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” the spiritual pulse of the believing saints quickened with expectant hope that the Lord was visiting His people indeed. For was he not moved with compassion because Israel and its multitudes were as sheep not having a shepherd? Wherefore he began to teach them many things.
A good case study of Christ as the good shepherd we have, amongst many, in his opening of the eyes of the man who was born blind. (John 9) How the shepherd leads this man to faith and salvation! He commands him to go to the pool of Siloam and wash the spittle of clay from his eyes. He does so and he sees. And nothing can shake his faith that his eyes have been opened. One thing he knows. He was blind, but now he sees! This man who so opened his eyes must be of God. For his confession in Christ this man whose sight had been given him was cast forth from the synagogue. Christ goes to seek him; he tells him who he is. And the man believes in him as the Son of man.
This case shows that a better day had come. It was that of which the Lord spoke through the prophet Ezekiel, who spoke his woes upon the evil shepherds in Israel, saying, “Thus saith the LORD God unto the shepherds: woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks! Ye eat the fat and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.” In view of such shepherds the Lord prophesied through Ezekiel of a better day. Writes he “And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my shepherd David; he shall feed them and he shall be their shepherd. And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the LORD have spoken it.” (Ezekiel 34:2, 3, 23, 24)
God himself must come into the flesh and be the Shepherd of Israel! Then all the publicans and sinners will come to hear him. The sheep will hear his voice; they will hear the voice of God himself in that of the Shepherd. And they shall find rest for their souls.
THIEVES OR SHEPHERD? (John 10:1-6)
There is a solemnity here in this word of Christ which we ought to heed and understand. Jesus introduces his teaching here in John 10:1 with the very arresting “Verily, verily, I say unto you!” It is noteworthy that Jesus employs this formula some twenty five times in the Gospel of John. He never uses this formula unless he would call special attention to a very important matter or issue of the kingdom of heaven, and of our life in the same. Besides, it ought to be observed that this formula is never employed by the Lord to introduce a new subject. It is ever to confirm something concerning a subject already begun. It often is a reply against those who would contradict Jesus. And this verily, verily (Amen, Amen) is the end of all contradiction. It is a form of an oath!
How is this “Amen, Amen, I say unto you” to be accounted for?
He who employs this “Amen, Amen” is none other than the faithful and true witness of God. He is the beginning of the creation of God. (Rev. 3:14) Let us not forget that formerly God spoke to the church by the mouths of prophets, but in these last days he hath spoken unto us by his Son. The prophets spoke the Word of God saying “Thus saith the Lord”. Christ speaks the Word of God and says, “But I say unto you.” Why? Because he is God in the flesh. He is Jehovah who dwells among his people. He is very really man, and yet he is truly God in one person. He spoke as one having authority and not as the Scribes. He made himself equal with God. He says: I and the Father are one.
This accounts for the very solemn and profound “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” He is speaking here to the unbelieving Jews who had cast out the man who was born blind. He tells them a parable which fits the situation. However, the parable is not a parable in the usual form and manner. John does not call it a parable (parabolee) but rather it is called a proverb, an adage, a kind of dark saying. It is the term paroimia. Instead of having one point of comparison, it rather is a comparison which one must try to elicit from the proverb. It is something like the Hebrew Mashal. In the parable are hidden meanings and teaching. They are in agreement with the teaching of Scripture generally, but now applied to a certain situation. It is not telling the truth “plainly” but veiled in a proverb.
There is one point which is rather strikingly placed by Jesus on the foreground in this proverbial parable. It is a depicting of the calling and office of the shepherd of Israel in distinction from the evil shepherds who are comparable to thieves and robbers who climb over the fence to destroy the flock. Christ and all the faithful servants are as the shepherd of the sheep who enters the sheepfold by means of the gate. And all the evil shepherds are like unto the thieves and robbers.
But we are anticipating.
Let us take notice of the imagery of the proverbial parable.
The scene which Jesus portrays is very true to life. It is a pastoral scene in the life of shepherds in the East. The sheepfold is a corral where each night-fall the shepherds bring their flocks for the night. The shepherds entrust the sheep to a doorkeeper at the gate. All the sheep of various flocks and shepherds are put together in one corral for the night. But morning comes. It is then that the shepherd comes to get his sheep to bring them out to feed and to pasture. When he comes in the morning he stands at the gate and he calls his sheep. He calls them by name. Good shepherds gave names to their individual sheep. And to this call the sheep of a particular shepherd respond by coming from among all the other sheep. They recognize the voice of their shepherd. They will not follow a stranger because they do not recognize the voice of a stranger. Thus each shepherd can go before his sheep and lead them. Such is the picture in part.
The other part of the picture is that of the conduct of thieves and robbers. They do not come in the morning. In the deep of the night they come and crawl over the fence to enter the sheepfold. Should they stand at the gate and call they would be detected by the doorkeeper as not being owners of the sheep in his custody. Besides, should they stand and call the sheep they would have no success. None of the sheep of the various shepherds would follow such thieves and robbers. These sheep will each follow but one shepherd. Hence, they will far less follow the voice of a thief. Besides, it would be pointless for a thief to call the sheep. For his purpose is not to feed the sheep, but rather to kill and destroy the sheep for their own purpose of eating them.
Such a true to life illustration. It is a proverbial parable which admirably fits the case at hand here. It is a fit interpretation of what was happening here when Jesus comes and stands in the gates of Israel in distinction from what happens when the rulers of the Jews start casting the children of the king out of the synagogue