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A person’s wealth in the East frequently consisted of flocks, the shepherd therefore held an important and honorable position. David was a keeper of sheep. Joseph instructed his brethren to tell Pharaoh that they were shepherds, and they asked permission to dwell in Goshen, for every shepherd was an abomination to the Egyptians. This is supposed to have been caused by some “shepherd-kings” having usurped authority over Egypt. The difficulties and hardships of a shepherd’s life in the East may be gathered from what Jacob passed through during the time he was with Laban (Gen. 31:39-4039That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day, or stolen by night. 40Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes. (Genesis 31:39‑40)). And to this day in many places the shepherd has to be well armed against wild beasts and lurking thieves.
The sheep following the shepherd is a sight often witnessed in the East, and that each sheep has a name and knows the shepherd’s voice, has been tested and proved again and again. All this is beautifully typical of the relation of Jehovah to Israel and of Christ to the church. The sheep of Christ know the good Shepherd’s voice, and find salvation, liberty, and pasture in following the One who leads. The good Shepherd gives them eternal life, having given His life for the sheep. Christ is called the great Shepherd, for the work which He accomplished could have been done only by One who was Himself God, though become man to work out redemption.
In the church there are those who by reason of gift are called pastors, to feed and shepherd the sheep; but Christ is the chief Shepherd, who is over all, whose own the sheep are, and who has given His word that they shall never perish (Psa. 23; Zech. 13:77Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones. (Zechariah 13:7); John 10:2-162But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. 4And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. 5And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. 6This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. 7Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. 8All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. 9I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 10The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. 11I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. (John 10:2‑16); Heb. 13:2020Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, (Hebrews 13:20); 1 Pet. 5:44And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. (1 Peter 5:4); and so forth).