The Shepherd, the Sheepfold, and the Sheep: The Proverb of the Sheepfold

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The parable or proverb in these verses is a continuation of the Lord's discourse to the Pharisees begun in the previous chapter. He had spoken plainly of their actual blindness in spite of the pretense they made of seeing. Then, under the figure of a shepherd entering his fold and calling out his own sheep, He showed the effect of His presence in Israel. But these men, wise in their own conceits, knew not what the Lord was saying, though His words were especially directed to them (verse 6).
This inability to understand the Lord's meaning could not have arisen from the strangeness of the figure thus employed by Him. Shepherds and sheep were continually before their eyes, and the comparison of Israel to a flock is common throughout the Old Testament. And, in one of the prophets, the metaphor is even elaborated throughout an entire chapter (Ezek. 34). But, having failed to recognize the Person of Christ, ever the key of all divine teaching, the professed spiritual leaders of the people were blind to the real meaning of the Lord's words. Had these Jews but bowed to the long-promised and then-given Shepherd, all would have been plain. But though the Good Shepherd had come to His fold, they knew Him not and heard not His voice. Hence, as indeed the Lord told them, hearing not His word, they understood not His saying, John 8:4343Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. (John 8:43).
The Lord, speaking of Himself in relation to the sheepfold, gave three distinguishing marks by which the true shepherd might be known:—
1.—He enters by the door;
2.—To Him the porter openeth; and
3.—The sheep hear His voice.
These marks were of the simplest order, and were available for the simplest souls. Yet this very simplicity would be a sufficient reason for them to be scouted and despised by those vain pretenders to a wisdom which was far from them. Their pride of heart and of mind would not brook the grace that classed them with the people that knew not the law (John 7:4949But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed. (John 7:49)). Not content with what suited the humble, they demanded a sign from heaven (Matt. 16). Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.
ENTRANCE BY THE DOOR.
The Eastern sheepfold consisted of an enclosure formed by a circular stone wall with a door for entrance. Here the sheep were driven at night and at other times for safety. In the Old Testament the figure of the fold is used to express the security and privilege of that people whose God was Jehovah. Thus looking on to a future day, the Lord of Israel says, “I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall he fruitful and increase” Jer. 23:33And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. (Jeremiah 23:3). Then again, “As a shepherd seeketh out his flock. in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered, so will I seek out my sheep.... And I will bring them out from the peoples.... I will feed them in a good pasture and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be” (Ezek. 34:12-1412As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. 13And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. (Ezekiel 34:12‑14)). “I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together as the sheep of Bozrah, as the flock in the midst of their fold” (Mic. 2:1212I will surely assemble, O Jacob, all of thee; I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together as the sheep of Bozrah, as the flock in the midst of their fold: they shall make great noise by reason of the multitude of men. (Micah 2:12)). These scriptures remain to be fulfilled in their entirety. For not until the millennial rest shall Israel dwell peaceably in their own land secure from the inroads of every foe. In the parable before us, the fold undoubtedly refers to the separateness of the Jews from other nations, which was still true of them. The Romans had not yet taken away their place and nation. And though they had lost the inward sense of God's presence and favor, they had many of the outward and visible signs of God's ancient people. They had still the temple and its service, the sacrifices and the feasts, the priests and the Levites. When the Good Shepherd came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, He came to the fold. He had not then to seek them among all nations. They were not then, as now, scattered over the face of the earth. And when He presented Himself to the sheep, it was in no surreptitious manner. On the contrary He submitted Himself to all that had been ordered of God of old and strictly prescribed in Old Testament prophecies. There the mode of the entry of the Good Shepherd was foretold in the plainest terms, that the simple of the flock might not be deceived. The Spirit signified beforehand that the Messiah should be supernaturally born of a virgin. This was fulfilled in Jesus. He should be of the house and lineage of David. This Jesus was proved to be. He should be born in Bethlehem of Judah. There the shepherds found the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. He should be called out of Egypt. Thence He was brought after Herod's death. But why add more? Do not the evangelists, especially Matthew, give in detail how the Lord fulfilled in Himself what had been spoken before by the prophets? It was thus easy for the simple and godly Israelite with the scriptures in his heart to recognize the Good Shepherd when He came. There could be but One Who should fulfill the promises of God. The question therefore was whether the shepherd was entering by the door, or whether he was forcing an entrance contrary to the testimony of the holy oracles which were in his hands. If he answered to the witness of the scriptures, he was the Good Shepherd. If he was climbing in some other way, he was a thief and a robber whose object was to pillage the flock.