God is a Shepherd and His people are sheep, we hear this throughout the Bible (Psalm 23:1, Psalm 100:3). The question is, why does God use the word sheep for His people, not other animals? What is the significance of sheep in the Bible? Why does Jesus call Himself as a Good Shepherd (John 10:11)?
Sheep are mentioned in the Bible more than 500 times; more than any other animal. Sheep were used as a source of income in ancient Middle Eastern cultures. Abel was the first shepherd in the Bible who offered the fat portion from some of the firstborn of his flock. Abel was also humanity’s first murder victim, for he was killed by his brother Cain (Genesis 4:2-8). Abraham, Jacob, and Moses were shepherds, and the most famous, King David in Christian history, was also a shepherd.
♦ Why does God call us sheep?
1. Sheep are weak and need a shepherd
Sheep are not dangerous or so intelligent when it comes to their safety. They can easily wander away from the flock and get lost while they graze. So, the shepherd goes after the lost sheep and brings it back because the sheep cannot find a way to the shepherd by themselves. We as people are the same in that aspect; we easily get distracted, wander away from God, and from Holy life when we see the world’s false glory and glamour. Therefore, Jesus, who is called the Good Shepherd, comes after us and restores us to His flock because we cannot make it by ourselves.
Sheep are protected under the care of their Shepherd, but when a sheep wander away, it’s easy for an enemy to devour it. A sheep is safe when it’s with the shepherd and the herd. The Bible says “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The Devil is waiting for an opportunity to attack and make us miserable, but, as long as we are with our Good Shepherd, we are safe.
2. Sheep know the voice of their own shepherd
Sheep know their own shepherd and follow the way of their shepherd. Even after gazing and sleeping together with different herds, when their shepherd calls, they can hear his voice and follow him. Sheep know their shepherd’s voice because they remain with him and him with them. Jesus says “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). The one who stays with the Lord knows His voice and follows Him. Just like sheep don’t need any mark or sign to distinguish their shepherd’s voice, the one who remains with the Lord can answer God’s calling without any doubt.
3. Sheep are precious possessions
Shepherds pay a special and certain price for sheep so he doesn’t want to lose any of his sheep. Jesus paid a price on the Cross and bought us with his very own holy blood (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Shepherds love all their sheep equally. For them, there is no big or small, every sheep is the same. Since Jesus has bought us at a price, we are His own possession. He loves us unconditionally and wants us to have eternal life with Him in heaven. He never wants any of us to wander away from Him and suffer in hell.
4. Sheep need to be fed
Water and food are very essential for everyone to live, whether it’s a human or an animal. In ancient times, Sheep was the kind of animals that need to be led to the green pastures and a stream of water. King David says “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul” (Psalm 23:2-3). Our God doesn’t only feed and satisfy our hunger but He also gives peace to our soul and makes us joyful. He knows what’s better for us and His plans are good for us.
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Shepherd also has to be very careful that his sheep would not eat poisonous plants. The Bible says “The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (Psalm 121). His eyes are always on us, He is Omniscience (All-knowing God). He knows the past, present, and future. He will take care of us if we obey and follow Him. He will allow no harm to our lives.
5. Sheep are sheared
Shepherds have to take care of their sheep so that their sheep would not go through something and die. Sometimes every decision that the shepherd makes does not feel comfortable or good to the sheep, but, it’s latterly beneficial for sheep. Shearing is crucial to sheep’s health. If shearing is not done, sheep may die by overheating and diseases. Getting rid of heavy wool makes sheep free.
When we don’t understand the plan of God or what He is doing in our lives, it makes us frustrated and annoyed. But He knows what He is doing and in the end, we will be free from the burden that we were carrying. Everything He does is for our benefit.
We can now understand that without a shepherd, sheep are unable to take care of their own lives. Sheep need a shepherd to be alive in the world. Jesus says “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We are helpless and hopeless without Jesus (Good Shepherd). We need Him in our daily lives. He is our Supporter, place of refuge, Protector, Guider, and Provider. He is a Father who takes care of His children and disciplines them, a very present help in trouble, and so on. All in all, we are nothing without Him. What a joy it is to be His children.