There are more than 500 references to sheep in the Bible. Shepherds are mentioned an additional 200 times. Abraham, Isaaic, Jacob, Rachel, Moses and Amos were all shepherds. Sheep are among the earliest of all animals to be domesticated. At least five different breeds of sheep were in Mesopotamia by 2,000 B.C. Shepherds with large flocks were considered very wealthy (Mt.12:12). Sheep are good for two primary things: wool and meat (mutton). In addition, they provide milk to drink, wool yarn and leather.
But sheep are dumb and curious. They often cannot find their way home even if the rest of the flock is in plain sight! They will easily wander off a cliff or get caught in thorn bushes. Sheep are so dumb, they cannot even find water without the help of their shepherd. Because they require constant care and guidance, the shepherd must always keep them in his sight .
What are the duties of a shepherd?
1. He leads the sheep to water and food
2. He guides them: he does not drive them.
3. He shears them when they need it.
4. He protects them from wild animals
5. He finds shelter for them at night
6. He gives them very special care as they give birth.
7. He uses both rod and staff to keep them safe.
8. He carrys weak lambs until they get well.
The Word of God uses many illustrations regarding sheep, for they are like humans in many ways. Like sheep, people “go astray” and wander away from God. Paul likens the Church to a flock needing shepherds (Acts 20). God is epitomized as our Good Shepherd (Isa. 40 1 & Ps.23). Every shepherd knows the special cry of each one of his sheep. Jesus’ sheep know His voice – and He knows the cry of every sheep as well (Jn.10).
Jesus is called “the Lamb of God” for a lamb is emblematic of meekness and submission. Almost every use of the word sheep in the Old Testament concerns the sacrificing of sheep. Sheep are meek as they face death, and Jesus was led “as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isa.53:7 & Acts 8:32). John the Baptist pointed to Jesus as “the Lamb of God”, for He became the submissive sacrifice for our sins. It is a wonderful enigma that Jesus is also seen as “The Great Shepherd of the Sheep” (Heb. 13:20).