The Negev Wilderness of Israel and the eastern areas along the Rift Valley are terraced with a myriad of paths. Some of the paths on the hillsides have an occasional connecting diagonal track to other paths. These tracks were created by wild animals, like gazelles or ibex, or by shepherds and their grazing flocks.
For thousands of years, shepherds and sheep have traveled these same routes across the hillsides. The distance between one track and the next is exactly the distance that a sheep or a goat can reach while grazing without leaving the path. These paths give the grazing sheep and goats secure footholds. Nevertheless, they can be confusing or dangerous when they abruptly end at a cliff.
Often, intersecting paths lead to a cistern, nearby spring, or to the sheepfold. So many trails have been created over the years that a person might easily become confused and lost. Jeremiah reflected on paths like these when he described God’s people as lost sheep led astray (Jer. 50: 6-7).
When sheep lost sight of the shepherd, the paths became confusing. But the psalmist, (probably David in this case) described paths where God leads his sheep as being “paths of righteousness” (Ps. 23:3) or “straight paths” (Prov. 3:6).
Knowing the path one followed was not dangerous or a dead end was a great comfort to those familiar with these hillside trails. Jesus, who described himself as the “good shepherd” (John 10:11), was willing not only to lead his “sheep,” but to lay down his life for his “flock.”
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