Shepherding was a way of life for biblical people. Abraham, the father of the Jews, was a shepherd, as was Moses, the great lawgiver (Ex. 3:1), and David, the king who established Israel’s national identity (1 Sam. 17:28).
As the land was settled, shepherds primarily kept their flocks on the fringe of the wilderness. In many ways, Israel’s experience, her identity, and her view of God were based on the wilderness experience of her shepherding past.
The prophets of the Bible saw Israel’s turn to idol worship partially as a result of changing from a nomadic to a farming society. God, said Hosea,’ ” … will lead [Israel] into the desert and speak tenderly to her” (Hosea 2:14).
The prophets understood the nation’s nomadic wandering in the wilderness as a time when their faith in God was strong. They wrote frequently on the theme of an ideal leader who came as a shepherd and returned the people to the faith of the desert experience (Isa. 40:11; Micah 5:4).
To illustrate his relationship with his people, God chose the image of a shepherd and his sheep (Heb. 13:20). Scripture even refers to God as a “shepherd” (Ps. 23).
The shepherd and the sheep knew each other well. Sheep followed only the shepherd they recognized, ignoring all strangers. A simple call from their shepherd was sufficient for an entire flock to follow his lead. The shepherd scouted for new green pastures, quiet water, and danger. These shepherd images helped the Israelites understand their relationship to God and their dependence on him.
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