The shepherd and sheep analogy

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David’s masterpiece, Psalms 23, contains a treasure trove of spiritual truth. Sadly, we usually only hear it read at funerals. Many Scriptures allude to the shepherd/sheep analogy to describe God’s relationship with His people. Prominent shepherds in the Bible include Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Laban, Moses, Jethro, and David. Oh, and there’s one more we can’t forget—JESUS! “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11).

Psalms 23 starts with a name of God, “The LORD is my Shepherd.” Notice it’s in all caps. In Hebrew, it’s YHWH. In English, we say Jehovah or Yahweh. This is rendered LORD thousands of times in the Old Testament. Jews believed the name of God was too sacred to be spoken. So, they put it in a form that cannot be pronounced. When they wrote it, they removed the vowels (YHWH). Jehovah or Yahweh means the self-existent, eternal One! 

There’s a big difference between a lord and a savior. Most people want a savior to rescue them from hell, but few want a lord to change their lifestyle. A lord is “a person who has authority, control, or power over others, a master, chief, or ruler.” If the Lord truly is our Shepherd, then we must yield to His Lordship to stay under His canopy of blessing. 

By nature, sheep are helpless creatures. They are totally reliant on a shepherd to lead them to clean water, green pastures, and protect them from predators. They don’t have claws or fangs to defend themselves plus they run clumsily. Sheep provide the perfect analogy of how much we need God (Ps. 95:7, 100:3). Consider seven benefits we as sheep receive from our heavenly Shepherd:

Provision—I shall not want (lack). This reveals another name of God—Jehovah-Jireh—the Lord my Provider. He won’t finance all our wants, but He promised to supply all our needs! (Phil. 4:19)

• Direction — He leads me beside the still waters. He leads me in paths of righteousness. Sheep must be led, or they will wander into trouble. Sheep need to drink from still waters. Swift currents are dangerous because, when their fleece absorbs water, sheep become top heavy and can get swept off their feet and drown. God gives us clear direction by the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth (Jn. 16:13).

• Restoration — He restores my soul. The Hebrew word translated “restores” here means “to turn back, to retreat, withdraw, refresh, or recover.” We are not designed to go wide open all the time. Sometimes, we need to step back, rest, and be refreshed in His presence. Restoration comes by spending time with the Shepherd. 

• Protection — I will fear no evil: for You are with me. This describes a hedge of divine protection. Jesus declared, “I am the door” (Jn. 10:9). In Bible times, a sheepfold was just a simple stone enclosure with an opening. At night, the shepherd laid down in the opening and served as a human door. No wolf could get in unless it climbed over him and no sheep could get out unless it climbed over him. Jesus is our Shepherd/Door who keeps us safely in His fold.

• Correction — Your rod and Your staff they comfort me. The staff was a walking stick with a crook used to retrieve wayward lambs. The rod was a club used to fend off predators. If a sheep strayed habitually, the club might be used to break its leg for its own good. Then the shepherd would carry that sheep and nurse it back to health. A problem in church and society is few accept correction without getting offended. Correction is a vital part of spiritual growth (Heb. 12:5-11). 

• Prevention — You anoint my head with oil. Shepherds anointed sheep’s heads with oil for two reasons: 1. to prevent sunstroke 2. to prevent parasites. The oil ran into the crevices around the sheep’s ears, eyes, and nose to repel flies, fleas, and other parasites that could make it sick and even die. The Holy Spirit’s anointing keeps us from being scorched by tribulation and repels negative and demonic influences that try to attack us. 

• Abundance — My cup runs over. If we stay close the Shepherd, He will bless us abundantly. “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32). He is El Shaddi—“the all-sufficient one.” He’s not the God of barely enough; He’s the God who is more than enough! The Shepherd can turn your shortage into a surplus. 

Take time to re-read the 23rd Psalm and let the Shepherd speak to you for Jesus said, “My sheep know my voice.”

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Ben Godwin is the author of five books and pastors the Goodsprings Full Gospel Church. You can read more articles or order his books at bengodwin.org